The Midlife Crisis of Contemporary Art

Recognizable in youth, overlooked in middle age, re-emerging with age. Sound familiar? You might just be an artist.

A friend once lamented to me that aging brings an unsettling invisibility, particularly in the eyes of the opposite sex. With each passing year, he felt increasingly unseen. But as he recently shared with me, there’s something even more disconcerting than being unseen – being noticed for all the wrong reasons. Suddenly, he found himself the recipient of offers for seats on public transport, a reminder of his perceived elderliness. Seen in youth, unseen in middle age, seen again with age – does this cycle resonate with you? If so, you might belong to the artistic community.

In recent years, the contemporary art world has made strides towards inclusivity, shedding light on underrepresented artists from various backgrounds. While this shift towards diversity is commendable, there remains a glaring absence – a demographic left behind.

For emerging artists, the art world brims with possibilities. Yet, as artists age and their careers progress, they often encounter obstacles. Those who once basked in the limelight may find themselves relegated to the sidelines, their work deemed outdated or lacking the novelty prized by today’s market.

This phenomenon isn’t difficult to grasp. Many artists establish their aesthetic or conceptual territory early on, only to find themselves making incremental variations or bold stylistic changes later on. Yet, the market’s fixation on brand recognition often stifles innovation. Meanwhile, a new generation of artists emerges, their ideas perceived as culturally relevant, adorned with the allure of youth.

For mid-career artists, this limbo presents a formidable challenge. Their work may be deemed too recent or familiar for acclaim, yet not old enough to be celebrated anew. If they manage to secure exhibitions, they often find themselves overlooked by critics. For many, the transition from youthful promise to mid-career stability proves elusive, with some resorting to teaching roles or exiting the system altogether.

This process is particularly challenging for women artists, who face entrenched sexism and societal pressures regarding appearance. The art world’s preoccupation with youth and novelty further compounds these challenges, perpetuating a cycle of invisibility for mid-career artists.

However, it hasn’t always been this way. The likes of Willem de Kooning and Barnett Newman achieved acclaim later in life, their success the result of years of artistic exploration and refinement. While their experiences may be romanticized, they offer a stark contrast to the current state of affairs.

To effect change, we must challenge prevailing norms and advocate for a more inclusive art world. By recognizing the value of experience and embracing diverse forms of artistic expression, we can ensure that no artist is left behind.

As we contemplate the future of contemporary art, let us remember the artists who continue to create, innovate, and inspire, regardless of age or recognition. Let us champion their resilience and celebrate their contributions to the rich tapestry of artistic expression.

In solidarity, Lana Evanova