With just a little effort, seniors are discovering the artist within

For many, the paintings and drawings they created in school are a distant memory. Life takes over, you earn a living and raise a family, and that creative spark is long forgotten.

Evelyn Brand

Yet everyone has within them a pool of creativity; it’s just a matter of finding it and tapping into it. “I think that everybody from a very young age has a need and ability to create, and I think that’s universal,” said San Francisco art gallery owner George Krevsky.

Krevsky, 70, recently gave a lecture at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek. It was supposed to be about how seniors can go about “Discovering the Artist Within” and even though there was a slight mix-up in topics, the talk still included an exhibit of artwork by the elderly residents of the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville.

In an interview a short time after the lecture, Krevsky said the best way for seniors to discover their artistic side is to make a commitment to create.

Ruth Janger

“You start with whatever it is: painting, drawing, singing in the shower, singing in a chorus. Then you discover that you love it and want to do it more,” Krevsky said. “Perhaps you get a teacher or mentor, but you just start doing it.

“You volunteer to read your poetry at an open reading or have an open studio. You could clean out the back of your garage, get the canvas, get the paint, and just start moving stuff around — it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. You have to look inside yourself, because that’s where it really is.”

Krevsky cited beat generation icon Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose paintings are often shown at Krevsky’s gallery, as someone who discovered late in life that he could paint.

“People will walk into my gallery and say, ‘I didn’t know Ferlinghetti was an artist. I always thought he was a poet or book publisher,’ ” Krevsky said. “He’s very clear about keeping the different careers apart, but he’s a very fine visual artist. He continues to create at the age of 90.”

George Krevsky

Nurturing the artist within can have a positive affect on one’s outlook, said Betty Rothaus, the director of art programs at the Reutlinger Community in Danville. Rothaus has taught art to seniors for 19 years and has seen the impact creating has on their quality of life.

“It offers purpose, challenges, growth and hope,” she said. “Their accomplishments bring new self esteem and a sense of respect and camaraderie grows among the participants. It extends their realm of living.”

In a booklet called “Embracing Art and Aging,” Rothaus wrote: “Creativity exists in our spirit, and as we age, this intangible part of ourselves can remain vital and alive. Our creative spirit has the ability to mature and, at the same time, remain ageless.”

To facilitate creativity in her students, many who haven’t painted or drawn before, Rothaus helps the residents tap into their inner artist by providing feedback and advice.

“I have a lot of inspiring material in the room, a lot of visual motivational material. I talk with the residents about their interests,” she said. “We need to find some kind of starting point — they may change their mind as to what they want to work on in terms of subject, media or approach, but we start with something and it grows and evolves. The art process then takes over and guides them.”

Some of the Reutlinger residents under Rothaus’ tutelage first have to overcome negativity.

Evelyn Brand, 78, for example, had to move beyond some roadblocks planted in her youth before she was able to discover her creativity.

“Butterfly” (above) by Ruth Janger is a watercolor on paper, and “Encounter” (below) by Evelyn Brand is pastel on acrylic ground.

“I thought I wouldn’t have any talent for art because of negative feedback from schoolteachers, but I was surprised myself that I am able do it and am working on my third painting,” she said.

Now Brand even wants to exhibit one of her paintings in the Art With Elders show, a public exhibition in November that includes works by elderly artists from around the Bay Area. “It was nice to know that my teach-er felt it was good enough to be entered. It makes me very proud,” she said.

Another Reutlinger resident, Ruth Janger, did some painting and drawing throughout her life, but with the assistance of Rothaus, she is creating more than ever — at age 98.

“I have the most wonderful instructor — she can bring things out that you didn’t even know you had regarding color and form,” Janger said. “You can do a lot of things you didn’t think you could do with a person like Betty to help you. Painting has become fun, not a chore or anything. I’ve enjoyed this so much and I never knew that I had any talent.”

Janger said she enjoyed Krevsky’s lecture (which ended up being mostly about his career as a gallery owner) and found it inspiring. “I thought the lecture was excellent. I was really grateful that I could be there,” she said. “No matter how old you are, you can always find some quality of life that keeps you going and makes you happy.”

Krevsky agrees, and the message he wants to give the world is to find your inner artist and let it be your guide.

“Don’t let your brain get in the way and don’t be afraid to let your emotions come out in your art,” he said. “With art, follow your eye and your heart.”