Old Artists

Not long ago, as I was getting it together to write my first post for this blog, I stumbled across two editorial comments about aging that make a first-rate context for what I want to say. The first was by Nancy Perry Graham, the editor of AARP The Magazine in its January/February issue. The occasion for it was her attendance with some other editors of the magazine—all of them wearing AARP T-shirts embossed with their publication’s September/October cover of “the Boss”—at a Springsteen performance at Giants Stadium in New York.

Staring wide-eyed at them, a curious woman asked: “Why would you wear an AARP T-shirt to a Springsteen concert?” The editor explained who they were, adding that Springsteen himself was 60.

But why would you want people to know you’re old?” she replied.

The story is made more poignant by the fact that she was a 60-something-year-old.

On the same day I saw that item, I read Roni Bennet’s post in her blog, TIME GOES BY. She remembered that she’d been depressed after years of research into aging when she found the same theme again and again in the culture- “that getting old is entirely about debility, decline and disease.” She began her blog to write about what growing old is “really like.” Now, five-going-on-six years later, in a country with an exploding population of people over fifty-five, she finds that the culture is enthusiastically pitching elixirs to make us young again, and potions to cure us of all the maladies of growing old. Aging continues to be defined as deterioration.

“Nothing has changed since I started TGB,” she concludes. “So much for any influence it might have.”

In another mood, Roni Bennett, who hosts what is probably the most influential blog on aging on the Internet, might not be so pessimistic. Late in the last century, the world began to discover that aging didn’t have to mean decline-that many of the so-called problems of aging could be overcome. Surely, some of the marketing of cures has its genesis in this more optimistic view. But what’s really exciting is what the late Gene D. Cohen wrote in his report, “Research on Creativity and Aging: the Positive Impact of the Arts on Health and Illness.” “The next step was another big leap…,” he said. It was about “the potential of aging.”

Elliott Carter

Old age can be something to look forward to. It can be an especially fruitful time for people in the arts. Take composer Elliott Carter who, last year-at the age of 100-attended the premiere of his latest work in Carnegie Hall. Alex Ross in the January 5, 2009 New Yorker, declared, “He seems finally and fully himself.”

Carter is one of many elderly composers, and others only recently deceased, who have dominated classical music in the United States for the last several decades. If you would rather talk about folk music, there’s always 90-year-old Pete Seeger; or jazz, singer Etta James; and rock, well, don’t forget Bruce Springsteen. There are elderly artists of every kind everywhere.

The Inaugural Concert. Photo by Sam Bailey, January 19, 2009 Flickr

We’re legion-old people doing art—some of us more accomplished than others, some better known, but many of us exciting, and even better, excited.

And that’s what this blog will be all about.

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