Art, ageing and keeping it creative – PART 3




In the final segment of this series, PART 3 takes a look at some impressive acts of creativity by individuals who chose not to let their ailments get in the way of  their creativity.

But I’m sick – I can’t do art

Many artists who have been riddled with pain have used their art as a release, an escape from the entrapment of their bodies. 

Artists with Ailments

Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)

Mexican artist who had chronic pain her who life. When Kahlo was 6 years old she contracted polio, which made her right leg shorter and thinner than the left. 

At the age of 18, Frida was riding in a bus when the vehicle collided with a trolley car. Kahlo suffered near fatal injuries as a result of the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. An iron handrail impaled her through her pelvis, fracturing the pelvic bone. She endured more than 30 operations in her lifetime and during her convalescence she began to paint . Her treatment included wearing a plaster corset which confined her to bed.

She has become an icon of strength and endurance. She said…
“As a part of my healing process, I guess, just to relieve my boredom more than anything else, I started painting. And it wasn’t like I had painkillers and experts putting me back together. Those were hard times and I really suffered. I mean, I didn’t get out of bed for a year. But I found an outlet, luckily, in my painting and that in some ways saved me I guess…” 

Her words remind us that nothing is forever. Our difficulties will pass…


Matisse in Bed (1869-1954)

Diagnosed with abdominal cancer in 1941, French artist Henri Matisse underwent surgery that left him chair and bed bound. Painting and sculpture had become physical challenges, so he turned to a new type of medium. With the help of his assistants, he began creating cut paper collages.  He even had a few cat assistants!

He did not resent the ailments he was inflicted with, but instead saw it as just another challenge in which to get the chance to see the world differently…


Chuck Close (Born 1940)

American artist Chuck Close has always been faced with a few shurdles to jump in order to create his art. From a young age Close was dyslexic but it was something that wasn’t recognised when he was growing up. “People thought you were just dumb and lazy.”

Close had trouble remembering names and dates. Turns out he also suffers from prosopagnosia, or face blindness, where he can’t recognise faces. Despite this Close worked hard to show success in school. He sat in the front rows, participated frequently, and even would sit in a dark room, shining a flashlight on a page of text and read it out loud until he remembered.

Close got through school by making art. He would “drag extra-credit murals and maps and charts into class” to prove to his teacher that he was neither dumb nor lazy.

Despite his difficulties Close became successful in his pursuit of art. He lived by the motto “Go to Yale or go to jail,” striving for a successful art career at the university. His parents were supportive of his love for art, which gave him the motivation to work hard.

With his perseverance, he was able to earn a scholarship to Yale summer school, and eventually a scholarship to Yale University, where he met many influential artists.

He is an artist obsessed with the process of making art, as much as with the result. He started to create large photo realistic portraits in order for him to understand the terrain of a face. In time when America was in love with abstracts he chose to do photorealism. He is also known for his photo montages. His has developed a unique visual lange for his portraits which are comprised of abstract shapes on small squares, painted in a gridlike format. When viewed from afar, they combine to reflect large scale portraits.

For Chuck Close his health issues continue to plague his art making. In 1988 he became a quadriplegic as a result of sudden catastrophic spinal artery collapse. He fought back to regain partial usage of his limbs. Seen here here painting in his wheelchair he tapes his paint brush his hands in order to keep creating new work. He is noted as one of the most productive and successful artists living today. 

“ Neurologically, I’m a quadriplegic, so virtually everything about my work has been driven by my learning disabilities, which are quite severe, and my lack of facial recognition, which I’m sure is what drove me to paint portraits in the first place.”

“Never let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don’t apply to you.”  Chuck Close


Phil Hansen (Born 1979)

A mixed-media artist and author of Tattoo a Banana. In art school, Phil Hansen developed an unruly tremor in his hand that kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. Hansen was devastated, floating without a sense of purpose. Until a neurologist made a simple suggestion: embrace this limitation … and transcend it.

He now he creates art using karate chops and tatooing bananas!

He suggests that “Instead of telling ourselves to seize the day, we should tell ourselves to seize the limitation”

Check out the talk > VIDEO – 10mins


We ain’t getting any younger!

So if art just isn’t your thing, then having more challenges to encounter is not going to get you started. One of the things creative folk forget all the time is how much their creative pursuits can give others joy. 

Recently one of my students, Abira Harvey participated in a Centennial program where each young artist was assigned to create a portrait of an individual aged 100. They had to meet this person and try and create a work befitting of the sitter’s life and likes. 

Mrs Kim Nga only spoke Chinese so they had to have a translator. Abira did a sketch on site then combined some of the things that defined Kim’s life into the artwork. A learning experience for both parties, it was not only a great art exercise but an amazing way to connect, expand and share experiences with a different community.

Both artist and sitter where overjoyed with the result!


Getting away from ourselves

You can see from these inspirational stories that art can provide a fabulous place to go when things get tough. For some it can be a comfort, a place to reconnect with what they believe in. For others, it is a place to escape, unhindered but physical disabilities. Whatever the reason, we know that art and art making is not only for the young. If the evidence is true, it can only give us more as we get older.  It can provide a way to help us connect to others and reconnect with ourselves.

 I think I agree with Marcel Proust when he said …

“Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees.”

As we get older, the advantage we have is all the years of experience we have at living. Our views, interpratations and insights are unique. No two people remember the same experience identically. Our versions, how we see the world is the magic. The creating, is the practice and the result is the mirror. Sometimes its an experiment and sometimes its a plan, but whatever way we start, we now know that art can be the best (and cheapest) ‘feel good’ medicines on the market, and it’s something you can never be too old to take up. 


I hope you enjoyed these articles on Art, Ageing and Creativity.

Missed PART 1 of ART AGEING & KEEPING IT CREATIVE? Read it here >

Missed PART 2 of ART AGEING & KEEPING IT CREATIVE? Read it here >


This blog focuses on my art teaching experience. I have been lucky enough to help extend others love for art and art making through my art classes, art events and workshops. They say that those that can’t do, teach. I disagree. Teaching art is a great way to improve your focus and momentum.

Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” He was right. Teaching art to others helps you crystallise your concepts and translate your directions. This blog is part of my translation. It will highlight the joys and frustrations I encounter in teaching art to others. I hope it offers insights for why I am so passionate about integrating art and creativity into everyone’s lives. Art Education can teach us all how to see, comprehend and create in new and exciting ways. This blog is my stand for Art Education. Being creative matters. It is the place where fresh ideas and innovations grow. It teaches us to experiment and trust ourselves. Adding more art and creativity into your life will always count, sometimes we just need a little help getting started!


The perfect way to kick start your creativity?
Join me in Fiji  on my annual Art Retreat where you can relax, rejuvenate and create in paradise!

Special thanks to all the amazing students I have had the pleasure to teach along the way. I am a better artist and teacher for having met you!
Creativity Counts is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on 
© Kristine Ballard 2018.