Who Is Art For?

This Friday, August 23, Square Inch Community Church, which I attend, will sponsor Inchfest, a music and art festival.  Judging from photos of the crowd at last year’s festival, no more than 10% of those in attendance were middle age or older.  Why don’t more of us midpoint-and-beyond adults show up for such events?  Have we lost interest in creative endeavors?  Have we become indifferent to the art and music being made by others?  I don’t think so!  In fact, the arts remain important for many of us, as I point out in the piece I wrote for Inchfest, reproduced below.  I’ll be at Inchfest this year, and hope there will be more gray hairs in the crowd than the ones I bring! 

Inchfest 2012

Inchfest 2012

As a teenager, you learn a few chords on the guitar and start a band in your basement.  Or maybe in college you take a photography class and carry a camera around for a while, shooting pictures of whatever catches your eye.  Of course you give up your artistic interests when you get a job.  Life is just too busy for art.  The only time you will ever do anything artistic again is when you’re in the nursing home and the activities director has you stringing beads or cutting pictures out of magazines and pasting them in a scrapbook.  Art is only for the young, right?

Wrong.  That’s what New York Times writer Judy Greene learned when she interviewed several middle-aged or elderly adults who left their careers to pursue some form of artistic endeavor.  She introduces her readers to:

  • Bud Tower, a stockbroker who began writing songs in his spare time, then at age 51 moved to Nashville to write full-time. His songs have been recorded by Hank Williams, Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  • Judy Greenberg, who studied art in college but left it to work as a representative for children’s clothing manufacturers.  After the death of her son, she returned to art, quitting her job at age 65 to make collages combining painting and printmaking.
  • James Hime, a lawyer who in his mid-40s left his position with a New York firm to become a mystery writer.  So far he has had three books published.
  • Ed Gillow, who decided after 27 years of working as an engineer and consultant that he would rather be an actor.  He started as an extra on TV shows and subsequently moved to speaking roles.

Art released these talented individuals from the prison of workplace drudgery to roam broad vistas of exploration and invention.  But what about those of us who are too old, frail, or worn down by life to launch a second career?  Aren’t those in their 70s, 80s, and 90s past the point where it makes sense to pick up a paintbrush or spin a potter’s wheel?

John Huskey, president of a company that builds apartments for seniors, used to think that way.  As described by NPR, Huskey laughed when a colleague suggested that he entice new residents to a slow-to-fill development by offering a writing class.  He reluctantly went ahead with the class only to find that seniors flocked to it.  He subsequently developed two senior artist colonies featuring theatre companies, painting and sculpture studios, and high-quality instruction.  Even residents with no prior artistic experience are finding fulfillment through the arts.

No, art isn’t just for the young—or for the middle-aged or the old.  Art is for life.

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at bobritzema@hotmail.com.
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1 Response to Who Is Art For?

  1. Great article….keep on truckin’

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