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Find Your Inner Genius

Late-blooming artists reveal how they tapped their creative talents—and how you can, too

group of creative people in front of painting

Our featured artists pose for a group shot. — Jim Wright (Producer: Anthony Moschini; Wardrobe Stylist: Angela Hastings; Set Design: Jesse Nemeth; Hair: Mako Mokin; Makeup: Kim White)

Creative renewal can also spring from switching pursuits later in life. Figurative painter Margaret Tcheng Ware, 64, enjoyed a long career as a dancer and choreographer before being sidelined by divorce, remarriage, and motherhood. By her early 50s she was feeling "cloaked in a kind of flatness," so she signed up for a drawing class at a local art institute. "From the moment I set brush to canvas," says Ware, "it was clear I had found something that engaged me."

Within a few years she was exhibiting her works and selling them to private collectors — a blossoming she credits to something deeper than raw talent: "Those years in dance taught me discipline and hard work," she says. "And from being a dance teacher I could see when a figure was out of alignment; I could see when the weight wasn’t where it should be."

There’s a time to forge ahead purposefully, Ware has learned, and a time to let your instincts lead the way: "So much creativity happens when you’re least conscious of it. Soak in as much visual and physical experience as possible — it’s all grist for the mill. Somehow — don’t ask me how — it will come out in what you do creatively."

Perhaps it makes sense that Ware and her fellow artists struggle to pinpoint their motivation. Every creative talent is unique, and the "why" question can yield answers that change as an artist gains self-understanding.

Then again, sometimes the spur to achieve is simple — and extrinsic. Dorothy, Daddy Mack Orr’s wife of 45 years, has been an unwitting mainstay of  his motivation: "I’d be messing with the guitar at the house," he remembers, "and she would tell me, ‘ You might as well throw that thing out. You’ll never learn how to play — you’re too old.’ It made me try that much harder."

And now? "Now she looks at me in a whole different way," says Daddy Mack.

Jamie Katz has written for Vibe, People, and Smithsonian magazines.

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