It all started with Agnes Varda, who was the first and only female French New Wave director, and who, at the age of 80, wrote and directed The Beaches of Agnes—a whimsical portrait of a life lived on the highwire of creativity. Nothing stopped this woman from making movies and taking on the joy of being human—not raising children, not the whims of critics, not the slow dying of her husband, not the decrepitude of the aging human body. “At one screening [of The Beaches of Agnes],” Varda said, “there was a young man, maybe 22 years old, who said about the film, ‘It gives you the desire to grow old.’” That’s exactly how I felt.

Cinema Guild/The New York Times

Since then, I’ve heard and read about other women in their 80s and 90s who continue to make art, some of whom have only recently achieved recognition. There’s 94-year-old Carmen Herrera, who—though she’s been painting all her life—had her first sale five years ago, at 89—and is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern, among others. Though she’s stuck in a wheelchair, she still has her daily cocktail, and continues to draw or paint.

And there’s 81-year-old MacArthur grant winner Ida Applebroog, who, when she was almost 40 and unknown, escaped the demands of her four children and her own lack of confidence by shutting herself in the bathroom. There, she began sketching her naked body—including her vulva. She never intended to show these sketches, even thought they were lost. Then last year, she found them, scanned them into a computer, and transformed them into translucent panels of a makeshift house. They’re being shown at the new Upper East Side outpost of the gallery Hauser & Wirth.

The merest thought of these women and I am giddy. They make the unfathomable fathomable. My stomach lurches, knowing what’s possible.

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