Walking With The Elder: Present, Past and Future.
I spent my college summers working with master artists & makers all over India. I learnt way more about myself, the world and life in those few days than “school.” I left feeling inspired, supported and armed with new skills.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve traveled to 45+ countries learning from “creative elders.” It was always hard for me to find them and for them to share their knowledge. It dawned on me: we have a wealth of knowledge going to waste.
Adult education, work and society are failing us. We need better guides. What if everyone could tap into the wisdom of our “creative elders”? So, I traveled for a year to 12 countries and created Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA). Here’s my guest post.
Wrinkles, grey hairs, varicose veins, slow shaky movements…such signs of ageing may cause discomfort. We may fear old age catching us in its grip, we may pity those already afflicted. But in various cultures across the globe (more frequently in the East) there are perspectives on old age that are quicker to recognize the magic beyond what is only skin deep.
Rather than only seeing frailty, we may recognize slower movements and odd trembles as indications of deep power; brilliant fireworks carefully contained within temporary vessels. Skin becomes a star-like codex. Purple-green rivers rise to the surface with memories ebbing, flowing. Our elders make an important contribution to our world as guides. And many possess knowledge that may now be slipping away.
The archetypal ‘elder’ is one we’re all familiar with. Fantasy often conveys the potential of the elder’s guiding abilities through wise wizards. The elder has one foot planted firmly in reality, and one in the mystical unseen. Knowing life’s trials and tribulations, on the practical ‘horizontal axis’, grants a bird’s eye view perspective, enabling greater movement on the transcendental, or ‘vertical axis’. Their balanced presence can be a restorative bridge to what really matters, in a world so fast-paced we are easily disoriented.
The opportunity to live and learn alongside an elder, presents itself perfectly in the form of an apprenticeship. “I don’t know how to draw or engrave or paint, and yet this mini-apprenticeship was so gratifying.” Complete beginner Julie, said of her French printmaking VAWAA with Gerard. Gerard not only opened up his studio, he opened up another world. From the Musee Guimet to “soak in an exhibit on Japanese woodblock masters” to sketching along the Seine. After years of practice, Gerard’s craft is deeply woven into his daily life. Julie’s introduction to printmaking was a truly immersive one, “in the presence of a master”.
Whatever craft you’re drawn to can almost be personified as a wise and balanced elder. Discipline and precision leads to the creation of something beautiful, fantastical even, that sparks imagination and gives way to new dreams. Through the meditative benefits of mandala weaving, the spiritual mysticism of ebru painting, the precision required for wet plate collodion photography; we embark on an illuminating quest.
Even when embarking on a contemporary quest, we can still feel the echoes of ancestors. “Prior to my VAWAA experience I was intimidated to paint a mural but with Pum Pum's help I realized how approachable and enjoyable painting a mural can be.” VAWAA guest, Amy, said of her street art experience. We’ve been painting on walls since the beginning of our story. When Amy boldly painted on the streets of Buenos Aires, she was carrying forward the oldest artistic tradition, in new form and color.
This exchange between the old and the new can be a deeply personal one. Elena Kanagy-Loux, is a celebrated lacemaker and TikToker. Her craftwork keeps her Amish ancestors close. “I grew up in a very needlework heavy environment, it was very traditional.” From learning bobbin lacing in Slovenia, to spending approximately 300 hours making a lace collar for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena’s elders have been by her side.
By looking back and grounding ourselves with tactile crafts, we’re also preparing for the future. Be it our personal future, or a collective vision. The inner and outer will mirror each other. Becoming an elder is not simply growing old. It takes intention, acquiring new experiences, discovering new pathways. We too can become walking mosaics, so that we may be those important, restorative bridges for generations to come.
Geetika Agrawal is Founder and CEO at Vacation with An Artist (VAWAA). Prior to VAWAA, she was a Creative Director at R/GA, New York leading product and experience design teams for brands like Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Mastercard, and AARP.