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Generativity and the Artist

Susan A. Lee
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 14 Number 2: Page 55 (June 1999)

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Abstract: With the passage into the second half of life, adults are given the opportunity to refine or even reinvent themselves. For many adults moving gracefully from the middle adult years into the "second adulthood," generativity may be a significant feature of the emerging self.1 Generativity is a complex psychosocial construct that includes mentoring, role modeling, and concern for the next generation, which may or may not include one's own children. There is the potential for a unique fit between the role of the artist in society and a hallmark of generativity in the unique potential to also leave lasting gifts in the form of art works. There is an interaction effect between the personal need to be generative and societal pressure or desire. The characteristics of the generative adult may include developmental expectations for meaning seeking, a tangible legacy, new avenues for agency in the world, a re-imagined self, and a vital role in creating community.
The following excerpts from "Generativity and the Life Course of Martha Graham"2 illustrate a model of generativity all too familiar in the art world. In dance, much like music, theater, and visual art, uplifting stories of "caring for the next generation" are outnumbered by destructive forces both personal and institutional. This essay concludes, however, with a vision for the future as exemplified by Billy Siegenfeld, artistic director of the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project.
Graham's life story supports the view that generativity is a multifaceted construct that must be examined in the context of the individual generative narration.3 Across the life course of Martha Graham there is evidence of ambivalence about the care and commitment of the next generation as well as fierce loyalty. She was experienced as self-preoccupied and exploitive as well as a master teacher who imparted great inspiration in her charges. Her life story for many in the field of dance, when offered up as a model for the next generation, still shines like a warning beacon about a destructive potential of the generative impulse. Yet Graham did emerge later in life to achieve some measure of a "satisfying sense of ending."4 However unpopular, Graham surrounded herself with individuals who would ensure the survival of the Graham Company and maintain the integrity of the continued teaching of the dance technique. For society, Graham filled the role of contemporary storyteller, creating for herself the life script of new myth maker. She is a compelling example of the ability to focus all human capacities toward a singular goal, overcoming societal norms and personal loss in the doing.

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