Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Case for Coming to Art Later in Life: Part II: Late-Blooming

Pathways 2  11x15"  Mixed Media on paper  © 2018 Janice Mason Steeves

There is a timing for things. It isn’t a mistake or a sign of weakness when a person comes to art later in life. The time hasn’t been right for them to arrive any earlier. Like late-blooming plants, they’ve weathered the heat, the winds and the fierce summer storms and now, the autumn is their time.

In nature most plants and trees bloom in the spring and summer. But some are only ready to flower in the late fall or winter. In Southern Ontario where I live, some fall and winter-blooming plants include Chrysanthemums, Burning Bush, Amaryllis, Christmas Cactus and species of Witch Hazel. The magnificent Saguaro Cactus, which grows in the Sonoran Desert between Arizona and Mexico, can live for 150-200 years but only blooms after 35 years. And the Madagascar Palm Tree blooms with hundreds of tiny flowers only once in 100 years.

 Like the Saguaro Cactus, I bloomed late too, attending art school in my late 40s. It was the right time for me to go through that experience, as I needed maturity and confidence to handle the times where I was flattened by a critique of my work or the lack of interest in it from the instructors. I wouldn’t have been strong enough to handle that in my twenties.

A few years ago with the idea of writing a book about coming to art later in life, I interviewed a number of artists for their thoughts about the gifts they brought as they began to paint later in life. Here are a few of their comments: One woman said, “I [now] have some dependable tools to help me work through the challenges, and a broad range of skills and knowledge that I didn’t have when I was in my twenties,” she says. “I’ve benefited from the circuitous route that I’ve taken to get here. I have formal training in a smorgasbord of disciplines and these all serve to strengthen my ability to think and create. OK, maybe it does rattle me some days,” she says, that “I didn’t show up early. But honestly it just didn't occur to me that I could ever have these skills.”

Another said, "“Maybe I did while away a few years in my youth, but all those [life] experiences have made me who I am today and today I am making art. That is what really counts.”

"I know that if I had not always held on to the idea of making art one day and becoming an artist I might not have made it this far." said another artist. "I know that all sounds rather melodramatic, but I had some tough times in the past and I think [that holding onto that dream] got me through."

"Painting at this stage of my life", said another, "has provided me vehicles for focus, mental agility and excitement once I retired from a pioneering career. I would not be good at golf or cards, though many people are. I would not be happy watching TV and the aquarium, as my dad did when he retired. That really sounds like Retirement, an exhaling and withdrawing from the public arena. The word that better captures my sense of this period would be Inspirement, a continued breathing in, waking up curious about the lessons, not the score."
We bring a richness to our art when we arrive later in life after we have done the work and taken the journey; a depth that wasn’t accessible to us when we were young. No one asks why some flowers bloom in the autumn. We’re just grateful that they do.  

"The flower unfolds

Only when it knows

It is strong enough

To withstand the wind

And the rain." 
-Christopher McGeowan

Pathways 3  11x15"  Mixed Media on paper © 2018 Janice Mason Steeves


  1. Lovely, important piece, Janice. This line--"No one asks why some flowers bloom in the autumn. We’re just grateful that they do."--is perfect. Thanks for writing and sharing it.