Creative Women
November 09, 2010, 12:26 PM
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David Brooks explains that America will do swell economically in the 21st Century:
The crucial fact about the new epoch is that creativity needs hubs. Information networks need junction points. The nation that can make itself the crossroads to the world will have tremendous economic and political power. ... In fact, the U.S. is well situated to be the crossroads nation.
Okay, but, that raises the paradox that in 2010 the American state that is the biggest drag on the economy at present, California, is also the one blessed with two vast creative hubs, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, both of which are doing reasonably well right now. (Here's Apple's balance sheet, which is a lot better looking than mine.)

Yet, California, as a whole, isn't doing well.

A population cannot live by creativity alone.

Yet, what really struck me about Brooks' column was this section:

Howard Gardner of Harvard once put together a composite picture of the extraordinarily creative person: She comes from a little place somewhat removed from the center of power and influence. As an adolescent, she feels herself outgrowing her own small circle. She moves to a metropolis and finds a group of people who share her passions and interests. She gets involved with a team to create something amazing.

Then, at some point, she finds her own problem, which is related to and yet different from the problems that concern others in her group. She breaks off and struggles and finally emerges with some new thing. She brings it back to her circle. It is tested, refined and improved.

Is this self-parody or self-abasement? My impression is that Brooks tends to get the joke, and that he does this kind of thing on purpose to ingratiate himself with the huge audience of Gladwellians who don't get the joke. As an officially designated "conservative," it's particularly necessary for Brooks to periodically humiliate himself like this to assuage suspicions that he might get the joke. Perhaps I'm wrong, though.

Obviously, the first thing anybody would notice when drawing up a composite picture of the "extraordinarily creative person" is that she isn't a she.

I mean, isn't that a theme in The Social Network: 21st Century Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly dominated by guys? By the way, the creators of The Social Network are named David and Aaron, so Hollywood isn't that different from Silicon Valley.

Further, my vague impression of extremely creative women is that they are less likely than extremely creative men to come from somewhere "removed from the center of power and influence." I don't have a good database of creative women right at hand, but let's take as examples the two women who have been nominated for a Best Director Oscar over the last decade (out of 50 nominees): Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow. The former is the daughter of the man who made The Godfather and the latter used to be married to the man who made Terminator and Titanic. That's about as close as you can get to the center of power and influence in the filmmaking.

My general impression is that women who have made a big splash in a creative (artistic or scientific) field are more likely, on average, to have had strong support from loved ones than their male peers enjoyed. For example, the two most famous female painters of the 18th Century, Angelica Kauffman (left) and Louise Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun (above) were daughters of professional painters, married into artistic families, and were both adorable-looking. The first major female painter, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) was the daughter of a follower of Caravaggio, although she was of more Rubenseque proportions than her Rococco heiresses.

I went to look up some of my favorite female creative artists of the late 20th Century to see if this trend continues. Choreographer Twyla Tharp — here's a minute of Baryshnikov in her witty 1975 ballet, Push Comes to Shove, about how much fun it is to be a heterosexual male ballet god — turns out to have been born on a farm in Indiana. Her parents then moved to the San Bernardino area and bought a drive-in movie theatre. So, that's one strike against my theory.

How about portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz? (Here's a sneering British article about how she's broke because she won't play along with galleries and museums in artificially restricting the supply of her pictures. But, so what? If you had the chance to pick the photographer who would take the picture by which you would — or wouldn't — be remembered, who wouldn't make Leibovitz your number one draft choice?) She turns out to be a military brat, the daughter of an Air Force Lt. Colonel. As with Tharp, that's an above average background, but it's not like being Sofia Coppola.

So, my impression went 0-2 with my more recent examples. Perhaps it's becoming less true.