Creative swan songs

December 9, 2013 | By | Reply More

Does Terror Management Theory (TMT) push creativity to a head in later life. I recently ran across an article that suggests exactly this in Adult Personality Development: Volume 2: Applications, by Lawrence S. Wrightsman, Mar 15, 1994. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

Creativity can undergo a resurgence in the later years of life, and especially in life’s last years (Simonton, 1990, p. 630). Sometimes during the late 60s and 70s an increase in output appears (Simonton, 1988). This secondary peak In output may be a manifestation of an Eriksonian final-stage contemplation of death and review of one’s life accomplishments.

Does any empirical evidence exist for the existence of such a “swan song” phenomenon? Simonton (1989) examined 1,919 compositions by 172 classical music composers, assessed each of numerous aesthetic qualities, and determined how many years before the composers’ death the piece was composed. A clear pattern emerged:

As the composers approached their final years, when death was raising a fist to knock on the door, they began to produce compositions that are more brief, that have simpler and more restrained melodic lines, and yet that score high in aesthetic significance according to musicologists and that eventually become popular mainstays of the classical repertoire. It is as if when the composers see the end approaching fast on the horizon, warning that their last artistic temperaments dwell among their current works in progress, they put their utmost into every creation, yielding truly noteworthy products. (Simonton, 1990, p. 630).


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Category: Art, Meaning of Life, music

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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