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
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
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.
some of the more interesting facts that caught my attention:
- Artists are
very invested in their careers, which are not seen as traditional experiences
but circumstances that provide a high level of life satisfaction.
- 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
- 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.
never retire; they work in their studios daily.
- Artists rank
higher in Life Satisfaction Scales than the rest of the population, even as they age.
networks – and daily communication within those artist-to-artist networks – are
important to productivity.
- 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
IMPORTANT LINKS: http://www.artsandcultureresearch.org/
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.