Longevity

18

Dear Artist,

Physicians are at odds regarding the possible dangers to the still-forming skeletons of young gymnasts. Until 1981, the minimum age to compete in senior events — including the Olympics — was 14. By 1997 the requirement had been raised to 16, with experts arguing that intense practice at the elite level was too hard on developing bodies, causing hormonal imbalance and putting unsustainable strain on prepubescent bones. Other studies, however, have suggested that younger gymnasts may have a physical and psychological advantage over their elders.

pablo-picasso_dancing-in-his-studio

Pablo Picasso dancing in his studio, 1957
photo by David Douglas Duncan

The young are lighter, more flexible, have an optimal strength-to-weight ratio, and studies also suggest they’re less encumbered by fear of failure or fear of injury. In artistic gymnastics, this equips them with a mental override to perform riskier, higher-scoring sequences. Testimonials from now-retired gold medalists confirm that there’s a time when the mind catches up to the pressures and dangers of winning. Growth spurts mess with one’s centre of gravity and, like a boy soprano with a breaking voice, once-mastered moves must be relearned. These age-related disruptions have the power to bring on a crisis of confidence, unravelling years of joyful tumbling. Sound familiar?

In art, we needn’t peak young. If worry is interfering, remember that it can be managed so as not to constrain the muse. Worry is a cognitive distortion habit — indulging in inaccurate thoughts — reinforcing bad feelings from a few unpleasant experiences over time, especially when those experiences are connected to performance or love. “All or nothing” thinking, over-generalizing, filtering or diminishing positives, jumping to conclusions without evidence and “catastrophizing” can invade the studio and taint the beautiful unknowns of the creative process.

pablo-picasso_three-dancers

“Three Dancers” 1925
oil painting
by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

To a child, an outcome is a personal discovery — a minor miracle. Art is invention and invention thrives on mystery. Art is also an endurance event. When stepping up to the easel with a nervous stomach, be light, be flexible: practice your joyful tumbles.

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty.” (Edgar Degas)

pablo-picasso_nude-with-raised-arms-the-avignon-dancer-1907

“The Avignon Dancer” 1907
oil painting by Pablo Picasso

Esoterica: At 41, Oksana Chusovitina is the oldest Olympic female gymnast in history and holds the record for the most individual world championship medals in a single event (9, on the Vault). Born in 1975 in what is now Uzbekistan, Oksana learned gymnastics as part of the former Soviet system and, at 13, won the all-around at the USSR’s junior national championships — her first major competition. Over her 24-year career, Oksana has represented three countries and competed in 7 Olympics, winning her latest medals at Championships in 2012 and 2014. This Sunday in Rio, she vies for a medal in the Vault final. “I think the longevity is the best thing I can leave behind.” (Oksana Chusovitina)

Dora_Maar_Au_Chat

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“It takes a very long time to become young.” (Pablo Picasso)

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18 Comments

  1. Dear Sara- I have a new favorite word: “catastrophizing” Thanks!
    Like many of us- I’ve been on my path since I was a child. Unlike you- I grew up in a religious community that self-limited- so I was still pretty naive into my adulthood. Robert- on many an occasion- talked about the need to have a long view of things- as there might be early success- but if you can’t keep on creating- and getting more original over time (instead of less original) then what are you trying to achieve? It’s that originality that is of supreme importance to me- to make work that is uniquely mine. Yet I see artists who find a groove and then get stuck in it- and others who are just trying to be involved in the next big thing. Because- money…
    If we are committed (or commitable) then (like me) we’ll still be working the day after we die. I know that in order for me to do that- I have to have the dedication and perseverance of an adult- something that is an unknown to a child- and the wonder of creation of a child- something that is often lost in adulthood. It’s hard to strike the balance- but that balance is what keeps me going. Right over the edge- I’m sure. Dropping off a piece on Sunday for a non-juried Open Show at EDGE Gallery here in Denver. The long list grows… longer…

    • Hello Sara,
      Thank you for your inspiration, with all of the spirit you bring and share with these compilations. The common human themes are comforting reminders that everyone is walking through “things” on the way. Thinking of the nervous feeling while stepping up to a blank canvass, now I can add to my angles of approach; joyful tumbles. And I always adore the reminders that some folks reach their stride later in life :) Go Oksana!
      Bright thoughts to everyone.
      In appreciation,
      Shellee

    • How complicated life becomes. Why are we as artists/creators so full of self-doubt? You seem to have worked it out J.BRUCE WILCOX!

    • Thank you for these thoughts. As I grow older, 73 now, I don’t feel older in my head….but the body sometimes does not cooperate with the mental creative energy. I always taught my students to, paraphrasing Matisse, to see the world with the wonder of a child. Physically, even mentally, I sometimes find it little difficult, but this has been my lifelong practice and always will be. Thanks always for your thought provoking articles…always remembering to play!

  2. Thanks Sara. As you know I have been hiding out in my studio after completing my art courses. I am in my element…..

    I recently sent out a few emails to top galleries ( after following your advice and and amending my letter/ask and improving my images on my website. ( so much better ). I mention this because I received one response that was especially interesting to me in terms of where I am heading in my painting. – after complimenting me on my colour, style and creativity he advised me to GO FURTHER….. I think this is in line with your letter… I have this child within me and so I will continue to explore my colour stories. I liked this advice and maybe others can think about what this might mean in their own practice – GO FURTHER……Cheers

  3. I enjoy your newsletters and the comments that follow. It helps to see that some of my problems are shared with others for example ” Finding Yourself Again” I would like to comment on your first letter in this current newsletter. Perseverance and dedication is found in children just watch a small child learn to walk. They try and fail many times before finally they succeed and then it is on to the next challenge. Hopefully I can find that same perseverance.

  4. My first newsletter, as well–and how appropriate. I left painting early to earn a living commercially, and came back to it 9 years ago while caring for my demented mother at home. It saved us both. What was lost after 30 years of no painting? Only time, and who has figured out that mystery, anyway? In fact, maturity leads me on. It’s been said that in art, innovation is for the young and experimentation is for the old. Dear Edgar Degas: it is even tougher at 67!

  5. Dear Sara, This particular newsletter hit a particular nerve: Staying physical, alive and well, while creating art in extreme heat, storms and as wild land fire smoke swirls around us here in the West. This summer I realized physical ability allows me to push art to new limits, bigger work, controlling materials from stretching my own canvases to pushing material applications from brushes to twigs to fingers. The bigger and bolder I go, the more exciting the art. Also, draw realistically as daily practice, which sharpens how I see. And the older are the wiser!

  6. Thank you for this post. It resonated with me as I’m finding that the images queuing up in my head are getting more and more impatient to be let out. I realise time is finite and if they have to be out then there is no time to be lost. I want to be like Louise Bourgeois and sail on into my 90’s getting more and more creative, and with so many years of life experience behind us, how can we go wrong?

  7. Anita Williams on

    Thanks for the inspiring letter! As a soon to be 57 year old, I am working on completing my MFA in visual arts. Why not? I have an empty nest. Part of the MFA program requires us to find mentors. I just found a phenomenal woman artist who has been living off of her painting for the last 15 years. She is about ten years older than me, full of energy and positivity! She has already given me excellent advice! I couldn’t wait to get back to my easel after our meeting.

  8. Joan Mall Baral on

    process, not product,
    a physical skill which needs exercise
    to keep
    the imagination muscle
    strong and intuitive.

  9. Dear Sara, thanks for your great letter.

    You find me painting landscapes full-time for only four years, now at 65. I did not read your letter until today as I was on a canoe trip at Killarney park, in Northern Ontario. I admit that I felt my physical years, particularly as I met the challenges of portaging Killarney. At the same time, I felt so young! This was an exhilarating experience, to experience first hand the beauty of the landscape interpreted by Jackson, Carmichael, and others of the Group of Seven. Your letter is a timely reminder that longevity has its pluses for artists and I intend to take full advantage of those. I believe that artists, by the nature of our engagement in the creative process, also have a pre-disposition to live longer.

    Keep your letters coming. I appreciate them.

    Luis G Leigh

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