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Lastingness: The Art of Old Age    by Nicholas Delbanco order for
by Nicholas Delbanco
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2011 (2011)
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Although there are some endeavors such as professional athletics or the entertainment field where a person is considered over the hill and his or her career is finished when the individual eases into the second half century, that's not always the case with those who pursue a career in the arts.

In this book on aging and artistic production Nicholas Delbanco profiles great geniuses in the fields of visual art, literature and music, searching for the answer to the question of why some artists' creative talents flourish with age while others' fade.

'This book considers what happens to artists who endure,' writes the author. 'All young artists have been 'promising.' Some deliver on that promise and become 'distinguished.' The trick is to negotiate the forty or fifty intervening years.'

As he looks at a wide range of artistic personalities, Delbanco will investigate why some individuals were successful at pulling this off and succeeded in having very productive careers in their later years.

Discussing such individuals as Thomas Hardy, Franz Joseph Haydn, Henri Matisse, George Sand and Ralph Vaughan Williams, artists who enjoyed long careers, Delbanco looks to see if their art enlarged or shifted and what we can learn from this.

Next he turns the spotlight on 'nine exemplary figures who persisted with their labors in old age'. This group ranges from Pablo Casals, Georgia O'Keefe and Franz Liszt to Giuseppe Verdi and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa who began writing The Leopard in his mid-fifties.

As he investigates the lives of these people, Delbanco explains that he hopes to 'describe what kept them engaged as creative artists and of what their late style consists.'

Although he doesn't always provide answers, Delbanco poses a number of provocative questions as he looks at these gifted senior artists. Does creative fertility diminish with old age as generative fertility does? Why does artistic achievement decline for some but not all individuals? Is there a region of the brain for art and does it lose force? If so, is that loss foreordained or can it be forestalled?

Nicholas Delbanco uses a plethora of quotes and references (there are nine pages of footnotes) to cobble together this inquiry into the demands of aging and the artistic process. Although I found much of the book interesting I found myself less than enthralled about the sections where the author shared his musings, the famous people he rubbed shoulders with and some anecdotes about his family. Frankly, if you skip over these little detours, you won't miss much!

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