Coming of Age: the art and science of ageing

Described as a ‘dynamic exhibition’ and inspired by Newcastle University Institute of ageing and health’s ‘Changing Age’ campaign, the city’s Great North Museum is bringing together scientific and artistic communities by exploring aspects of ageing and life expectancy by means of an ambitious collection of art. The aim apparently is to challenge negative perceptions about older people in society, using art to explore how and why we age, the effects of ageing and the lives of older people through the eyes of both artists and scientists.

Three artists – Jennie Pedley, Andrew Carnie and Annie Cattrell – have worked with and followed scientists at the University to produce original works for the show. There are paintings by Degas (who had a progressive retinal eye disease in his 30’s, and Renoir who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and in later life could no longer hold a paintbrush. Henry Moore’s illustrations for The Seven Ages of Man is in the exhibition, highlighting the fact that ageing is a life long process which begins in the womb.

And many other artists are represented.

Tom Kirkwood, director of the Institute, claims that ageing is the most important subject on the planet and although one might want to challenge the statement, clearly his argument that the fact that we are living longer has enormous implications is irrefutable. Interviewed by The Guardian last week, Kirkwood goes on to say that the vast majority of us are going to live to ‘a ripe old age’. He says that if we get to the point, when we look in the mirror, that we don’t like what we see, it’s very undermining to our self-esteem and the quality of our life, an experience common I imagine to many of us, and one not easily resolved!!

The exhibition is built around three themes of biology, frailty and vitality.

Kirkwood and the show’s curator , Lucy Jenkins, hope that people will leave the exhibition(open to the beginning of March) with ‘more of a spring in their step’, taking with them a lot of positives from the show and more able to lessen the fear of old age.

It all sounds an excellent enterprise and I wish Newcastle wasn’t so far from Bath. Perhaps the exhibition will travel. The Institute have their own website.