Before my 82-year-old mother, Barbara Diamond, discovered her passion for drawing in Joan Beyer’s painting class at Kleinlife, she was stuck at home all day while the rest of my family, now part of the sandwich generation, left for work. Most of her days were spent doing everyone’s laundry, cleaning, and doing cooking prep-work.
Two years ago, when my parents had to sell their house and move in with us, my depressed mom, who had lost a great deal of weight and stopped cooking altogether, discarded her paintings that were done while watching a weekly TV painting show.
“That chapter of my life is over,” said Mom, who lost the desire to paint.
It took two years before my mom was ready to enroll in her first art class. It seems like she has been drawing her whole life, but really she just started. It is exciting to watch as a new chapter in her life unfolds.
In his book, “The Creative Age,” geriatric psychiatrist Gene Cohen, PhD, says that “the creative spirit has the power to change lives at any age.” Beyer’s class has awakened that spirit in all of her students.
Creating art is more than busy work to fill your days. Experts agree that tapping into your passions has the capacity to actually reverse the aging process, whether you are one of Beyer’s youngest students age 46 or one of her oldest students 90-years-old. Seniors are tapping into the vibrancy of youth, challenging themselves to learn, grow, and evolve.
As artists paint, draw, or create, they are imbued with a passion that transcends space and time, transporting them to another place, one filled with possibilities. Just ask Naomi Gartman who has discovered that painting is a wonderful way to escape from all the problems of the world.
“Whenever I want to relax or absorb myself, I start an art project,” she explained. “It is a way to destress and block out all the ugly parts of life.”
Two Kleinlife students Diedre Stein-Cole and Robin Zager started painting two years ago. Stein-Cole began painting flowers and landscapes and now is tackling painting people. When this determined mom couldn’t find greeting cards with the right message, she began hand painting wedding and birthday cards with her own personalized message. Along the way, she discovered that she enjoys the process of creating art almost as much as the finished product.
Zager eagerly looks forward to each project. “I liked it right away,” said 64- year-old Zager, who signed up with a group of friends. “Even if I started a painting but never finished, I still enjoyed the process.”
Beyer individualizes learning so that each student can work on a different project. “We are inspired to do our best and explore various techniques,” said Gartman. “You want to keep trying, keeping pushing the envelope, so each time you try a little harder becoming more ambitious.”
When Beyer started 12-15 years ago, she always set up still lifes because she didn’t want her students to simply copy a picture, until she realized that people have different interests and they just need something to begin from, especially for emerging artists.
Now Beyer opens a huge box and allows students to select the subject matter for their next picture. Then she leaves them alone for a little while to begin to reproduce it in their own way.
“Once I see them starting to work, I will show the person individually how to apply various techniques to make their work better,” Beyer said, explaining her process. “Each time you want to expand their horizons a little bit. It’s wonderful to have a 90% retention rate. I feel like I know people over and above what’s going on in class.”
My mom has become very fond of her teacher.
“I love Joan. She is a great teacher, very patient. When Joan pushes me to do new things, she always says: ‘Now I’m going to drive you crazy.’”
In Beyer’s painting class, she allows my mom to draw with pastels. For my mom, it is more than about applying color to paper. Beyer’s class has opened up a universe of possibilities that Mom has yet to discover.
“Being at this art show feels like a dream. I never thought that my work was good enough to be framed and put in a show.”