Past Exhibitions

Golden Blessings of Old Age & Out of the Mouths of Babes

The Marriage of Art, Science & Philosophy

Artist DeVon Smith, creator of the Robot Family

October 4, 2003 - September 5, 2004

"I never feel age . . . If you have creative work, you don't have age or time."
- Sculptor Louise Nevelson at 80

In no other arena is the good news of aging more gleefully pronounced than in the many global manifestations of late-onset creativity generated by visionary artists aged 60, 70, 80, and far beyond. Recent studies in neuroscience reveal that our brains do not age like our bodies. Creative challenge makes us confront limitations and develop inventive "work-arounds" - exerting our brains in ways that not only keep them flexible, but may actually increase their mass and weight.

Artist Jean Dubuffet called creation a "late fruit." It grows best, he said, when one changes from receiving station to sending station, ceases to expect wonders to be delivered and takes on the task of creating them. This creative explosion may be sparked by adversity, loss, or newfound leisure. Emboldened by having finally reached the blissful stage of not caring any longer what others think, the newborn artist sets to work to embody memory, explore the elusive, and assuage loss.

Whatever the cause, the result can be a life-giving exuberance: The landmark 1998 MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging in America concluded that lifestyle and attitude are significantly more important than genetics in determining whether one's later years are healthy ones- even if one has a predisposition for Alzheimer's, arthritis, or cancer. The importance of positive attitude isn't just wishful thinking. A 2002 study conducted at Yale University's Department of Epidemiology and Public Health found that older people with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions, an effect greater than that of exercising or not smoking!

The "silver tsunami" is fast heading our way: Every seven seconds a baby boomer turns 50. Soon, seniors will outnumber children and youth for the first time in the history of our world, a demographic sea change with as-yet unimaginable implications. "Golden Blessings of Old Age" is the American Visionary Art Museum's tribute to those who discovered in time that, as Garson Kanin said, "Youth is a gift, but old age is a work of art."

Out of the Mouths of Babes

If the elder artists in "Golden Blessings" seem youthful in their exuberance, the young artists represented in "Out of the Mouths of Babes" share a wisdom beyond their years. Too often, it is a wisdom born of pain. While society tends to paint old age as gray, pockmarked by diminished capacity, it tends to stereotype childhood as golden, carefree and filled with promise. But many children live in a silent darkness of illness and abuse, both physical and mental. Their voices are unheard, their needs unmet. Their art explains their worlds in ways their voices cannot.

Rigid notions of age and aging limit the mind and imprison the spirit. Like all stereotypes, they evaporate on closer examination. Only by teasing apart the stereotypes can we truly see the individual members of the invisible old and the unheard young. As former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey said, the true test of a society is how it treats those in the dawn of life- its children, and the twilight of life- its elders.