This is the first of several upcoming posts of my reflections on my art and its place in my life as I enter my 65th year. As I’ve mentioned before, I take stock of my life and make resolutions for my birthday rather than the new year. This year’s birthday, when I turned 64, took on extra significance. I can thank the Beatles for part of it. As a teenager, the age of 64 stuck in my mind from their lilting tune of “Will you still love me, will you still need me when I’m 64?” 64 represented a transition into another chapter of life more than any other number.
There are other things that have affected me this past year. Helping my mother-in-law as she transitioned from her own home to a senior living facility has been very difficult in many ways. Experiencing the consequences of her diminishing capacities has made me think about aging in a more immediate way. I want to make the most out of the time I have with good health and mind and also prepare myself for growing old with grace and acceptance.
In the media, I find the frequent stories of people retiring and reinventing themselves frustrating. They are being celebrated for embarking on second, often more creative than their first, chapters. I feel like I am still trying to get my first one going. While I am so lucky to have been able to spend so much of my life as an artist, I haven’t felt that I have been rewarded in a worldly sense in proportion to my efforts. For all my writing and thinking about the topic, I am still working on how to define success as an artist.
Two years ago I wrote Art Lessons: Reflections From An Artist’s Life. I intentionally focused on my personal relationship with my work and what it had to teach me. I felt that there was a little knot of hardness somewhere in my heart and I hoped the writing would help to loosen it. By the end of the book, after thinking and writing about self-criticism, perfection, letting go of other people’s expectations and my own interpretation of them, and feeling like my work had to be hard to be of value, I embraced the words of Fra Giovanni Giacondo in 1513: “Take joy!”
In these past two years, many elements of my work have become more free. I have come back to calligraphy with a new sense of openness and confidence. In the studio I have had many moments of pure joy. But that little knot of hardness is still alive although diminished. I now realize that it is the next phase, the one I just as intentionally left out of that little book—the putting of my work out into the world—that is holding me back. I need to tackle that if my 65th year and beyond can be what I want it to be.
I am an optimist and I like to interact with the world as an optimist. I’ve been feeling all this for a while but didn’t want to share my discontent without a sense that there was a way out of it. I now feel like there is. More next week.