Solving problems


Dear Artist,

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.”

Belarus, 1971 by Halyna Sevruk (1929 - 2022)

Belarus, 1971
by Halyna Sevruk (1929 – 2022)

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.

Forest Clearing (portrait of Nadiia Svitlychna), (n.d.) by Halyna Sevruk

Forest Clearing (portrait of Nadiia Svitlychna), (n.d.)
by Halyna Sevruk

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.”



Tear, 1971 by Halyna Sevruk

Tear, 1971
by Halyna Sevruk

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.

Owl-Fate, 1969 Ceramic by Halyna Sevruk

Owl-Fate, 1969
by Halyna Sevruk

“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)



  1. Another wonderful theme, and article from you, Sara! Thank you! If you don’t mind, I’d like to expand upon art for a moment. I think of what is happening in Ukraine. I think about my own youth. I love you. A lot of people get freaked out by that. Uncomfortable with love. For me I love everyone. I feel it in my heart. I need to release what my heart feels. What it tells me to say. I ran into a person in a super market I hadn’t seen for months. I thanked him with the two mountain bikes that he gave me. That he maintained for me. Plus my celeste green Bianchi road bike that he completely restored. I repeatedly told him how much I loved him. Perhaps he was uncomfortable by me praising him so clearly in the busy store that everyone could hear, but that is just how I am. I made a choice to change my behavior. I come from a family that didn’t hug. It certainly didn’t said ‘love’ or ‘I love you’. I came from a family that you kept your feelings to yourself. Rarely did anyone talk. And when one talked it was about the weather (its -33 as it is now where I write to you from in Saskatoon, Canada). It was about nothing, really. Just a waste of time. Just a waste of life. To say the word love to another guy must apply your ‘gay’. That is how my family would look at it. The word was just a word for them. For them love applied a ‘sexual partnership.’ IE: “I love my husband.” “I love my wife.” When I say ‘love’, it applies for so many reasons. Like thinking of someone else. Doing for someone else. So… I got busy problem solving in my adult life. Solving my own self. Because I did, I created these responses. And, yes, many, many artists are included:
    Returning to Ukraine. Returning to the article. To age. To problem solving. I would like to share this article with you with the hope that you will not only read it, but share the story (URL) with others. This problem–war – needs to be solved now.


    Miles Patrick Yohnke

  2. Great letter, Sara. I think of the peace you speak of as not fighting against those youth who do not recognize the wisdom of elders. ( I include myself at times – definitely past and sometimes present). You offer your gifts of wisdom to those who accept, and give up on those that resist – understandably. But it can continue that cycle of cultural youth worship. Lots of ideas in this letter, and I look forward to reading the comments of the more wise among this community! (I’m ‘only’ 54)

    • I loved this one (solving problems), I am old, something I realised about a year ago, I’m 77 now and still painting and learning. Yes, youth can be so crass, but sometimes I sense a hunger and that is the time to help and solve. Thank you.

  3. I spent the last twenty (20) years of my working life in a music instrument retail store owned by a grossly-overweight, usually bad-tempered man with little grasp of the industry he serviced and whose only criteria was his profit margins. Staff were paid minimum wage plus a commission of 1% (!) on their monthly sales. During one of his infrequent visits, a staff member asked him about getting a raise on their hourly rate. The owner responded by saying: If you want to make more, sell more. On another occasion during one of his visits, one of the store’s assistant managers approached him and said: Can I speak to you about a problem I have? He replied: The last time I had a problem, I fired it.

  4. At 90 I painted this morning. After 60+ years of making our way with watercolors it’s impossible to quit. Some great comments here about real life. I especially like, “That pining for the old days will get you nowhere.”

  5. I’m 81 and have been painting for 25 years. I feel like I have so much to learn yet in my journey to reach the peak of my mountain where I can say, “at last, I truly am an artist”. We are always learning and evolving. and by sharing the lessons we learn along the way, hopefully inspire others. So much can be said through our art.

      • Linda A Olsen on

        Before I retired, right before the pandemic really hit in Feb 2020, I felt like a dinosaur in my office, where we used computers extensively. It wasn’t the computers, it was watching the same ideas trotted out by the younger people that were tried when I was in their current age bracket. Sometimes the instrument was different, but it was the same combo of notes. I got so tired of this, I could barely force myself to work at work. Which finally made me decide to leave. Yes, youth may be clever, but it has very little seasoning!

    • Right ON, Sara! A painter/printmaker since the mid-1960s, I’ll be 84 next month. I retired from teaching in 2003, and am still driven more by curiosity than by ambition.
      (Been there, done that.) I can easily recognize the various states and phases of personal evolution alluded to in your text.
      As a teacher I found it more effective and satisfying to work with students’ ideas rather than “mine” (which I now understand were never wholly “mine in the first place!).
      Despite these decades of accumulated kills and knowledge, my work has never had an ongoing ‘brand.’ As my late colleague George KOKIS used to say, “Originality is not just about newness and uniqueness—it’s about origins.”

  6. What a lovely post, Sara, thank you! I’m 79 and still learning. My art keeps me going happily along the way to whatever lies ahead. I discovered the joys of working with pastel about15 years ago, and I can finally see my direction more clearly. Thank you so much for your letters and your father’s letters as well. I love them.

  7. When in high school, a zillion years ago, my lowest score on an aptitude test was for creative problem solving. I can hardly believe that was accurate since I am noted for being able to think outside the box, and rectify problems that require “creative problem solving.” Today’s advanced education system seems to encourage linear studies which make for young people who have little experience outside of their area of interest. Broad, liberal arts education with studies in the arts, humanities, science, literature, etc give one the opportunity to realize that there is much to be accomplished outside of their chosen field of focus.
    Now I am 77 and today is the best day of my life. I paint all day, if I want. I paint for myself, though a local gallery sells my work and I maintain a website as well. I still am trying to “study” in the broadest sense of the word. Each day, I hope, that there will be a new lesson, something new to learn in store for me. I don’t think I will be disappointed!

  8. I am in my 70’s and am still painting and searching, not always intentionally, for new and exciting ways to express myself, not for others but for myself. I loved reading this letter, Sara, and all the comments sent in in response. I too loved “Time ripens all things; no man is born wise” (Cervantes) and, “ Pining for the old days will get you nowhere”; and, not the exact words,..yesterday I was clever and thought I could change the world. Today I am older and know I must change myself…

  9. Sara, I think you should do an article about Halyna Sevruk, the artist whose works accompanied this letter. This being Women’s Month and with what’s happening in Ukraine, this female Ukrainian artist from Kyiv, who just recently died on Feb. 13, 2022, at 92, is worthy of recognition for the struggles her career suffered at the hands of the Soviet government starting in 1968. As a dissident and a patriot for Ukraine, she portrayed the folklore and history of Ukraine through her art in mosaics, ceramics, paintings, ink illustrations, and monumental installations (which were destroyed because they didn’t fit the ‘aesthetics’ of the Soviets). Her ability to show her work and earn a living from it was prevented for over 20 years, only recently being able to do so. . The Lost Treasures. Halyna Sevruk (7:28) is worth watching. Thankfully, she passed before the war on Ukraine began.

  10. Ooooooh, good one, Sara… LOVE THIS!!! SO, this might explain how lately I am reflecting on memories of my younger days with so much regret on how I handled some things. It’s not because I am having a nervous breakdown, it’s because due to my aging brain, I recognize things now that I just didn’t see when younger. It’s not really fair how life does this to us. Brings the memories clearly into our mental visual, but makes us want to relive them so we can do a better job at handling them. Like looking my old artworks, I look at my life and ask… WHAT WAS I THINKING??? I know, best to cut some slack on ourselves, and accept the physical changes that happen where our perspectives change due to a physically aging( a good thing of course) brain. I’m not the same person as I was then, I’m better, and getting even better. :) Thank you, Sara!

  11. As I close my 70th year this month, I concur completely with the notion of pointing my walking stick in the direction of peace. Thank you Sara. I look forward to many more offerings of wisdom.

  12. Shushana Caplan on

    I have been making some kind of art as long as I can remember. I experimented with all kinds of media and earned degrees in studio painting and art education. After doing art most of my life, I decided to document the history of my family as Holocaust survivors of the Second World War, who were sent to the Gulag in Siberia. I was an infant of one year old at the time we were deported. At seventy-three years of age, my work was given recognition with an exhibition at the Coral Springs Museum in Florida. Everything I had learned and experimented with suddenly came together in the abstract acrylic and collage paintings I created for this exhibition. This series has been exhibited three more times since 2013 and will be shown once more at a gallery in my hometown of Cote St Luc, in Montreal Quebec this May for Jewish Heritage Month. I never expected anything like this so late in life. With age comes fulfillment.

  13. Rick Charvet on

    Amen, I want peace as well. Great article. Everything I see is a part of me. Thank you Mile for spreading the love. Just think what the world needs now is , “Love, love, love.” Hmmm, what a concept. Peace out all and blessings.

  14. Lawrence Buckland on

    When you get older it seems better when you trust your own intuition and rely less on cognitive thinking. As esoteric it may sound, letting go on canvas while being in the moment, out of the box will get you in a space of your own, without the sea anchors of yesteryear holding back your ever-better self expression. It’s about growing instinct. Einstein said, “Never analyze enthusiasm!”

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October 17, 2022 to October 23, 2022

CDLN 6Uncorking Your Creative Core: Paint, Write & Walk in Mexico

October 17 – 23, 2022

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Featured Artist

Coming late to the wonderful life of an artist, Art found me through great instruction from Nancy Lynne Hughes,  and extending workshops from such International figures as Jean Pedersen, Frank Moir,  Mike Svob and Gerald Brommer. Each of these fine artists have left their stamp on my work for which I am eternally grateful.

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.


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