Art After 40

After the excessive optimisim of youth, the impressive energy of young adulthood, and the confidence of being all grown up, those of us who are fortunate enough to make it to our Forties generally look forward to an incremental and inexorable decline in just about every meaningful area of life — and not just health, romance, and adventure. Your work, your career, if you’re lucky enough to still have one, changes. For some, it ends. If you are, say, a professional athlete, your days of glory will either be in steep decline or finished. If you’re a model, you had better start looking for judging jobs on third-rate televsion programs.

These are extreme examples, of course. Few of us rely solely on the magnificence of our body (or the feats we can do with it) to earn a living and leave a legacy. But all of us, no matter our trade, eventually confront the indignities of aging and the reduction or limiting of what was once abundant. We all seem to be capable of slightly less.

Except if you’re an artist.

The life of the mind blossoms post-40. The powers of creation intensify. The ability to translate ideas and feelings into something lasting, and maybe even transcendent, improves. In opposition to the weakening muscles in our physical body, the creative muscle, which has benefited from decades of regular and challenging exercise, is stronger than ever. Art isn’t easy, as Mr. Sondheim (and Georges Suerat) remind us. But what was once difficult becomes, if not altogether easy, demonstrably easier than during the flailing, earnest strivings of youth. One knows what one is doing. And more to the point, one knows how to do it.

Artists generally don’t have as much money as non-artists. Artists generally don’t have pensions to cushion their dotage. What they have is more valuable: an entire lifetime ahead of them in which to continue exploring, learning, growing, and getting better. They also know that even when their personal journey ends, the art that they have made might possibly perhaps live on forever.

In that sense, getting older isn’t so bad. It’s a blessing.

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