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Art And Longevity
Cythia D. Perlis, BS, Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and Douglas Wallace, PhD

A hundred years ago, it was commonly believed that people would not be, even could not be, creative past middle age. Now, reports Lydia Bronte in her book, The Longevity Factor, most Americans can expect a second middle age -- a stage of adulthood between 50 and 75 that has not existed before. And today, art is a healing force.

Artistic expression is an important psychosocial activity. We can create art by ourselves; alone in a studio, or we can attend classes ranging from beginning drawing to advanced print making. We can express ourselves visually when sometimes there are no words to express ourselves verbally. Art can help us express what we are feeling in the present, but it can also help us to express a memory, a moment that has happened that we do not want to forget. Like music, drawing and painting and creating sculpture provides a means of communication and a way to alleviate stress.

One does not have to have previous artistic ability to be creative. Sometimes just doodling, or experimenting with art materials can open up a wide range of ideas. People often become judgmental about their work -- or are afraid others will judge their ability. It is important to express yourself for yourself and not for everyone's approval. There really is no right or wrong in expressing who you are.

People in middle age and beyond sometimes feel that life is just beginning. A new sense of identity is discovered and defined along an enhanced sense of self. Often times, there is a connectedness to the community through interests which have developed over the years.

Suzanne, a women approaching 80, who is living a full and energetic life in spite of her advanced cancer diagnosis, has continued to teach art classes, take printmaking classes, and work in her home studio. Her recent works have included drawings and watercolors which express what it feels like to cope with life-threatening illness. She has created drawings which tell the story of her disease. One watercolor, The Cell of Positive Thinking, was created at the time she began a course of chemotherapy. She remains spirited and animated when she talks about her art. Creating art not only gives nonverbal communication, but improves her self-worth and leaves a permanent gift to be enjoyed by all. She has received constant encouragement and support from friends and family. They drive her to art classes and create along with her. Together they are participating in a shared experience, a shared community of meaning; the essence of what it means to be human.

Creating art can help a person to express their feelings, change their mood, come out of a depression, or just relax. Color is wonderful when it represents a feeling. Sometimes collage making (cutting pictures from a magazine) is less threatening than drawing. Sculpture is a great way to mold an expression, especially if you like to get your hands dirty. And think of all the gifts you'll give; everyone loves to receive a gift made by someone they love.

McMurry (1989) noted that a variety of expressive activities can be employed to enrich the lives of elderly individuals. The creative experience can facilitate the expressions of ideas and feelings. It can also increase sensory stimulation, improved self-esteem, offer opportunity to relate to others in a meaningful way, and increase awareness of self.

Creating art at any age gives people an opportunity to express what they are feeling. Creating art as one ages provides the ability to make decisions for oneself. With the opportunity to make decisions, to exercise control over choice, people enhance their quality of life, improve self-esteem, and offer ways to relate to others in a meaningful way.

Just imagine all the stories that can be expressed visually. With approximately 31 million Americans over 65 -- just imagine all the paintings and drawings that will tell our personal stories. A whole life or one experience can be shared in a work of art. An artist writes, "No, I will never say my work is finished. I must live forever -- on and on. The reason we artists enjoy such longevity is that we are always looking ahead to the masterpiece to come".

Art Thoughts
- Draw a self-portrait, include words to describe who you are.
- Create a family tree -- ask everyone to draw their own portrait on the tree.
- Learn to paint.
- Take painting, drawing or sculpture classes at your local Community College. Don't worry-if you take a beginners class everyone will be in the same boat.
- Draw your dreams.
- Take photographs.
- Don't be judgmental, there is no right or wrong, no rules, no grades.
- Make a collage using magazines, decide on a theme or let the theme evolve.
- Do a drawing with a friend, grandchild or spouse.
- Learn needlepoint, knitting.
- Buy fabric paint and paint on T-shirts.
- Smile as you create.

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