According to decades-long research, there are two types of problem-solving. “Fluid intelligence” is the arena of the young, relying on analysis and innovation. It peaks in our mid-40s. The skills we acquire with age involve the ability to combine complex ideas and interpret and contextualize them. Arthur C. Brooks, in his book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, calls it “crystallized intelligence” and says it starts to kick in during mid-life and lasts well into old age. Another word for it is “wisdom.” Brooks also says that in a culture that fetishizes youth, quick thinking and ingenuity, the value of the contributions of the wise (and old) is diminishing, to our culture’s peril. As of 2017, for example, Silicon Valley had a median employee age of 30. This, says Brooks, has everything to do with why tech companies are now emerging as toxic places to work, producing harmful products and bulldozing privacy and market competition. “Cleverness,” wrote Euripides, “is not wisdom.”
For artists, Brooks’ insights are especially valuable for those navigating their creative and professional lives in middle and old age. Apparently, people who continue to work successfully in their 50s, 60s and 70s are the ones who have found a way to harness their growing wisdom. Synthesizing knowledge, mentoring or teaching others, looking for patterns and seeing the big picture have enabled them to grow and develop in their chosen fields after the hot bloom of youth has vapourized. In particular it turns out, developing pattern recognition in ourselves and others is one of the killer apps of old age. Having just spent a whirlwind couple of days with my oldest childhood friend, we were both lamenting and celebrating how far we’ve come in being able to contextualize our circumstances – plus a newly-discovered ability to roll with the snags of life.
Brooks also posits that pining for the old days will get you nowhere. Crystallized intelligence, he says, is more about making prudent judgements now, based on your own deep experience. In art, as we put in our hours and therefore age, we accumulate intelligence around our materials, the execution of ideas and the possibilities of how our work may be shared. “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world,” wrote Rumi. “Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
PS: “In a youth-dominated culture and economy, companies and individuals tend to overweight the importance of fluid intelligence and underweight crystallized intelligence. We demand new products and amazing inventions but disregard what experience would tell us are their implications for our companies, culture, and well-being. This bias lies behind the ageism in tech and many other parts of the economy. But even worse, it explains why we are so good at creating new things that overpromise and underdeliver when it comes to happiness.” (Arthur C. Brooks)
Esoterica: Perhaps in at least some corners of art, we understand more instinctively than others the overratedness of the new. Creating new things for the sake of their newness risks skipping the important steps of personal authenticity and our collective humanity. After all, in the sublime art of the ever-renewing, bee-loud glade of Innisfree, for example, what is really new? And when my bestie described to me the perfection in million-year-old moss, her boots sinking two-feet deep in it recently while hiking in the Cascades, I could not think of anything new I could make to improve it. Today, at 49, it is perhaps less important to innovate for sport than to re-consider the ways and whys of offering my ideas and expression. As my fluid intelligence wanes, I will point my walking stick, instead, in the direction of peace.
“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”
(William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, 1888)
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“Time ripens all things; no man is born wise.” (Miguel de Cervantes)
October 17 – 23, 2022
San Miguel de Allende
Painting Mentor – Amit Janco: Artist, Author, Labyrinth Designer, Founder of Heartshops and Retreat on Your Feet (Creativity and Walking Retreats)
Join this 7-day journey through self-expression to unleash your bottled-up creativity, with a brush in hand – and openness in your heart. Calling non-artists too! Each day, you’ll stand up to paint; yes, you’ll be painting on your feet, and moving about – thereby activating the brain, the body and ALL senses. No need to come with a plan; watch the colors and brushstrokes come alive; and see the magic and mysteries unfold, as you greet your square of paper anew, every day. Our accommodations and studio are in an enchanting former bordello, just a stone’s throw away from San Miguel’s historic center, with its gardens, cobblestoned alleys and marvelous colonial architecture. Inspiration abounds!
There are two elements in my artistic development that contribute to my work daily:
– I fell in love with water medium early, and will continue to learn from it for as long as I paint. No one really masters watercolour; it remains a thing apart, and therein lies its beauty.
– About six years into painting, I discovered alternative watercolour surfaces (canvas, board and collage), with the result that I rarely paint on paper any more. Each surface presents different challenges and different rewards, and I find myself shifting from one to another according to the mood and subject of each piece.