Age and Creativity

Alison Gopnik and Tom Griffiths on age and creativity:

Why does creativity generally tend to decline as we age? One reason may be that as we grow older, we know more. That’s mostly an advantage, of course. But it also may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. We become too set in our ways to change.

Relatedly, the explanation may have to do with a tension between two kinds of thinking: what computer scientists call exploration and exploitation. When we face a new problem, we adults usually exploit the knowledge about the world we have acquired so far. We try to quickly find a pretty good solution that is close to the solutions we already have. On the other hand, exploration — trying something new — may lead us to a more unusual idea, a less obvious solution, a new piece of knowledge. But it may also mean that we waste time considering crazy possibilities that will never work, something both preschoolers and teenagers have been known to do.

Note to self: more exploring what I don’t know, less exploiting what I do know.

Innate Talent

At Aeon, Sam Haselby asks, is artistic talent innate?:

In reality, artistic creativity is extremely widespread, maybe even a human universal. Most young children would be capable of achieving advanced proficiency in several different disciplines (athletic, visual, performative/musical, mathematical, verbal), and culture is replete with examples of folk art, ordinary inventiveness (Etsy, patent applications) and creativity in many different dimensions (cake-decorating, graffiti). What is less common, perhaps, is the drive and persistence (“grit,” in recent terminology) to develop those skills to a level that will lead others to identify the individual who possesses them as having exceptional talent. Those we think of as most creative – take a list of recent MacArthur Foundation fellowship winners, or of living artists whose work is held in the permanent collections of major museums like the Guggenheim or MOMA – are often no more creative than their less distinguished peers; they are more driven, or more gifted at envisioning and executing the shape of a career, or sometimes just more fortunate in a right-time-right-place sense.

Grit, man. You gotta have grit.