Riding the Wave
Ok people, we need to talk about what seems to be a 21st century phenomenon: retirees taking art courses and expecting to exhibit and sell their creations.
Many of you come to art after a working lifetime in other fields, all geared up because sometime in your youth or childhood, you must have done something artistic (with apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein). You are adults +, have perhaps been highly successful in positions of power or authority; perhaps you brought children to adulthood and usefulness, perhaps you have accomplished miracles as members of philanthropic associations and/or garnered respect for your knowledge in and contributions to your field. Or conversely, maybe you endured or even hated the domain that ate up your creativity and felt dissatisfied and under-appreciated in it; you have spent a lifetime dreaming of something more exciting, maybe something sexier.
Then you have retired, or approached retirement. Your profession no longer needs you, or you no longer need it.
What to do? Too many of you come to art classes expecting to just cross the floor, to sashay gracefully into being ‘an artist’ at the same level and with the same ease with which you were something else, and for the same or better acclaim. Perhaps you’ve held on to that pleasure or praise you got from a teacher long ago, or nurtured the idea that you’d have been an artist if life hadn’t conspired against you. All you have to do is to just do it and all will be well.
I hate to be the one to bring this up but I must point out that it doesn’t quite work that way.
Seniors retire and come to art classes as adults, expecting to pick up where they left off, forgetting they often left off art as children or youth. They believe that the knowledge, skill and attitudes, but especially the desire they had then are sufficient, that with a couple of courses here, a few how-to’s there and very little practice in between, they will become ‘artists’.
It doesn’t seem to matter to them that art is a living practice, that its tools, its materials, its subjects, its styles, its themes and its concepts have kept pace with an eve-changing world. They disregard the fact that others have dedicated their lives to research, discussion, debate and practice to sustain, grow and popularize the profession. They will be the artists they were as children or youth and ignore, even disdain, the entire body of knowledge and skill that has evolved into today’s art world.
As an educator, this is my lesson if you are one of these seniors: Forget supplementing your retirement income. Make art because you have your own images clamouring to be expressed, for which you will take whatever time it takes to learn and develop the necessary skills, techniques and concepts. But do so aware, connected. If you are the artist you imagine you always were, if you really love art, not just the romance of it, then you will engage with all aspects of the profession to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and understanding. You will find this exciting, not onerous; you will not lament the money, space, time and effort it will take. You will support the profession not just as a maker, not just to exploit what others have accomplished, but also as an informed viewer. You will respect what it is to ‘be’ an artist.