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 ( 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