Thursday, November 5, 2015

E is for Elders

I teach art to seniors. I was about to type, senior artists, but, based on my five years of experience teaching in an Assisted Living facility, almost none of my students consider themselves artists. In fact, as I have mentioned in this blog before, the most frequent comment I get is "Oh, I'm no artist." Yet, my ladies come to class, week after week. They learn, they practice, and mostly, they improve.

Some don't of course. My ladies (rare to see a man in class) are old. They come with a wide array of ailments that include blindness, dementia, arthritis and the effects of great age on the body and the ability to work. And sometimes they die.  But while they are with me, they form a group and not only draw or paint, they talk, they laugh, they share, and most of all, they criticize their work and praise everyone else's.

Carol M
I never wanted to teach "old people." My father, who did, always tried to convince me to teach as he did, at a senior center in Florida. I hated even going into the place. Yet, after he died, and my hair turned grey,  I felt the need to contribute something to my community and volunteered at the facility where both my parents ended their days. And somehow there, found not only a job, but a part of myself that is patient and caring and --- really enjoys the older people I have gotten to know.

Irene K
One of the major benefits of this aspect of my work is the effort I must put into preparing to teach each week. I need to consider the level of abilities and disabilities. I have learned many things about adapting a project. I need to meet the needs of  people whose vision is affected by macular degeneration, or fading color vision. I have learned to see beauty in the shaky lines drawn by hands effected by Parkinson's disease. I understand the value of repetition - both of projects and instructions. And, I always try to relate the project to events in the lives of my students - memories or current events and activities are great starting points.

I have learned to use strong black sharpie to outline shapes, vibrant NeoColor crayons for color, bright white, or neon color papers for contrast. In class, we keep projects simple, share the work of great artists who have reached great age, and experiment with different media and different processes. Monotype printing in my simplified style has been a great success. There is an awed reaction to the magic that happens when images appear as we transfer them from acetate to wet paper.

Most magical of all though is the work that happens. These examples are from last week when pumpkins were the subject. The rules were simple - at least one pumpkin (I provided a collection of cute little mini pumpkins and lots of pumpkin drawings for inspiration.) Those who could see it well enough used white pastel to outline on black paper - then we all used pastel for color. My intro drawing is at the top, the others speak for themselves.

 Many thanks go to MZ, whose help and guidance have been essential to our combined success. I could not do this without you.