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January 2013

Why Finding Time is Better Than Having Time

Our collective artistic mythology holds that a true artist is one who devotes all of his time to the craft - it's part of the unspoken bias that if you work at it part-time you are only partly invested.

I get frequent questions from artists who wonder how they can have an art career when they need to work, and don't have the finances to work on their art full time.  We know it takes time to learn the various skills needed - it isn't something you can just drop in and do on an infrequent basis and expect great results. And if there weren't really good reasons to learn and practice and "just do it" there wouldn't be so many successful artists coming out of a strong foundational educational background. 

But it's safer for someone afraid of testing their wings to focus on what might be preventing them  - like the kid who finally makes it to the top of the high dive and then can't jump off because the water is too wet. It's a like holding out for perfect when perfect doesn't exist.

Having experienced this - from working full time, then part time, then completely unemployed/semi-retired, to needing to return to part time work, - perfect is what you have, not what you think it should be. 

Yes, there will be days when you're too tired to try.  Days when your frustration levels make you feel like you're pushing rocks uphill. 

But these frustrations occur whether or not you have the time - because it isn't the amount of time you have that makes the difference. 

It's whether or not you are willing to commit to the time you find. 

For some reason finding time changes the way you look at what you have in front of you.  It's a gift you are giving to yourself and your art.

Where as having time is more like an excuse not to take out the trash.




Late Bloomers : What Above Ground can tell us about Art, Age, and Experience

One focus of this blog is to share information about artists as they age. 

In part this is to refute the idea that older artists lose value as they age, but also to argue against the belief that adults who pursue art in their "retirement years" do so for inconsequential reasons. 

To dismiss the artistic investigation by an adult over fifty, and certainly over sixty or seventy, as “pastime activity” does a disservice to those who put the idea of an “art career” on hold for decades due to circumstance, obligation, location, or immaturity.

And I reject that argument. 

I recently discovered the Research Center for Arts and Culture, supported by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, and their 2006 Research Report titled ABOVE GROUND: Information on Artists III: Special Focus New York City Aging Artists.  Dr. Robert N. Butler, President and CEO of the International Longevity Center, explains that “Not only does this study combat the misperceptions of aging, it sheds new light by the unique solutions artists embrace in living… It shows them as productive, self-aware and savvy. And it provides some new ways of thinking about all of us as we age.”

This study reveals some interesting facts: for instance, the experience of being a professional artist (as in a life-long commitment to art) seems to be universal.  We do not need to be living in a major art market to share this aspect of being an artist.  But I would add that the requirements of researching specific populations create an unintended bias, in this case one against the Late Bloomers, those who meet the definition of being a serious artist – life-long pursuit, educational accomplishments, exhibition records, sales, and members of artistic communities – but when asked the questions “When did you start and where do you live?” we can only answer “a decade ago and we live everywhere."

It is important to note that the artists in this study were all visual artists living in specific areas of New York City, between the ages of 65 and 91, who self-identified as professional artists, answering questions such as I consider myself an artist, the main body of my activity is some form of art, and I have a demonstrated record of exhibition, performances, installations, publications or other evidence of my art. 

Here are some of the more interesting facts that caught my attention:

  1. Artists are very invested in their careers, which are not seen as traditional experiences but circumstances that provide a high level of life satisfaction.
  2. More female artists than male experienced interruptions in their careers.  Women also reported more gender bias (not surprisingly men reported none), while all artists reported experiencing discrimination based on age and choice of medium.
  3. The core experience of being an artist is universal, with less satisfaction regarding critical review, career opportunities, and income, and high levels of satisfaction from personal autonomy and validation as an artist.
  4. Artists never retire; they work in their studios daily.
  5. Artists rank higher in Life Satisfaction Scales than the rest of the population, even as they age.
  6. Social networks – and daily communication within those artist-to-artist networks – are important to productivity.
  7. A majority of artists continue to sell their work, but income from art remains a small percentage of overall income.

I often receive emails from readers wanting Career Advice.  And this is what I have learned: even though this blog has a subtitle of "developing an art career after fifty,"  your Art Career is not likely to meet the definition of a career in our youth-oriented, income-measured, and single-goal-oriented culture.  At times the artist’s life can be difficult to sustain economically.  It is not easily justified to others who expect traditional cause-and-effect results. And it is more likely to be a broad, multi-dimensional, life-long experience that is highly satisfying to self-aware, productive, and flexible individuals who cannot imagine living without producing their art. 

Most of us consider this a fair trade-off. 


“How are you doing today?”
97-year old visual artist: “Well, I’m above ground.”

                                                —IOA III Aging Study

“Art is the only thing that’s left in the world.”

                                                —Homeless mixed media artist, age 72, one of the many quotes from Above Ground




after thoughts:  When my mother passed away a few years ago I received a folder containing all of my report cards, from kindergarten to the end of high shcool.  I was an average student, but consistently, I received an A in art from every teacher, every year.  My parents were unimpressed.  I took my cues from them, and wandered in the wilderness until I grew up at age fifty. 

Starting early does not tell you whether a person has the talent to be a successful artist: it only tells you that they grew up in a supportive, enriching, artistic environment where they were mentored early and encouraged to achieve their goals. 

It can also take you a decade to reach the level of professional accomplishment that puts you in the game, and another decade to begin to see significant results. 

That leaves you a few more decades to play with, give or take your starting point. 

Telling Your Creative Block to Take a Hike

Creative block is often countered with computer time.  It seems logical - you can't think what to do so you read your facebook page, watch that video of the cats playing pattycake, check out other artist sites looking for inspiration.

So it's going to be really frustrating when I tell you that reasarchers are now verifying that spending time in the great outdoors and away from the computer has a huge impact on creativity.

Scientists don't fully understand what is happening, whether it's being unpluged from technology, or exercise, or just experiencing the great outdoors, but the results from the RAT tests that they administered to volunteers produced some startling results: creativity is significantly improved by time spent away from our electronic lives.

Of course the plein air painters going all the way back to Monet probably knew this and were keeping it to themselves.  They shared the part about needing to paint from life, but if they'd said "It will help your brain become more nimble and creative," how many of us would still be camped out in our studios?

If that isn't enough motive, the research further suggests that being on the grid 24/7 actually alters the neurons in the brain, with questions about reversibility when it comes to attention span, or whether people "will be totally hosed when it comes to consuming art more complex than a GIF or longer than 140 characters?"1

It's worth considering the next time you start surfing the web in order to distract yourself from creative block. 


1.  Put Down the iPad, lace Up the Hiking Boots, by Kevin Charles Redmon,  is the primary source of information in this post.  Thank you.


"I just purchased and read your book. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the info and will be following up on your blog. I turned 50 this year. I started my art career 3 years ago. I read as many art business and marketing books as I can but yours is the first I have found addressing starting out at 50." ~ RT, Oregon

Book - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

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