Does creative capability decline?

Dear Artist, Last Tuesday Michael Epp of Bowen Island, BC, Canada wrote, “I was intrigued by what you see as Norman Rockwell’s decline with age. Do you think artists must inevitably suffer a waning of their powers as they grow older? I would like to think that, unlike athletes, for example, we can just keep getting better and better.” Thanks, Michael. The Canadian painter A.Y. Jackson called it “painterly senility.” He thought it had something to do with the number of paintings painted. “Every painter has 2,500 paintings in him,” he said, “no more, no less.” When I heard that statement (in a radio interview in 1974) I was already up to 7,000. I briefly figured I was prematurely on my way to the old painters’ home, but I was wrong, and so was he. True, when an artist reaches a critical volume of work, a sort of jaded blindness can easily set in. It’s a failure of sight and it’s sometimes difficult to spot. Curiously, the artist doesn’t see as well what he saw so well when he was beyond amateur and nearing peak power. A few of the typically overlooked failures include crooked or sloppy horizon lines, poor tone values, amorphous forms, impatient, unresolved passages or the hasty skimming over of areas that were once well understood but now either lack challenge or are bedeviled by repetition or boredom. To beat the problem, artists need to put two main concepts into play. First is increased vigilance — the artist needs to rethink all passages and try to reassess them “baby eyes new.” Second is the refurbishing of youthful confidence. These two apps in tandem, like the combination of exercise and puzzle games for elderly folks, go a long way toward staving off creative vacuity and process bewilderment. It works. Delusion or not, many older artists tell me they now take a longer time to do their work, but by all accounts their work looks just as fresh. More than anything, creative aging means keeping the mind alive to possibilities. In the art business, one never stops learning. Apart from the intervention of something truly disruptive like Alzheimer’s, staying vital in your work is a matter of attitude. Rockwell’s “tightening up” at the end was minor. Emphysema killed him at 84 — the legacy of a lifetime of smoking. Best regards, Robert PS: “Time growing old teaches all things.” (Aeschylus) Esoterica: Oscar Wilde said, “The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.” In coping with aging, artists do well to think about Oscar’s idea. When growing old, we need to know that we still know everything. We need to rekindle our suspicions of the shibboleths we have glossed over and taken for granted. And we need to stop believing in all forms of nonsense, particularly the idea that we are “losing it.” Aging is an adventure that requires the application of new and previously untested skills. “Come grow old with me,” said Robert Browning, “The best is yet to be.”   Inspiration from Monet by Collette Fergus, Waikato, New Zealand  

“Not a Still Life with Pears”
original painting
by Collette Fergus

I’d like to think that artists only improve with age and of course the experience they gain along the way, it doesn’t require youthful muscle strength like it does for physical type jobs or the stamina required to work all hours etc, etc. However, the points you mention like the deterioration of our senses are something I guess we have to deal with. I do take inspiration from Monet, however, who was almost blind when creating some of his fabulous masterpieces.         Out of bed and into art by Brian Crawford Young, Forres, Scotland  

original painting
by Brian Crawford Young

My understanding is that Willem de Kooning (1904 – 1997), the New York abstract expressionist, carried on painting even when he had advanced Alzheimer’s and could no longer even recognise his wife. Perhaps it has something to do with muscle memory? Or maybe the fact that since his bed was right there in the studio he could just tumble out of it and start painting. At any rate, maybe it’s easier for expressive and expressionist painters to carry on as before although, as I’m always saying, spontaneity takes a lot of practice. (RG note) Thanks, Brian. Tip: Tumbling out of bed directly into painting is a time-honoured ploy for creative continuity, although I do not recommend not recognizing your wife on the way out. I did it once and found the results unsatisfactory. Before I do anything I always bring her a coffee and the newspaper. Thus I can squeeze paint with a clear conscience which I think in itself makes me less confused and helps dodge the slippery slope into painterly senility. I could be wrong. There are 5 comments for Out of bed and into art by Brian Crawford Young
From: Anonymous — Apr 09, 2012

Does it prove there is no or very little skill involved in abstract impressionism at all!

From: Anonymous — Apr 10, 2012

“It helps to be an elephant or a chimp”

From: Mark — Apr 10, 2012

De Kooning, not my favorite painter, was an abstract expressionist, not impressionist, and his last paintings, while quite different from his earlier work, actually make a good case for saying that artistic talent and vision endure despite aging and even senility.

From: Veronica — Apr 10, 2012

I agree with Mark. The best abstract expressionists thought carefully then they painted freely, perhaps, and edited along the way. What looks fast and easy is often hard-won. I just saw the Diebenkorn “Ocean Park” show at the Orange County Museum of Art and make my case from that work (although he may butt into the color field group). Frankenthaler is a favorite as well. Tumbling out of bed to paint sounds perfect. .. with coffee in hand!

From: Anonymous — Apr 10, 2012

I found this thread kind of funny as not only am I just finishing my 2nd year of Fine Art, I am 53 at that, hope to have my BFA by the ripe old age of 55 and I just this morning handed in an essay on Abstract Expressionsim.

  The joy of learning by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA  

“Oak tree light”
original painting
by Linda Blondheim

I plan to paint until I die. I’m soon to be 62. I am just beginning to learn some new things about painting, after being a painter for over 40 years. It seems that we must mature for awhile to lose the false hubris of youth and begin to be comfortable in our place as a painter. I only hope that I will be around long enough to learn some more. I see too many established painters who have put themselves into a rut, using the same palette, brushwork, subject for so long that it is rote. Learning at my stage of career is the key to youth and vitality in my work and in my personal life. I look forward to the next challenges. There are 6 comments for The joy of learning by Linda Blondheim
From: Eleanor Blair — Apr 09, 2012

I absolutely agree, Linda!

From: Anonymous — Apr 10, 2012

Yes Linda keep discovering new ways of seeing color, shape, harmonies. I agree we’re about the same age and I still feel like a beginner and have been painting about 40 years! Love your oak tree.Donna

From: Suzanne du Plooy — Apr 10, 2012

Love design and the fresh colours in your painting.

From: Dottie Dracos — Apr 10, 2012

Beautiful painting!

From: Anonymous — Apr 10, 2012

I agree 100% with what Linda wrote, and I do love this painting! Vernita Bridges Hoyt

From: Ken Flitton — Apr 10, 2012

Apart from all the jazz about senility or lack of, I think your painting is Super!! Why/ I can’t quite tell Darks and Lights, maybe.

  Aged master painters by Cyril Satorsky  

oil painting
by Cyril Satorsky

The question of whether creativity slows down or diminishes as we grow older is surely different for different people, and all people are different. Clearly we tend to slow down physically as we age but think of the marvelous work done by great artists in their later years. Rembrandt’s self-portraits, the one’s done in his old age, are possibly the finest portraits ever painted. Titian still painted well past eighty, Picasso slogged away when close to ninety. I think of him as the masterly raging bull of twentieth century art, an inspiration to us all. Let’s salute Renoir with hands crippled by arthritis painting masterpieces from his wheelchair. The fabulous Matisse bedridden but doing breathtaking rapturous cut-outs in coloured paper that sing. Just these few show that as they aged their work increased in power of spirit and virtuosity. There is 1 comment for Aged master painters by Cyril Satorsky
From: Virginia Wieringa — Apr 10, 2012

Exquisite color and design, Cyril!!

  Challenge equals growth by Catherine Stock, France  

watercolour painting
by Catherine Stock

My godfather, the prominent South African artist Revel Fox, once told me that I was lucky to be an artist as it was one of the very few vocations where one could flourish creatively as one matured. When I was an art director in children’s book publishing, I once asked Maurice Sendak if he ever suffered from artist’s block. “ALL the time!” he answered immediately and emphatically. I think there is a message there. If one is constantly challenged, one grows. If one becomes complacent, one stultifies. I think Woody Allen put it something like this: “Relationships are like sharks. If they stop moving forward, they drown.’ There are 3 comments for Challenge equals growth by Catherine Stock
From: Anonymous — Apr 10, 2012

Revel Fox was an architect, not an artist. Apologies.

From: Patsy, Antrim — Apr 11, 2012

As architects are, to my mind, artists, I went with your description, though I knew him to be a famous architect in SA. ;-) I see there’s a Revel Fox making films in Cape Town – his son?

From: Catherine Stock — Apr 12, 2012

Yes, Revel the director is the son of the architect.

  Volume down, quality up by Samere Tansley, Kingston, Jamaica  

“Summer fruits”
original painting
by Samere Tansley

At 67 I definitely seem to be slowing down, but I’m just as fired up! I’ve been working professionally and living off my work for over 35 years, and theoretically working 7 days a week. It appears I hit my peak when I was 40. In 1984 I did 44 paintings — now I’m lucky if I complete 12. I work very hard and I think my work is getting better. It’s definitely more ‘finished’ but as for 2500 in a life? Not when it’s detailed realism!   There are 2 comments for Volume down, quality up by Samere Tansley
From: Jackie Knott — Apr 10, 2012

I’m so pleased you made that point about detailed realism. Painting styles will govern speed, and speed doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Racking up an impressive number of works shouldn’t be a goal (or how many sold) as much as leaving your finest that will judge you as an artist. Very nice painting, by the way.

From: Sarah — Apr 10, 2012

What a delightful painting! And your point about detailed realism is right on.

  Aging and loss of sight by William Scott Wallace, Cincinnati, OH, USA   My father passed away at 93 and, while not an artist, he loved looking at paintings and reading. Before he died, I took him to the Blind Association in Cincinnati, Ohio, where we live. They took an old scrapbook of his young days and blew up all of the photos until he could tell what they were (he suffered macular degeneration). After identifying all of the photos, giving us a wonderful legacy of what the pictures were, we wandered about, discovering some beautiful oil paintings. They were done by painters Ruth Pearlman and another local artist, both of whom were now losing sight to the same condition that afflicted my father. Some of the volunteers at the Blind Center told us that the painters were first somewhat depressed about their slow loss of clear eye sight, yet reflected upon how they still might paint, and they developed a unique and new style for both that featured a wonderful sense of composition, very bold, and use of colour to the extent they could still make the shades out. They received many compliments on their new style. There are 2 comments for Aging and loss of sight by William Scott Wallace
From: Aleta Pippin — Apr 09, 2012

Wolf Kahn has MD. I viewed an interview with him and he commented that his work is actually better as he is looser in his painting! It gives us heart.

From: Veronica — Apr 10, 2012
  Skill of older artists by Caroline Simmill, Morayshire, Scotland  

oil painting
by Caroline Simmill

The art clubs and artists here in the highlands of Scotland are a talented group of creative people who make fresh and interesting art, whatever their age. Our art galleries accept the paintings of those who are in their retirement years. Becoming retired means this is the time for them to start or continue an artistic journey that will enrich their days. I have looked with interest at the paintings of those in their autumn and winter years and often find them full of life, skill and beauty. I was invited to a couple of art clubs recently to work with them on a ‘painting misty trees’ workshop. A few of the retired artists were much older, yet when it came to everyone painting their version of misty trees together, I can honestly say their work was as fresh, skilled and beautiful as the younger members’ work. Had all the works of the class been put before me without my knowledge of who had painted them, I would not have known who were the older artists. This is why art is so wonderful. It is something you can embrace fully at any age — what you need is the desire and the light from within to make it happen. There are 2 comments for Skill of older artists by Caroline Simmill
From: nan fiegl — Apr 10, 2012

I love your “Wilderness” painting. I could stare at it for long moments, seeing things that might be there.

From: Veronica — Apr 10, 2012

Beautiful painting and well-said!

  Old masters who died young by Al Phillips, AL, USA  

“Left behind”
watercolour painting
by Al Phillips

In Hereward Lester Cooke’s book, Painting Lessons from the Great Masters, in the Introduction pages 15 and 16, under the paragraph, “The Age Factor,” he writes: “The term ‘old masters’ conjures up an image of bearded figures as remote as the founding fathers. And yet many of the old masters were not old. Raphael died when he was 37; Gericault when he was 33; Watteau when he was 37; Giorgione when he was about 33; van Dyck when he was 42. Others, by contrast, lived to a ripe old age, like Titian who died at 99. “An interesting point emerges from the study of the lives of the masters: the peak of an artist’s career — that period when all his energies and talents are brought to a sharp focus and his creative abilities are fully realized — can occur at any time. It can come between the age of 25 and 60, and usually does not last for more than a few years. In other words, if all the works of an artist were lost except those of his peak years, his standing in the history of art would not, in most cases, change significantly. With Rembrandt the peak came late; with Degas in middle age; with George Bellows it was early. “This point is very important because painters, who do not achieve success in their youth, often give up. The history of art proves that these young painters are wrong to be discouraged so early. A painter may have to search for many years before he finds the right combination of style, theme, and motivation which will realize his potentialities.” By the way, if my memory serves, Norman Rockwell suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years, which could account, at least partially account, for his waning creative capability. There is 1 comment for Old masters who died young by Al Phillips
From: Anonymous — Apr 11, 2012

Who is George Bellows and why is his name listed with Rembrandt and Degas?

  New adventures heighten creativity by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands  

“Illustration for children’s book”
mixed media, 15 x 20 inches
by Robin Shillcock

Our eyesight goes, we tremble more, we become less certain and fall back on old formulae, we lose our sensitivity to colour, we spend more time blathering to clients and generally waste more time, but foremost is that many of us lose the will for the struggle to reach an almost impossible goal. To maintain my fighting spirit I like to be with younger artists; I try to see the world through their eyes. I find the freshness of their hopes and goals in taking on the art world inspiring. As an art student interested in painting wildlife I visited many of the old coons in the trade in Netherlands, England, France, Scotland and Sweden. They told me about the ups and downs of the trade, especially in the popularity of their work. None spoke of lapses in creativity, but I got a good look at their work, and was often allowed to delve in their sketchbooks, leafing through their lives — always a humbling and touching experience. I also discovered that in old age many had passed the high of their capacities and were softly falling away. Why? Perhaps there’s a danger when you do endless variations of what you’ve done before, your attention slackens. For the outside world it is easy then to compare what was and what is, and see the difference. Those that fared better in spite of flagging stamina were those that consciously incorporated new adventures with a certain regularity in their working lives. A change of technique, of format, of subject matter, at times going back to basics: to drawing, to sketching new subject matter in the field to refresh their learning capacity.

I also discovered by the way that of these old blokes the best balanced were those who had a wife (since all were men) who supported them unfailingly, reducing the burdens of daily life. Looking back I think the burdens we are given or take on have increased since 1970. I see it among colleagues who used to have time to go out on regular painting sprees, and nowadays simply don’t have the time. Painting with others heightens our senses, makes us sharper, perhaps more so than merely showing with artist friends in an exhibition. It heightens the sense of adventure and exploration. Lose that and creativity is bound to lapse.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Does creative capability decline?

From: Brigitte Nowak — Apr 05, 2012
From: Daniela — Apr 05, 2012
From: M. Petterson — Apr 05, 2012
From: Damar Minyak — Apr 06, 2012

Take life uncensored, with all the extra toppings. A life without passion is not worth living ! ~DM Damar Minyak’s System For Never Growing Old: Never stop playing. Keep learning new stuff. Make love like you’re twenty-five. Sometimes, do something weird. Live by your aphorisms. Explore, discover, meditate. Never believe experts. Fall in love with yourself. Do your own cooking. Ignore stupid people. Don’t think like old people. –And– Never make lists ! ~Damar Minyak

From: Ooops! ~DM — Apr 06, 2012

At third from the top of my list should be included: Change your belief system — often. (Must be time to do that again…) ~DM

From: Nyla Witmore — Apr 06, 2012

Regarding Norman Rockwell….We used to live in Massachusetts. In the western part of the state (not Vermont) they had a large Rockwell museum. His home was a short distance from the museum. After his death, the docent said, they were allowed to reveal that he had suffered from Alzheimers. As certain abilities left him, he was still able to ride his bike and would do so daily from his home to the museum where he would happily sign authographs for the visitors. (If I am wrong, I will be happily corrected.) P.S. Every morning, to stave off the encroaching brain decline I google “Lumosity” for brain games. These are free and are superior to just doing the daily crossword because it stimulates more more visual perception. The site is free. In even a few days of exercises you can actually feel more observant. I particularly gravitate to the exercises that stimulate memory of shapes. Shape memory is key for us artists. It doesn’t take long. Caution: if you don’t keep up with frequent brain stimulation (at this “certain age”), it slides quickly. Just 6 months of slacking off and returning to the site convinced me that brain stimulation is more important than I realized. Scores drop! That will quickly convince you that you must “use it or lose it.” (IMPORTANT NOTE: By the way….the spelling is NOT “luminosity”, a familiar word to artists, so pay attention to that small “detail” …the spelling is LUMOSITY.)

From: Rene W. — Apr 06, 2012

Thanks for bringing this up, Robert. I am now at the beginning of my seventh chapter of life and declining creativity is a real concern to me. But so far I have not seen it happening; not yet anyway. Keeping myself physical active, mentally sharp and eating right has made all the difference. I still have the enthusiasm, desire and passion I had three chapters ago. I expect it to continue for at least another chapter or two.

From: Margery Jennings — Apr 06, 2012

Age should not be an excuse for going on autopilot. Consider Rembrandt? Monet? Others who lived to considerable age and kept refining and experimenting, challenging themselves. . . In another sphere, an artist like <a target=_blank href=”” title=”Art Quotes by Tony Bennett”>Tony Bennett</a>, who called his son to tell him he’d *finally* figured out how to sing–in his seventies.

From: Keep Learning — Apr 06, 2012
From: Delilah — Apr 06, 2012

Gee Whiz, I hope not or I only have 300 paintings left in my LOL and I will have those done by the end of the year. My head is full of ideas that I have not yet brought to fruitation.

From: Tinker Bachant — Apr 06, 2012
From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Apr 06, 2012

I am an artist in my late 50’s and think of myself as a young kid compared to some of my older artist friends. I have several in 70’s and 80’s most of whom are women and their work is still fresh still evolving. The male artists I know are not so fresh in their approach and seem to rely on the systematic approach. Not sure why? One male artist that was famous during the hay day of the abstract movement was Wilhelm De Kooning, his early work was caotic and line oriented however later in life he developed Alzimers and his work became fluid and shape oriented the difference was stunning. Perhaps it is the evolution of ourselves that shows the improvement or decline in our work not our age.

From: Jon Taner — Apr 06, 2012

An interesting question with interesting responses. As for my experience of myself and other artists I see little or no decline in creativity. The ideas and motives become more mature and perhaps even age-appropriate. The focus becomes more meaningful and critical. In terms of craft, technique, willingness to explore, and end-product quality-if it wasn’t there to begin with, it ain’t about to get any better. If it was there then it’s in-bred and though things may take a little longer, the finished work has the same immediacy and timeless quality as the best pieces from years earlier.

From: fostrart — Apr 06, 2012

I can’t believe loss of creativity is age related. With age comes more free time to experiment with new styles, new media, new venues. Stay active in all facets of life, don’t settle for senility.

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 06, 2012

Age can be a wonderful tool to see the world differently. When I was young I wanted to see spectacular things, to be excited by what I heard and saw. Now that my stamina is diminished I pause more. I study more. I think I’m more receptive to incidentals I wouldn’t even have glanced at in my youth. One can find beauty in the simplest of things, and thus inspiration for a painting. Another benefit of age is painting for yourself and hopefully, not having to glean a living from a fickle art industry. Go ahead and swear to me you haven’t painted in one style or another that was selling (and trendy) at the time. Sure, bifocals change the way I see what I’m painting. But on the other hand I don’t have to squint anymore either. My sixtieth decade may well be my most productive. I see this time as the culmination of what I have learned, what I have rejected, and finally how I really want to paint. I didn’t have that luxury when I was young. They say time is compressed as we age – to a degree, I suppose. But equally time is savored and I know every painting I produce is closer to my last one. I hope to paint into my seventieth decade but I want to invest every ounce of my intellect and effort into this one, right now.

From: Cindi Walton — Apr 06, 2012

A good example, and one I keep in the back of my mind as I age, is Matisse. I think, if my old brain remembers correctly, in his old age, he was bedridden, and laid in bed, cutting paper into forms. Some of his most famous pieces are from that time (i.e. Jazz Icarus). Georgia O’Keeffe worked until she died and took up pottery later in life. I use them both as role models as I grow into being an older artist.

From: Bill Scarborough — Apr 06, 2012

Another thing that I found was that as my vision got worse with age, I can see things better from an artist’s view, kinda like using a foggy piece of glass to view a potential picture for value.

From: Roslyn Dyson — Apr 06, 2012

This can’t be true – Look at all the composers whose work changed as they got older – and in many cases I would say it improved, though of course that is my opinion. As long as an artist keeps an open mind and doesn’t get lazy, or stale, then why should creativity decline?

From: H Margret — Apr 06, 2012

Matisse did some of his best work in his 80’s….and Paul Klee’s final works were master pieces. William Turner’s late work rocks…still nothing like it, over 100 years later. Only 7,000 paintings in, what, 45 years of full time, prosperous, career work? 2,500 “good paintings” sounds like a real bean counter approach to creativity. Shoot for a million paintings, Robert!

From: Barbara Youtz — Apr 06, 2012

Loved today’s message, especially the last thought…, the best is yet to come. It inspires me to try even harder. Even the fact that I don’t have as much energy at 74 as I did at 40, works for me. Now I do the easy things when I’m out painting in Plein Air. I find I didn’t really need all of that extra fussy details that I used to obsess about putting in my paintings and I enjoy the process even more.

From: Suzanne Frazier — Apr 06, 2012

I became an artist at age 40, so that I could be a professional until my last breath. I plan to keep on painting until …….the end. I love having my creative juices flowing, as my body slows down. It makes up for not being able to run a marathon any more.

From: Hal Bain — Apr 06, 2012

A quote in your letter today quoted Oscar Wilde as saying; “The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.” How in the hell could he know, first hand, anything about the old; he died at 46. Oscar Wilde is and was full of crap, mostly.

From: Melanie Peter — Apr 06, 2012

I read Renoir strapped his brush to his arthritic hand and painted on. But really; arthritis, poor eyesight, bad hips or knees, general aches and pains (not to mention trips to the doctor or hospital) do certainly effect output and quality.

From: Jim Lorriman — Apr 06, 2012
From: Mary Helen Garvin — Apr 06, 2012

Today’s offering regarding aging and painting touched a sore spot with me. I didn’t start to paint till retirement, and I paint for the pleasure of it. But not “seeing” as well as in the past for me is due to cataracts! Maybe that has affected many aging artists. Who knows? But I confess to being afraid of how my paintings will look to me when the cataracts are gone!

From: Marcia Paige — Apr 06, 2012

No, I do not feel a person’s creativity declines when you get older. I am 72 years old and have no art training at all, I also have the added problem of having dementia and my paintings are getting better. I have decided to do abstracts only and they have been received very well. I have always had an incredible imagination and my art league friends who are wonderful artists ask me what I would do or how I would do a certain type of painting. They do not need my technical skill because one, I don’t have any skill, and two, they are top notch artists but they want my ideas, of which I have plenty. Even before I had problems I had a very active imagination. For a while I was painting gourds, making my husband and friends into whimsical gourds and sold every one I made. I was even approached by a woman who happened by our bi-weekly art show and asked if I’d be interested in getting my gourds into her New York Gallery. The unfortunate problem was she was not willing to even cover the cost of the gourds which are very inexpensive, as were my prices. So, no, I definitely don’t feel my creativity has declined. My imagination is as whimsical as ever. I do feel inadequate because I have no training, but I’m still enjoying myself and keeping my mind occupied, which is the best thing I could do.

From: Geraldine O’Riordan — Apr 06, 2012

I have adopted this term to the list of jobs I need to do when my paintings are almost finished. It makes me observe the painting on the easel. Issues such as those “crooked or sloppy horizon lines, poor tone values, amorphous forms, impatient, unresolved passages” etc. to which you refer, are usually the outstanding tasks. I make a list of these and tackle them one by one. It helps to concentrate the mind on specifics and to avoid extraneous brush strokes that may lead to an overworked painting. I intend to continue with this practice as long as can hold a brush and mix paint! It will surely keep me on my toes!

From: Dora Gourley — Apr 06, 2012

A few years ago, a local artist, quite famous, here in our location, style changed from colorful, light, lots of interesting character to his paintings, to very dark, gloomy and dreary. As he continued to age, his paintings became much more so, until near the end of his life, they were mostly black on black. I’d have to say, from out of the dust, into the dust again.

From: Abby — Apr 06, 2012

At 82 years old I am still learning and quite exited to put new ideas into practice. Painting is a wonderful endless journey.

From: Aleta Pippin — Apr 06, 2012
From: Mary Dee — Apr 06, 2012

I am in an Adult Education calligraphy class and we have students in their late 80s and early 90s who do very well, so I think that we continue to be creative as we age. I’ve also seen a neighbor with dementia/Alzheimer’s who, although she is often confused, can play a card game requiring both memory and concentration. I believe the more we are stimulated, whether through art or other activities, the better it is for us as we get older…

From: Ruth G. Farnham — Apr 06, 2012

I’ve noticed that every few years, dating back about 65 years, my style of painting has changed. Experimentation was always high on my list; during the past 15 years I have played with more and more new approaches. The ceramics and printmaking workshops I took were the first times I had touched those two fields since college. I had already been exploring mixed media on a variety of surfaces, which recently culminated in an entirely new field for me: encaustics and encaustic monotypes. I’m 82 and there’s no end to the future.

From: Jane crosbie — Apr 06, 2012

Robb I love your newsletter I have read it faithfully for years – but occasionally you come up with ideas that are just plain stupid. Age affecting creativity is one of them. All you people who agree speak for yourself. Gosh I feel sorry for you that you have settled for this in life when you are capable of so much more. Life is full of choices. Regardless of what age you are you choose to be creative or not. There are never any predictable hard and fast rules to human behaviour. Have you not seen Monets latest works completed just before he died – for more electrical, far more passionate, far more energetic and powerful – Tolstoy as well did not write War and Peace and successive novels until in his 60’s and older. The evidence pointing to increased creativity and risk taking in older people is in direct contrast to your statement. I find the older one gets the more secure one gets so one takes humungous risks – because you finally have the confidence to back yourself even if the whole darned world is against you. I feel so sorry that you people are going through the rest of your lives and all you have to look forward to is declining creativity. Shame on you Robert for such a stupid idea. Not even worth the cyber space it’s printed on. You bet your bottom dollar the older I get the more I look forward to increasing creativity – increased joy – increased insight – increased intellectual abilities even. And yes I would love to throw a spanner in the works and prove even science wrong. As an engineering and science student – I learnt at university the first Golden Principle of Science – the Uncertainty principle. The one principle behind all scientific thought. It basically means soon as science thinks it’s right – nature or the universe or God or whatever you want to call the powers that be – as soon as science thinks it’s right – God or nature will throw a spanner in the works and turn all your evidence upside down and prove you wrong. Nothing is ever certain in life – or sceince for that matter – hence the first golden rule of all science – the tingency rule – the Principle of Uncertainty. I look forward to far greater creativity as the years go by. I feel sorry for all you artists who believe otherwise. Thank God neither Tolstoy nor Einstein nor Winston Churchill not Voltaire nor Monet nor Michelangelo nor Da Vinci nor Rembrandt nor Beethoven nor Bach nor Sir Isaac Newton nor Wagner nor even Genghis Khan or Jean Fabre or Winston Churchill or Roosevelt or Eisenhower or Benjamin Franklin- gosh the list is endless – thank God none of these people ever believed such a ridiculous assertion. It pays not to believe everything you read – and from an ex-scientist – it pays to realise every scientific assertion can be refuted by conflicting evidence from the opposing scientific theory. Bollocks.

From: Violetta — Apr 06, 2012

Ah yes, I agree with Jane Crosbie about not believing, en mass, also I think everyone is different, so, it stands to reason we can all do something different. Who was it that said, “Youth is wasted on the young?” This is not to mean that I should now go into stiff skateboarding competition, but, I can be ingenious in my thinking.

From: Keith Hiscock — Apr 06, 2012

Either Jane didn’t read the newsletter, or she has lost the capacity to understand. How she got what she thinks is beyond me. I thought the letter was about being positive as time rolls on and how to be enriched by it.

From: Maritza Bermudez — Apr 07, 2012

I teach “seniors” at my art league and my students at cruises are mostly “senior citizens”. As a 78 year old lady who was enjoying the watercolor class very much said to me, “I wish I had started painting years ago!” The strange thing is they love their work, not like younger adults who criticize their own work and are never happy with the finished piece. I love teaching seniors, and by the way, I am 70 years old and paint every day!.

From: Gavin Logan — Apr 07, 2012

Some people show their early senility by being non readers. They’re too busy trying to get their own lame stuff off.

From: Philis Raskind — Apr 07, 2012

Paul Cadmus only painted around 140 paintings during his life. 95 years old when he died and at least 10 when he started painting, he always said, ‘less is more’. He was my mentor and a friend for 41 years. There are hundreds and hundreds of drawings that are in museums and homes of his many collectors. I do object to statements of quantity. It is quality that means something more, don’t you think?

From: Elle Fagan — Apr 07, 2012

you are so right! Spirit exercise / Brain exercise / creativity exercise / body exercise….. all combine to keep it all supple much longer than our forebears could expect. There IS reality, however, and the physical powers do fail as we near death. But here the artist has the edge, I think, since the fine motor skills employed in the thinking and execution of the art help keep us fresh intrinsically. In fact, my art helped me when I suffered disc/spinal cord injury , to regain fine motor skills and work around the discomfort. And maybe it’s part of why Seniors arts groups are so popular. The old expression “Staying alive in the work” can take on a whole new meaning as we age. Matisse was very ill, so his later works do show the struggle – he often worked with the brush taped to his arm, unable to hold it alone. I can’t remember which artist is famous for the remark in response to : what does an artist do as age makes the vision fail? “Paint bigger works” he smiled, since there is the double victory in that one….not only does the artist win over his vision issue, but often bigger works win bigger publicity and better fame and sales prices. As for me, I am wiggling impatient to get out doors – Connecticut Spring so lovely today.

From: Joann Slead — Apr 07, 2012

I had a friend, a very excellent artist, Arthur Fitzsimmons, who passed away in 1990, he had lung cancer, had surgery and had lack of oxygen during surgery and even though everything else seemed oK, some name forgetting, but his painting skills were not the same. It was as if a part of his memory for painting had deminished. Very sad, but he did keep painting, but brush strokes changed. He lived several years after surgery, but never created work up to the quality he had done. So for all of us, that is why it is important to paint every day as much as we can before it is gone, the same as living. Live every day for the fullest.

From: Norm Woods — Apr 07, 2012

It is easy for people, at any stage in their life, to get sloppy, slovenly and careless. Life can get to you. Come to the cabaret!

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 07, 2012

Let’s not confuse age with infirmity. One can be young and have a debilitating condition that affects his or her art. Or, one can simply be old with diminished physical abilities. Point in fact: Thomas Kinkade passed today at 54. We’ll never know if he would have become a better artist.

From: warmwinter1969 — Apr 07, 2012
From: cassandra — Apr 07, 2012

Let’s look at the big picture. Aging means some physical decline for certain, a little if you are lucky, a lot if you are not. Creativity may well remain joyfully free when ability to communicate it/technical skill is impaired. Genius is at the extreme of the scale and may show its decline more obviously even while retaining higher than average quality. Lesser talent/skill may show little sign of decline as there is not a greatly discernible spread between ‘mediocre’ and ‘very mediocre’. Fortunately 21st century techno marvels offer new vehicles for creative expression that physical impairment may have stolen from us. The thing is to keep creating … somehow, someway … each day, keep creating.

From: Gene Martin — Apr 08, 2012

You are kidding . Right?

From: Yvonne Grow — Apr 08, 2012

Thank you for your wonderful thoughts. They are thought provoking and inspiring and I appreciate them. You motivate me to do better in many fields. Thank you again.

From: Christine VerSteeg. — Apr 08, 2012

I think that your article on aging artists is excellent. I am 70 and have never made a living with my artwork, but am happy if I cover expenses, which is probably the case for many of us. I had “day jobs” when I was younger. Everything takes more time to accomplish as we age, and this is a real difficulty to deal with. But, once we accept that, we, or perhaps, I should speak for myself, learn to appreciate everything to a much greater degree than when we were younger. So what if a painting takes longer? We’re still painting! Being an artist makes one have a greater appreciation of all things visual, noticing the way shadows and highlights work on a tree, when going for a walk, would be just one example. And, this delight is heightened by the fact that we know that we have fewer years ahead of us, so we have a keener sense of joy for each day. Keep on painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.

From: Peter Worsley — Apr 08, 2012

I sigh with relief! I am 82 and think my work is still getting better. At least, I regard each painting as yet another mountain to climb.

From: Ann Adair — Apr 08, 2012

I have been reading the twice-weekly letter for several years. I ALWAYS read it and value your comments and those of other artists. Thank you for this informative and fun read. Recently retired, I now have time to paint. Visually, I still have young eyes. However, I wonder whether my psyche has reached a point where some of the painting interests I once had have changed.

From: Gerald — Apr 08, 2012

I am 18 and I have already lost some of the spontaniety I had when I was 8

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Apr 09, 2012

Jane c [sic]rosbie, I think an apology to Rob (not Robb) is in order, as you have misunderstood him. One can disagree and still remain polite. Judging by the errors in your response, I think you write as hastily as you read: You repeated names and phrases: Winston Churchill and “as soon as science thinks it’s right”. I would have described Monet’s later works as electrifying, rather than “electrical”… I love to learn new things, so when I saw “tingency” rule, I looked it up, as I’d never heard it before. Neither has the dictionary, it seems. I think you meant contingency. A trait often seen in the elderly is a loss of understanding of acceptable social norms, in that they say exactly what they think without stopping to consider how rude they might be, not unlike toddlers, who haven’t leaned yet what is socially impolite – not for nothing is it known as one’s second childhood! As I get older I find I have had to learn to stop and think before I open my mouth to change feet, as I am often tempted to say or ask things that on reflection are not a good idea to express aloud. (Yes, I did think before writing this piece!) So what I’m saying is that you come across as someone not in the first flush of youth, who is feeling anxious about it. All I can tell you is, you are not aloooone…. ;-)

From: Barry Howard Studio — Apr 09, 2012

i am 60 years old and feel that i am learning to paint in an entirely different way…which makes me feel like a beginner, even though i have been painting since i was in my early 20’s. I believe the danger lies in developing a style and then staying there forever. To keep the hunger and passion alive we need to challenge ourselves and pursue new directions. Our styles need to evolve over time or else, at some point we are just running over the same old ground. I would say beware of the feeling that you’ve mastered your craft.

From: Elihu Edelson — Apr 09, 2012

In any medium, some artists are early prodigies who go downhilol from there, while at the other end of the spectrum there are those whose Late Works transcend all their previous efforts. Among the latter I would include Michelangelo’s last Pieta, Rembrandt’s last self-portrait, Beethoven’s last string quartets, and Titian’s “Scourging of Christ.” Monet’s last Japanese Bridge paintings were done after Cubism had run its course, and are far more modern.

From: Elihu Edelson — Apr 09, 2012

P.S. I just turned 87 and am doing some of my best work. (I have the same birthday as Goya and van Gogh, but my life has not been quite as dramatic.)

From: Aleta Pippin — Apr 09, 2012

Robert Browning said “Grow old with me, the best is yet to be…”

From: Joke Klootwijk — Apr 10, 2012

It is Nice to know that with painting you know that you have a lifetime to learn!

From: rena williams — Apr 10, 2012
From: Diana Wakely — Apr 10, 2012

I don’t think we lose our creativity but maybe we get more selective in what we do. Rather than chasing a lot of rainbows we stick to the medium that makes us the happiest. Of course maybe that is exactly what we are talking about. Goodness – got to find the glasses – and oh yes where is that brush? What were we talking about??

From: Louise Aronson — Apr 10, 2012

A little thought with regard to creativity and getting old. In a not too distant interview, Wolf Kawn said that eventhough suffering from mucular degeneration, it was making him paint even freer than ever before.

From: Dottie Dracos — Apr 10, 2012

To Damar Minyak. Thanks for the list! Although it is a list, and you recommend in the list not to make lists, you made this one; and I’m keeping it!!! There’s a lot of wisdom worth perusing often there.

From: Rick Rotante — Apr 10, 2012

Age does bring a slowing down, since I am now in that age bracket, I realize youthful exuberance has been replaced by aged wisdom with my work. I no longer rush headlong into ideas as quickly as I did in my youth. On the one hand I’ve accomplished many of the ideas I had planned to paint. Projects today are still waiting to be done and now take more careful consideration and thought. Not because I’ve gotten old and tired but because now a project warrants the consideration that youth didn’t concern itself with. I still feel the need to work every day and my passion is still there but the “impulsive” fire has been turned down to a manageable burn. I take longer to paint than in my youth, although the results show freshness in technique. True, I can now muster the look deliberately whereas in my youth, it happened spontaneously. As for lack of finish, I’ve seen masters do the same thing and it isn’t oversight of boredom. My work over the years has gotten “looser”. This looseness of finish has more to do early accomplishment of the idea. I say more with less. There is little reason to overwork. Michelangelo, Rembrandt and many others discovered the same thing in later life. As for the quota of works in ones lifetime –I’ve long past 2,500 years ago. It would be safe to say in my lifetime, I’ve either destroyed, wiped off or obliterated and reused about half of everything I’ve ever created. So you might say I’ve turned back time and still have a couple of hundred works to re-do.

From: Gerry Gawne — Apr 10, 2012

“No, thanks. I ate already!

From: Stan Leavitt — Apr 10, 2012

I’m not sure that I ever took the time to think about it. I started painting 12 years ago at age 70 and most importantly, I think that I am getting better and more excited about painting all the time. As opposed to my wifes tennis which is declining as her physical capabilities decline. However as with my painting, it just makes us both work a little harder to succeed.

From: Stan Leavitt — Apr 10, 2012

I’m not sure that I ever took the time to think about it. I started painting 12 years ago at age 70 and most importantly, I think that I am getting better and more excited about painting all the time. As opposed to my wifes tennis which is declining as her physical capabilities decline. However as with my painting, it just makes us both work a little harder to succeed.

From: Luc Poitras — Apr 10, 2012

Several years ago, I went to the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge. What surprised me about his work was the painterly quality of his illustrations. You really can’t see that from reproductions. It was an eye-opening visit, more than well worth the time and expense. You could say he was a painter who happened to make illustrations.

From: Mary Pyche — Apr 10, 2012

I do believe that artists only get better with age, and had a chuckle about the line that said that we never stop learning, the question is “are we learning the same thing over and over???? ha Like the joke about never having to buy another book because you forgot that you read it before. If I could only remember everything I’ve read.

From: Annette Johnson — Apr 10, 2012
From: Rick Rotante — Apr 10, 2012

Age does bring a slowing down, since I am now in that age bracket, I realize youthful exuberance has been replaced by aged wisdom with my work. I no longer rush headlong into ideas as quickly as I did in my youth. On the one hand I’ve accomplished many of the ideas I had planned to paint. Projects today are still waiting to be done and now take more careful consideration and thought. Not because I’ve gotten old and tired but because now a project warrants the consideration that youth didn’t concern itself with. I still feel the need to work every day and my passion is still there but the “impulsive” fire has been turned down to a manageable burn. I take longer to paint than in my youth, although the results show freshness in technique. True, I can now muster the look deliberately whereas in my youth, it happened spontaneously. As for lack of finish, I’ve seen masters do the same thing and it isn’t oversight of boredom. My work over the years has gotten “looser”. This looseness of finish has more to do early accomplishment of the idea. I say more with less. There is little reason to overwork. Michelangelo, Rembrandt and many others discovered the same thing in later life. As for the quota of works in ones lifetime –I’ve long past 2,500 years ago. It would be safe to say in my lifetime, I’ve either destroyed, wiped off or obliterated and reused about half of everything I’ve ever created. So you might say I’ve turned back time and still have a couple of hundred works to re-do.

From: Claudio Ghirardo — Apr 10, 2012

I believe what you may be talking about is repetition as in when you repeat the same process over and over again. Stagnation sets in and it becomes repetitive, the challenge is gone. Artists like Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, and many others were seen that their art had lost their original spark, they were no longer the same artists they were before and this is true. At first glance it looks like they lost their abilities but if you spend time with their later works you see that the pieces have been pushed, the artists were pushing their abilities to another level. I’m still young but it seems to me creative capability does not decline unless the artist is bored of doing the same thing over and over again and needs to feel the challenge as when Picasso challenged the works of Velasquez, Manet, and others. It kept him on the edge and he needed that.

From: Shirley Britsch — Apr 10, 2012
From: Will McCarthy — Apr 10, 2012

Robert, I think he was referring to 2500 good paintings, which I am striving for, because like you I am way over the 10,000 mark.

From: Mary Ploegsma — Apr 11, 2012

I wonder how many paintings Lucien Freud completed in his lifetime? He laid his brushes down just two weeks before he died at the age of 94.

From: John L Brown — Apr 11, 2012

Robert, The confidences and surety you bring to this subject clearly stems from a grounded and actualized understanding, forged in the fire of experience and thoughtful reflection. That is my honest interpretation. As well, your insightful and demonstrable examples, necessary to overcome, what I see as various degrees of, lethargy, complacency, adherence to certain conventions, or techniques in need of refining, or learning properly, constitute a reality, or mind-set many find difficult to accept, or conform to. In short, and more directly, I am alluding to “the beginners mind,” the sense of wonder, oneness or stated differently, a connection that does not allow easy distraction, from which a sense of relative timelessness and flow can arise. Vigilance and youthful confidence are key elements. So is the capacity to access the core reasons or motivations for creative endeavors. As with much of behavior, complex drives and unclear, unrealistic, or ill-defined objectives are at play, and figure in creative endeavors. This aspect should be considered and reflected upon. The best effort cannot address every need or condition, even if otherwise correct in its principles, or executions. A wide range of individual needs must be met in order to address the conditions necessary to engender a kind of re-entrancement; a truly fresh perspective, renewed, and renewable. The clarity is right there. Simply claim it. Acknowledge it. Cultivate it in every thing you do. It’s achievable and worthy of consideration. It is actually the thing that controls, with refined effort, meaningful thoughts and ideas. Clarity, as presented, is the product of vigilance, youthful confidence, and refined efforts; rethinking and adjusting, serious introspection, setting realistic goals, and committing to any necessary retraining. The very clarity outlined, understood, and appreciated invariably leads to a wider clarity, the essences of which is this commentary.

From: Valerie I. VanOrden — Apr 22, 2012

Does capability decline with age? All mimsy were the borogroves and the momey wraths outgabe (Jabberwocky – C. Lewis), hmmm. I forgot what I was going to say (*==*)! Ah yes, when confronted with the death demon, specially when he’s steamin streamin, shout “Where oh grave is thy Sting”, then happy Hymns and hallelujas sing, until your muses newses bring, on latest store that will not bore. Want more? Google me.

     Featured Workshop: Donald Jurney
041012_robert-genn Donald Jurney workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Headlights in Blue, 2012

oil painting, 24 x 24 inches by Anne Goffin Smith

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Bill Winkley of Eugene, OR, USA, who wrote, “Like Madonna and other successful entertainers, we just need to keep reinventing ourselves.” And also Elizabeth Padgett who wrote, “Keeping on painting keeps your mind working!”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.