Do Artists Ever Retire?

And how could we afford to?
Photo: James Martin, Europe Travel
The picture above is an example of my dream retirement home. Many years ago, while visiting Holland, I did a self-guided walking tour of the almshouses of Leiden . Now, this was long before the tiny house trend, but the model of modest, communal yet self-contained living called to me loud and clear. Here's a more modern example: Harmoniehof in Amsterdam.

On Monday, I met a writer friend, Jacqueline Pearce, for lunch. One of the things we talked about was the situation we find ourselves in as older-middle-aged creative women. We are seeing our contemporaries beginning to retire, to go to Mexico for long stints in the winter, to take those trips they have always longed to do. Jacquie and I agreed that we couldn't see that kind of lifestyle in our future.

One of the many good things about being an artist is that making things is something I want to do until the day I die. And, we have lots of great examples before us of artists who have continued creating into their 90's - in spite of physical limitations. And many of us are used to living on a pittance so the possibility of a severely reduced income isn't such a shock.

James (who dreams of a tiny houses, or, god forbid, a motorhome) was asking me to envisage my perfect retirement dwelling. I, of course instantly replied, "An almshouse like the ones I saw in Holland, but for creative people. Instead of a governor's meeting room, we could have a studio. We could garden, and would be shielded from the noise and bustle of the street." Sounds ideal, doesn't it? We would just need to find a patron...


  1. I find myself surrounded by women who jaunt off to Italy or Istanbul for a "nice break", go to the Caribbean for a few months, or to the States quite often to "take a workshop"they blithely suggest expensive restaurants for meetings, mail orders of millions of yards of wool and silk, and look at me like i have a third nostril when i say the word "budget". Few of them have ever really worked a day in their lives (docenting and partial ownership of an art gallery don't count as Real Jobs in my books)---when i win the lottery, i want this and i will have all my realpeople friends who know the value of a hard earned dollar as guests for anything textile related!

  2. I don't think real artists even consider stopping making work. By real artists I just mean those of us who have made our creative work central, prioritising it regardless of whether we sell it or not.

    What on earth would I do if I stopped making stuff? Even when I wasn't a visual artist I cooked and knitted and wrote a book and many short stories, had articles published. Creative drive can be expressed in many ways but I don't think it will ever go away, nor would I want it to.

    The almshouses look nice and I really like the idea of the supportive community, but I suspect I'd prefer the motor home!

  3. Anonymous5:55 PM

    I know the finances of most artists in Canada, and many other countries, is very meager. Living on a budget ALL the time is the norm. There aren't many ways for artists to put aside some savings away for the later years. The one advantage, as you say, is that most artists have already picked up amazing life skills in being resourceful. They know how to stretch a dollar to its utmost length long before most other people. I would suggest though, that artists aren't the only group with worries about retirement. The entire social contract between business/government and the citizen is being re-written. Company pension plans have largely vanished, government continues to wiggle out of supporting us in our older years by raising the retirement age and reducing aid to pharmacare (in Canada) etc.... Many, many other groups of workers will be joining artists' super-economical lifestyles. On top of that, ridiculously over-priced housing in many of Canada's largest cities isn't helping. Yup, I don't think many of us will be able to afford the traditional idea of retirement very soon. There will always be some with the money to head south to escape the cold winters I suppose but most of us will be all together in the same basket, making stone soup.

  4. Old Man Crow & I will work til we die, the good thing is we like it!
    we garden to pay the rent and put food inthe bellies each week, make art and music to feed our souls, it's a life what else could we do, we're old already!

  5. Great post, Heather.

    I think about these kinds of things a lot - mostly in regard to all the stuff I have collected that has to do with my art making.

    I also wonder how long my body will allow me to keep on making.

    Best not to think about these things perhaps, and just get on with it.


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