The magnetic pull of the new, the fresh, the undiscovered is a relentless force in the arts. The ceaseless quest for the next big thing propels youth to the fore, and tips any assessment of artistic merit heavily in favour of the fresh of face. Witness the endless awards and accolades heaped on the young and the beautiful – Granta’s Young British Novelists and the BBC’s Sound Of… list to name but two.
But the desire to be creative needn’t wane with age. Picasso was producing some of his most daring works in his 80s. At similar ages poet Edwin Morgan was guesting on Idlewild albums and jazz musician Humphrey Lyttleton was helping out Radiohead. Leonard Cohen is perhaps more revered now as an octogenarian as he ever has been. By ignoring those who continue to be creative into later life, or indeed those who for whatever reason couldn’t take up artistic activity any younger, we not only do the artists themselves a disservice, we ourselves are missing out on the singular perspective that wisdom and age can bring.
So Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival, which takes place this month, is not so much a token nod to older generations, but a sign of a country that can confidently celebrate and acknowledge artistic endeavour wherever and whenever it arises.
There’s no stronger evidence of the importance of creativity in ageing and survival than the Academy Award winning short that is one of the film features at this year’s festival. The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life is a documentary about 109 year old holocaust survivor and pianist, Alice Herz Sommer. Showing at cinemas across Scotland, it is paired in a double bill with Advanced Style, a look at seven New York ladies aged between 62 and 95 who defy conventional Western attitudes to ageing with their exquisite personal fashion sense. Other films on show as part of the festival include Love Is Strange, the tale of couple Ben and George, who after 39 years together take advantage of the change in the law to get married.
Theatre performance is another feature of the festival and among the shows touring Scotland for Luminate is Smokies, a sinister, wordless story of two elderly spinsters seeking love in a remote fishing community, told by Solar Bear Theatre. Love Letters Straight From Your Heart is another take on romantic pursuits, as audience members are invited to share tributes to lovers either long lost or current in a show that is part wedding reception, part wake, part radio dedication show. Dance is one art form that might wrongly be considered off limits to older people because of its sheer physicality, but even this preconception is thrown to the wind by J O U R N E Y, a dance collaboration between 88-year-old dancer Alphea Pouget and the 32-year-old Belgian choreographer Koen de Preter.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, musical tribute is being paid as the Red Road Flats, spared Commonwealth Games notoriety, finally bite the dust. The Red Road Young ‘Uns (average age 75) will be seeing them off with songs, stories and sketches to jog a few memories. Exhibitions and literature events (including at both the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Scottish Poetry Library) also feature heavily in the programme. Also in Glasgow, Vanishing Point Theatre Company explore the process of ageing in the dreamlike Tomorrow at Tramway, also part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.
Luminate may be a ‘creative ageing’ festival, but the depth and breadth of events place the emphasis firmly on ‘creative’. When it comes to art, age should be incidental.