I have a private student right now who gave me permission to talk about our classes. Her name is Betty and she’s so amazing to me. She’s 77 years old, has always wanted to express herself creatively, to paint, but has only done it sporadically. So she’s taking classes with me. We’re not painting yet. My specialty is guiding people to their interior vision, their inner artist. To do that there’s a lot of debris that needs to be cleared away—old lessons and messages that don’t support the creative process. That’s what we’re working on now.
We had an interesting class recently. Betty was under the impression she would have to let go of herself completely in order to make “real” art. But that hasn’t been my experience. I find the opposite is true. In order to get to my art I have to come to self, not abandon self. That’s where art lives, I think, deep in the core of us. It is why art making is not for the faint-of-heart. It’s nothing less than a journey of the soul. We often have to strip away layer after layer and it’s not easy. To make real art we must be real.
And that’s what’s so magnificent about Betty. What she’s doing is difficult. It’s challenging. A lot of people wouldn’t be willing to do this depth of work at all, let alone later in life.
There is an exchange in The Artist’s Way between Julia Cameron and her students that’s pertinent. The students ask, “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?” and Julia answers, “Yes…the same age you will be if you don’t”. How very true.
I fear in this youth-oriented culture our elderly lose their passion and what a shame that is. Those of us getting up there in age know it is the perspective of years lived which can develop into wisdom. How much better to take our wise selves into painting classes, dance lessons, the Peace Corps, college, on bike rides, than to a recliner in front of the TV. Picasso said death would simply interrupt his work. It is a great ambition. I’m with him.
I celebrate Betty’s courage and her journey. It is a privilege to watch her do this work, to see her face herself, to grasp the reasons she’s blocked her artist and to watch her set herself free. There’s no telling what kinds of paintings are being born in her right now as she nurtures the creative that’s been eager to come out and play for all these years. The woman is remarkable. She inspires me. As a matter of fact, she’s one of the reasons I’m doing this blog.