Host: Anti-Aging Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey
Guests: Painter Alice Matzkin and Sculptor Richard Matzkin
Broadcast and podcast on webtalkradio.net. The podcast is also on the links below
So much of Americans’ views of aging are negative. For example, in the movie Harold and Maude, the priest tells Harold:
“I would be remiss in my duty if I did not tell you that the idea of intercourse – the act of your firm, young body… comingling with… withered flesh… sagging breasts… and flabby b-b-buttocks… makes me want… to vomit.”
Alice and Richard Matzkin found themselves intimidated by aging but instead of trying to duck it, they sought out seniors to paint and sculpt and it dramatically changed their perspectives on aging and enriched their lives. They documented their painting and sculptures and insights in their book The Art of Aging, and share their experience with us in this interview.
Art is about seeing and experiencing life from a different perspective. I found talking with Alice and Richard brought up a paradox. They were very into accepting aging and our aging bodies–the idea of aging gracefully. They see aging bodies as beautiful. I always disliked the term aging gracefully. I am more of the Dylan Thomas philosophy and his poetic advice:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Some people find aging very disturbing and some take it in stride. Alice and Richard found it disturbing and wrestled with it with brush and chisel. They found painting and sculpting seniors both therapeutic and a self-growth experience. Richard sees many people fearing aging. Now quite comfortable with their aging, they refer to themselves as old. They see wrinkles and sagging skin as a map of well earned character.
My role model is the Energizer Bunny on alkaline batteries. While normal batteries wear out gradually, alkaline batteries last longer and maintain a constant energy level until they die rather quickly. Thus, a youthful mental outlook, a healthy diet, appropriate exercise, supplements, balancing hormones, and possibly even surgery are all part of the arsenal for raging against the dying of the light.
We do want to feel comfortable with our age and aging. We do want to feel comfortable with death. We do want to have our awareness that we all die increase our feelings of the preciousness of life and fully appreciating each moment and experience. Graceful aging, however, suggests going along with the program for aging that our parents and grandparents followed. Just as Alice chose to focus on passionate older women rather than women defeated by aging, I would rather focus on a vision of the best possible aging and focus on vital, healthy centenarian role models for how to do it. Further, I want to factor in both how we are aging much better than our parents’ generation and factor in the technological advances that will help us live decades longer.
So back to the paradox. Should we accept aging and death or should we rage against it? My answer is both. (That’s what paradoxes are about.) Accepting aging and death makes us comfortable in our own skins and our own lives. Pursing a youthful mindset and health practices greatly enhances our lives and lifespans.
I certainly agree that when you sparkle on the inside, it shows on the outside. Passion and integrity outshine wrinkles. It is also true, however, that people do judge a book by its cover and do tend to listen more to and want to be with people who are attractive and have a youthful vigor. Thus accepting aging and raging against aging aren’t mutually exclusive but potentially cumulative.
As you gathered, I think The Art of Aging is a wonderful book and a very unique book. Do check out photos from the book at http://matzkinstudio.com/newsFrame.html. If you like this program, you will also like a previous show I did with artist Amy Gorman who interviewed and wrote a book and did a documentary film on centenarian artists. That show, “How Art Can Help You Age Better,” is archived on www.AgelessLifestyles.com.
The Matzkins photo is courtesy of Donna Granata, Focus on the Masters, Series 2009