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Art(ists) in the making : exploring narratives of coming to art in later life Brett-MacLean, Pamela Jean

Abstract

Drawing on John Dewey's aesthetic theory, this inquiry was undertaken to explore the experience and significance of "coming to art" in later life. Eight women and three men participated in two in-depth conversational interviews. The participants' average age at the time of our first interview was 71.6 years. Seven participants described a serious commitment to art. The remaining participants described a somewhat more casual visual art practice. A narrative approach supported a close reading of the participants' stories which led to the identification of three primary storylines: (1) "Coming to Art," (2) "Flourishing through Art," and (3) "Art as Identity." The first storyline considered the role of chance and different influencing conditions, including how various structures and routines served to sustain the participants' focus on art. Ways in which art contributed to how the participants' enjoyed their lives comprised the second storyline, which encompassed such aspects as enhanced perception, creative excitement, flow, and feelings of intrinsic satisfaction, as well as expanding worlds of experience (through travel and new social connections). Conditional and relational aspects of the participants' art-based identity constructions are described in the last storyline. In addition, reflections on the significance of art making as a casual leisure pursuit, and music as a form of serious leisure, along with advantages and constraints of coming to art in later life, are described. This inquiry offers a site for developing new understandings regarding the possibilities of aging, and the ways that art can contribute to an ongoing process of growth and expansion in later life. Although a common view is that artists are born as such, compelled to express their talents from an early point in life, the accounts shared by the participants in this inquiry suggest that at least for some coming to art may also be a developmental opportunity that emerges with age. In addition, while health benefits have been associated with involvement in art in later life, this inquiry suggests that arts-based involvement in later life can also be about creative excitement, feeling enlivened, and vitally involved ... and also about becoming an artist.

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