Sunday, 23 January 2011
Britain is a country with a museum called 'The Great North' and an exhibition of the works of old artists celebrating the fruits of old age
"Ageing is the most important subject on the planet," said Tom Kirkwood, Director of Newcastle University's 'Institute of Ageing and Health', which is behind an exhibition at the City's 'Great North Museum: Hancock'.
Called 'Coming of Age' it seeks 'to challenge the negative perceptions about old people in society' by exploring, through art, how and why we age and its effects and to illustrate these things the works of Degas, Renoir and Henry Moore have been drafted in.
We learn that Degas had a progressive retinal eye disease which probably contributed to the wonderfully blurred, hazier backgrounds of his later and better works, including the 'Ballet Dancers'. Arguably, this helped secure his place in art history, with Renoir writing that, had Degas died at 50 he'd be no more than a footnote.
Renoir himself was so affected by rheumatoid arthritis that he couldn't hold a paintbrush in later life. Instead he turned to sculpture and employed a younger artist to form the clay following his instructions, as in the 'Mother and Child' bronze in the exhibition.
Henry Moore's illustrations for 'The Seven Ages of Man' aims to highlight the fact that ageing is a lifelong process that begins in the womb. Another Moore drawing is of the hands of Dorothy Hodgkin, one of Britain's most important scientists, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from the age of 24.
"This idea that you've got to go quietly into a corner at a certain age is dreadful and nonsense," said the show's curator, Lucy Jenkins. "I hope people will take a lot of positives from this show, that we shouldn't fear old age."
With this in mind a video by Jordan Baseman portrays 83 year old eccentric Gordon Rowley, former president of the 'British Cactus and Succulent Society' who maintains a joyful verve for life and living.
Tom has said that : "The way things are going now, the vast majority of us are going to live to a ripe old age and if there has to come a point when you look in the mirror and you don't like what you see that's very undermining for your self-esteem and the quality of your life. This is why art, which can reach in to people and get them to think and respond differently, is so important."
Lucy and Tom said they hoped visitors would leave the exhibition with "more of a spring in their step."
Old men of Britain, apparently 'The Institute for Ageing and Health' is looking out for you by bringing together basic, clinical, social and computer scientists, engineers and researchers to address the increasingly important issues of:
•how and why we age
•the treatment of associated disease and disability
•the support of through-life health, well being and independence