Golden Inspirations: Margaret Keane

By Katie Gilbert

close up of paint brushes on abstract painting

What is the activity that brings you the most joy? Motivational speakers have been going up on stage asking this question to audiences for years as people fidget uncomfortably in their seats realizing they don't know the answer to that question yet.

For Margaret Keane, that passion is painting and she was fortunate enough to find the activity at an early age. At 89, she continues to paint and share her art around the world, including in the halls of the United Nations. Remarkably, what many are learning this month, is that she had to fight for her passion.

Early Career

Starting as a housewife, Margaret painted in a cramped studio while letting her con-artist husband take credit for all of her artwork. She became the passionate artist behind the "big eyes" paintings but unfortunately,  not as far as the public was concerned. Thanks to the simple signature of "Keane," her husband was able to take credit for her work for the duration of their decade long marriage.

While he was boisterous and personable, selling Margaret’s big-eyed paintings to anyone and everyone, Margaret sat in her confined studio painting. That is until she fled to Honolulu with her daughter, Jane, later going on public record in a radio show segment stating who the real artist was behind the Keane paintings. The announcement helped her reclaim her passion from her husband. 

Margaret, now in her bay area home, continues to paint everyday and has inspired a new Tim Burton film titled "Big Eyes." 

Art Can Promote Healthy Aging

When Margaret first started painting, she may have stumbled upon something that would help her as she advanced in age. It has been said that "art can help people to review their lives [and act as therapy] by creating and then reflecting on what [people] have made... and when old age brings losses of people, of home, of health, of mobility..making art can enrich lives and can even lift the weight of depression." 

Senior citizens can find mental and creative release in the practice of art as Margaret has. If art is not your thing, you can alternatively try to find something else that can make you light up the way Margaret does when she talks about painting. 

Go back to the question: what is the activity that bring you the most joy? When we begin to advance in age, passion is still at our core - it never goes way. Even more so, that passion can help promote longevity and healthy aging. Research has shown that finding joy and optimism through our favorite activities really does reap tons of benefits, including the following:  

  • Confidence even in the face of obstacles

  • Inspiration and persistence

  • Reduce stress and improved health

  • Enhance relationships

You can see the benefits passion has reaped for Margaret in her everyday enthusiasm. Even after the film's production, Margaret continues to paint without seemingly realizing the prolific body of work she has produced. She still has not stopped doing what she loves to do even at the age of 89.

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Katie Gilbert author bio

Tags: Golden Inspirations

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