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June 2009

The Quixote Effect


Cervantes’ humorous story of Don Quixote follows a country gentleman in his fifties as he sets off on an imaginary quest.  The initial exploits are met with amused tolerance by the townsfolk, supporting the aging Quixote’s belief that he's a knight-errant on grand chivalrous quests.  Despite farcical setbacks, each “success” magnifies the validity of Quixote’s reality. But toward the end of Part Two,  attitudes change. Quixote becomes the butt of mean-spirited jokes.  Well-meaning friends convince  Quixote that his quest is delusion, the product of age and insanity.  The story ends with the loss of Quixote’s faith.  He accepts reality imposed by others, but is gripped with a deep and persistent melancholy.  When Alsono Quixano dies, he's sane in the eyes of the world but inwardly a broken man.

It's a story that has entertained generations and is deep in our collective psyche.  There’s something both humorous and pathetic in the idea of the last “hurrah,” the aging character setting out on a grand adventure after a lost dream.  We laugh at his interpretations of reality, we pity his disillusionment, and secretly fear we might be Quixote and not know it. 

For me, the idea creeps in when I least expect it.   I can feel successful within my own studio, caught up in the pleasure of creation. But I also exist in an interdependent relationship with the people and events surrounding me, which can affect me deeply.  Success is just as stressful as rejection: both could be signs of my own delusion, succeeding out of pity, rejection from reality. 

Is this the Quixote Effect?  I don’t know.  Maybe other people are better at rational thinking than I am.  All I know is I can't allow myself to doubt the validity of my quest.  Short of writing a manifesto, I decided to go into my studio and prove something to myself. 


New sm copy



"Self Portrait at Age 61" @  Sue Favinger Smith, 2009



Make Your Own Shipping Boxes

Please follow this link to the new updated information on shipping boxes:  new ideas for art shipping boxes

Over the past few weeks I have been focused on finding the best - and most economical way to ship framed paintings. 

My criteria for the perfect shipping box has evolved from my early version of simply wrapping a piece of artwork in bubble wrap. I've decided that the perfect container needs to be sturdy, affordable, designed to safely protect the artwork during shipping, be reusable, and provide an easy-in-easy-out loading system. 

My ideal shipping container is a product called the Airfloat Strongbox. However, I simply can't afford to purchase as many of these boxes as I need.  So I've come up with two versions of my own that are easy to make and far more affordable.

DSC04089 copy  The first version is one I've used for a few years.  It consists of a crate constructed out of foamcore, and sized to be large enough to accommodate the bubble-wrapped artwork. This inner crate slips into a larger cardboard shipping box - UPS offers Art Boxes in small, medium and large sizes, which are supposed to be slightly stronger than the usual brown cardboard boxes.  I fill the void between the inner and outer carton with bubble wrap, and if the outer box gets damaged, I simply replace it.

DSC04130 copy The second version is also constructed with foamcore.  The size is measured to exactly fit inside the outer box.  I also attach thick foam padding, using ATG tape, to the inner side of the foamcore box.  My bubble-wrapped artwork is then placed into a plastic bag and slipped easily into the padded interior.

I've posted detailed instructions and pictures on how to build these crates if you are interested in trying these designs. These instructions will always be available in the right hand column under pages. 

There's one other tip I've picked up from a variety of sources that I really like.  On the top of the inner flap of the foamcore crate, I tape a printout showing a picture of the artwork, my address and phone - and if I'm using an art mover, I include the delivery information such as where to deliver and times for delivery and pick-up for their convenience.

I learned the hard way that it's my responsibility to make sure my packing system is easy to use while protecting my artwork. I once sent out two same-size paintings in a single crate and received them back with dents in the canvas - it was my own fault for not realizing that the person repacking them probably had between fifty and one hundred paintings to crate up in an afternoon and simply didn't have the time to be sure everything fit properly.  Now I try to make it as quick and easy for that person as possible, while still protecting my artwork.

And without breaking the bank.

Is There A Creative Age?

I often revisit books that have interested me in the past, finding new insights  I missed in an earlier reading.  Lately, I've found myself going back to a book by Martin S. Lindauer, titled Aging, Creativity, and Art: A Positive Perspective on Late-Life Development. 

Lindauer's research questions the assumption that creativity peaks in youth, and begins to fade by the age of 30, often referred to as the decline model.  Much of his research shows - from various perspectives - that what we identify as creativity persists throughout life, and can actually increase and manifest in new ways with age, arguing that "Aging therefore enhanced rather than stifled artistic expression."

I find this idea of particular importance to artists who have entered the field, or are contemplating entering the artistic field at the age of 50 or older.

While all of Lindauer's research is based on the life-time work of renowned artists who began in their 20's and are (or were, in the case of deceased artists) still working at age 60 through 80, I wanted to see what insights I could discover for artists who were starting at age 50.

Regardless of whether the artist was male or female, from the Renaissance, the 1800's, or 20th Century,  I noticed from the graphs of data that productivity and quality increased for at least three decades from the starting age.  So artists who began their careers at age 20, were generally regarded to be at their best by age 40 to 50.

Could it be possible that the three decade similarity actually described the time frame an artist needed to develop the full range of insights and skills in order to perform at the top of his or her ability, and not the peaking followed by the gradual decline of creativity? 

Other graphs indicate that particularly long-lived artists had two or more peaks, explained by early productivity, a stagnation or decrease in productivity, and then a second or third resurgence of creative output.  

This is exciting to me.  Think about this the idea.  If creativity manifests itself throughout our lives, and if an artist has at least two to three decades of enthusiastic, concentrated effort ahead of them before extreme old age impacts their ability to work, why shouldn't we expect a similar pattern of achievement for the artist who starts at age 50 that we expect from the artist who starts at age 20? 

Are we poised on the cusp of a unique time when the next great artistic movement comes not from the young, but from artists who do not pick up a paint brush until after the age of 51?

Intriguing thought, isn't it?

In that regard, I was pleased to see that Southwest Art Magazine followed up their first Emerging Artists Search, titled "21 under 31" with a second Emerging Artists Search titled "21 over 31", although this suggests that if the first search focused on artists aged between 20 and 31, the  second search implies an age bracket of 31 to 42. 

It's a step in the right direction to acknowledge that artists can emerge at a later age.

But I would be really excited if a major art magazine published an Emerging Artists Search titled "21 over 51."  I'd be willing to bet the art will be just as innovative, accomplished, visionary or spiritual as any in the younger brackets.  In fact, it might be better.

But that's my bias. 

I found this excerpt from a poem by Longfellow, titled Morituri Salutamus:

"For age is opportunity, no less
Than Youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day."