Monday, October 06, 2014

Do artists ever retire?

I'd be retired now if I hadn't already retired early. Having a BIG birthday makes me want to reflect on how I want my retirement to be.

Plus I've been looking around at what has already been said about artists and retirement

I thought it might be helpful for me to do a bit of research and also write down my conclusions so far.

There's also an invitation at the end - at the end of the section on "Do artists retire?" which invites you to comment.

My retirement


A new perspective on being older.
Note I've only got the odd grey hair
and not a lot of wrinkles in this selfie from
the 72nd floor of The Shard.
Can I really be this old?
I had a splendid birthday on my BIG Birthday Day Out.

We started at Tate Britain with the new exhibition about Turner - Late Turner - Paintings Set free.

Interestingly this focuses on the themes, approaches adopted and created after the age of 60.

However the exhibition starts by pointing out that
Turner turned 60 in 1835, an age then regarded as marking the onset of senility
My other half pointed this out to me with a big beam on his face. I giggled.

However as I wandered through room after room of oil paintings and watercolour paintings and sketchbooks by Turner I began to feel a little overwhelmed by what it is possible to do after 60!

My current thinking is that I approached my early retirement pretty much as another project in a career that had always involved lots of hard work and some very long hours.

The perennial comment about this blog has always been one of amazement at how I fit it all in. My traditional riposte has been I'm not that fond of housework! The reality is that it takes a lot of time.

However my big birthday and my recent health scare means I'm now beginning to think I'd like to slow down a bit and exercise more and take more time out to reflect and ponder. I'd also like to make more art and maybe write some more about art and artists in publications rather than blogs - to my own timetable rather than dictated by a publisher. (I learned a lot when writing my book earlier this year - and writing to somebody else's timetable isn't a process I propose to go through again in a hurry).

I'd certainly like to spend some time documenting what I've learned in the last few years.

To that end the current thinking is there will be fewer blog posts in the future although I will certainly keep this blog going, will still visit exhibition and cover art competitions - but I'll also be taking more breaks and spending more time on my art and on reading my art books and writing my own books. Plus more time dedicated to being with "he who must not be bored while I sketch", taking exercise and staying mobile on my awful feet - plus moving home. Library and studio wanted with house attached!

I certainly no longer feel the need to post every day or even five days a week!

Do artists ever retire?


We have numerous examples of famous artists who have continued to paint up until their death.  See if how many painters you can name who were still painting up the end! (Leave your answers below!)

I've also met many artists whose artwork only started to flourish after they retired on the basis this was the first time they had the time and the space to work in a dedicated way.
I've also seen some completely dire artwork produced by senior members of art societies who are still allowed to submit their six works as a member irrespective of the fact that it would never be selected if entered via the open selection process. I've also seen some intelligent moves by some art societies to move towards different arrangements for exhibition and selection for its senior members - and how nice they can do this in a way which continues to pay homage to the seniority of their members.

Articles about artists and retirement


Here are some articles about artists and retirement - and the notion that they never do - plus commentary from me

Jonathan Jones of the The Guardian wrote an article about artists and retirement called Real artists never retire – or do they? He comments on:
  • how it can take a lifetime for an artist to learn all the skills
  • having acquired the skills you can then work with total freedom
  • the prevalence of "late styles" amongst artists
  • the fact that some did their most brilliant work in later life

In this article, Barring fate or death, artists are not the retiring types Allan Massie comments on the reasons why artists often fail to stop unless prevented by a health issue. However one wonders whether he is pandering to the conventional notion that artists never retire and never want to retire.

The gallerist Edward Winkleman started an interesting open thread back in 2011 on the topic of Retiring as an Artist | Open Thread. He took the Jonathan Jones article as his starting point and comments that while it may be reassuring to have dealings with somebody who has had the time to learn a lot, nobody expects other professionals to keep working past their retirement date.

The comments he received suggested a very wide variety of perspectives - which certainly suggests that the traditional notion might be true for some but certainly not everybody:
  • people who suggested that artists' later works are often the best they ever produce
  • queries about whether artists can ever afford to retire (fortunately not an issue which applies to me)
  • how a creative activity will always continue when it is aligned with an internal impulse to create
  • a wish that some of the artists who have made it big would retire to give others a chance to sell their work!
  • being an artist can mean you put yourself under horrendous pressure to produce and sell art - it's very tiring!
  • the traditional identity of "the real artist" can be enormously inhibiting to the notion of being able to give up or slow down
  • some artists who have worked really hard for 50 years would like permission to slow down
  • for some artists means not having to produce art to sell and not having to any more exhibitions
It also includes more than the odd comment which made my hackles rise - so be forewarned if you your main income or pension relates or has related to non-artistic endeavours.

Alan Bamberger (ArtBusiness.com) has a thread about your art as your pension pot. The Benefits of Saving Art - Someday It'll be Your Retirement Fund...and Maybe More
Many artists simply use the proceeds from the sales of saved works to support themselves once they slow down or stop making art altogether.
This highlights how:
  • artists should never get rid of their art
  • art collectors value the work of successful artists - even the early stuff!
  • not everybody wants your latest creations
  • you can't do a retrospective without example of your artwork from across the years
A debate website has an ongoing debate about Should famous artists ever retire? - 57% say No!

So what do you think?

  • Should artists retire?
  • Can artists ever retire?
  • Is retirement when you can begin to let go and do what you want to do in terms of creating art?

and finally......


Here's an article about a decorator who painted other people's homes all his life - and decided to do something significant after he retired - Retired decorator paints his house to look like the Sistine Chapel... and he even gives his wheelie bin a Renaissance look

15 comments:

Roberta said...

Well, I cannot imagine stopping painting and drawing. To me it is like breathing. If I stop breathing, I die. Same as if I had to stop painting. The only thing that would stop me would be to lose my sight. I have known two artists in my life who went blind. That would be like death to me. But I would have no choice. I will paint until I can no longer.

rabbitrabbit said...

Retirement is for those who are no longer that interested in what they were doing. I'll be 77 yrs old this Friday and I decided to learn watercolor about 18 months ago. Am I a genius at it? No, but it's in me to pursue it. Always follow your heart.

Linda Blondheim said...

I have no plans to retire. I will paint until I am physically unable to. Hopefully I will paint until I die.
Linda Blondheim

katy gilmore said...

Happy Birthday Katherine!

Melissa B. Tubbs said...

No artists never retire. I'm don't think we even fade away like old soldiers. Art is something you can "do" not matter what age you are. You might have to change things up a bit, but you don't have to quit. I have an older friend who was diagnosed with macular degeneration so he's started painting bigger paintings than he's ever done before. Artists never say quit!

BJ Adams said...

If I retired what would I do? I'd do more art so is that retiring or not? I never plan to retire because I am doing what I want to do so why stop?.

David Clinch said...

The only reason to retire is when making art becomes just another job. If your art is still driving you to get up in the morning then "retirement" simply allows you to paint in order to satisfy yourself, and you can do it when and as often as you feel the need. Good luck Katherine - I simply don't know how you found the time for all your blogs, you certainly deserve to indulge yourself more with your art. Get off-line more (but don't disappear altogether) No doubt about it - less Facebook equals more Art!

Pappersdraken said...

Happy birthday! Hooray, hooray!And please take time to do what you want, do not feel any pressure about the blog!

The artists I have known have never really retired, not until they either died or fell very ill ! The only difference retirement age did for my father was to at last provide him with a, very small, income, but he felt like he had never earned as much before ( he was a full time artist but a humble man and always put the price too low).
I was curious about what you wrote that some art societies have found a gentle way of not having to exhibit horrid work done by elder, or other, members- how do they do that so noone gets offended?- Just curious;-)

theartistsday said...

Do artists ever retire?
Noooooooooo !
I'm working harder now than I ever did. I can hear times winged chariot hurrying near, and I've got an awful lot of paintings in my head to complete before he catches up with me.
Happy birthday Katherine, and please if you ditch everything else can we still have a few who painted this posts.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I'm trying to get "who painted this" back on track - but I feel all out of synch at the moment for various reasons.

It will be coming back

Katherine Tyrrell said...

In terms of the problem of older members who are not painting "to standard" any more approach which seems to work is
1) you accord them the title of "Senior Member"
2) you reduce their membership subscription
3) you also reduce the number of paintings they can submit which 'automatically' get in. This also reduces the obligation to paint for the exhibition - which I gather is a big relief for many older artists. In other words they no longer feel as if they are letting the side down.

The most successful approach seems to be to reduce the number of paintings they can submit and get in to one. However they can still submit more - but they have to be judged against standards applied to the open entry.

The rationale I gather is that an art society needs to be looking to the future and encouraging new people to become interested in becoming full members.

Anybody else care to comment on how they have tackled this difficult issue?

Katherine Tyrrell said...

In terms of the problem of older members who are not painting "to standard" any more approach which seems to work is
1) you accord them the title of "Senior Member"
2) you reduce their membership subscription
3) you also reduce the number of paintings they can submit which 'automatically' get in. This also reduces the obligation to paint for the exhibition - which I gather is a big relief for many older artists. In other words they no longer feel as if they are letting the side down.

The most successful approach seems to be to reduce the number of paintings they can submit and get in to one. However they can still submit more - but they have to be judged against standards applied to the open entry.

The rationale I gather is that an art society needs to be looking to the future and encouraging new people to become interested in becoming full members.

Anybody else care to comment on how they have tackled this difficult issue?

bob ragland said...

I may slow down but not retire as an artist.

Pappersdraken said...

Thank you for the answer! The idea just to let them have one painting for granted in an exihibition seems very sensible- then their pride is not touched and they do not, as you say, feel the pressure to paint too.

David J Teter said...

The idea of an artist retiring seems to me to be never. I don't plan on it and can't imagine. I have always had the feeling that I will never get to all the ideas I have in my head, there is not enough time.

Retiring for some may mean leaving an art related profession, retiring from that as a job; designer, animator, illustrator, in-house artist etc. but then turning to painting for pleasure whether or not that also means pursuing entering competitions or art societies or just finally having the time to paint as an end in itself.
Either way most artists, myself included, think of art as always having been a part of them and really can't imagine stopping.

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