As the graying of America progresses and the baby boomers begin to enter their twilight years, the US government and other agencies are deep in discussion over issues of physical and mental health care; social security, retirement and pension benefits, and attitudes and policies on aging. Traditional solutions to the challenges listed above are not sufficient. A plethora of programs from "lifelong education" to more user-friendly assisted-living facilities have been created to help Americans cope with aging. It is important to understand how issues pertaining to aging affect artists and shape opinions about artistic production.
As artists age, they face a variety of issues that may affect their personal lives as well as their artistic practice. Matisse worked from his wheelchair with a severe illness until the age of 81. Monet painted into his 80's despite the fact that he was losing his eyesight and becoming blind. Louise Bourgeois continued to make art well into her 90s and had a very successful traveling retrospective in 2008 at the youthful age of 97.
These examples and many more, underline the fact that as artists age they don't stop making work or lose creative impulses. On the contrary, the wisdom, and maturity that comes with age might in fact produce the best work of an artist's career. The key is to develop ways to circumvent some of the negative aspects of aging and the stereotypes that come with it.
Image: Kevin T. Allen is a filmmaker, sound artist and independent radio producer.
A wise artist and curator whose career had spanned decades once quipped that "In the early 21st century being an older artist (and by this I mean being over 50) seems to generate the kind of repulsive response from curators and galleries that being a woman, a homosexual, and a person of color has generated in the past. Ageism, it seems, is the new bigoted response to what's not selling, right up there with the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia that have marked art world snobbery and greed for so many decades." It should be the goal of any concerned artist to rid the world of prejudiced responses to individual artists, and especially to carve out a space where older artists have a voice and a space to exhibit work.
If you are an older artist, and if you have found yourself emerging for longer than you'd like, there are some steps you can take to build a supportive community and get your work out there:
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