Is There Artistry in Aging?

My sister and I apparently showed some musical talent and interest early. So we spent hours of our growing-up years hearing, studying and performing music as a sideline.   We studied with a variety of teachers. Some of them were satisfied to teach us to read music and develop our technic. But eventually we each encountered teachers and conductors who taught us that it was not enough to just play the notes correctly and in the style of the composer. Playing the notes, mastering the difficulties   and learning the style were to be seen as necessary steps in learning a piece of music. Once mastered, we were shown how to and expected to add finesse and artistry. We got so we could “hear” when others just “played the notes” and admire performances that went beyond. We worked to achieve it in our own performances, whether for ourselves or others.   We recognized when we could achieve it and when we did not.

Recently I got to wondering if aging might not be similar to playing music (though we agers don’t have the option to play or not to play). Still there are basic blocks of knowledge and skills to be learned about the aging processes in our bodies, how those changes alter our capacities and the kinds of skills it takes to manage our daily living with those changes and other forces that affect it. We can learn to study the nature of ARCs (age related changes), their effects on specific capacities and areas of impact of our lives. We can learn new ways of manage and more creative ways of using our available internal and external resources. We can learn about different styles of aging (living independently/semi-independently in separate housing, in congregate housing, in acute care settings), living with differing degrees of dependency. We can learn the music of our own aging, and at some level, master the technics of engaging with our aging.

In this vein of thought I began to wonder, “Is there an artistry in aging that goes beyond just “playing the notes” in our engagement with aging? Even before I became aged, I had seen different styles in aging. I saw some who seemed to want no part of aging, who seemed to avoid engagement with it though being harmed by their neglect. Even when the music of aging seemed not too difficult, their performance was dour. Others I saw managed whatever aging challenges they recognized and dealt with them in a matter-of-fact way. They were content to “play the notes” correctly.   And then there were some who managed to not only engage, but do so with varying degrees of brio, some glowed and reverberated quietly and others with flair and panache, seeming to find joy and richness in engaging with their advancing years.

The differences in approach and style of engaging with aging didn’t seem to entirely depend on the amount of difficulty that agers were experiencing.   I encountered some who appeared to have all the advantages yet became as vinegary as wine gone bad or cheese that dried up. Others with circumstances that seemed extremely challenging seemed to continue to manage their lives and aging with the vibrancy of Stradivarius violins that had been played by virtuosos over the years or the leaders in their fields of endeavor who became even more able as they aged.

Perhaps we’re all pre-wired for our approaches to live out our lives in a certain way and thus have less control of what we naturally will do as we age. And certainly through the years we lived with or experience models for aging that we emulate or reject.

So far, I’ve been blessed in:

having remarkable models of aging,

the way aging has presented itself and

in my support system.

While I sense that my EWA capacities are yet to be severely tested, I know how I want to continue. My goal? A quietly vibrant style with as much artistry as I can achieve.

What are your thoughts? Wishes? Expectations about artistry in aging? Does it exist? Is it worth thinking about? Working toward?



5 thoughts on “Is There Artistry in Aging?

  1. I love your metaphor, and I think you are absolutely right in this. You might enjoy the book “Happiness is a Choice You Make”, which follows a handful of 80 and 90-something people for a year, documenting how they handle their challenges, and to his surprise, the author changes his own approaches to life because of their examples. I think it’s because he experienced their artistry, but also in one case, the loss of the artistic impulse leading to a decision that just playing the notes was no longer enough.
    Your ideas always challenge and stretch me. Thank you so much for writing this blog/

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As a fellow life-long musician, I take great delight in your metaphor! I studied piano for many years but was never very technically proficient. But – my teachers always marveled at my “expression.” I had not thought of that as a factor on how I am aging, but I think that you have lifted up a very important influence that continues to mark my elderhood. Creativity now rests in learning to paint with water colors, and I shall use my progress as a beacon for the aging days ahead. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It surely does exist and I am glad you brought this up. Practicing the artistry of aging is one reason many people report being happier in there later years. I don’t know what the overall stats are—I heard that on a morning news program and for me it is true. Great article! Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to agree with each of the ladies above. What a wonderful metaphor to use for this subject that few of us want to discuss. While I did not get the genes (or have the time being raised on a horse farm) to play an instrument or other artistic endeavors, I did get the problem-solving gene as a means of creativity. Programming and writing reports to help clinicians do their jobs was very rewarding for me. Like you, I have had very good role models to show me the art of aging. I hope I can do as well as they did! You are an inspiration for all of us.


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