I know I have written about this before, but recently I have been confronted with the true reality of losing one’s creative powers. There can be few things more heart breaking than seeing a previously creative person lose their powers of creativity, as they age.
My father, in his younger years, was prodigiously creative. It was a priority for him to construct his creative space and to amass all the tools that would make his creative outpourings possible. This was accomplished by a series of small, bootstrapping stages, until he had a well equipped workshop and the space to make whatever he wanted. That space and all the tools are still there, but they have fallen silent. Now in his eighties, my father has lost the strength, keenness of eyesight, steadiness of hand and the short term memory needed to make the things he used to make.
He built the house, the workshop and every piece of furniture in the house; by hand. At the peak of his creativity, he landscaped our property, extended the house and workshop and grew vegetables in the custom built, five-tiered vegetable garden. His woodworking skills were second to none and often used to earn additional income. What he couldn’t build, especially with wood, wasn’t worth building.
There were seemingly no limits to his capabilities. He acted as plumber, electrician, carpenter, joiner, plasterer, bricklayer, concrete contractor, landscape gardener, designer, painter and decorator, in order to realise his dreams. All of those tools are still around. Any one of us could move into his workshop and do any of that work, without needing to get a single additional tool. He taught me a lot.
The truly tragic thing is that my father can still recognise excellence in workmanship and can marvel at the fine quality of the craftsmanship in the furniture in his house, but he has little sense that he made it. His sense of accomplishment, upon which much of his identity had once relied, has diminished as the reality of his creations has slipped from his consciousness. Reminding him that he had once built all of these things and expressing gratitude for what he taught me brought a smile of recognition to his face. He was able to marvel, anew, at his outstanding feats of construction, design and finish and feel pride once more, at jobs well done.
My friend posted something on my timeline, on Facebook, today. It was acutely relevant to older artists that lose their powers of creativity and who even forget what they once accomplished. She said that all anyone wants in this world is to feel valued, to feel needed and to feel like they matter to someone. They want to feel like they are still a part of something. Never a truer word has been spoken. As artists, we all long to feel valued and needed and that we matter. We seek that affirmation largely by presenting the world with the best, most beautiful things we can make and we hope that they and we will, therefore, be embraced by humanity and permitted to belong.
I also feel that overlooked artists, who are undervalued and underappreciated, whose works are never viewed or praised, who might be misunderstood and misconstrued, suffer the indignity and loneliness of forever being an outsider – of never quite belonging and feeling that they are a part of something. They make their best things and present them, but meet with indifference or ignorance. That’s hard. There are so many people out there in the world just craving a bit of human contact. In their efforts to connect, their extended hand of friendship, via their artworks, is often shunned. It’s a very cruel and hurtful rejection.
Denying those connections, on the arbitrary grounds of one’s peculiar personal aesthetic tastes, forgets that we are human and that the artist is human too. Whether or not you like what the artist has made, you have no excuse to deny human connection and contact to somebody willing to expose their vulnerability, by offering their art for your enjoyment and approval. All too often, critics reject the art, belittle the artist, deride their efforts and pour scorn on their claims to be creative. Why don’t you just whip them? Artists, by making art, are saying, in effect, “Please like me and like what I think and represent.” This artistic ability fades all too quickly, in reality.
An artist, who can no longer make art as they once did, suffers the further torment of losing their means of extending their friendship to humanity and of asking to be included, valued, needed, wanted and appreciated. That’s a significant loss of emotional communication. Perhaps the only way you knew of seeking human contact and connection falls mute. How else do you then express your desire to be significant to the rest of humanity, or at least accepted by it?
Like my friend, I am a big believer in giving big hugs. Older people, artists included, often comment that they haven’t had a hug in ages. We owe it to those that have created and communicated so much, in the past, to recognise their offerings, their fellowship and their importance to the cause of creating more beauty in what can be a very ugly world. They deserve a hug. We should remind them of their accomplishments, when their own sense of pride in their achievements fails.
It is up to us, who can still create, to ensure that retired artists, who are debilitated and enfeebled by age, are celebrated for the amazing, imaginative, glorious things they once did and grant them the sense of feeling valued, needed and wanted. Make them know that what they created mattered and by implication, that they matter too.
What happened to my father will, inevitably, happen to me too, one day, I suppose. Hopefully that day is in the relatively far future, but you can never tell. I feel a deep need to create whatever I can, while I can, so that I extend as much of myself out into the world, through the things I create. I need to feel valued and appreciated too, let’s face it.
I have not managed to create a workspace as satisfactory as his, nor have I amassed the tools to create everything I feel I must, in such a way that they are accessible and usable. I’ve made mistakes and compromises. However, like him during his bootstrapping period, I have enough at hand to create many of the things I need to create. It is important to get on with that, because the opportunity fades away, in time.
At the same time, it is vitally important to do so, without sacrificing the vital connections and relationships with family and friends that I already have. The point of making and offering art is to increase and sustain those human connections, not to sacrifice them. It would make no sense to make art, in order to seek connections with humanity, but in order to make that art, to sacrifice the very connections that already sustain us.
Make art while you can and seek those human connections, by offering it to the world. Also appreciate those fallen artists that can no longer do so. Their contributions mattered more than most people recognise. They made life more beautiful and therefore more bearable. They also passed on their skills and inspired others to go forth and create. Those are no small accomplishments, in a life well-lived.
Creating things is not such a bad life’s work. Make the most of your chance to do that and appreciate those that made it their life’s work. Hug an older artist whenever you can. It doesn’t take much time, costs very little and it can transform how that artist feels inside. If you’re wise, you will also listen, while they talk. They have much wisdom and perspective to impart. Mark what they tell you well.