It’s never too late


Dear Artist,

Like Mozart and Michael Jackson, Picasso was pumping out masterworks before puberty and demonstrated the key features of early bloomers: he was prolific, energetic, intuitive, idea-driven and speedy. At 15 and while still in art school, young Pablo painted his sister Lola in The First Communion — you can see it at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona with many of his other adolescent efforts. University of Chicago economist David Galenson, after analyzing auction results, concluded that Picasso’s earliest works are his priciest and therefore his best. According to Galenson, the poor guy peaked early.


“Still life with Apples and Peaches”
oil on canvas, ca.1905
81.2 × 106 cm (32 × 41.7 in)
Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)
National Gallery of Art Washington DC

In his 2007 book, Old Masters and Young Geniuses, Galenson reveals two types of artists: early bloomers and slow boilers. Genius, he says, is a young artist’s game, while the undiscovered luxuriate in time to flesh out deeper, more researched ideas. In other words, early bloomers get the satisfaction of acceptance and its accompanying pressures, while slow boilers are left to simmer on grit.

Simmer on this: Thelonious Monk and Van Gogh bloomed “late,” as did preschool-teacher-turned-explicit-indie-musician, Peaches, at thirtyish; while George Eliot, Dorothy Allison and Toni Morrison didn’t publish until after forty. Ang Lee was a stay-at-home dad who took odd jobs on film sets before he directed The Wedding Banquet at forty, but he’d been making films since grad school. Louise Bourgeois devoted her life to her art before being “discovered” at seventy-eight.

While Picasso was preparing to paint Lola, Cézanne, at 55, was landing his first solo show. He’d already failed to gain entrance to the École des Beaux Arts and had been rejected by the Paris Salon every year between 1864 and 1869. He then continued to submit and be rejected until 1882 — that’s 18 years. By the time Paris dealer Vollard showed up in 1895, Cézanne had slashed thousands of substandard efforts and flung other rejects into his garden in Aix. Slow boilers are crafters and explorers, perfectionists and visionaries, afforded a private evolution unspoiled by the myopic values of a capricious marketplace. Not that it matters, but the highest prices for Cézanne’s paintings are from the year he died.


“The Basket of Apples”
oil on canvas, 1895
65 cm × 80 cm (25.6 in × 31.5 in)
Paul Cézanne
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago



PS: “I seek in painting.” (Cézanne)

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” (George Eliot)

Esoterica: Art historians love to dissect Cézanne’s poor draughtsmanship and lack of understanding of academic principles. Over his lifetime, Cézanne’s vision blossomed into something beyond technical limitations. In 1990, at the age of 18, I walked into art school and my first painting class. Students were arranged at standing easels, circling a still life of fruit and a draped tablecloth. As we squeezed out, a Cézanne-look-alike professor shuffled into the room and said, “Everything worth painting has already been covered by Cézanne. Good luck.”


“Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples”
oil on canvas, ca. 1877
60.6 x 73.7 cm
Paul Cézanne
Metropolitan Museum of Art

“I took your news outdoors, and found the Spring
Had honoured all its promises to start
Disclosing how the principles of earth
Can make a common purpose with the heart.

The heart which slips and sidles like a stream
Weighed down by winter-wreckage near its source –
But given time, and come the clearing rain,
Breaks loose to revel in its proper course.”

(From Spring Wedding by Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999-2009, in honour of Prince Charles’ marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles.)





  1. Here in Denver- our Corpse Flower just bloomed at the Botanical Gardens. Lines around the block to see it. It blooms very rarely and only last a few days. Does that count for anything? Do you think it mattered to Cezanne that his prices went up the year he died?

    • What an inspirational blog. I can always find something inspiring in your messages, but today was particularly poignant. I am your quintessential “late bloomer”, having discovered painting at the age of 64. It brings me such joy to see a piece come to life on the canvass. What a shame it would have been if I had thought it was too late to begin this journey.

    • Kathleen McCready on

      PS: “I seek in painting.” (Cézanne)

      Cezanne was seeking something
      in painting. Perhaps it was self expression, a way to use a gift he had been given, or he was seeking to understand greater truths. As I paint it is similar to what Eric Little said “When I run I feel his glory.” I know how he felt, because when I paint I feel a presence with me that is not like anything I have ever experienced.
      Sometimes I want to just move over and hand the brush to God (because he feels so close) and delight in watching Him out the last finishing touches! I started the painting to display His glory, but since it is a gift from Him it is only right that He finish the painting. I feel triumph, but I know I can not claim all the victory. Glory belongs to the giver of the gift.

      • Nancy Ericksen on

        Amen, especially if you work in watercolor. All those unexpected blooms and runs are joyous reminders that I am not in control. My Higher Power is the art director.

    • Yes – a fabulous blog – now this old bloomer can paint happily knowing I’m in great company!
      By the way – in one of Sara’s dad’s blogs quite recently but I can’t find it, he mentioned the importance of not using volatile (think that was the word) inks – i.e. ones that fade I guess. Well, I’ve recently been using the wonderful (I thought) Tombow acrylic pens to add detail to acrylic paintings, but on one I’ve noticed that some of the marks have faded badly. Can anyone recommend acrylic pens or indeed ink ones where the paint or ink in them is stable and enduring? I’d be really grateful as I find them so helpful.

  2. I’m still waiting for that overnight success thing- after decades of hard work! No- I’m not waiting. I’ve never waited. And I continue to get into international exhibits- because I’ve just kept producing the best I could under difficult circumstances- up against impossible odds utilizing limited resources- working against an unforgiving cultural mindset that suggests that what I’m creating isn’t even art- succeeding again and again while existing on the edge of oblivion. The cliche? If you’re not living on the edge- you’re taking up too much space.

    • I’m thirteen years into my ten-year plan to be an overnight success. I’m still not sure that I really understand how to measure success, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t in how much money one makes with their art (Cezanne, van Gogh, and others come to mind). Being happy with one’s creations may be one measure – if so, then I am happy and successful with my Remasterpieces that I’ve been working on over the last two years ( ).

      • John Johnson… Success is measured in many ways- and artists come in many shapes and sizes with many different perspectives on both success and money. Some artists produce unsaleable instillation work or ephemeral experiential work. But for those of us whose intent is to break the ‘artists never succeed till they’re dead’ negative social and cultural behavior pattern- physical art = product = possible sales = money = financial success. And this blog was created by an artist that DID succeed financially.

        I’m beyond happy with my creation experience and the outcome of that- my art work. I’m beyond happy with how much I’ve managed to create under some of the worst possible emotional situations imaginable. But there will never be that much of my very labor-intensive work. So in the end I still hope it will end up being very valuable- as I’ve done the work of gaining the recognition and creating the reputation that should make it so.

        I shared your instagram site on my facebook page…

    • Well said Bruce. Who defines success? I prefer to do that myself. If I feel that my last painting was better than the one before, then there is hope that my next will be better at least from my perspective. I might store them all in a book but for me they are great memories and they identify the journey that I happen to be on :>))

    • Bruce, you must have noticed by now, at this age, that you have been provided for in one way or another. It, whatever IT may be, has come to you. So trust that that will continue – no ‘buts’. It is time for you to relax. Seriously. And that goes for all of us. When I forget, I struggle and worry. And then when I look back and the sky hasn’t fallen in, I think, when will I ever get it??!! I’m fine, you’re fine. Really, we are. Verna

  3. I have been an artist since I was a young child. I do not understand what selling your creations has to do with art and how the price of a piece of art has anything to do with whether I like or dislike what is presented. Artistic creation can be just as satisfying for an artist when it is expressed in the design of a new computer application as it can in a painting. If you have millions of dollars and you are an artist then chasing after artistic fame and buyers of your art becomes rather demeaning and a waste of creative time. I suspect there are millions of artistic masterpieces created that only the artist who created them has ever seen. It makes art commentary and history rather irrelevant.

  4. Art is a language written with the hands of an artist the time they touch their canvas. Sometimes we may be seen as speaking in tongues and quite often not understood at all. Our signature marks may change direction and shape not as steady as we go, but the need to retire is never decided by any company or corporation based on our age or ability to perform.

  5. Another great post! Thank you Sara, for following in your father’s footsteps so beautifully and seamlessly, in your writing. I have been really appreciating your letters along with Robert’s, the depth and insights. I can only speak for myself, though am sure I’m not alone in seeing he was an amazing father and role model, and was evidently successful at it! – Lucy Barber

  6. Although involved in the performing arts since I was a kid, I didn’t begin painting until I turned 50. Now, thirteen years later, my days are filled with making art and all that that entails. If I had painted as a young man, I suspect my subject matter would have substantially differed from my current work. Then I was struggling to figure out the big questions that surround us; now that the strife is over, I’m satisfied to let the paint flow and the shapes emerge. If something is unpleasant to me, I leave that for another artist to explore. As more aging children sit in front of the palette, I imagine we’ll see lots of nostalgic pieces that romanticize our pasts. That’s not a bad thing. Hopefully, we’ll create some original paintings, even though we’re pretty long in the tooth to be referred to as emerging artists.

  7. Sandra Roberts on

    Thank you, Sarah, for Its Never too Late. I don’t often make time to read the issues but every time I do, it is gratifying, inspiring, and true. Thank you for your time, caring, and sharing.

  8. Sara, it turns out I have a hand in both camps. Tons of energy and work dashed off while working to support a family. The day job disappeared and now the joy of time, combined with energy produces art that I could not even imagine 15 years ago. No retirement in sight for me, and I paint for the stars. Even if I miss, I’ll reach a planet or the moon. Thank you so much for continuing these thoughtful columns.

  9. Galenson’s line, that Picasso peaked early, is almost too stupid to respond to, but I’ll try. Picasso reinvented himself every decade, borrowing strategically from the art being produced around him at the time. He turned out so much brilliant work, in so many different modernist styles, that it’s understandable that the critics doubted his genius and originality. But Guernica owes nothing to anyone but Picasso himself. He’s an example of an artist living a new lifetime each decade, and thus always open to change and growth.

    • Right on….it’s a totally stupid comment.
      This guy is exactly why our world is so unpleasant and full of loss today. Equating artistic genius work to money, as if auction prices prove anything at all. We really have to take back our own valuations and stop giving them this power. We have to stop looking outside our selves for “authority” to qualify our work and what exists.

  10. I am really enjoying your letters. I’m curious though – are you quoting Galenson correctly? Did he really say that because Picasso’s earliest works were selling at the highest prices, therefore they were his best? If so, spoken like a stereotypical economist.

  11. That’s funny, David Galenson is an economist and thinks he has the secret to the career work of creative genius. HA, HA…..HA. Galenson reminds me of why higher ed is just money spent. Picasso’s career opened the doors for artists to change their work anytime, anyplace. He didn’t care about money. Most of us creatives don’t. Leave it to an economist to equate contribution to money. Stash the economist in his own vault and see if he appreciates.

  12. Although the very notion of quality in art is unclear, and seems to have a significant subjective element, I take issue with the conclusion that market price has any direct correlation to quality, as Galenson indicated.

  13. Pingback: Late Bloomers | Nutshell Newsletter Press

  14. I will hold on to George Elliot’s quote for dear life. I started painting last year just short of my 62nd birthday. It is never too late to find yourself or to find a new self! Thanks, again, for the inspiration.

  15. I am in awe of some artists’ late works: Rembrandt’s last self-portrait; Michelangelo’s last Pieta; the last works of Titian; the late nudes of Degas and Renoir; the last Japanese bridge paintings by Monet; and so on. I just passed 90 and am doing some of my best work.

  16. When we start later in life we know that time is limited and we tend to knuckle down – seriously!
    Like anything – if there is unlimited time to achieve things, then things tend to move slowly if at all. There’s nothing like a bit of time-pressure to get things moving.

  17. Is friend signed me up for a watercolor class 38 years ago; I was 40. I told her I had no ability and would stop after the eight weeks…I saw the paint, water, and paper collide with such energy that I decided to paint the REST of my life!!! Your article rings true for me, I experiment all the time and teach others to do so too. Pure JOY and gift from the creator! Happy to read all of the letters and replies…PAINT ON, companions on this journey.

  18. Early bloomers and late bloomers. One of my favourite flowers is the geranium. It lasts all season, and it’s so resilient. We’ve had three hail storms this summer which cut down all our gardens, but each time, the pots of geraniums came back, strong and healthy. Most mornings I wake up smiling, with a painting in my head. If I’m still in my pajamas painting at 10 or 11 am then it’s a great day! Nothing has kept me from my brushes and paints.

    I do have down days, weeks, but I seem to always find that “freshness deep down things” again, and I wake up smiling , ready to paint. I can’t really compare it to anything else. The energy I feel is the energy of life! How lucky I am to feel that pulse so clearly.

  19. Cezanne was supported by his father all his life. No doubt that had an impact on his ability to produce and destroy canvases until he got it right. Yes…he was the first “cubist”, and yes his special eye still demands respect because it is alive in 2D. He most definitely was before his time in style, and his late acceptance was largely due to the fact that the public wasn’t ready for him earlier. The younger artists were however, and that brings us to…Pablo.
    Picasso’s Dad was an art instructor at a nearby art school…and I actually prefer Dad’s pigeons muted color and elegant lines to Pablo’s ugly visual masturbations intended to shock rather than impart a sense of joy. So much is said about his impoverished early years in Paris….but what young artist doesn’t want to live the life amongst kindred spirits? He frequently fled to Spain when the going got a bit too rough. Pablo had the courage to shock and the charisma to convince both his peers and moneyed modern collectors that his vision had the loudest voice…and indeed it had. Still does. He knew the age of the photograph would make realism obsolete….so he gave us fantasy interpretations of reality, and he did so at a time when the public was ready to accept it, along with the fledgling concept of psychoanalysis.
    So much for early and late blooming. Cezanne was the forerunner, Braque & Picasso were disciples, and ART was the visual entertainment of the times. Nowadays we have so much other interference…..Good Luck ALL!

  20. I saw Picasso painting of his sister’s first communion at his MOMA retrospective in 1976 and was truly awed by his genius. He may have peaked but he did bring art in a whole new direction and you can’t deny that. Glad there is still hope for me. :)

  21. Adrienne D'Aeth on

    Never had the opportunity to make or participate in Art until a pensioner of 62, went to draw on the Right hand side of the brain,
    next painting classes, next University….Have had a few successes but the greatest has been being able to fulfill a great yearning… Always striving for more and unsurprisingly, the more one strives and sees, the greater one’s
    appreciation for the work of others. Love the Robert Genn letters.. Have frequently pulled one out of the slough of despondency by the suspenders!! Many thanks

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