This startled me, because Soderbergh, while working in Hollywood, has gained a reputation as a serious film artist. And retirement rarely seems to interest serious artists – least of all visual ones.
Lucian Freud and Cy Twombly are still painting, and still doing powerful work, in old age. Nor is the career longevity (and physical longevity) of artists just a product of modern healthcare. In the 16th century, both Michelangelo and Titian lived very long lives and both worked brilliantly into their last years. Titian's late works are his greatest of all and several scintillating masterpieces were left unfinished when he died. Michelangelo also left an incredible unfinished masterpiece – when death obliged him to lay down tools, he was the architect of St Peter's.
If great artists work well beyond retirement age, it is surely because, especially for a painter, writer or similarly skilled worker, it can take a lifetime to learn all the skills. Only then can you work with total freedom: hence the striking phenomenon of "late" styles.
Today, the novelist Philip Roth consciously practices a "late style", describing his recent novels as Late Roth. He shows no actual sign of retiring, although he has spoken as if he might.
Soderbergh is a post-modernist whose artful film-making has never been that intense or personal – he is rather a master of style – so his claim to be outta here might be read as a cool rejection of the romantic idea of the consummate artist. And yet film directors have been just as addicted to work as any painter – Soderbergh himself made the film Eros with the veteran Antonioni, and Claude Chabrol made one darkly comic thriller after another up to the end. By the time he died last year at the age of 80, he had made more than 80 films. And he was a master.
There is at least one startling exception to the rule that real artists never retire: Shakespeare. He made his money in London then retired to his native Stratford, like Prospero relinquishing his magic in The Tempest. However, Shakespeare is an exception to every rule and the ultimate biographical enigma.