Some of the greatest artists of our time faced limitations as they grew older. Claude Monet had cataracts. He continued painting. Pierre-Auguste Renoir had rheumatoid arthritis. He had assistants place his brush in his hand. Edgar Degas had macular degeneration. He turned to sculpture so he could rely on his sense of touch. As their experience shows, you can't always choose to be healthy, but you can choose how you respond to changes in health.
In each case, these artists continued to make contributions to our culture that are treasured on their own terms, not just as triumphs over adversity. Although these artists had vastly different temperaments, their reactions display a series of common themes that are instructive to us all as we grow older:
- Acceptance. Monet, Renoir, and Degas accepted their infirmities, though they did not necessarily accept them as inevitable. In each case, they tried to find ways to alleviate their condition. After much deliberation, Monet decided to undergo cataract operations, even though they were at the time a risky procedure that could leave a patient virtually blind. Fortunately, they were successful.
- Perseverance. As people get older they find that perseverance, which once required strength and rigidity, now requires flexibility and a willingness to consider new options. Renoir suffered from arthritis for more than 30 years, yet he was able to continue working because he adjusted his style, adopting a less detailed and freer approach. Monet's brush strokes became bolder and his colors more striking. And Degas turned to pastels, rather than paint. These artists didn't become any less demanding of themselves; they just made different demands.
- Resourcefulness. Monet, Renoir, and Degas went on working despite their limitations because they valued the experience they gained over a lifetime. Monet and Degas, for instance, didn't have to see their subjects because they had long ago mastered the art of painting from memory. In other words, they found that they had gained skills over time that provided some compensation for the losses they suffered and that allowed them to pursue their creative dreams. That's an approach that's available to us all.