Although talent in the arts most often shows itself early, because it takes so many years to develop their talent and become highly proficient in the arts, people who will become expert musicians, painters, performers, and writers can expect to be late bloomers. Artists who perform at a high level do not demonstrate remarkable talent in short order. They are not usually in their twenties or thirties, but in their forties, fifties, and sixties. All spend many years developing the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that will eventually enable them to be recognized for their mastery. All arts involve learning form and the art’s devices, and the need for control, craft, revisions, and structure–time consuming efforts. All begin by imitating existing techniques they have studied.
Harriet Doerr’s first novel was published when she was seventy three, and won the National Book Award. Playwright George Bernard Shaw and novelists Sherwood Anderson and Joseph Conrad were famous late bloomers. American short story specialist Raymond Carver was too. Painters Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, and Grandma Moses bloomed late, as did composer Camille Saint Saens. Gauguin worked for years in the French stock market before quitting and turning to art, and Polish Conrad who would become the quintessential stylist in English, didn’t speak or write a word in English till he was in his twenties.
A survey of 47 outstanding instrumentalists found that their ability was first noticed on average at the age of four years and nine months. Then they began a very long and arduous period of development of their talent. Pianists work for about seventeen years from their first formal lessons to their first international recognition, involving many thousands of hours of intense practice. The fastest in one study was twelve years, and the slowest took twenty-five years. In other fields you may even be an early bloomer, but in the arts if your expertise is to be at a high level of mastery, unless you are a Dylan Thomas, a rarity who was at his peak at nineteen, you had best avoid discouragement and expect to bloom late.
Trouble Getting Started: Two Examples from The Arts
Late Bloomers have trouble getting started, but once they decide what to do with their lives, there is no stopping them. Sometimes the very tardiness of their entering into a field is a powerful motivator to make up for lost time, “catching up” with people of equal age who started years sooner and often surpassing their accomplishments. They think, “I have no time to waste anymore.” They buckle down, focusing, achieving, feeling surges of vitality which if they are in the arts they turn into paintings, novels, plays, movies, buildings and museums, and so on.
Novelist Raymond Chandler was fired from his high-paying executive job (chairman of five corporations at the same time) and found himself without an income. Luckily, he had a talent and became a writer, but not producing a first short story until the age of forty-four and his first novel at fifty-four. That book–The Big Sleep–was a success and spawned quickly many other works–many novels, short stories, essays, articles, and screen plays. Vincent van Gogh, a troubled soul, spent most of his life searching unsuccessfully for a field to work in, trying this and that, believing that there was an appropriate occupation for everyone, including himself. He turned to a life of serious painting at thirty-three. In the brief five years remaining in his life his energy, which was almost superhuman and beyond belief, was ignited, and he produced three thousand works.
The Life Pattern of Late Bloomers
When the majority of their friends and associates are settled in a career and life style, late bloomers are not. Late bloomers may eventually reach the height of their achievements and fulfillment which I call “their true destiny,” but later in life. Their lives fill us with optimism. They demonstrate that whatever your condition at present, whatever your age, a fulfilled life, even one you may not have remotely anticipated, may await you.
To bloom is to reach your true destiny, to live intelligently, not stupidly, to come into your own, to find fulfillment. The discovery of your true destiny can come early in life, or in the middle, or late. It’s the bell curve: of those who bloom: a minority bloom early, the great majority bloom in their middle years, and a minority bloom in their sixties, seventies, or later. But some people never bloom because they don’t set their minds to.
The Sense of Constructing Yourself As You Go Along
If you’re a late bloomer, you’ve made false starts. You haven’t peaked yet, haven’t reached your destiny yet, but you may be determined to bloom one day. Late bloomers are more willing than most to persevere and if need be to fail but try again and again until they reach a life they desire. If you are a late bloomer, more than most people you have the sense that you’re constructing yourself as you go along, even rejecting what other people may call golden opportunities if those opportunities don’t appear to lead you in the direction you desire most.
For example, I had published books before with good presses, starting in my mid-twenties, but my first important book with a major publisher (Doubleday) was published when I was forty-two. The next best seller was published three years later. Before I knew it I was making speeches about them to audiences of thousands in auditoriums across North America and in Europe. I have a flair for public speaking and present myself well, and was approached by an agent with the goal in mind for me to have a national television talk show. It was an excellent opportunity and would have paid extremely well. But my wife and I talked it over and I decided that what I wanted to do with my life above all else was simply to sit at a computer in my upstairs work room while my four children played noisily downstairs and my wife came up once in a while to say hello, and produce artful paragraphs that reflected my years of hard work and training. To me that was blooming. I turned the opportunity down. Late bloomers often make similar very difficult decisions while they are constructing themselves.
Late Blooming Is Problem-Solving
When people try to solve problems, the solutions arrived at toward the end of the solution-generating period are the best. The most effective problem-solvers tend not to accept as the solution the first or the first flurry of solutions that come to mind. Their thinking is, “This is a good-looking solution all right, but there may be better ones,” and they continue to work on solving the problem. They hold out for a better answer. This is called “deferred judgment” and requires that you live in ambiguity, possibly for a long time. But people in the arts have a higher tolerance for ambiguity than the great majority of people. It’s not far -fetched to view late bloomers as people who defer judgment for a period of time–even many years–living patiently in ambiguity until finding a solution to the problem of living their life and reaching what is, for them, a more highly fulfilling existence that makes full use of their talents. If your life is not fulfilling, you know it. No one need tell you.
The Importance of Missions, Callings, and Occupations
Most people–possibly all–who find fulfillment later in life find it in a mission, calling, or vocation. You cannot be dissatisfied when you’re doing the work for which you feel you were brought into the world, a thought that consoled Raymond Carver through his alcoholic’s torturous life. Psychologist Charlotte Buhler was concerned with people finding fulfillment in a “task” as artists find in their art. She wrote, “We find our most complete fulfillment if we can be ourselves and do what we like to do while dedicating ourselves to a task we believe in. In this we transcend ourselves, but simultaneously we satisfy ourselves.” George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.”
Getting More Education and Training Is a Route Many Late Bloomers Follow
Late bloomers need more time to get settled. My son was a high-powered advertising salesman making a lot of money. He began to dread his work. He was unhappy because he felt he wasn’t doing anything meaningful. He wanted to work in a helping profession. He had been hit by a car and sustained serious injuries and underwent a long, painful recovery. His friend was killed in that accident and my son was deeply affected. He felt a powerful need to apply himself to serving an important goal that went beyond his own self-interests. In his late thirties he went back to school and acquired a Master’s degree in social work. He now provides therapy to people who survive traumas as did he.
Going back to school as a transition to another field is a strategy late bloomers find appealing, in essence ending one career and starting another.
Some Goals and Interests the Late Bloomer Just Does Not Forget
Or, you may set out again in pursuit of goals that were dear to you in the past and you’ve neglected, possibly for a long time. Especially determined people are more likely than most to find success by changing their lives in mid-stream, pursuing abandoned purposes and projects, resuming activities and interests that they have laid aside, sometimes many years earlier, but never stopped thinking about. Herbert guided tours through the North Woods before stopping to assess what he wanted. After asking himself hard questions about where his life was going he returned to his earlier interest in medicine. He went back to school and became an MD. Wally Amos was an unsuccessful Hollywood talent agent who found that he had always enjoyed most baking cookies. So later in life he opened the first store in what would grow into the Famous Amos Chocolate Chip business.
It Is Never Too Late To Become the Person You Are Supposed To Be
No matter your age or position in life– a seventy-three year old grandmother of ten, a middle-aged druggist, or a young clerk, housewife, or college student– you can always become the person you have the wherewithal to be. Because you haven’t bloomed yet doesn’t mean you won’t. Your heights of satisfaction and accomplishments may be ahead of you. When you bloom isn’t the important thing. Blooming at all is.
Have you bloomed? If you haven’t what are you going to do about that? People who aren’t leading satisfactory lives haven’t bloomed at all, and many are trying to, but many have never started trying, and just as many have given up. Better to start if you haven’t already, whatever your age or condition in life. You can always forget the past and start out again, making no excuses for starting out late. Experiment, follow your instincts, and assess yourself and your feelings about your life. Are you going right or are you going wrong?
You can either search for fulfillment or flee from it. You can’t trade it for someone else’s fulfillment because theirs seems easier or more profitable or praiseworthy. Yours is yours. It stands in need of you. You are asked to fit yourself to it. It is given just as it is, just as the yellow sun and blue sky are given just as they are.
© 2021 David J. Rogers
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23 responses to “Why Do Writers, Painters, and Other Artists Bloom Late?”
Reblogged this on silverapplequeen and commented:
The thing is to never give up.
I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for the comment.
Good morning David
This is possibly one of my favourite posts from you. Talk about hitting the nail on the head!
You are so right, there is no time to waste and it is never ever too late.
I find that one of the great luxuries and gifts of life is the learned knowledge we acquire after years of work, perseverance and hanging in there.
Everything about this post speaks to me, including the George Bernard Shaw quote:)
Thank you very much
Thank you for your comment. You make very good points. I thought the post might appeal to you because it contains some of the themes you have talked with me about and reflect in your writing.
Shaw’s life was extremely interesting. Earlier in his life, before his literary career started, he was employed in a men’s shop as a salesman, working on writing novels when he could find the time. He wrote one novel every year for five years and submitted them to publishers. Each was rejected. With the last rejection came a note from the editor saying that while he had to pass on the novel, he thought the dialog was wonderful. He asked, “Did you ever think of writing plays?” And that was the turning point in Shaw’s life, eventually leading, of course, to a Nobel Prize.
Everyone here is well, and I hope you are too. Society and commerce here are opening up. Sports stadiums are at full capacity. People are dining in restaurants, and so on. However, some people are reluctant to get the vaccinations, and others who should wear masks are not wearing masks. So people continue to get sick, in much smaller numbers, however.
On a lighter note, Diana bought me a pair of light blue summer pajamas for Father’s Day. So I’m in a good mood.
Best wishes always,
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Thank you David for the information about Shaw. Fascinating.
We were beginning to fee as if life was getting back to some normalcy but now the Indian variant is taking off in a big way! Our coming out of lock down has been extended another month – with a ‘watch this space’ note added…..
We also have a segment of the population who will not have vaccines….or wear make which of course means that people will continue to get sick. We are not safe until everyone is vaccinated.
The HUB http://www.theinspiredhub.co.uk continues to be a great joy for me. I gave a workshop there last week and will be giving another on the 30th….and I do love going to the gardens and feeling a part of a wonderful community.
Happy Father’s Day in your light blue summer pjs. Enjoy a lovely family day – Janet 🙂
Janet, I’m sorry your country still has to be in lockdown. The people here who do not want a vaccination say that it’s not safe, and that not enough research has been done. More than 300 milliion shots have been given here with virtually no negative effects–only positive. It seems to me that that is research enough.
I’m so happy to hear about your workshops. I know how much you love giving them. I’m sure the workshops are popular and are significant contributions to the HUB.
It’must be wonderful to sit in a garden on a beautiful day, feeling connected to a community for the arts.
My children are all out of town, but they have all called today, and I’m happy.
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Things are opening up somewhat…but the same applies here that many people wont have the vaccine even though there is more than enough evidence to tell us that it is beneficial for all concerned.
The biggest concern here is the variant from India which is running rampant. Had we put India on the red zone some time ago when the virus was causing havoc there, we might be in a better shape, but politics prevented this from happening…and so here we are with this variant raging.
I am grateful for the HUB every single day.
Hope you and have a lovely weekend with some baseball:). Janet
Watching the news I learned that your minister of health was a naughty boy and like many such boys has to face the consequences. Sounds to me like American bureaucrats.
I know how important a place like the HUB can be. I used to go to the Senior Center for writing classes and groups which were very enjoyable.
I have baseball that I enjoy so much. Are you interested in sports at all? if so, which sports? I’m looking forward to the Olympics, particularly track and field.
I hope you are having a good Sunday, Best wishes, David
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Oh yes Matt Hancock was not only a naughty boy but one huge hypocrite!….He’s been telling us, along with Boris of course, to socially distance etc. etc…..and then he is caught doing the opposite of socially distancing. It’s all very British and Monty Pythonish!:). Then of course there is our illustrious leader, Boris, who doesn’t even know how many children he has….and so it goes. Now Matt must face the consequences.
The HUB is very alive, and one of the many things I love about it is that it caters for all age groups…from tiny tots, who have their own gardens to teenagers, people in their thirties/forties all the way up to me and beyond. There are so many things going on there….all of which makes it such a fun place to be involved with .
When I was young I used to play a lot of tennis, I rode horses a lot – played hockey at school and loved to swim. These days, I do a lot of walking, yoga and swimming. I quite like rugby and support Wales – not a big soccer fan…will have my eye on Wimbledon tennis which stated today. By the Wimbledon is only 25 minutes from here – not that I will be attending.
I watch some of the Olympics…..but would not call myself a real sports fan.
Hope you are enjoying. Janet 🙂
The HUB sounds like a wonderful place I would very much like too, but I can’t think of anything like it around here. Who funds it?
I’ll bet you’re fit. The exercising you do and have done in your life. I exercise very little, due primarily to back pains. But I hope that will improve. The only Olympic events I ever watch are Track and Field. I mentioned to you that I was a middle distance runner years ago. I have loved to run, run, run all my life.
I picture you being very happy with the HUB, and I’m so happy for you.
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Good Sunday afternoon – and it is a very wet one…but pleasantly cool and so no complaints.
The HUB is financed privately – and yes I am actually very fit for my age. Not only do I walk everywhere, but I have been doing morning sketching exercises ever since Christie was born 46 years go. There’s no question that it makes a huge difference. If I miss just a few days I can feel it.
Today I am having a lazy day….a little painting this morning, lots of reading and now getting ready for a Skype with Christie..
Wishing you and. yours a very happy Independence Day :). Janet
You werre smart staying in good shape. I had a hunch you did. I sloughed off for a long time–unforgivable for a once good track athlete and body builder. Diana stays in good shape. Rainy by you, hot and sultry here.
As I know you recall, the 4th of July is a happy day here. At 9:00 tonight the fireworks will begin exploding all over the place, and will continue past midnight, which will interfere with old people’s sleep. HaHa. Do you have a comparable national holiday in England–the day the Magna Carta was passed or some such? I hope you stay well and continue the painting you’re doing today.
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One day we have which is all about fireworks is Guy ‘Fawkes night, celebrated every 5th November. Guy Fawkes was involved in a failed Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. We build big bonfires with life size effigies of Guy Fawkes on top. We then burn Guy Fawkes, and set off all sorts of fireworks. Much fun and very British:).
Very cool here but warmer weather is on the way…..Janet X
Thank you for the information. What a fascinating story.
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This was so motivating and reassuring to read. I have always felt like a late bloomer and the fact that mental health issues only seem to slow your pace down even more never helped much. But that doesn’t mean one should give up trying and probably the hardest thing for me to unlearn was that everybody has their own pace. It’s not a competition. In a world where everyone is obsessed with showing each other what they have done or got on social media, not taking others as a competition was really hard. It still affects me sometimes, but I recover when I realise that. Thanks for reminding us that late bloomers aren’t really late, they are just waiting for the right time. 💜
Shrubaboti, I’m happy my post had a good effect on you. Your comment is just so right and so germaine, I’m sure, to other people who will read it here. Particularly, writers and poets often have mental health problems, so I’m glad you brought that up–that a disability needn’t stop a person from blooming.
American writer/naturalist Henry David Thoreau was interested in the kinds of things you are too, and came to the conclusion that we must ignore what isn’t pertinent to us and should bask in what is pertinent, like tranquility and peace of mind. Thoreau wrote the following, which I think is relevant: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”
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Aww that’s such a beautiful quote. Thanks for leading me to it. I’m gonna note it down. 💜🥺
I’m glad you liked the Thoreau quote. I’ve looked at some of your poetry and found it very good and enjoyed it. Best of luck on your writing.
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That’s so kind of you. Thank you so much David. 😊
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I’m sure you didn’t write this just for me, David, but she shoe fits! I didn’t get around to reading it until today. You’ve described me very well. I’m still trying to bloom at 68 years old. I know a woman who was 70 when her first novel was published, and I take great encouragement from her story. In light of the critique of the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript that I received last Monday, I will be older than 70 when my novel is published. You can read all about it in the blog post I published this morning.
Janet, from reading your posts I think you are an excellent word-smith, but from the critique of the first 50 pages one gets the unfounded impression that you don’t know the first thing about the writing craft. I can’t understand how your writing could possibly be as bad as the critique makes it sound. I think it would be a good idea if you stopped turning to how-to-write manuals and writing gurus and trusted your knowledge as is and your literary intuitions based on your active mind and background reading tons of novels. Refine and finish your best draft and send it off to publishers. Success is almost always preceded by self-confidence, Trust your knowledge, your skills, and yourself.
I’m reminded of a story of a man who was driving down a road and was faced with a thick tree branch that had fallen across the road and was blocking the way. The driver realized that he would need a lever to move the branch so he broke a branch off a tree to use. But it was too thick so he took out a knife and started to whittle the branch to a useful size. He enjoyed whittling and thought of it as an art. And so whittled and whittled. He became so engrossed in shaping the branch that he forgot its purpose and whittled and whittled all afternoon and evening and never moved that branch–and so never reached his destination.
You’ve done too much whittling, Janet. Don’t wait for a book or people to tell you how to write. You’ve read and reviewed so many good books and have thought about writing and read so much about writing good books that if you just trust your intuitions and have confidence you may well write one yourself.
Thank you, Katherine for that wonderful Youtube video. Very enjoyable.
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