Why artists die old (generally, with exceptions)

Art is a healthy occupation. Yes, there are artists who have succumbed, too young, to cancers caused by inhalation of dangerous carcinogens in modern materials: plastics, latex, aerosol sprays.The names of three extraordinary modern women artists leap to mind: Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, and Nancy Graves. And, we are familiar with Van Gogh's bizarre behavior ending in his self-inflicted death at an early age, precipitated by years of excessive coffee drinking, brandy drinking, absinth drinking, and a diet of mostly paint, bread and the intense heat of Provence. All of this combined, surely wrecked his kidney with toxins, leading to scrambled thoughts and tragedy.

We would have to add AIDs, dangerous behaviors, heroin, cocaine, sudden success an early age, to the causes of premature deaths. Famous examples, artists in their 20's and 30's: Basquiat, Haring, and the original "bad boy," Caravaggio, from a much earlier century.

And, if, in the 1950's and 1960's, such artists as Rothko, Pollock, Kline, Gorky, and David Smith could have avoided Clement Greenberg and the perils of middle age: "discovery" by Life magazine, divorce, drinking, sports cars, fancy young women and hairpin turns in the road, the usual mid-life crisis........

But, as I searched, albeit in an unscientific manner, the life spans of artists from the Renaissance to contemporary times, I found that artists, generally, live to very old age, the majority them reaching the upper numbers of the seventh decade, eight decade, ninth decade, and even beyond! This, even in times of plague, consumption, absolute monarchies, dictators, world wars, critics and no antibiotics. A tough bunch of cookies.

For the fun of it, a chart, with age at death, for the cognoscenti:

70: William Blake
71: Constable, Cellini, Mondrian, Diebenkorn
72: Vuillard, Barbara Hepworth, Poussin, Thomas Eakins
73: El Greco, Pissarro
74:Leger, Fragonard, Winslow Homer, Charles Burchfield, Francis Picabia
75: Edward Hopper
76: Redon, Caspar David Friedrich, Tintoretto, Turner
77: Gentile Bellini, Archipenko, Rosa Bonheur, John Singleton Copley,
Rodin, Tiepolo
78: Kandinsky, Käthe Kollwitz, Otto Dix
79: Max Weber, Jean Arp, Jacques Louis David, Corot, Sol LeWitt

80: Bonnard, Chardin, Rauschenberg
81: Mary Cassatt, Lucas Cranach, Brancusi, Braque, Munch, Duchamp
82: Nathan Oliveira, Lipchitz, Bernini, Claude Lorrain
83: Degas, Maillol, Rauschenberg
84: Noguchi
85: Max Ernst, Matisse, Frans Hals
86: Claude Monet, Mark Tobey
87: Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Ingres
88: Max Liebermann, Chagall, Josef Albers
89: James Ensor, Titian, Louise Nevelson

90: Adolph Menzel, Joan Miró
91: Morris Graves
92: Picasso
99: Georgia O'Keefe

And, the grand winner! Dorothea Tanning, at 102, beating "Grandma" Moses: sexy surrealist scores over naïve folk artist.

A closing thought: Art makes for strange bed-fellows in Heaven. Can you imagine the conversations between the 71 year olds: Cellini, Constable,
Mondrian, and Diebenkorn, or that between Menzel and Miró; each from a different era with different notions about making art, the patronage, the relationship to their contemporary culture?  Or, those 79 year olds, Weber, Arp, David, Corot and LeWitt! [Note: Here is an art phantasy, waiting to be imagined.]