Often if you are open to it, messages from the world of the arts, arts in any form, that arrive seemingly in a singular way can actually deliver simultaneous swells of self-awareness that converge into one moment without force, but more with unexpected flourish. So it has been for me, these last number of months, an encounter with messages about what I would call an Artful later life.
Perhaps this has been gathering in a subliminal way, triggered last year by a flash memory of seeing and hearing Arthur Rubenstein at 78, play piano on stage at Massey Hall in Toronto. I was 13 at that time and he went on to live until shy of age 96. Only today, I was reminded again of this, reading an Economist Feb.18th article, “Why so many artists do their most interesting work in their final years”. Of course, in some cases artists may not have known if it was their final years – yet; but it turned out to be abruptly so.
One other recent read, underscores this notion of the Artful later life. Mad Enchantment by Ross King (2016) is the story of Claude Monet in his later life, working on his Grande Décoration, the painting of the waterlily murals for the Orangerie des Tuileries in Paris. Against the historical backdrop and unfolding drama of the early 1900’s, this is a great relating of Monet’s determined creative powers while fighting cataracts to complete his final vision from his mind’s eye.
At the same time as all this, in one my encounters in the world of the arts since last June as a Board Member for the Oakville Galleries, I have attended a number of our contemporary art exhibitions, which include until March 12, the art work of internationally known 92 year-old Etel Adnan – writer and visual artist. Over twelve of her pieces shown here are from the last three years or so.
Our most interesting work in later life?
These are only a few prominent examples of people who represent the possibilities of an ARTful later life. Today in an age of greater longevity, you can witness more people in their later years, experiencing various aspects of the arts in countless ways – renewing the hidden talent, taking it up for the first time in community centres or teaching it to others. And not by any small measure has it been recognized that engagement in the arts encourages well-being; physiologically and cognitively.
On my doorstep, in a January 2017 announcement, the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging (RIA) and the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research appointed Dr. Kate Dupuis as the Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging. Sheridan College has a strong program in animation, arts and design, which has great synergy with the elder research centre’s projects related to the arts. It’s been a great opportunity for me to connect with and observe Sheridan in this direction over the last few years.
Curious how we say what an artist creates is – their work; and if they do it until they die, we consider it their life’s work or a body of work. If our life’s work has not been directly in the world of the arts (musician, writer, painter, dancer, graphic designer, animator); or we haven’t been fulfilled through our amateur hours running in parallel to earning a living in the business world; you have to wonder how much of our self-expression is lost or hidden over the journey of our lives.
Is our most interesting work in later life, to be of an ARTful nature?
As it happens through our childhood upbringing, my brother and I were gifted by our parents, with an appreciation of the arts – exposed to literature, paintings and music, every day.
My natural early gravitation was to music, though I cannot play an instrument nor read a musical score, it is however always in my head, and I did conduct a forty-piece brass band to an audience of over 200 people when I was 45. Let me see what I can orchestrate next. It might be through writing more than the strokes of a brush or the tap of a musical baton, but who knows what of the simultaneous swells of the ARTful way.