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Sunday, 17 September 2000

Creativity and Aging

Written by  Helen Fox

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Creativity and Aging

At the age of 75 the Japanese painter Hokusai (1760-1849) said, "All that I have produced before the age of 70 is not worth taking into account. At 73, I learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes and insects. In consequence, when I am 80, I shall have made still more progress. At 90, I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at 100, I shall certainly have reached a marvelous stage; and when I am 110, every thing I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive."

Hokusai teaches us that the wisdom of old age lies in renewal, in meeting new challenges and looking for fresh meanings. The greatest challenge of our advanced years is to use the wisdom gained in a long life to fuel creativity. Hokusai accepted the changes that age brings. He rejoiced in its gifts.

A great innovator, Hokusai devoted himself primarily to the depiction of scenes from the life of the common people, and landscapes. Between the ages of 64 and 72 he produced his finest series of woodblock prints known as "The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji." These late works combine the western mastery of perspective with traditional Chinese and Japanese artistic conventions. The result is a semi-abstract type of drawing and color pattern, which influenced French artists like Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

At an age when most people are thinking of retirement, Hokusai was doing his best work. As the series progressed, Hokusai's style changed and developed, indicating remarkable energy. These landscape masterpieces are perhaps the best-known Japanese artworks in the West.

Hokusai was busy creating exciting works of art even after reaching the age of eighty and he looked forward to the creative discoveries he would make after reaching ninety. Just before he died on April 18, 1849 at the age of 89, he said: "If heaven gives me ten more years, or an extension of even five years, I shall surely become a true artist."

While many people approaching ninety look inward, Hokusai's extraordinary gift was the wisdom to see the essence of the world around him and the energy and creativity to share his vision.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 May 2011 08:51
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Helen Fox

Helen Fox is an editor and writer.

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