My studio mate Norbert Marszalek, a wonderful artist, and a thoughtful blogger with strong opinions, has a post "40 Years Old and Still Waiting to Emerge" in which he questions the definition of what is an emerging artist. I'm 60 years old and just emerging. Norbert references Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker contrasting the lives and achievements of precocious artists versus late bloomers.
I think that there has been way, way too much emphasis in our culture on youthful precocity. I consider myself to be a late-bloomer, even though I knew I wanted to be an artist from when I was seven or eight, went to art schools to study art, design, painting and drawing, getting a BA and an MFA. But after obtaining that MFA at the crest of the baby-boom and futile attempts to find a teaching position at art departments in universities and colleges nation-wide, I wandered off the art-path to search for a career. Never found a career but found a good day job, one with real benefits, health insurance etc.
But five years ago, I got the itch and issued a challenge to myself; I wanted to know if I was still capable of making art. I bought 100 sheets of 18x24" watercolor paper, some colored pencils, an oil painting starter set. I decided that I would know after those 100 pieces of paper were painted if I was an artist, capable of continuing. I only got to 70 but I knew that I was "back."
The main difference between myself as the younger artist and now is that I'm not waiting for the big ideas, not worrying about "being" an artist. I make art. I have a discipline now that I never had when I was younger because I spent and wasted a whole lot of time worrying about the big idea. I have discovered that for me the making of art is a process, not a big idea. I have discovered that the big ideas come only after the making of the art. For me art is a making not a thinking.
Which isn't to say that I don't think. I have a mental process in which I am making a thousand million decisions about what to do and where to put my hand with the pencil or brush. But it is a process that is as unself-conscious as I can do. I have learned to then sit and look and think. I know have a whole mental vocabulary of analytical tools in my head that I never had 30 years ago.
None of this answers Norbert's question, which goes to recognition. Like Norbert, I resent and question the attention that is given to super-stars just out of their MFA programs at the age of 25 or 30. They haven't lived much of an artistic inner life of making and thinking. And there is the frustration of finding our audience, our customers, our own recognition.