Journal of Lesbian Studies, 19:109–113, 2015 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1089-4160 print / 1540-3548 online DOI: 10.1080/10894160.2015.964127

Notes on Art & Aging CATHY CADE Bay Area Old Lesbians Organizing for Change

At a weekend retreat of Bay Area Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) for lesbians over 60, I led a workshop on the topic of “Artists & Aging.” Here are some notes of what people told me and what I’ve been thinking about. Bay Area OLOC has weekend retreats two times a year to offer each other personal and political support, but we also enjoy public demonstrations such as the one pictured here in support of Social Security.

GROUP DISCUSSION “There’s an advantage of being an old artist. I make my art now for the joy it brings, not for the sense of being a ‘good artist.”’ “I’m less constrained about how I use color, less limited by ‘the rules’.” “I’m letting go of perfectionism. Because of my mortality I don’t have the time to be a perfectionist. My skills haven’t diminished, my hand-eye coordination hasn’t diminished. My work is more than ‘good enough.”’ “I made fewer paintings in the last year than in the past, but they are more complicated. I no longer work as an illustrator for a wage, but this year I did get commissioned to do a portrait. I work more for my enjoyment than for money. It’s hard that granting agencies offer more grants for performance and media, fewer for paintings.” “Visual art was a big piece of my identity, I miss it, but I’ve switched to spoken word and I’m getting there.” “I’m not painting as much, not daily like I used to, but I love my recent ones. I also have a renewed interest in writing. I think my limited workspace and my awareness of my mortality have made me want to finish my stories. I have a different awareness of myself as an artist. If I stop painting am I still an artist, or am I creative in anything I do?” “I think my reading glasses cause me to paint smaller. Do I see color differently? I’m amazed when I look at my early art; it’s so huge.” Address correspondence to Cathy Cade, 1320 Addison St., Berkeley, CA 94702. E-mail: [email protected] 109


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“I’m making smaller paintings because I live in a small apartment and don’t have another place to do my work. I don’t like a lot of stuff around any more, and I have no car to haul things.” “I have a certain amount of energy on a given day, can’t push myself for more like I used to, but so far I wake up in the morning with renewed energy.” “I’m encountering more physical limits. My thumbs cramp working in ceramics. I keep asking myself, ‘How long do I have to do this?”’ “I tire easily, my crutches are exhausting, getting places is hard. It takes me a good part of the day to get to the place where I get a free lunch.” “Getting to make art has always been an economic issue for me. I’ve needed to work for money since I was a child, but I’ve always felt creative, if only in my ruminating. I couldn’t pursue an art major because I needed to make money. I’ve recently retired and gone back to practical art. In gardening I’m conceptualizing as an artist, thinking about form, color, and texture.” “When I review the slides of the paintings I’ve made over my lifetime I can feel my aging. I see more energy in early pieces, more detail, I remember having more passion. But recently I’ve begun adding more detail. I still have it. I can do it.” “The art of describing is gathering knowledge about reality and putting it into the written or visual form, so elders’ experiences impacts our art.” “Art is fun again. I don’t have to make deadlines. I don’t have to do anything. But I do need to keep making art.” “I’ve been reading about how it’s important to keep learning new things, to renew our synapses.” ”I will always create art, if in another form, because it gives me so much joy.”

OUR ART NEEDS Workspace beyond our often very small living spaces. Ability to show the work, if only to friends. A community of artists. Help with exhibiting, distributing and promoting our work. Help with archiving our work with text and finding a home for it to live in after we’re gone.

INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS AT THE RETREAT Mary I’ve slowed down enough to see the correspondence between what is called my “inner necessity” and outer color, movement, and gesture. I have more

Notes on Art & Aging


choices of mediums to work in. Beyond writing I can do graphics, clay work, collage. I’m more interested in others’ artwork. And I have pride in my age.

Jan My injuries from a car wreck in 1999 reduced my depth perception and sense of a clear edge. So I turned to photography. I photograph people and landscapes, but I’m getting more minimalist, more abstract. This is connected to aging in that I’m seeking new ways to do things to keep my art alive, plus as I age “less becomes more.” I want to remove the clutter in my life. My writing has changed from political statements and stories about me as an adult to writing about my childhood for my grandchildren. I don’t care about standards anymore. I want to do what I want.

ReeAnn I’m photographing people more and nature less. I’m fascinated with people’s personal history. I try to see the qualities inside people and make them visible.

Ann (Ann makes necklaces of stones wrapped with wire and is a knitter.) I have more time now, more leisure. I’ve always liked playing with colors and textures, but I never had five projects going at once like I do now. I want to de-clutter, so I think up projects to use up this beautiful yarn I’ve collected. Then I give them as gifts, sell a few at small crafts fairs, or, if they don’t turn out well, send them to a thrift store. I’m more experimental, play more with different techniques, but I don’t want to worry much about getting the stitch count right. I find a stitch in a book or online, but then I put different rows in between for different effects.

CATHY It’s taken me a long time to go from defining myself as a photographer, beginning in 1971, to claiming an identity as an artist. I suspect I’m now in the process of a very big identity shift. I’m making few photographs this year and am enjoying making small sculptures out of what I call “found nature”: driftwood, bark, feathers, pine cones, eucalyptus buds, and so on. Here is one of my favorites. One of the big challenges is that the found nature pieces are one-of-a-kind. I have to learn to let go, sell, or gift a piece so that I can


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FIGURE 1 Old Lesbians Organizing for Change demonstrate at Occupy Oakland, 2011. Photo by Cathy Cade.

have room to make more. On the other hand, I can make the sculptures without learning new computer skills. The sculptures are a very low-tech medium—picking up, selecting, gluing. As I work with my photo archives and exhibits, the issue of aging and art is needing to ask for more help. I want to be able to choose what new computer technology I learn and when. I want to get help from younger

FIGURE 2 “Found Nature” driftwood sculpture by Cathy Cade, 2014. Photo by Cathy Cade.

Notes on Art & Aging


people. I feel that at my age I have a right to choose what to learn. But I don’t want to look like I can’t learn new tricks. I’m beginning to suspect that asking for help in itself is a skill. Being old makes it harder to have the energy to take photos and put them up on Facebook the same day. When Ann and I were talking, she told me about a quilt she’d planned for years made out of silk shoulder pads she’d removed from many jackets and blouses. ReeAnn told me of her collection of 4,000 slides that she wants to “do something with someday.” It reminded me of my t-shirt project and my “How You Gonna Eat” textile piece I’ve stored for over ten years. As artists age, live in small places, and come to terms with their mortality, the issue of letting go of projects, or, as I prefer to call it, “editing your projects,” comes up. I think I can let go of the t-shirts—could I give them to Sandy who does quilts out of political t-shirt logos?—I’m not sure about “How You Gonna Eat”—my father’s response when as a child I told him I wanted to be an artist.

CONTRIBUTOR Cathy Cade has been a lesbian feminist activist and documentary photographer in the San Francisco Bay area since the early 1970s. Many of her photographs on working women, lesbian mothering, and lesbian demonstrations appeared in feminist and lesbian publications beginning in the 1970s. Her archives are housed at The Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley. She is a member of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change and has branched out to making one-of-a-kind sculptures from driftwood and found nature objects.

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