Art as a way to connect, heal and rediscover in Retirement


Cary Sweeney
September 2022

My grandmother was an artist who started honing her craft later in life. In her 60’s she began going to the local community college for a degree in art, took up pottery and entered into juried art shows.  I remember watching her in her pottery room, next to the washer and dryer, in the moment as she carved at pieces she threw on the wheel. She’d share pieces of the clay with me and my cousins to work into shapes and animals and teach us about the different glazes and the fun of discovering how the colors magically changed when fired in the kiln. It didn’t seem to matter how different the color or shape was from before it was fired to after it was fired, it was about the process of discovering and learning.   

Taking up an art activity, whether at your local community center, creating collages from home, joining a theater or singing group or taking lessons on how to quilt, has a positive impact on your health. The research shows that participating in arts can lead to better cognitive function, memory, self-esteem, reduced stress and increased social interaction.  

The Retirement Center often learns of retirees who with more time on their hands start or pick back up artistic endeavors.  Several years back, retired Public Affairs Journalist and friend Cathy Cockrell produced a series of articles with stories about retirees and their art.  I’m including these below since they are such gems and wonderful stories how art has brought meaning, creativity and purpose to retirees' lives. 

Articles by Cathy Cockrell on stories of UC retiree artists:
Giving ‘Beginner’s Mind’ Free Reign, Patrick Hayashi
Once a fundraiser, always an artist, Nancy Horton
Exploring the world’s beauty from an artist’s perch, Linda Lee Crisostomo
Kissing the Joy as it Flies, Russ Ellis

I think the social connection that comes with art can be so powerful.  It certainly was fun for me, my cousins and grandmother to connect around pottery.  One of us would often come with her to her craft shows and watch her sell her pieces and connect with the admirers of her art. 

Thinking about retirees and art has brought to mind how important quilting is to many retirees. In the resources below is an article about quilting and how it’s good for your health, helps you stay connected and provides purpose. I’ve included a picture below of the quilt that UC retiree Patti Owen made and hangs in the library of Belmont Village Albany, UC affiliated Retirement Community. It is made up of t-shirts from past UC and LBNL events provided by retirees. It’s breathtaking and fun to see out in the world knowing all the people who came together to make it, and the story it tells about the UC community. 

There are many options for art classes and workshops (check out ideas in the “How to Find Your Inner Artist at Any Age” article link below). Whichever you choose, getting taken away by the process rather than the end product can be incredibly rewarding. 

Articles from Next Avenue newsletter about quilting, printmaking and getting in touch with you inner artist:

Article on why it’s never too late to become an artist (article is on website that is selling a service, but content useful nonetheless)

Creativity may be key to healthy aging. Here are ways to stay inspired., Washington Post, July 12, 2021

Publication date: 
September 2, 2022
Publication type: 
Journal Article