I just attended a solo exhibition of new work by the artist Phyllis Thelen, who turned 95 this year. While she has been an exhibiting artist all her life, her first solo museum show happened at the age of 87 and her first retrospective came at the age of 94. She keeps making new work that extends and deepens her central theme: “defending, protecting, and celebrating nature.”
Thelen’s success provides a useful reminder for the many mid-career artists who wonder if it too late to find their place, too late to become known or to achieve their goals as an artist. Making art can last you a lifetime, but it happens gradually, in stages, and moving forward takes incredible persistence and resilience. It also means thinking about the overall shape of your career.
There are times when you need to get ready, to prepare yourself for visibility. You get better at presenting your work, talking about it, and writing about it.
There are times when you need to grow your skills and knowledge. As a result of the pandemic the online courses for artists available now are remarkably diverse in terms of subject matter and quality. You can take advantage of all these offerings.
There are times when you need to build your confidence. To keep growing you have to experiment and take risks with your work, and you also face your own fears of failure and fears of success. You can create a supportive community to help you navigate these difficult challenges, so you don’t feel so alone.
At nearly every stage of your career, you have to become more comfortable being uncomfortable in order to grow.
We can look to our elder artists to see if the struggle is worth it.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D
Career & Life Coach for Artists
“Left Brain Skills for Right Brained People”
As an artist coach, I bring a unique combination of business knowledge, art world experience, and professional coaching skill to my practice.