The art world is a big triangle with artists like Jenny Saville at the top, and aficionados like me who have home studios and occasionally exhibit somewhere down there. Full-time or part-time, it’s worth knowing where you are on the Triangle. Sarah Thornton’s “Seven Days in the Art World” not only examines the highways, Thornton has a chapter on the ubiquitous critiques of art schools, where students are shaped or destroyed – I often give this book to my skeptical friends about art. Although the folks at the top make tons of money, there is plenty of room for the unknowns below the bridges. Funny thing – during the winter of Covid-2021, the inmates made bread and zoomed art for comfort and connection.
Historian Philip Sohm writes that a failing vision turning into blindness has been one of artists’ greatest fears. By the mid-18th century, glasses were common, but bulky and did not compensate for astigmatism, glaucoma, or cataracts (Sohm 76). Another weakness was the “disobedient hands” caused by tremors, Parkinson’s disease or syphilis. Poussin (1594-1665) sympathizes: “I have great difficulty writing because of the terrible trembling of my hand…. I gave up my brushes forever. There is nothing to do but die (Sohm 64, 65). Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Renoir (1841-1919) continued to work despite arthritis. Matisse (1869-1954), bedridden against cancer, had recourse to cut-outs. Today, many illnesses are manageable, and stores like Dick Blick.com sell “adaptive art supplies,” even for those who are not ambulatory. While museums provide wheelchairs, visitors would like to see more benches, please!
According to Yale’s Becca Levy, having “a negative attitude towards old age can actually accelerate aging and shorten life by over seven years when all other medical and social factors are equal (Sohm 1,2)”. The humanist Petrarch (1304-1374) who allegedly refused to discuss his age wrote: “When you feel that you are old, then and hardly will you declare your old age (Sohm 3). This does not mean that you will not face discrimination on the basis of age. I went to college after my fiftieth birthday and survived, but not without some emotional scars.
If you are a seasoned artist, you have learned that it is better to hone your skills in one or more media than to move from one profession to another. And if you’re shopping around and don’t know what to choose, life experiences can help. Her husband, David, grew up overlooking the Atlantic from Gloucester and rowed through high school and college. He used a point-and-shoot camera for his legal work: abandoned property, recaptured fishing boats, tailings left by mining. Dave merged his experiences with his love of reading to switch to digital photography, focusing on historic churches and bridges.
Sometimes the need will help you find your passion. Living in Alaska, there were times when it was impossible to hire a carpenter. So David and I bought books, took carpentry lessons, and became reasonably proficient in power tools. And there’s my friend George Smith, who saw the need to start the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts when he was in his late 50s … (www.idsva.edu).
Immerse yourself in art by taking a class. Art supply stores, universities, and non-credit workshops also offer a variety of life instructions and drawings. Since the Covid, more and more courses are appearing online. And it’s never too late for that art degree!
Holidays at an arts camp provide opportunities to immerse themselves in new art / craft without the pressure of perfection, while also sharing aesthetic experiences with other students. Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan, right on the lake, affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, draws SAIC faculty and students from its Chicago campus. Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine has mini-salt boxes for dormitories, atop the state’s ubiquitous rocky coastline, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes (1915-2004). A Southern Climate offers four-season art classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Look for camps with comfortable accommodations and a farm-to-table menu. For friendly competition all year round, joining a co-op can provide a regular showcase of your work – be sure to read the contract!
Artist Eric Rudd’s book “Strategies for Serious Older Artists” provides suggestions for the mature artist. Rudd recalls: “Georgia O’Keefe and Louise Bourgeois created masterpieces in their 90s (Rudd 23).” Interesting: communities of artists are springing up in cities looking for a way to revitalize themselves. Rudd purchased the Eclipse Mill in North Adams, Massachusetts, thereby renovating an obsolete facility into salable “live / work” condos, with a shared gallery (Rudd 77, 78). Please note, some properties only offer rentals and the studios are shared. The website (www.theabundentartist.com) offers information on where to consider residing.
What will happen to your art when you die? Rudd writes: “The truth is that most of the artwork made by the majority of artists will end up in the attic, basement, dumpster, or flea market (21). I know a woman whose grandfather had been a painter / teacher in New England; she casually threw away her drawings. And I went to a funeral where the watercolors of the deceased were crudely picked up. Rudd insists, “No one, and I mean ‘no one’ will care about your art as much as you do (171).”
While Rudd’s thoughts on how to develop a foundation or turn an old church into a small museum are probably off limits to the average artist, there are practical ways to preserve your art (Rudd 89). It is a good idea to scan images and verbiage to USB drives or a cloud account. Broadcasting your work, whether on DVDs or real art, is safe in the event of a fire – my kids and siblings have a bunch of my paintings. Some site-specific artists voluntarily wish their art to disappear / disintegrate. Other projects are lost forever. David spent two summers building a cabin on Beaver Lake only to watch it burn in the Miller’s Reach fire in Alaska in 1996. Skills are passed and unwittingly passed down from generation to generation. My two sisters and I own: a drawing, an oil painting, a map, a woven blanket, which were made by ancestors in upstate New York before the Civil War. These remaining works, rendered before Modernism in flattened and rearranged perspective, leave an invaluable artistic trail.
Starting an art library can be beneficial, especially during the Covid era, when travel remains limited. Many art books can also be bought “second-hand” for less. Subscribing to art magazines brings you closer to the world of aesthetics, with ‘Hyperallergic’ the best cloth online. Critic Jerry Saltz wrote: “In the end, it all comes down to a life lived in art. Art is not a question of sociology, nor of social life, nor of money; it is something timeless (Art in America, September 1993).
This art critic is a writer / painter over 60 who became addicted to high school. I have drawn and painted, sculpted, photographed, welded, sawed wood, sewed costumes, pounded bread, wrote reviews, volunteered and experimented with museums around the world. I took time off to have children and did some clerical work to pay for my children’s college. Art is an eternal activity, go for it!
Mini detective: The text used in “Strategies for Serious Artists of the Oder” by Eric Rudd and “The Artist Aged” by Philip Sohm are on Amazon.
Jean Bundy is a writer / painter living in Anchorage. She sits on the board of directors of AICA-International.