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Brad and I had a discussion yesterday about a Steve Jobs quote I read online.

"It's rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing."

Brad took that quote as "young people contribute amazing things. People in their 30s and 40s are past their prime."

I took the quote as "Young people rarely contribute amazing things. They've not lived long enough. People usually only do that in their 50s.So it's rare when someone in their 30's or 40s does it."

What do you think?
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Drezz Rodriguez's profile photoMatt Clark's profile photoJeff Parker's profile photoBrian Parker's profile photo
46 comments
 
I agree with you scott. I'm 26 and in year 1 of a 35+ year career. Half the things I made six months ago make me shudder, and I know in another year I'll look back at this work as necessary but not nearly my best.
 
I read that article too and took it like you, usually Artists are praised for their late work. For example I really love your new Trenches Comic and visit it 3-4 times a week, but I rarely visited PVP Online and then read in in bulk. :)
 
Depends on your "art" - IIRC mathematicians at 25 may be reaching the end of their productivity, painters at 75 may just be getting in to their prime.

People do mazing things. Sometimes they're young, sometimes they're old. But people are amazing.
 
Compared to musicians, though, there are a lot of candles that burned bright and fast.
 
I understood the quote to mean that young people aren't motivated enough to do something great. That it takes years of learning certain virtues and amassing knowledge from others before putting it together and making or doing something of value.

There are exceptions to the rule. But I think Jobs is right - most of the people we see as innovators aren't recognized until they've 'matured.'
 
My gut reaction is that you're both right. Some artists begin with gusto, verve, and a driving hunger that influences their work, and if they receive praise and accolade for their accomplishments the angst that drives their creativity can be too quickly sated (see, many musicians who 'sell out'). On the other hand, there are many who take time to find their voice and expression, and their maturity influences their work to a far greater extent.
 
That an interesting dichotomy of reactions. I'd be curious as the originator of the comment's intent. You COULD read it either way, I suppose.

I know there was a big thing recently about how anyone over forty was past their prime for writing, whether they had written anything or not... and then a backlash on that listing many writers who started past 40 and many works that were arguably better by people later in their life than what they wrote earlier.

As to your separate reactions: I think it's reading into the statement your own views (or concerns.)
 
Man, I couldn't disagree more. While young people of course bring energy, and no one should be outright dismissive of a creative or brilliant individual because of their youth... there is much to be said about experience, living more of your life, and the general wisdom that comes from having more years under your belt.
I would argue someone taking the "past their prime" argument based solely on age outside of the sporting arena is being myopic, overselective of their evidence, or just plain ignorant.
 
As I have just turned 50, I have to agree with you. Hitting that birthday marker has got me pulling out all my old works and updating them. With any luck, the experiences of the last few decades might be the catalyst to make it stand out in all the "noise".
 
I just turned 50 also, so I gotta agree. The main reason I wasn't doing anything creative in the past 20 years is I was busy raising a family. That took most of my energy. Now that the kids have flown the nest. I feel so creative again!
 
Sounds like context is needed in a big way. Was he saying how great it is to find people in their 30s and 40s who do awesome things?
 
on page two of the pb interview in question:


"People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare."

http://www.playboy.com/magazine/playboy-interview-steve-jobs/2

what does this mean? it means things said glibly in the 80s by over-hyped CEOs can be taken with two cups of salt.
 
+Jonathan Combel So it was a "young people are awesome, unless the older people have open minds and continue to be awesome" quote.
 
I feel like Brad's interpretation might be true in some industries, but Scott's is the one we would all like to see and believe.
 
I want to speak all the time like that, so everyone hears my statements as whatever they believe.
 
Age 66 here. I was told once that new math is generally invented by young people, and the best writing is generally done by older folks. In math 30 is old, in literature, 40 is young. (I'm a technical writer, and my writing has certainly improved as I've gained experience.) What about other fields? My wife is 40, and she has been an amazing artist for decades, and still does amazing things. I've seen outstanding farmers at all ages.
 
I think that time between 30 and 50 is reserved in most people's minds of our society to be the "productive" time, where you use the energy of youth to propel yourself upwards as much as possible. A person in that age range is too busy surviving and making retirement possible to do much creativity. So, before that time period, people have the chance to explode on the scene with their work, and after the workhorse years is the other window of opportunity to be creative. Generally speaking, of course.
 
So the article is from 1985, which means that he just turned 30. Of course he's going to say things like that. I'm sure he would have said something different as he got older.
 
I think this is a quote about stagnation. In your late 20's you usually have found something you are good at, something you have drive behind and you spend your 30's and 40's running with that thing you built in your 20's by the time you are in your 50's you are ready to do something new and re-invent yourself. 30-40 you have had success and you are scared to lose it by doing something different.
 
I think, because of the precision in the phrase, that Jobs meant "artists either hit it big when young, or take more to make it. Their 30s or 40s are a transitional phase.
 
I think Scott's right. It's all about mastery of the craft (which typically takes about 10,000 hours), and very few people get their 10,000 hours in before their third or fourth decade. The ones who do, though, tend to do amazing things.
 
People notice youth or advanced age more because you don't expect genius quite as much from the "inexperienced" or "past-their-prime." Youth and advanced age being relative in this case.
 
You could read it either way, but I think if he had meant to praise the youth he would have said "It's rare that you see an artist PAST his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing."

Which I think points to Scott being right.
 
I would love to believe he meant people in their 50's are at some creative peak (since I'm speeding in that direction), but I bet he meant people in their 20's. It's so much easier to achieve greatness when you're young, and you believe you can do everything. If you don't make it by 30, you begin getting mired by your responsibilities, and worse, your own doubts. Most geniuses only have a few lightning strikes in them. Expecting anyone to reproduce magic on demand, decade after decade, simply isn't possible (so get off Lucas' case people). On the other hand, if you haven't peaked by 30 or 40, you might still have all your magic lightning in you, waiting to fire.
 
+John Hazard I'm agreeing there. I haven't gotten much in the way of lightning strikes yet, and I've got 300 days left before the 30-mark. I'd also rather not have to wait 20 years before something interesting happens!
 
Just going by the quote I'd say that people attribute anything you do below 30 to being amazing and everything above that, even if it's the same quality, is just normal.
 
Depends on the art form, the person, and so on. Musicians and Songwriters sometimes do their best work in their 20's mostly because by the time they hit their 30's and 40's they've pretty much gotten all the angst and BS out of their system from their childhood. That is, if we're talking about popular music that leans hard on that sort of thing.

That said, some people can hardly said to have peaked in their 20's. Billy Joel was writing Billboard #1 songs in his 30's. In my opinion, Elton John never really hit his stride until his 30's.

Novelists end up producing some great work later in life as well because it takes them until their late 20's or early 30's to actually begin getting published.

I think it is a reaction to a specific art form and maybe even a specific subset of art form, not a general comment about artists.
 
In retrospect, I think that I was slightly more than marginally competent in my 20s, and as I begin my 40s I'm certain that I'll professionally produce and develop more than even in my 30s, all to a more mature and responsible attitude.

There's that phrase about old age and treachery always overcoming youth and skill...skill takes practice and time. It should be old age, treachery AND skill stomping on raw talent and a great deal of over-inflated ego. Damn kids...
 
If you were to ask me, it could easily go either way. When an artist is at their youngest stages of activity, they're not afraid to try anything new, they can do things other, more established artists might be afraid to do or may simply be too stuck in their ways. On the other hand, they're also still developing their style, so their early 'experimental' work can be unpolished and somewhat rough while they're still feeling things out.
The older artist may be more limited by what they're comfortable with, they've been at the task for quite a while and don't want to break their mold. However, they are more experienced, polished and know what they need to do in order to get their work to new levels. As their style becomes more solidified, it can become restraining, but at the same time it also helps them to narrow in on their focus and pick out individual things that need to be addressed.
 
+Shane Stewart I actually see the opposite occurring! I understand your logic here, but what I've seen is the younger set being afraid to buck tradition and make waves so they just go along with the established things whereas the older set have no fear of other's rejections based on doing something out of the ordinary. The oldies have tried the accepted practices and find them lacking so they have the motivation to break away and find that something special that blows the rest of us away.
 
I would have to say it more of the young people lack the life experiences that creative people draw upon for their art. Not to say somebody in there 20's or 30's cant do amazing things, but with most people our art whatever it is improves through our own life not just from honing our skill but also in honing ourselves.
For a large part life experiences drive the art forward, and most kids just dont have enough stored up yet.
 
It depends on what you're looking for. If you want energy and avant-garde, go for youth. If you want something that resonates with you in a subtler way, go for experience. One isn't necessarily better than the other. A good example - Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and then Johnny Cash's cover of it (not from a creative standpoint of course). Two different voices and two different impacts.
 
+Colin Principe Hey, great example! It also goes along way (somewhere!) that Trent Reznor of NIN now performs "Hurt" in the Johnny Cash's style. It would seem his youth produced something that experience was able to mold into something that even Mr. Reznor agrees is better. Of course, Trent Reznor is moving rapidly away from that 30s and 40s area too!

I think this discussion is really piquing my interest due to my proximity of entering the doldrum period, oh well.
 
I'm going to go with option C - it sounds good, but probably isn't supported by the data. Michelangelo was in his 30s when he did the Sistine chapel; Beethoven's 5th symphony was in his 30s; heck, Mozart died at 35. It's a nice quote, but every artist's career is different.
 
I hope you're right, Scott, but I fear Brad is. I look on my shelf and see the stuff I made in the past decade - several comic book collections, a couple of books and half a dozen video games - and I have no idea how the hell I'm going to beat that now that I'm closer to my 40's.

But then I read those comics, flip through the books and play those games and realise most of it's complete crap compared to what I want to do now.

You also gotta think - both you and Brad are at the top of your game now, the stuff you're both making simply wouldn't have been possible from either of you even a decade ago.
 
Depends on the art. Some things--math, some aspects of theoretical physics, maybe some visual arts--seem to favour the young. Writing tends to favour the old. But "favour" doesn't mean "determine" in either case.
 
I didn't see that quote as either of your interpretations.

I think it has more to do with reception. In my experience, people are more willing to quickly accept innovation without question from someone who is in their 20's or early 30's, but someone past that age will be perceived as "not tuned in enough" to contribute innovative things because their minds are full of mortgages and saving for retirement 30 years down the road, so people may dismiss their new ideas OR just not ask for innovation from them at all.
 
Age is nothing but a number. Better quote: it's rare that you see an artist able to really contribute something amazing.
 
Mostly what Kristin just said. Ideas I had 10 years ago when I was 20 I'm only getting around to putting on paper now when I'm 30 and I can see them taking another 5 or 10 to flesh out and actually get anywhere with.
 
Well, I'm 50 so I think you can guess what I think. Here's to THE DECADE.
 
I'm 28 (next week!) and I'm just now getting stuff published. I've seen what people younger than me and older than me can do and I must say I agree with your (Kurtz) interpretation. Hell, being 2 years from 30 I hope our 20s aren't our prime for accomplishments!
 
Is it too late to comment? I remember reading about age from John Kricfalusi's post, where a guy can't & mustn't draw after he's 25. I'm 30 and I'm practicising to draw. I do hope that comment isn't true.
 
I would take it to mean that artists that are younger are far less constrained by rules. In your teens and twenties, life is about bending or breaking rules. This can lead to amazing art.
In your 30's and 40's you are learning the rules, the meaning and reason of them, you are learning about art. There is a consciousness that it is near-impossible to develop at too early an age, where reality of life and experience intrudes on all aspects of thought and whimsy.
At 50+ (and obviously, this is all vastly over-generalising, like the quote), there are the art and life lessons learned, humility (which Jobs never really mastered), a sense of place and purpose and a knowledge of self that allows, or should allow, art to 'happen'.

I would liken it to seeing one of those crazy funky caterpillars turn into an amazingly brilliant and colourful butterflies. The transformation is absolutely necessary, but it doesn't happen without the dull, somewhat ugly cocoon wherein one matures. 
 
whole quote:
"People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them… It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare."
 
Bull. My maternal family contributes amazing music...some people as required just deaf to certain music. No big deal. 
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