In San Francisco this weekend I attended ArtSpan’s Open Studio tour of artists’ spaces and work in the Castro, Noe Valley, and Mission Districts. I had the opportunity to meet with many of the artists and talk to them about their work. These discussions reaffirmed my belief in the transformative and healing powers of creativity, and the important role that artistic expression has in gay aging and adapting to aging with HIV.
Gay themes were present in many works. There were sculptures, paintings and photography that depicted the beauty of the male form. Some of the work was homoerotic, and I thought of gay men’s reminisces of San Francisco in the 1970’s and 80’s when I saw the open, playful sexuality expressed in these pieces. Some of the artists included political statements about HIV or gay rights in their work. And, others were fun and campy reflections of the gay sensibility. When talking with the artists I learned about their craft and the dedication and commitment it takes to master a form and develop a work to completion.
The qualities found in creativity (playfulness, self-expression, empowerment, and mastery) can be utilized for continued growth in adulthood. When we engage in creative pursuits, as professionals or amateurs, we discover new parts of ourselves, engage with our environment in new ways, and express our unique perspective of the world for others to share. We can use our creativity to re-engage in life, to reconnect with forgotten parts of ourselves, to mourn losses or bridge former views of ourselves and experiences of others into the present. As one artist explained, “The work expresses itself through me. I am not sure what the final product will be until it emerges.”
For many gay men, HIV interrupted the flow of life. Caring for yourself and others, grief and anticipating mortality knocked you off course. In order to get back on track you need to review what you have come from, consider where you are, and determine what to take with you as you move into the future. Creative expressions, like painting, sculpture and photography (or music, dance, writing etc.) can free you up to experience yourself in a new way. If you make the time, you may be inspired by what emerges.
Please feel free to share your creative expressions on aging with HIV here or on the community page.