Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Are You Too Old to Change?

I taught a Cold Wax and Oil Painting workshop this past weekend with a group of women who were likely all over sixty years of age.  By the time we get into our 60's we bring  a rich life experience to our work: most have been married once or maybe 4 times, have grown children and now grandchildren,  had long and successful careers in business or education or medicine, cared for ailing parents when they were dying.  They bring the wealth of years of learning and life to their art and to this workshop.

One thing about getting older I find is that there is a clear awareness that time is limited.  I could tell myself when I was 50 that I was only half way through my life.  But not now! Barbara, one of the women in the workshop, worried that at this age, she was too old to change her subject matter in her painting.  My own feeling is, why not spend that time doing exactly what I want to do?  Why not change? Let my work lead me to new worlds, new ways of working.  We don't stop growing when we turn 50 or 65 or 92.

I had a woman in my last class named Dorothy Wilde who is 92. She came into the art class on a walker.  She has been a very creative and successful ceramicist for perhaps 40 years.  As her strength has faded, she gave up pottery and took up printmaking.  Here she was,  in my painting class,  delightedly learning a new  skill.  Dorothy was not at all afraid to play and experiment.  She wasn't  worried about making a product, about having an end result.  She was there for the sheer enjoyment of making art.  The sheer enjoyment of learning and playing.

"We don't stop playing because we grow older, we grow older because we stop playing" George Bernard Shaw

Barbara decided to let go of trying to control the work, trying to keep it within the boundaries it had previously been confined within.  Easy to try to control it.  Difficult to surrender those boundaries.  Lots to learn from Dorothy still.  Barbara went on to do some amazingly free work this weekend.

There are many people who find creative success late in life:

Although Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy began painting when she was young, it wasn't until she retired from teaching at 65 that her career began to take off.

Louise Nevelson was in her 50's when she sold her work to three New York City museums and now her art can be seen internationally in over eighty public collections.  

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her family's life in the 1870's and 80's in the acclaimed, "The Little House on the Prairie" series of books for children.  She published her first book at the age of 65.

Currently I'm reading the book called, " The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany (begins her life's work) at 72", by Molly Peacock.  This is the story of Mary Delany, who at the age of 72, created a new art form, mixed-media collage and in the span of 10 years, she went on to create 985 botanically correct, cut-paper flowers, now at the British Museum.

Here is some of the work from the workshop this past weekend.  And this is just workshop work.  Wait until they have all practised with this cold wax process.

© Sonja Mortimer

© Jody Bowles-Evans

©Lesha Kokosky

©Brenda Bisiker
©Margaret Peter

©Therese Chatelain

©Wendy Neilson


  1. Inspiring post and excellent topic. I always imagine that I will do my best work in old age, bringing everything from a long life into it. I also love the occasional moments of mastery that I experience now--this is new and enticing, and something I certainly never had when younger. So, I'm starting to feel the benefits of long years of practice and I am sure this is common for many of us over 50. It makes me wonder about the emphasis placed in the art world on youth and who is new and right out of art school. There may be an interesting edge to a lot of it... but give me mature work almost any day.

    Good stories here too about how any background can feed into the creative experience of an older person. We are vessels of experience and it can be so freeing to let it out in a creative form.

  2. Fantastic post Janice. And don't forget Agnes Martin who began making her mark in her 50's. Your workshops must be wonderful.

  3. Thanks Susan for remembering Agnes Martin. I'm sure there are others I've forgotten.

  4. Wonderful to find this post . . and your blog. I'll have to revisit this post in particular, as I go back and forth ("glass half full/glass half empty") about re-emerging this late in my life!