Mature Art Students - Yes you can!
I have taught drawing and painting to many retirees in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and, without exception, it was a very positive experience for them. There are some challenges for mature art students that I will address here but I’ll tell how to take advantage of your time making sure that you get rewarded for your efforts.
It is never too late to learn!
My mature students often start by saying that they have no talents and are not sure if they can learn at their age. Often, this fear stems from not having been in a learning environment for a long time. It may take a little longer to learn new skills or theory but the capacity to improve remains relatively unchanged as we get older (see graph below).
This study from The European Review of Aging and Physical Activity shows that after 6 practice sessions (top graph), there was an improvement in physical motor skills across all age groups.
Although the speed of skill acquisitions drops slightly as we get older, it can be more than compensated by having more time to practice and fewer distractions. In my experience, mature students generally advance as fast as younger students. More importantly, finding joy in the learning process is far more rewarding than attaining any goal.
I often hear older adults “I have no talent” or “I can’t even draw a straight line”, the question of talent is a subject on its own but suffice it to say that talent has more to do with skills acquired over time than with any natural abilities.
It's all about intensity
If age is not the first determinant in skill acquisition, what is? Intensity!
Taking a once a week course is a start and may be enough for hobbyists who want to enjoy an afternoon out and benefit from the experience of a teacher. However, if someone wants to feel a sense of progression in any art, more practice at home is essential. Think about musicians, sports professionals, great artists, what do they all have in common? Daily practice.
Practice every day?
For physiological reasons, we need concentration and repetition in our practice to consolidate new skills. It has to do with the myelination of our neurons. These fat layers surround and protect our neurons but they have to be put in layers in a process that happens over time. That is why there are no overnight geniuses! Skills are earned over time, the journey can and should be enjoyable!
This is where mature art students have their biggest advantage. After retirement, with independent children away from home, there is a lot more flexibility with time. So arranging short art sessions daily can be more easily achieved.
Every day really?
It may be harder if you are an oil painter, having to get your materials ready by itself can take the same time as a short sketching session. But, you can still look at your work, see what has to be fixed, do some research, look and analyze the works of master painters, etc. For other mediums, like photography, it is very easy to make it a daily habit. Try 20 or 30 minutes, mornings are often the best time because there are fewer chances of being distracted. For many older adults, this is where the mind is most rested.
I see more change in the development of students who work from home 3 times or more every week and the most with students who practice daily. Try to target something in that range and you will see results.
The benefits of daily practice
- Like brushing your teeth, a daily activity is much easier to keep that an irregular one
- You keep the connection with your work open. You may even find yourself looking at the world around you differently and dreaming about your pieces, this is your brain doing wiring work!
- You will develop trust in yourself and lose the fear of the white page or canvas.
- You will remember more easily what you learn.
- Your new skills will become more intuitive.
Mature art student tips
Chose a flexible program
We can’t count on being in top shape every day, especially as we get older and winter conditions can be more challenging for people with reduced mobility. Some teachers will allow you to skip classes or you can find a teacher online who will help you in the comfort of your home.
When I built ARTZOK, I had all of my students in mind but also mature students or students with reduced mobility everywhere who could benefit from a professional support from their home. We’ve made it very simple and affordable to get regular help from top art teachers.
Try new technologies
From online help to YouTube demonstrations, there are many ways to find information and get help. Most new technologies are built to be used without instructions, you just have to try it and follow your intuition. Your smartphone or tablet are packed full of technologies that you can use. Most mobile devices have surprisingly good cameras that you can use with filters and image editing apps. There is a lot you can do even before you pick up a pencil or brush.
Consider online lessons
A weekly art class at a local community center or art school can be a good way to find a supportive and stimulating environment but consider online support. Online lessons and tutoring can be very effective at helping you move along. Often, all you need is your mobile device to connect with a qualified teacher. For some, it is the only way to get support.
84 years old draws his first portrait
A student that I will always remember received a gift certificate from his children for a drawing course with me. He was 84 years old at the time and had never drawn anything but always wished he had a chance. He thought it was too late but since he did not want to disappoint his children he decided to try. He wanted to draw the portrait of his granddaughter as his first drawing…
Normally I help my students progress from simple forms (spheres, cubes…) to more complex structures. Portraits come after mastering simpler projects but I only had 10 3-hours sessions with this student and he wanted to do a portrait. Did he do it? YES, and it was pretty good!
Even with a difficult subject like a portrait, if we simplify the general form and move in a structured step by step process, we can get to a good likeness. For this older adult beginner, it took about 30 hours. In the end, my 84 years old student couldn’t believe that he had drawn this portrait, even if I did not touch his drawing a single time. All that was required, was time, consistent effort and a teacher to point the way. He was very proud to give his portrait to his grand-daughter as a present!
It is not about your age
Don’t let being a mature art student define you. You have many advantages, from more flexibility with your time to having more perspective with life.
There is a general fear that with age, our abilities to learn decline just like our physical abilities. This is only true if we let them! If you start doing weight lifting, we will soon be able to measure your progress and the rate of progress interestingly does not vary much with age. The same applies to learning a new art medium, your rate of progress will be much more a factor of the time and regularity of your practice than anything else.
Another of my students started painting lessons with me a few years after suffering a massive stroke which left her paralyzed on one side and with speech and cognitive abilities impaired. As I looked at the series of paintings that she did in my studio, the progress between each was striking, perhaps more than any other student that I ever taught to.
It’s all about the journey, not the destination (or your age!)
Of course, you have heard this cliché before, but once you reach a certain age, it becomes more relevant. You don’t have to prove anything anymore, you don’t have to be under pressure, you don’t need to meet objectives or deadlines. It’s time to enjoy what art has brought to countless generations before, the joy of creating something new, of expressing yourself, of being in the moment, of finding beauty where you did not know it existed before.