Thursday, July 29, 2010

About the Aging Artist

I am an expert on this topic as I have some years of first hand experience. I am very attentive to how others have done it and encouraged by certain histories. Titian  was said to have done his best work in his nineties. A dear friend that I have mentioned here before reached 93 painting with greater strength than ever. Willem DeKooning was deep into Alzheimer’s disease and painting well. William Utermohlen’s self portrait journaling of his descent into the same terrible illness is an incredible look from the inside. The self portraits become increasingly expressive as he is taken over by the illness.

Despite severe arthritis, Matisse worked from his wheelchair till age 81, and Monet continued painting into his 80's even with encroaching blindness. Georgia O’Keefe lost her eyesight and turned to pottery. And she hired a studio assistant to execute some of her ideas for paintings.

The aging artist’s brain ages as do most brains, but the part that paints seems to hang in pretty well. I found the following quote at: Creativity & Aging: Women Artists Aging Artfully

“while it is true there will be physical limitation that comes in very advanced age, creativity knows no boundaries; it is never too late to live expressively creative; and creativity allows for a life of successful aging and aging wellness at any age.”

I have to admit to some concern about this issue. I’m not finished with it yet.

The image above is Sunbow 18" x 36" Acrylic on Paper Adhered to Canvas ©2000 Joan Gold


  1. I suggest that you read the book: When Walls Become Doorways by Dr. Tobi Zausner. It is an excellent resource and fascinating book about artists overcoming adversities.

  2. Well that explains the tedious monstrosities DeKooning produced in his last years. Joan, you are a much, much better artist than DeKooning ever was. I don't think he has anything to teach you about painting or old age.


  3. By the way, there is an error in my post: it seems that Titian died at 88. There's some argument about that, but still only a couple of years in debate. Painting well in old age, yes; after death — I doubt it.

  4. But must we jump through creative hoops right to the finish line? Has any previous generation been in deeper denial about the inevitable changes that come with aging?

  5. Joan, it's always inspiring and helpful to hear of artists who have worked or are working in their later years. Thank you for posting!

  6. Gordon, no denial here. More like confronting the S.O.B. head on. Like not going gentle.

    Thank you, Rachel. It's good to know you are connected

  7. My mom's life ended with Alzheimer's. She was a pianist, and even when her mind was mostly gone it seemed, there was a singer who discovered her in the home where his grandmother lived, and he began practicing with my mom. She was still a wonderful accompanist. For me there is something very beautiful about art and music outlasting other parts of a person that age and fade.

    (I'm a friend of your nephew's, through the blog.)

  8. Nice to meet you, Ruth. I have noticed that my aging brain operates in mysterious ways. Sometimes a blessing, other times very frustrating. We seem to lose pieces of ourselves as we age. How good that your mother was able to keep her music with her through the losses that Alzheimer's brings. I would wish that we might all keep some of those precious and important parts of ourselves always. I had an aunt who had a wonderful sense of humor. She died not long after she lost her ability to make us laugh. I guess she didn't want to live without it.