Monday, April 14, 2008

The Seven Characteristics that Distinguish Older Artists over Their Younger Peers

By: Sue Smith

I went back to college when I was 51.
I sat in chairs designed for the young, next to my fellow students who were also...well, young. Adding insult to injury, I needed tutoring -- from the young -- to learn the new technology that these kids in their late teens and twenties grew up with and used as casually as I once used the rotary phone.

It was culture shock. But more than that. It was the shock of realizing I was rapidly approaching the gray realm of Old Age. My first small encounters with...ageism.

Ageism is insidious in that it is so acceptable. Logical. It is also based -- at least with regard to late-life creativity -- on scientific research that reinforces traditional views about aging and the mental and physical decline models.

Even when it comes to "creativity" -- something that can't be touched, tested, or accurately measured, let alone understood -- the scientific community still relies on research that is "objective" and "measurable" -- sort of like trying to catch a fish with your hands. The easiest one to grab becomes the archetype for the "Creative Old Guy."

But I recently started reading a book by Martin S. Lindauer, titled AGING, CREATIVITY, AND ART...A Positive Perspective on Late-Life Development.

This is a very recent book, with a copyright date of 2003, and reads like a research paper with numerous citations.

It is still worth the effort.

Because here is the good news. According to Lindauer, new research reveals that over time, creative people increase both the quality of their artistic output, and the quantity, over their lifetimes, with productivity peaking during their 60's, but the quality of the output remaining steady at the lifetime highs well into the 70's.

Even for artists working in their 80's, their quality ratings were higher -- get that, higher! -- than when they were in their 20's and 30's.

How can this be?

According to Lindauer, there are seven characteristics that distinguish "old artists and late art from young artists and youthful efforts."

  • "Older artists have more knowledge and are less career oriented.
  • "They also have less energy - the only case where older artists were at a disadvantage to younger ones..."
  • "...which they compensated for with greater maturity, concentration, and self-acceptance."
  • "Older artists were also less critical than their younger counterparts."
  • "However, in two areas, creativity and experimentation, older artists were seen as equal to younger practitioners." (2003, pp.187-188)

Further, while discussing the age at which an artist's "Old Age Style" might emerge, Lindauer wrote, "...the 60-year-old artists, and many of the 70-year-olds who were studied, were 'too young' to have an old-age style."

Re-read that last part again: even the 70-year-olds were too young to have an old age style!

Sometimes the challenges of reinventing yourself at mid-life can seem so daunting that you want to give up. I know that for me, discouragement became my constant companion to the point where I nearly gave up on the whole "career" idea, caught up in my fear of having "missed the creative boat."

But knowing that, at 60, I am still decades away from having an "Old Age Style" has renewed my energy, sending me back out into the creative world with rekindled optimism.

I hope to see you all there!


This article is reproduced with permission.
Copyright...2008 Sue Smith

To Get more of Sue Smith's thoughts about art visit her blog at:
Ancient Artist: developing an art career after 50
Sue Smith fine Art

This article originally appeared at the following URL:

PS...make a "Point"...leave a comment


Rhonda Bartoe Tucker said...

Thank you, thank you. Very encouraging for those of us approaching 50 very quickly. Thanks, too, for introducing me to the "Acient Artist" blog. Great stuff!

Steve Dahlberg said...

On this topic, you might also be interested in this white paper that I wrote on creativity and aging, "Think and Be Heard: Creativity, Aging and Community Engagement."

The white paper was just released from Americans for the Arts as a follow up to the 2007 National Arts Forum Series, which is supported by the MetLife Foundation:

"Arts and aging is neither just about art, nor just about aging. Rather, it is about creativity and positive engagement — that is, creativity as both a goal and a process for shaping the self and society. ... It is through such creative thinking and self-expression that people connect with others and shape the world. Such a work of art is a lifelong process."

Steven Dahlberg
International Centre for Creativity and Imagination

Jeanette said...

Its encouraging to find positive things about aging. Personally, I like the process and the freedom it gives me, both mentally and creatively. With more years behind me than ahead quite likely, I like to think that I'm just going to get better!

Jennifer Bellinger said...

Great article by Sue Smith. I can identify as I am 57, a professional artist for 30+ and have some gaps in my resume over the last 15 years...raising a wonderful son who is now in college. I worked around his schedule and wouldn't change a thing. I have never pigeon-holed myself as an artist, just continued to forge ahead creating art, teaching workshops and keeping up with the business of marketing my art. My clients don't care about my resume gaps. I am working at getting a body of work together to reapproach galleries again. With age comes patience and non-judegemnt. I admire the energy of youth and see the same "ideals" of "arriving" as I had, but would not turn back the clock.

Jennifer said...

I so agree that the older an artists get the better his work gets. Thanks a lot Artsz

Christy DeKoning said...

Marsha it is so true. I can only hope that as I mature (I'm 36) so will my work. I can look back over 20 years of portraiture (my first ones being of Marilyn Monroe during Math class) and say that it is only recently that I have felt confident and comfortable with my work. I have established a relationship, of sorts, with my creative side and we are on the same wavelength. The seeds were tended, and now with every passing year we can all reach higher and higher.
(I think I'd terrify my readers if I got this philosophical on my own blog - so glad I can visit yours for a break from my own ramblings)

Marsha Robinett said...

Thanks to all for such wonderful comments. Sue's article certainly hit home with me as it has with many of you. I always appreciate the thoroughness of her articles...and I felt strongly to share this with you.

By the response, both here and email, I've learned there are lots of us out there...starting our careers later in life.

Liz P said...

Wow! I'm not sure how I found this blog this morning, but I'm so glad I did! As a fifty-something artist, I do sometimes find myself wondering if I've lost all of my marbles. Although I have always been involved in some kind of art-making, my relatively recent decision to drop the commercial and freelance gigs and start the fine art chapter of my life does seem... insane.

The thing is, even though arthritis and memory loss (how DID I find this blog?) are apparently inevitable, I just KNOW I'm better than I've ever been, in so many ways. This article was a great reminder of that knowledge. Thank you for sharing it!

JafaBrit's Art said...

wow, this is so refreshing to read. I started painting at 40 and at 53 feel I am blossoming like a madwoman lol!

Going to go to your links but wanted to say hi and thanks for sharing this.

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