“Auntie Megan’s here, Auntie Megan’s here!”. My son comes running in excitedly, and then dashes out again with my daughter. A couple of minutes later, my old friend, and collaborator strolls in, my children bouncing around her feet like badly trained terriers.
Megan is one of a very few artists I have met who sees the world, and the creative process, from a similar standpoint as my own: Willing to experiment with the conceptually forbidden zones of psychology, spirituality and emotional process.
Megan trained in the 70s, and surfed the wave of feminist art, working with some great names including Judy Chicago. Well respected in her field, but penniless, she developed an art therapy business to keep afloat.
Nearly a decade ago, to the great sadness of myself and my son (then 3), she moved away from Oxford for some landscape, and to focus on her art therapy business.
Recently, she has returned to art production, and to help “catch up”, has enrolled on a Contemporary Visual Arts masters degree.
The first essay did not go well. Quoting her influences and the great names she once shared the limelight with, she received low marks: “This is a course on Contemporary art, not art history.”
Are we really art history … surely not? At the tender age of 47 I just feel like I’m coming into my stride. At 18, the received wisdom was that one’s career would be beginning to mature at 60. Now my generation are closer to 60 than 18, are we to be thrown on the scrap heap of history, to make way for the blossoming Culture of Youth? Will an entire generation of artists be dismissed, as too youthful in their youth, and obsolete in their maturity?
It’s definitely the case that most art is made by young people. Simple economics: young people, without the ties and responsibilities of family, can live happily on virtually nothing (as I used to myself), and can avail themselves of a vast array of opportunities denied to us “Veralteten”: travel scholarships, residencies, competitions for the under 30s, etc.
The true dilettantes soon get bored, and wander off when they’ve found another novelty to play with. Those of independent means carry on, but without having to meet the challenges of living a normal life, their output tends to become irrelevant and self-obsessed.
The more dedicated take arts admin, art therapy and teaching posts, in the hope of one day going part time and returning to creative practice. A very few succeed financially, and define the mainstream.
Only relatively few of us manage to keep creating, and tread that twilight path somewhere between fame and oblivion.
Certainly, my volume of output is restricted, and I pursue an artistic vision that lies on the fringes. But that doesn’t make me history. Not even when my grandchildren are pushing Auntie Megan around in her wheelchair, are regulating my morphine drip and changing my incontinence pads … not even then … will I be history!