Art in My Life: Unfinished

As a child, I drew as I sat in the floral upholstered chair in front of our old 14-inch TV in the living room while I watched comedy shows like a popular sitcom, I married Joan.

I was encouraged by my freshman art teacher in high school to continue drawing. She told me to make sure to sign up for the art committee for the school yearbook. I did neither. 

I did draw several pictures for my Catholic nursing school yearbook: the Blessed Mother Mary, a student nurse holding rosary beads in one hand and a diploma in the other, and a caduceus.

When I went back in school to get my baccalaureate degree in nursing, I took two extracurricular courses: appreciation of art and clay molding. My clay dog was stolen in class as it was “drying out.”  While I admired the thief’s good taste in art, I never did another clay animal. 

When my two children were babies, I drew their sleeping faces. I kept notebooks filled with sketches as they grew. I took my first painting class—in oils. The class was held in a high school my children would both attend in a few years. We had a substitute. He was mostly silent except when we asked for help. Maybe he figured he would let our talent bloom rather than be stymied by instruction. I never went to the last class. I schlepped the 20 by 16 oil portrait of a nobleman though all our moves. His picture was from the cover of a magazine called American Artist, November 1965. I liked it. But I never finished it. 

Oils at that time proved too messy. I took a long hiatus while I worked full time as a nurse. Some time in my forties, when we lived in the DC area, I attended classes sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute. The instructors were impressive and talented. I was not. 

Soon after I retired, I took art classes at a Senior Center. The instructor played classical music while we students followed along by copying what he was painting. From his classes, I brought home partially completed canvases, mostly seascapes. I couldn’t keep up with the instructor, a former street artist in New Orleans, who put out ocean scenes with sea oats and seagulls gliding across blue skies. The hordes of passing tourists gobbled up his finished canvases. I had been planning to finish mine for years. But how many seascapes did I need? 

I have one good picture. It’s of apples. It took me a year to finish. The teacher, a man in his 80s, circulated among the students, individually giving instructions, or more often, sat beside us, took our brushes, and painted on our canvases while he told stories of his life in Budapest during WW II. Most times, I took the picture home with me and painted over his work. If he noticed, he never said anything. However, we all loved him. During class, as I waited for him to get around to me, I socialized among my fellow students. I took his classes for a year until he died. I didn’t finish another painting other than the apple painting, but I did make a lot of friends. 

I’ve never had a room of my own to paint in until five years ago when we moved to a town house. Now I have an office with a table on which I can leave a mess of art paraphernalia. My closet is filled with half-finished canvases, and blocks of various papers along with tubes of watercolor and acrylic paints plus pastels and charcoal, colored pencils, ink pens, many brushes, one standing and two table-top easels, and a portfolio carrier. I could give art lessons to a class of Kindergartners for a school year and still send them home with supplies over the summer break.   

I sit in my office finishing this essay. Outside my window, our neighbor’s crape myrtle wears its autumn coat of burnt orange leaves and brown berries. The bright sun makes diamonds of the leaves as they toss in the wind.

I decide that I’ll assemble my abundant painting supplies and capture the sight. This time I’ll complete the picture. 

Keeping Creative Juices Juicy

stock-photo-21838815-used-paintbrushA few years back I took an acrylic painting class. Sometimes, while the ever-present radio played a Mahler violin concerto, an aria from La Traviata or Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, I would spin about whipping color on my canvas, feeling “in the zone.” My mind would disconnect from my hand, which moved independent of my intent. What surprised me most about the fallout from this class was that I improved my writing ability. I was looser, more adventurous, and, best of all, my inner editor became subdued. I am looking to recapture that feeling.

I have always loved to paint and draw, however, over the years I painted only when I had a class. And I have a treasure-trove of supplies, such as canvases, watercolor paper and tubes of paints, not to mention many half-completed paintings stored in my office closet.stock-vector-vector-seamless-pattern-with-palette-tubes-of-paint-brushes-and-paint-stains-hand-drawn-vector-249868591

I took a 3-hour workshop yesterday—a primer in watercolor. Supplies were furnished. Our instructor demonstrated simple techniques that we—all women—replicated on 5 X 7 inch sheets of 140 lb. Cold Press paper. FullSizeRender copyQuick. One fluid motion. Don’t dawdle. Don’t over think. Don’t go back over the stroke. Don’t compare yourself to your neighbor!

After the class, I felt rejuvenated. In two weeks I’ll start a six-session class, and if I like that teacher, I’ll sign up for more classes. And I’ll set up my paint supplies in a corner of my office.

I know that making art has positive affects on the brain. As I get older I am seeking as much help to keep my creative juices juicy.19551922-creativity-brain-vector-illustration-template-design

 

Creative art pursuits provide older adults with multiple benefits, not the least of which is enhanced cognitive function.

Throughout history, artists have known that art provides benefits for both the creator and viewer. Current studies in the fields of art therapy, music therapy, and other creative modalities confirm that art can affect individuals in positive ways by inducing both psychological and physiological healing. We know that, in general, exercising our creative selves enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. We all are creative—not just a select few.

. . . Several studies show that art can reduce the depression and anxiety that are often symptomatic of chronic diseases. Other research demonstrates that the imagination and creativity of older adults can flourish in later life, helping them to realize unique, unlived potentials, . . .

Erik Erickson’s eighth and last stage of psychological development culminates in an integration of the individual’s past, present, and future to confront the conflict between integrity and despair. The result can be either despair or wisdom. When older adults pursue activities that are based in meaning, purpose, and honesty, they can attain the wisdom and integrity about which Erickson writes rather than experiencing longing and despair. Therapeutic art experiences can supply meaning and purpose to the lives of older adults in supportive, nonthreatening ways.

Neurological research shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. Thus, art enhances cognitive reserve, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies. Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.

 –Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC

 

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