* He stretches the boundaries of art
Robert Rauschenberg, 77
Rauschenberg's breakthrough work, 1959's "Monogram," is an assemblage of a stuffed angora goat harnessed by a tire and standing on a paint-slathered canvas. Rauschenberg called this mix of painting, collage, and sculpture a "combine," and it redefined what could be considered "art." Rauschenberg's career is filled with such moments. A monumentally prolific artist and an open-hearted collaborator, Rauschenberg led the way in much late 20th-century art, including silkscreening onto canvas and performance art. As critic Robert Hughes writes, "There has never been anything in American art to match the effusive, unconstrained energy of Rauschenberg's generous imagination." Today, the artist works in Captiva Island, Florida, with a group of assistants. Working with others "takes away the egotistical loneliness of creation," Rauschenberg once said. "But the downside is that you have to wake up with an idea that will keep eight people busy for eight hours."
* He uses his stardom as a bully pulpit
Robert Redford, 65
Actor, Filmmaker, Environmentalist
When Redford bought two acres in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah in the early 1960s, he was simply an actor who loved to ski. In the intervening years, he has become a movie star, a producer, and an Oscar-winning director. But his signal achievements have always been linked to the land he kept adding on to, eventually totaling 6,000 acres. It inspired his environmental advocacy and became headquarters for Sundance, his life-support system for independent filmmaking. In Washington, D.C., Redford has been a forceful proponent of the Clean Air Act, the Energy Conservation and Protection Act, and bills that regulate strip mining. Redford's efforts on behalf of independent moviemaking have been equally impressive. As critic Roger Ebert put it, "No one in recent movie history has had a more positive influence on new directions in American films."
Turn down the lights, and review the latest in independent filmmaking via Sundance's online film festival.
* He brings classical music into the here-and-now
Terry Riley, 67
In 1964, pianist Terry Riley excited—and horrified—music lovers with his "Seminal In C," a structured improvisation full of repetition and tonal permutations that one critic described as "music like none other on earth." The piece launched the minimalist movement, paving the way for composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich. But Riley continued to evolve, devoting himself to the study of classical raga vocals of north India. "The highest point of music for me is to become in a place where there is no desire, no craving, wanting to do anything else," Riley has said. "It is the best place you have ever been, and yet there is nothing there." So it is fitting that Riley recently completed a piece NASA commissioned for the Kronos Quartet that incorporates sounds from outer space.
* The Internet knows him as Dad
Lawrence Roberts, 65
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Caspian Networks
Many lay claim to the Web's paternity, but it was Lawrence Roberts who, in October 1965, first got two computers to "talk" to each other. Since then, he's been a leading voice in the design and use of the Internet and was one of the first e-entrepreneurs, building and promoting ever more efficient data systems. "His mind is like a ballet dancer's legs," says Nicholas Negroponte, chairman, MIT Media Laboratory. Roberts's company recently started selling a next-generation switching system that will help make possible high-quality video and voice transmission over the Web.
* The bad boy of American letters grows up
Philip Roth, 69
His 1969 novel, Portnoy's Complaint—a hilarious and raunchy diatribe on sex, family, and being Jewish—introduced a new kind of narrator, so confessional and raw he made reading feel like eavesdropping. In a prolific career, Roth has tackled huge subjects including terrorism, McCarthyism, and race. He has followed adolescent sexual candor to its ripe conclusion: the erotic life of characters over 70 (with a nod to Viagra). "Both in terms of quality of work and productivity, he simply has no peer right now," Joel Conarroe, president of the Guggenheim Foundation, has said. Roth is more modest: "I think I've put on plenty of pounds as a writer. And I would hope that most of those pounds are muscle."
Roth on his next novel: "I'm hoping it takes me the rest of my life to finish it. I can't take starting from scratch one more time."
Join or Renew and Choose Your Gift
- Offer ends Dec. 17
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner