Book Review: Old in Art School by Nell Painter

Book picture: Old in Art School

OLD IN ART SCHOOL by Nell Painter
My rating: 5 stars

What if you were ready to retire but not yet ready to devote your life to grand kids–or maybe there weren’t any. Your kids didn’t have any, or maybe you’d not had children yourself. What’s next? Become a full-time volunteer or a gardener or an expert at golf?

Nell Painter chose none of these but rather elected to become a lowly undergraduate student in art at age 64. She’d already made her mark in the world, a professor at Princeton, seven published books. She didn’t have to do this. Why on earth did she do it?

This was the question that I kept returning to as I read the memoir of the years leading up to her achieving an Master of Fine Arts. During this time her last professional book achieved best-selling status and a front page New York Times book review. Her mother died. She had to commute back and forth from Rhode Island to California to take care of her aging father, suffering from depression and loneliness.

Nell endured the alienation from other students who were four decades younger than she. She suffered the put-downs from art teachers who insisted she was not An Artist. “Bullshit,” she said, and kept painting.

She battled her own insecurities in this new way of communication with visual images rather than words. “I had no inkling of how thoroughly art school would instruct me–teach me, challenge my abilities, and question my sanity.”

For a time she divorces herself from the world of words to immerse in the world of images. At the end, she is able to integrate both together into a unified whole.

She DID succeed, and therein lies a message for all of us who are growing older. Life is more than just walking around. There is purpose and meaning to existence, no matter what age one happens to be.

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