It's now or never

Are you one of those people whose parents said: No you are not going to study art, you are going to become a lawyer, or an engineer, or an accountant?

Well, you are one of many in the world. So being the obedient child that you are (were), you did what was expected from you. And ever since, you’ve done some Sunday painting in a corner at home or you’ve visited galleries with long eyes and a funny sense of missing out in life. The people who discouraged you were right, and they were wrong. It IS difficult to establish yourself as an artist and make yourself heard and seen in a world overly saturated with visual images, information and an abundance of artists who want to MAKE IT out there. You have to be an entrepreneur whilst trying to be the next William Kentridge.

But those people were also wrong, since being born with a creative soul is not going to go away. You can suppress it for as long as you want, but it’s going to raise its neck time and again. And make you feel frustrated. Many professionals in careers other than art, start looking seriously at art practice later in life.

So before I say something about this, I want to ask whether you know that Robert Hodgins only became an established artist at the age of 61? A short bio on Hodgins from SA History Online states the following: “Robert Hodgins was born on 27 June 1920 in Dulwich, London. In 1938, he immigrated to South Africa, and joined the Union Defense Force in 1940. In the Second World War, he served in Kenya until 1941, then in Egypt until 1944. During the same year he returned to England and was discharged after the end of the war in 1945. From 1947-1950, Hodgins studied part-time and from 1950-53, he studied full-time at the Goldsmith's College of` Art, University of London. He first studied teaching, and then art. In 1951, he obtained an Arts and Crafts Certificate, and in 1953 a National Diploma of Design, the equivalent a major in painting. He returned to South Africa in 1954. Between 1954-62 he taught painting and drawing at the Pretoria Technical College, and from 1962-66 he worked as a journalist, art critic and then Assistant Editor of Newsweek. As senior lecturer he taught at the Department of Fine Art of the University of the Witwatersrand from 1966 to 1983. Thereafter he painted full-time. Despite having exhibited since the early 1950s, it was until 1981 when he was properly recognised. … Hodgins has exhibited extensively in South Africa, London, France, the United States and Netherlands for over six decades.

His work is currently on exhibition at Goodman Gallery in South Africa, entitled A Sense of place - On 10 May, Hodgins’s Out Shopping sold for R500 000. (Lot 653 | Robert Hodgins | SOUTH AFRICAN | 1920-2010 | Out Shopping | signed and inscribed with the title on the reverse | oil on canvas | 91.5 by 122cm excluding frame.

Let's consider international French artist Louise Bourgeois: She worked professionally as an artist until the ripe old age of 99. The Art of Louise Bourgeois. She was a second-generation surrealist and feminist sculptor and one of the most important American artists of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Bourgeois used her art as catharsis and the main force behind her work was to deal with her troubled childhood memories.

Jackson Mbhazima Hlungwani (1923 - 2010) from Gazankulu produced art until the age of 87. His father was a Shangaan migrant worker who taught him how to carve household objects, sharpen tools and work with iron. Until his death, Hlungwani produced such functional objects, in the sense of functional African art, as well as 'sculpture' in the Western-European sense of the word. Hlungwani’s work was first exhibited in the Tributaries exhibition held in Johannesburg in 1985, after which he travelled to Germany and later Japan to show his sculptures. In 1989 his work was exhibited in The Neglected Tradition, a retrospective curated by Steven Sack, which was held in Newtown, Johannesburg, making Hlungwani a recognised name in the South African art scene. In 1995, his work was shown at the first Johannesburg Biennale. After years of poverty and socio-economic difficulties, his recognition came when he was in his sixties.

Jackson Hlungwani, Adam and the birth of Eve (1985-1989).

So what does this tell us? It’s never too late to seriously start making art. Sometimes things happen later. How will you do this? First of all, through a mind shift that being creative - productively creative - makes the world a better place and you a nicer person. Secondly, that for once and for all you have to put your art first. Thirdly, realising that you can actually earn money through your art.

After the mind shift, you need to realise that it takes very hard work to become an artist. You have to produce all the time; you have to network all the time; and you have to stay informed and learn all the time.

To be an artist is very much an all of nothing situation: either you don’t make enough art, or your work does not have a niche, or it does not speak to the world of today; or it is a success, including an economic success. It's up to you.

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