There is no expiration date on creativity or the work of older artists.
Whether you are young or older artists, and whether you make art as a passion project or are actively engaged in the business of art, the only limits are what your body can do and what your mind will let you. – Barney Davey
Some occupations, such as pro sports, have age limits. Tom Brady, in his early 40s, is a dinosaur in the NFL. And while Brady defies age and norms, we all know his remaining time playing as an elite athlete is short.
Many corporations have mandatory retirement ages. They shove people out the door at 65 whether they have more to contribute or not.
Artists don’t have a shelf life. They are seemingly immune to ageist perceptions and traditional notions of retirement.
Celebrating older artists
No matter when you start or what your age, artists can contribute their art to the conversation. We celebrate artists and their lifetime achievements. I was honored to write the press release for the late Joella Jean Mahoney on the occasion of the 50-year museum retrospective of her magnificent paintings of the Colorado plateau. Imagine her half-century of contributing her unique style and glorious interpretation of the endless palette landscape she stalked and recorded for five decades.
In the open-to-all Older Artists Facebook group, we have highly accomplished professional artists, and we have others who create art as passion projects. In a free, no-judgment zone, it’s wonderful to see the joy and happiness sharing art and love of art brings. We celebrate and support them all.
Why we should support older artists
Artists getting older is nothing new. Going back to the Renaissance in Europe, older artists were esteemed and not only patronized but invited into the homes of kings and popes and their museums, often to collaborate on pieces of artwork, occasionally winning commissions and rewards. There are no such support systems for older artists today.
Encouraging mature artists to continue to exercise their creativity by making art helps fill a growing demand. That is as our aging population grows, it is imperative to develop ways to keep older adults productive and involved creatively.
It’s not simply a do-gooder solution. Studies show significant health improvement and stability for older people who engage in creative endeavors. It saves us all from bearing the financial burden of healthcare costs that were avoidable by instituting programs that keep older artists creative and occupied.
A changing art market
One of the first questions that arise when considering older artists is, “How far behind are they?” In recent years we’ve seen an about-face on such attitude, world-renowned artists have been ushered into commercial careers and embraced as esteemed practitioners. British artist Deborah Ladner was included in the Saatchi Gallery’s “Generations” program, initiated by Duncan Forbes, one of London’s top art dealers. “The program allows collectors and curators to become familiar with new talents,” he said in a statement.
More often, the spotlight shines on the new and, often, on artists who have had long careers but have found a new audience and embrace. American artist Maria Lassnig was active in the 1970s and 80s and now finds her work in important museums and private collections.
Recognition is a problem for older artists
Being an older artist is challenging for many reasons, one of which is an inevitable lack of recognition. A familiar knock against older artists is that they are no longer relevant to the current society. That perception has caused many older artists to stay comfortably behind the scenes. Recognition, to be accurate, is not a problem exclusive to mature artists.
Today, when you consider the challenges of creating art in a climate of rising costs for living, becoming a full-time artist is a challenge even if you are committed to the discipline of creating art and in love with the freedom of making it your livelihood. But those conditions, as daunting as they are, should never stop anyone of any age from the pursuit of making art.
The artist’s life
All artists crave the creation. For artists over the age of 40, the creativity floodgates are often wide open. When they are creating, they are experiencing a drive and euphoria that are almost mind-blowing. An artist nearing her 60s was asked her about her life and how she felt compared to how she felt when she was 40.
The main difference she observed was that now she has years of experience to draw upon, whether it’s an ideal time to begin a new project or enjoy good ones created. The future, of course, is a total mystery, no matter what your age. It’s never been easy for an older artist to make a living, and never will be. The key is to love what you do. And to remain as excited about creating art now as much as any age. That is the essence of my Artist’s Life Manifesto.
Musical acts defying age
Many aging musicians continue to rock the stage even though they are near or have hit 80. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and many more fill stadiums and concert halls around the globe today.
Leonard Cohen’s resurgence in his 70s resulted in a series of worldwide concerts that produced stunning live recordings of his performances that were equal to or better than his work from previous decades. His 2 CD, “Live in London” album, is a personal favorite. A tour de force to say the least.
Watch this stirring rendition of his timeless classic song, Hallelujah, to see what I mean. (It’s closing in on 200 million views.) And then closely listening to his song lyrics, written in years past shows he was an extraordinary visionary. It’s eerie how his prescient words in many of his songs feel as they were freshly written for today’s bewildering political climate.
What Is the Phil Collins Effect?
Some pop stars have seen dips in popularity and relevancy. Phil Collins’ career is notable because of the term “Phil Collins Effect” coined because of his recent resurgence onto the music scene. Here is a quote from an article about it.
The Phil Collins Effect suggests popular artists go through a period of critical and commercial success and peer recognition, which we label “consecration.”
This condition can be followed by a period of commercial and critical decline and rejection by new groups of peers seeking to define themselves apart from commercial success stories of the previous era, such as Collins, which we label “deconsecration.” Revival, or “reconsecration,” involves reappraisal and rediscovery, both by critics and often a new generation of fans and artistic peers.
Challenges Older Artists Face
Artists of a certain age face many challenges for many reasons, one of which is an inevitable lack of recognition. A familiar knock against older artists is that they are no longer relevant to the current society. That perception has caused many older artists to stay comfortably behind the scenes. Here again, one must look at the motivation and goals of the artists. If striving for relevancy is not on the artist’s mind, it does not matter. As the saying goes, “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Some of the issues faced by older artists are unique to older artists. One of the biggest problems is loneliness and a lack of a social network and connection with other people. Sometimes, aging alone can take a toll on relationships, and this problem is not an exclusively older artist experience. The Older Artists Facebook group was created to address loneliness and lack of a place to share. It also aims high to take joy from and celebrate the work of its members.
Health is always a concern, especially if the artist has long had health issues. The difficulties of art creation that take physical effort and intense calculations are likely to increase as a person ages. Be it self-inflicted or an inherited condition, health issues affect older artists more than their younger peers.
Medical advances extend the quality of life but also the vulnerability of the artist. The days of curing disease with the drop of a pen are behind us. Most ill or disabled artists rely on the generosity of fans or patrons. And bless them because that’s not easy at all.
Perhaps artistic rebirth means bringing back a piece that had faded away. A desire remains to make a final brushstroke, the last revision, or return to previous work. It is a universal experience that aging is a challenge for everyone.
By moving in the direction of supporting artists later in life, we are assisting an underserved audience. Imagine adding awareness, respect, and camaraderie to the lives of older artists. If that sounds like something interesting, I invite you to join me and hundreds of other artists to share and celebrate with each other!
Some older artists begin creating and cultivating a private gallery of their work; the Older Artists Facebook group was established as a place for them to share their work more broadly. As the group founder and publisher of the Art Marketing News blog, I believe in the well-being of older artists and in their long-term economic security. That goes for artists all along the scale of your choice of measurement.
Jump in! We are on a mission to have fun and celebrate and share with older artists. Older Artists Facebook group