I absolutely adore older people. I appreciate their wisdom and life experiences. I teach art classes at retirement communities. I believe art classes can be extraordinarily beneficial for mental and physical well-being—at any age.
When I walk into a classroom and am welcomed by people in their 80s or 90s, I rejoice at the opportunities that lay ahead. As we grow older, our bodies and minds may not function like they used to; some of us may choose to step back and not engage with life as much. Art classes honor what we have experienced and while creating an environment for discovering new prospects. I focus on watercolor classes because they are a perfect match for a variety of skillsets. My students are excited about picking up the brush and watching their creativity take form right in front of them.
Art classes connect the past and present and build future. Let’s see how:
We may work on a still life or a landscape. As class participants engage with the work, their past comes to life. They draw on memories from a long time ago. They may sing a little song about a river famous in their state or they may tell me all about their favorite fruit having grown up on a farm with a large orchard. They reminiscence about favorite places they have visited, family trips, about where they grew up. We talk about painting techniques, but more importantly, we recall positive life experiences turned treasured memories. The class participants feel heard and valued and realize that their past life matters and is of acute importance to their present well-being.
Coming to an art class is an act of courage and compassion to self. Most of my students are picking up the brush for the first time in decades. Some of them have had a bad art class experience; some of them have never even thought about painting as an interest. One of my favorite moments is when a 99-year-old lady told me that I should not judge her artwork too harshly, as she just took up her new hobby last week. Coming to an art class is also an act of compassion to self as residents who may prefer to stick to themselves leave their room or apartment. A few mentioned that they never make art on their own; they are aware of the value of being in a classroom. They put themselves first and show up for an activity that may be totally new to them. Art classes also bring structure to the day. They are something to look forward to, and they build a sense of community and belonging.
People living in retirement communities know each other. They spend time sharing meals; they chat in the halls of their building. But when they sit around the craft table and paint a colorful watercolor, they make plans. “Will you come over to my place later today for tea?” “Oh, what a lovely piece! May I show you the artwork at my room?” “Thanks for letting me know about this. I will be sure to come to this class next time.” These statements are a sign of older individuals actively participating in the shaping of their future. So, really, art is just an amazing vehicle to express oneself creatively and to build a fulfilling life.
I paint daily, and as I get older, I realize the value of creating more and more intensely. In my own process, I find that past and present come together in shaping my future. So, while I may be separated in age from my students, I thoroughly enjoy their own creative journey within the setting of an art class. I believe in creating an environment where people across generations can connect with each other. I believe in bringing smiles to people’s days.
Martina Sestakova has a B.A. in communication from the University of Maryland. She has more than 9 years of experience in intercultural communications (in particular in multinational clinical trials) and has engaged in volunteering in a variety of health care settings. Martina also holds an M.F.A. in fashion design from the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. Today, she is a textile/fashion designer who runs RADOST, LLC and an artist featured at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. Martina teaches art at various institutions and communities across Maryland. If you are interested in working with Martina, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.