Art brushes and paint

You’re never too old splash paint onto paper and make art. Think of Grandma Moses, who didn’t pick up a brush until her late seventies or Pablo Picasso, who was still creating masterpieces—including the monumental sculpture in Chicago’s Daley Plaza—into his late eighties.

They are just two of many illustrious examples of aged artists. Today’s art world is abuzz over new or rediscovered artists like Carmen Herrera, who sold her first canvas at age 89 and is still active today at 102. Indeed, the field of successful senior artists is so large and talented that New York’s Carter Burden Gallery limits its exhibitors to artists who are at least 60 years old.

But you don’t need to be a famous artist to reap major benefits from an occasional hour with paints, clay or any of the countless other art supplies—many of which are just as suited to use by senior citizens as younger people. When it comes to creating art, fine motor skills aren’t a requirement. Art doesn’t need to be representational to be beautiful, and an abstract painting is just as compelling as a technically perfect landscape or portrait.

Or don’t paint at all. Instead, try knitting a brightly colored afghan, assembling bits of paper and other objects into a collage, or stringing glistening, jewel-tone beads to create a bracelet or bookmark. The benefits are the same: enhanced relaxation and sensory stimulation, a reduction in anxiety and depression, and a renewed sense of fun. Providing seniors with opportunities to express themselves artistically also results in improved cognitive function and a strengthened sense of identity, studies show.

A small study of 32 retired women found their participation in artistic activities such as pottery making, painting and embroidery developed new skills, enriched their mental faculties, and enabled them to better connect with nature. The women also reported satisfaction in working with various textures and colors.

While hearing and coordination often diminish with age, creativity and imagination continue to thrive in later life, even in those with neurological challenges. For seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, creating or viewing artwork can provide an alternate mode of communication when words fail, a means of reawakening buried memories, and a deep connection to their former lives. Celebrated artist Willem de Kooning continued to create museum-quality works after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and studies confirm that patients with advanced Alzheimer’s can continue making art.

Fortunately, this community offers many opportunities for art immersion. Browse the latest shows at local art galleries. Arterie Fine Arts in Naperville will hold an opening reception and awards ceremony for its “Science & Art” Exhibit on Sept. 12 while the Schoenherr Gallery at North Central College is currently featuring works by Renee McGinnis. Or let your imagination run wild in Monarch Landing’s well-stocked Creative Arts Studio, wield a brush at Pinot’s Palette, a Naperville “paint and sip” studio where the wine flows along with the creativity.

Art doesn’t just imitate life, it enhances life—especially the lives of seniors who engage with it.