Artists are like wine, they improve with age

By Kathy Hughes

Twitter: @KathyGoLightlyy

Illustration by Julia Nowak for Why Magazine

I’ve been thinking a lot about my age recently – twenty-six is young, twenty-six is full of life, expectation, ambition, anticipation – you’re past the dreadful clutches of puberty, the struggles of the sultry late teens and the wild early twenties. You’ve figured out what you like, who you like, and how you damn well like it. You’ve got this shit down! Then why is it that specialised ‘young people’s’ arts grants end at twenty-five? Why is it that now I have passed that quarter milestone (still absolutely, exclusively, youthful) am I suddenly viewed as unable to have a good idea, to make something original or creative? – I am, according to these people, no longer young.

The Roundhouse, one of London’s most celebrated arts centres supporting young people in the arts, does near to nothing for those past twenty-five. They aren’t alone either with a vast array of similar organisations attaching the majority of their opportunities to those under twenty-five. What these institutions offer, I am aware is dictated primarily by the funding they receive, which in the current climate is harder to get, and even more difficult to implement into your organisation.The Roundhouse, and the many charitable organisations in the arts sector that support emerging talent, are wonderful assets to the community, who support the work of young people and the promotion of the arts, but it makes me wonder what the arts will become when the older (in this case, merely the slightly wrinkled and withered twenty-six and upwards) creators are unable to be a part of these industries without the opportunities. Do we have just seven years after leaving school to practise, mould and complete our craft? Then what … are we done?

Even Intern Magazine; a wonderful publication that challenges the exploitation of free labour, will not commission an article from anyone who has been out of education for longer than two years (they check too)! This makes me very sad, considering that those affected by exploitation in the form of internships are often individuals slightly older, who realise they need to do an unpaid internship to keep up with the competitive university leavers (the ones the magazine will publish), panting at their tails in this brutal job market. Unpaid labour is unacceptable in all instances, and a magazine that shines a light on it is doing a great thing, but placing an age limit on those who are able to say they have been affected by it seems to be a contradiction of the problem itself.

                                                             "APPARENTLY, AT TWENTY-SIX I SHOULD HAVE FULLY EMERGED"

                                                             "APPARENTLY, AT TWENTY-SIX I SHOULD HAVE FULLY EMERGED"

In a world where adults worship the young, how do we stop ourselves from feeling past it, like we should step aside to make way for those younger, fitter specimens? Does it point to the idea of children being the future getting a little out of hand? Tim Lott explains this perfectly in his article for The Guardian in May 2016:  

“The most important shift in power in the last few generations is the welcome historical movement away from men towards women. It may be that the shift in power from parents towards children is part of the same phenomenon. But this worship of children does seem to be bordering on the perverse to me – much as I adore my own."

Lott confesses his attitude to this topic is a “trifle sour”, but why should he? Why should he feel that his exploration of these themes, his suggestion that this worship of the young is anything but justified? Because we live in a world where he is right, we have become worshipers of youth, beauty and innocence. All I can think when I see a small child sat on the tube is ‘YOU GET UP FOR ME, BABY!’ Perhaps that makes me sour, or am I merely reacting to society pushing me into old age before my time?

Take a look at Daphne Selfe, one of the world’s oldest models, having worked in the industry since 1949 (start feeling really bad about your young self!). Everything about her screams life, health, ambition – she is the perfect example of a young-society’s rebel. She might not be entitled to cheap theatre tickets or a young person's railcard but then neither am I, sixty-two years her junior … It’s a really depressing thought when it absolutely shouldn’t be – even more depressing are the hundreds of ‘emerging’ artist’s grants I will no longer be allowed to apply for. Apparently, at twenty-six I should have fully emerged

While I’m trying not to swear under my breath at children on public transport, roll my eyes at the X-factor babies, or weep a little at the fact that I am now too old to compete in Britain’s Next Top Model, I am trying to search for the opportunities that are inclusive of all ages, races, and genders – everyone in society. It’s a tall order, and really it shouldn’t be, but I refuse to listen to anyone who says this time is not my time. I refuse to be as good as dead (or at least retired) at twenty-six.