How easy is it to start a painting career after 40?
For a start you are not at the cutting edge of the Young art world. You tend to be regarded, by virtue of your age alone, as "one of those Sunday painters" that exhibits on the side of the road or at Craft markets.
Teenagers beginning a career in fine art in that esteemed institution, Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town may laugh at the notion of spending a whole day painting a table of fruit or doing a "plein air" workshop in a vineyard - how boring!!! So much better to have kinky ideas - "cool conceptuals" - and then fool people into believing that they are truly original. Take for example the winner of last year's Michaelis graduates who put up a room full of white canvases and called his exhibit, "Camouflage" - on closer inspection the canvases had been painted on before he had covered them with white paint. What conclusion can one draw from that - as a 40+ year old I rather think the paintings were so bad that he had to paint over them with white paint! Imagine if a 40year-old were to have an exhibition of white canvases....
So, why start a career at all after the age of 40? Especially in Art. If you are, like me, sensitive to the beauty of form in nature, and the amazing colours of the landscape in South Africa , its people and wildlife, and your whole life you have wished to express that in some way then you may well consider picking up a paint brush in your middle years after your children are safely in school and you have a morning to yourself.
That is what I did. What started out as a 3 -hour Tuesday morning art class with other mothers like myself, has over the years become an abiding passion and challenge. Every day I ask the same questions - why does the paint not behave the way it does in my head. Every day I battle with the same issues - perspective, composition, colour. Every painting seems like a new beginning and every day I realise how little I know and how much there is still to learn. I do not have the arrogance and energy of youth on my side, but I have gained patience which is perhaps in my favour as a new learner.
As a member of the South African Society of Artists I have to suffer the indignity of every year standing in a queue of 300 or so other hopeful "Sunday Painters" and hope that my 3 submissions will be accepted into their prestigious annual exhibition which takes place at Kirstenbosch Gardens in October. The quality of work at these events is generally of a very high standard, if somewhat "old-fashioned" in concept. Yes, it consists of Landscapes. Still life, Portrait and Life studies - all the old tried and tested formula. Very little abstract work is ever chosen by the panel of judges which are usually highly respected artists or lecturers in the Art field gathered from the various Art Institutions in the greater Cape Town Area.
Certainly no white canvases would ever be tolerated.
So again - where does that leave us as 40year-old beginners. We are not at the cutting edge, but we have a sense of worth, of natural beauty- we appreciate reality and what that means- we appreciate the value of the environment, we have a finer understanding of things due to experience. Perhaps we are not architects of cool ideas or what is "relevant" in today's environment - our vision is perhaps tainted by reality or perhaps even sharpened by a pair of glasses - but that is a subject of another debate.
What matters is that we know the meaning of failure, but also the meaning of "pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again" - in short, we don't give up easily, we tend not to care too much about what other people think or we say "to hell with it, I'll do it anyway." And we do it because, generally, we love it. And, unlike a 17 year-old, we have a deeper understanding of what that means.