art · culture

When Maturity Was Valued

A couple of weeks ago, I gave an abbreviated review of Nasher Museum in Durham, NC. I mentioned in that post that I was considering doing a separate post about a particular exhibit that caught my eye. Well, I had a moment to really process what I saw, and I want to share my thoughts with you here.

I want you all to take a good look at the marble bust below.

This is a bust of a Roman matron, sculpted sometime between 40 and 30 BCE. She’s poised, stately and undeniably mature. The sculptor didn’t attempt to depict this woman as a youthful maiden or an adorable waif. This likeness captured is that of an adult woman, self-possessed and satisfied with her position in life.

What really struck me is the caption next to the bust. The museum described this period of art as being one where “portraits tended toward a realism that valued maturity and experience over idealized youthfulness”.  I looked in awe at this woman that was able to enjoy her maturity being captured in marble and I thought to myself, “When did things change?”

I know that every adult was once young, and there are many beautiful things about youth. But I wonder why we spend so much time idealizing youth, both in art and culture. Is it because the fleeting nature of it is akin to the scarcity factor that fuels the supply/demand concept that we learned so well in those college economics courses? Is it because life’s disappointments make us long for the days before we knew the troubles that laid ahead for us? Is it because we wish for some of the fearlessness that we once knew but had to trade in for the “seriousness” of adulthood?

I’m not exactly sure when youth became the ideal, but I long for a time when we return to reverence for maturity. After all, the average person spends way more years as a mature adult than as an inexperienced youth, and if you have experience, you can make wiser choices that lead to a happier life. Even though I’ve had my share of disappointments and frustration, I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed my 30s far more than my 20s, and once I get to my 40s, I’m sure my life will be even better.

I can’t change an entire culture that worships youth, but I can share this lovely bust with you, and encourage you to see the beauty in being aged, experienced and (hopefully) wise.

That’s it for today. Have a great afternoon, and take care!

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