The Wellness Movement That’s Empowering Older Adults to Become Artists


Courtesy of Newark Museum Collage Program, New Jersey, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.
Courtesy of Newark Museum Collage Program, New Jersey, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

On a recent Thursday evening in Brooklyn, a handful of older adults clustered around artist Ebenezer Singh in the basement of Williamsburg’s Leonard Library. They watched intently as he deposited several dollops of paint onto a palette, picking up his brush to mix Indian yellow and sepia with a few droplets of water. “See how much water I’m using?” he asked, his small audience nodding affirmatively.

Singh dabbed the resulting golden-yellow wash onto the paper as a base layer, leaving strategic swatches unpainted to mark a tree and the bank of a pond. “Let the paint and the paper breathe,” he counseled. Soon, he deemed his class ready to select their own landscapes to paint from a stack of glossy printouts.

In summary, it was a typical amateur watercolor course. But it’s also part of a quiet revolution helping to redefine how we grow old.

Singh’s class at the Brooklyn library falls under the umbrella of “creative aging,” defined by executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA), Jennie Smith-Peers, as “any opportunity for an older adult to be engaged in a meaningful opportunity to express themselves through art.” It isn’t limited to the visual arts; creative aging encompasses theater, dance, music, poetry, and more.

Courtesy of Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S.  Initiative. Courtesy of Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S.  Initiative.

 

The key element is that the classes teach a skill, rather than simply asking someone to construct a pre-made kit; they push for mastery instead of busywork. Sonia Lopes, one of Singh’s students at Leonard Library, echoed this sentiment. “He teaches like an artist, not like it’s arts and crafts,” the 56-year-old told me.

As recently as 20 years ago, this would have been considered a novel approach. “Historically, both science and culture in Western societies have focused exclusively on the negative sides of aging and ignored the positive,” wrote Gene D. Cohen, a pioneering geriatric psychiatrist, in the introduction to his 2005 book The Mature Mind. The prevailing belief was that getting older meant a decline in brain function and an inability to learn new things.

Cohen, however, challenged these assumptions with a series of groundbreaking experiments. In 2001, he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to study 150 adults in Washington, D.C., aged 65 or over. The “arts group” met weekly for much of the year, participating in something akin to a college arts course that incorporated at-home practice and a final project; the control group did not take part in such a program.

After two years, the arts group reported better health, made fewer visits to the doctor, used fewer medications, felt less lonely and depressed, had higher morale, and were more socially active. Experiments conducted in Brooklyn and San Francisco showed similar results.

 

Courtesy of Space One Eleven Drawing Program, Birmingham, AL, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative. Courtesy of Space One Eleven Drawing Program, Birmingham, AL, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

These findings, published in 2006, laid the groundwork for the nascent field. Soon after, Maura O’Malley, a caregiver with a background in arts education, was asked to join a committee considering how creative aging might be implemented in New York’s Westchester County. While there, O’Malley reconnected with a previous acquaintance, Ed Friedman, then-deputy director of the Bronx Council on the Arts. Together, they identified a major issue: “There was essentially no infrastructure for developing and delivering arts programming for older adults,” explained O’Malley. It was difficult to find trained teaching artists, and even existing programs displayed ageism by assuming “that older adults are not creative or learners,” she noted.

So the pair founded Lifetime Arts in 2008, with O’Malley serving as CEO and Friedman as executive director. Today, they provide practical training and support that has allowed a wide range of community organizations to build up their own independent creative aging programs. But in their early years, they worked primarily with libraries, piggybacking off a system that already offered free resources to local communities. Most library programming for older adults at that time focused on topics like navigating credit cards or understanding Medicaid, said O’Malley—“all very important end-of-life issues,” she acknowledged. “But there was very little, if any, programming around learning or creativity or engagement, aside from the sort of one-shot deal, passive entertainment. You know, your macaroni-on-cardboard kind of stuff.”

Lifetime Arts also began to train teaching artists to work specifically with older adults. “The majority of teaching artists across the country are working in the K-12 arena, and have been for the past 40 years,” O’Malley said. (Singh, a longtime teaching artist, said he works primarily with children through Agnes Gund’s Studio in a School program.)

In fact, O’Malley points to children’s programming in libraries as a prototype for the creative aging movement. “Thirty to forty years ago, librarians weren’t particularly interested in having kids running around libraries,” she said. “And now, every library in the United States has storytime many times a week, and there is an enormous amount of professional development and program funding and advocacy around early literacy and public libraries.”

The Brooklyn Public Library’s creative aging program—of which Singh’s watercolor class was part—came about through a collaboration with Lifetime Arts that began in 2011. The program is now independently funded, making it “a kind of a model exemplar of the work that we want people to be able to do,” said O’Malley.

 

 Courtesy of Grafton County Senior Citizens Council Multimedia Program, New Hampshire, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

Courtesy of Grafton County Senior Citizens Council Multimedia Program, New Hampshire, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

The NCCA also offers training and resources for those institutions ready to embrace the benefits of creative aging. “We’re seeing it become more and more a part of the culture of community centers, of long-term care facilities,” Smith-Peers, the executive director, said. “It’s no longer an afterthought. The arts are what make these places for older adults a more interesting, meaningful place to engage in and to live in.”

A program called EngAGE is perhaps one of the most high-profile examples. Tim Carpenter, EngAGE’s founder and CEO, collaborated with Meta Housing to build several “artist colonies” across Southern California. These affordable apartment complexes feature a robust slate of art courses for residents, as well as dedicated studio and theater facilities.

Creative aging programs, O’Malley noted, can be roughly divided between those that focus on “lifelong learning” and those dedicated to therapeutic work. (Lifetime Arts focuses solely on learning.) Therapeutic work includes programs for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Museums are often involved in this work—Meet Me at MoMA, for example, has invited caregivers and dementia patients to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for tours, and has led to measurable benefits for participants.

Although the field of creative aging has undoubtedly grown since the early 2000s, both Smith-Peers and O’Malley noted that it’s still quite small. To keep up with the rapidly aging generation of baby boomers—between 2005 and 2030, the number of adults aged 65 and older will practically double, jumping from 37 million to 72 million—they will need more hands on deck.

 

Two creative aging program participants at a watercolor class held at a the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. Photo © Herb Scher. Courtesy of Lifetime Arts, Inc.

 Two creative aging program participants at a watercolor class held at a the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. Photo © Herb Scher. Courtesy of Lifetime Arts, Inc.

While there have been additional studies since Cohen’s original experiment, a 2013 report from the NEA identified problems with the academic literature. Samples are often “too small, nonrandom, and poorly defined,” there’s often no adequate control group, and it can be difficult to replicate the experiments.

“When you look at other fields, like expressive arts therapy, they’ve done a really good job at building a critical mass around their work and why it’s important and what it affects. I think we still have a little ways to go before we get to that space,” said Smith-Peers. “We need more research in the community wellness space and the public health space. How does our work affect the social determinants of health?”

But she’s certainly seen the benefits of these programs first-hand. During one of her first jobs in creative aging, with the Brooklyn-based program Elders Share the Arts, Smith-Peers recalls participants saying, “I can’t take that class, I have nothing to offer.”

“I would encourage them to try it once,” she said. “And then I would watch them come back the next week, and by the end, they stuck it out 12 weeks and had a portfolio of art and called themselves an artist.”

“I don’t think that that’s a singular event,” she continued. “So much of our world tells older people they can’t. And it’s not just in the arts. I think there’s so much ageism and isolation that when you walk into a space that says, ‘Yes, you can—and we’re going to show you how,’ it’s a breath of fresh air.”

By Abigail Cain

Artsy

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How to Hang Your Wall Images


Thinking you might like to spice up your walls with a dash of creative spirit in the form of uplifting art, but finding all the choices for frames, mats, and hanging so baffling? Here are some helpful tips for hanging fine art in your home. Check out these suggestions, and maybe this will help clear the confusion!

 

Just click this photo to see this helpful Houzz article on tips for hanging art.

 

 

 

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To see how to select framing options, choose mats or to purchase click here.

 

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To see how to select framing options,choose mats or to purchase click here.

 

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To see how to select framing options,choose mats or to purchase click here.

 

 

To see more images like these,  click here to look around Fine Art America to see more of my works, by Jan Kirstein, or look over the whole website to see many other artists’ works as well! Enjoy your visit.

Snow Day= Art Day


Nothing like a little piece of Peace.

Click here to see more of this digital painting by Jan Kirstein https://fineartamerica.com/featured/ascension-janis-kirstein.html

Snow Day Haiku from the New York Times

/https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/haiku-saved-for-a-snowy-day/

As cottony white flakes float downward like confetti (at least in Midtown at 10:09 a.m.), we offer a selection of haiku that you, our dear readers, wrote, inspired by one of the last snowy days.

White snow in the park
Celebrate with comfort food
Resolutions fade

— Ruth


Swirl sideways, up, down
Each with a mind of its own
Peace before chaos

— Robert Fox

Mister and misses
cardinal sit lightly but
still the pines drop snow

— James Moening

More inconvenience
Snow and trash and late for work
At least not bed bugs

— Anwar Ragep


snow falling softly
now white and clean, soon becomes
the slush that we dread

— Ellen

Pale snowflakes fall fast,
As do Bloomberg poll numbers.
Grab a shovel, Mike.

— M. A. Darling

Flurries from the sky
Make me want to call in sick
And curl up in bed.

— Kelsey

snowflakes, large as leaves,
brush these buildings’ steel skins like
butterfly kisses

— hairlessOrphan

on the salted rim
of the hudson’s frozen drink
your brain is the lime

— specialeddie

lovely for a day
in New York it soon turns gray
trash pick-up delay

— Anna

Crunching under foot
Once again I shovel snow
To avoid lawsuit

— Frank Jump

Plows scraping blacktop –
Overkill now can’t undo
December’s failures.

— No. 2

The Painting Journey Continues


Our painting Journey Continues with Nancy Hillis’ Studio Journey online abstract painting workshop. Her assignments help free up your expressive inspirations through exploration and self confidence. Growth emerges through experimentation. My own personal journey has opened up possibilities far beyond what I faced even weeks ago. Thanks Nancy!

Painting in a Series

Permission to Create Continues the Journey


Painting and sharing in the new web site format Studio Journey, with our artist guide Nancy Hillis, brings the fulfillment of granting the permission to create, for many knowledgeable painters from all over the world. Nancy Hillis is an inspiring painter, teacher and medical doctor who brings us all together through the website to share her projects, resulting in the creation of art work and feedback from one another.

Thank you Nancy for leading our inspiring journey, which has just begun.

Jan Kirstein

Photo courtesy of Pascal

Check out her website to see more about Nancy and her Art Journey at https://nancyhillis.com

As a beginning, our first intention was to work in a series, encouraging experimentation within a framework of self imposed limitations. Some artists chose limited color range, some chose exploring art mark making. An amazing outpouring of creative production rose from this first task, generating a wide range of very well informed results. I hope to share some of these with you after I gain artist permission for the use of their works in my blog.

For now, I share with you the paintings I have created on this Journey so far. I lost my studio about a month ago and this program gave me the impetus to resume painting again. For that, I am indeed very grateful.

The artist’s hand.

Paintings in Memory of the Homeless


I share a studio with two other artists in Louisville Kentucky. We just recently had a very sad encounter with reality in the form of a homeless man who lingered constantly around our studio door. The story around this man unfolded in a series of tragic vinyetts leaving us all with a renewed awareness of the fact that the problems facing the homeless are, in fact, everyone’s problem.




 





Just posted! Latest Paintings by Janis Kirstein






These paintings and more can be purchased at https://kirsteinfineart.myshopify.com




Lee Brewster: To Capture a Moment in Time


 

 

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If an artist can capture a moment in a lightening strike of eloquently drawn lines and painted strokes of pigment, then why do so many artists feel it is necessary to overlabor over creating ? Is a rendition of the moment with dutiful work ethic, and a heavy sense of responsibility always more valuable than a direct moment of complete insight?

By viewing paintings by  Lee Brewster, one can see that it is entirely possible for  an artist to perfectly align with the universe in a delightful harmony, and capture this moment of spontaneous truth. When this happens, you have a major miracle.

This is the work of painter Lee Brewster, who’s baby steps capture the larger heart and soul of reality in a most certain, profound and complete way.

Jan Kirstein

 

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“today in the studio I had one of those sacred moments. it brought me back to why I love art-making & came when I added a thin layer of white to parts of this little paper piece. I can’t say that it’s done, but it is much improved by what was added today. this piece has been sitting in my studio…waiting. i never gave up on it when it was ugly & awkward, because I saw something worth saving in it compositionally. i love the messiness (or mistakes, if you choose to call them that) from the past & that you can still see shadows of them. mostly I love what I learned about life: that for all those times when I didn’t look like much, someone saw something in me worth keeping around & investing in. someone had a vision for what I would become. so…this little piece of paper with black & white marks on it was my teacher today. she’s is imperfectly beautiful & wise & worthy and I’m calling her “grace”

Lee Brewster

Artist

Franklin, TN.

 

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