Can creativity contribute to aging well? According to a program I recently tuned into on Zoom called Curated Conversations, it can. Curated Conversations is produced by the University of Texas at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art. They aired a three-panel discussion on the positive benefits of pursuing creativity as you age. The program was called Grey is Good: Art, Creativity, and Aging Well. I thought it was fascinating. If you are interested in art and culture like I am, I suggested you check their programs out. If you find yourself, or a loved one coming to terms with the aging process, this discussion is particularly encouraging.
What I Gleaned from the Program
In this blog I am going to share with you what I gleaned from Grey is Good: Art, Creativity, and Aging Well, not necessarily giving a detailed report of what was said. You can listen to the program here for that.
As I have gotten older, I am naturally more and more interested in aging well. Since I am planning to pursue a career in art after retiring from my corporate job, it is reassuring to know that this decision will greatly increase the probability that I will age well. There is a sense of great satisfaction in pursuing an art career that I was never able to while my children were young or as I am working full time. Knowing it will help eliminate factors in aging that contribute to decline is a bonus.
Fears Concerning Aging
The first portion of the talk was about the fears and stereotypes we have about growing old. If we embrace these thoughts, they define our lives as we age and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have the choice to challenge these old ways of thinking and redefine our twilight years with new possibilities. We aren’t washed up, sidelined, and uninspired unless we allow those thoughts to prevail.
Grey is Good: Art, Creativity, and Aging Well, was designed to help people understand how creativity can create a better quality of life as one ages. Instead of retiring and feeling like there is nothing more to life, that there is nothing to look forward to, the panelist encouraged people to keep on going because there are activities that you can engage in to help you age gracefully.
Three Ways to Improve Your Latter Years
There are three ways to improve your latter years and creativity is one of them. Staying connected to others so you have a sense of community is part of the equation along with a sense of being productive and contributing to those around you. Being involved in the arts enables a person to do all three of these things.
The Ups and Downs of Decline
It is important to examine your attitude about aging. There are fears to face. Some of the biggest challenges in aging can be described as decline. There is physical as well as cognitive decline. Decline is inevitable. But there are ways in which we grow stronger as we age. Older people are more emotional stable in that they accept adversity as part of life. They have less anger, sadness and stress. Older people are not as shaken by difficulties as their younger counter parts. They have been through hard times, and they know they came out on the other side. They are skilled at handling what life throws at them.
Older people have acquired invaluable knowledge and experience that gives them a broader understand of life. And that can continue as time passes and it should because one of the best ways to stay mentally acute is to learn something new. Never stop learning.
That is why creativity is important in helping one age well. The creative process is about discovery and learning new ways to create, different ways to view life.
Countering Our Decline
Isolation is another aspect of aging we fear. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Karen L. Fingerman a Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at UT Austin explained, as we age the way we see life changes. In our youth the future is open, the possibilities are endless. At some point in midlife, we begin to understand that time is limited, and we reevaluate our priorities. For most of us our priorities shift to the quality of our relationships as opposed to our accomplishments. That is why being connected, in community, helps create a greater sense of well-being. Being a part of a creative community provide a place of connection with like-minded people.
The act of producing art, creating music, developing your culinary skills, whatever you chose to pursue creates a sense of purpose, of contribution to others and society.
Challenges we may face as we decline physically can be met by adaptation. In the creative process this can be accomplished by using new materials, a different medium, one more suited to our condition. And in the act of adaptation, we learn something new, a new skill, a new way to engage in the creative process.
For me personally, having these ideas presented to me means, as I retire, I can look forward to creativity, connection, and purpose. Because my parents have lived well into their 90’s, my mother is turning 100 this year, I can expect to live another 25 to 30 years. It seems that a second career is in order, to not only help sustain me abundantly the next phase of my life, but also help to create a more enjoyable life.
I am already becoming engaged with like minded people, by becoming involved in creative communities. I am producing things with my hand that come out of my experience and what inspires me. Art is about giving of yourself, your time and talents to make people lives more enjoyable too. I am connecting with others through self-expression and hopefully encouraging them. Feeling like I have something to contribute to those around me, gives me a purpose and sense of fulfillment.
Examples of Artists Aging Well
In the panel discussion there were examples from the museum’s collection of artists who came into their own in their latter years; Alice Neel, El Anatsui, Ellsworth Kelly and centenarian artist Carmen Herrera.
For forty-five years Alice Neel painted before she became well known as an artist. She did her best work in her seventies and eighties. Neel is known as an expressive portrait artist. Her works are described as real, and not always flattering, as she attempted to paint what she saw within the person. Neel continued to create art until her death in 1985.
El Anatsui is an artist from Ghana who lives and works in Nigeria. He is 77 years old. Anatsui became an internationally acclaimed artist in 2007 when his bottle cap sculpture was featured in the 2007 Venice Biennale. He began his career working in wood. When he moved to Nigeria wood wasn’t readily available. So he adapted, changed the materials he worked with. He began to work in clay. Later Anatsui began to flattened bottle caps and make them into weaving-like sculptures that hang from a wall. He is still creating and exhibiting art internationally.
Ellsworth Kelly is known for his color study paintings. In his latter years when he couldn’t travel because of a lung disease he was open to the opportunity presented to him by the Blanton Museum to design a Chapel in Austin Texas. Kelly was in his late eighties when he enthusiastically changed mediums and designed the architecture for the chapel and the stained glass and art to go in it. This was an entirely new experience for him. He died in 2015 at the age of 92 years old. The Chapel was dedicated in 2018.
Carmen Herrera, a Cuban born abstract artist was discovered at 98 years old. When she was 100 Herrera had a one man show at the Whitney Museum in New York City. She is wheelchair bound, but still working. Herrera will be 106 this month and is designing a mural for the façade at the Blanton Museum of Art.
According to Veronica Roberts of the Blanton Museum of Art all of these artists are known for having a great sense of humor and a zest for life, characteristics that served them well as they create art in their latter years.
It is my hope that you found this message as encouraging as I have, I invite you to reexamine the way you think about aging and apply these discoveries to your life.
Thank you for being a part of my art journey and as always, Be Inspired!