Author sara genn

Letters Watercolour detail
by Pamela Haddock

This morning Pamela Haddock of Sylva, NC, wrote, “Our art association is in a quandary. One of the requirements of our well-attended and successful group shows is that all work has to be original, with no reproductions. We make an exception for photographers. Now some of our painting members want to keep and enjoy their own originals and are busy making giclees. They want to show and sell them. Some club members don’t want this. I can’t see what the fuss is about — it seems they’re reproductions just like photos. What do you think about having prints among our originals?”

Letters Music, Pink and Blue II, 1918
oil on canvas
35 × 29 inches
by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

When I was 12, I had two art teachers — Jenny, a sculptor and ceramicist, and Carolynn, a printmaker. When Jenny emailed this week, I wrote back with a question: “Do the Great Teachers know the depth of their impact and all the crystalline memories and indelible moments of encouragement and example they imprint?” She replied with photos of a painting I had given her at my graduation, with a love letter written on the back that read, “Thanks for pushing.”

Letters Migration of the Ladybugs, 2009
oil and alcohol-based marker on paper
80 x 110 cms
by Tiffany Chung (b.1969)

“What a bitter struggle is waged between talent and fate,” wrote Nguyen Du, author of The Tale of Kieu, the most revered saga in Vietnamese literature. So important is the 3,254-verse epic poem that most children in Vietnam know much of it by heart. Written in 1820, it’s the story of a young girl whose beauty is her principal talent but who suffers one miserable setback after the other. Finally, she is forced to sell herself. The Vietnamese take the story to be a metaphor for their country — beautiful but doomed. “When one is endowed with talent,” goes the moral, “one cannot depend on it.”

Letters Storm Over the Serpentine, Nicomeckl Estuary, 2013
acrylic on canvas
11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn

A subscriber wrote, “I have recently been given an assignment by a mentor to paint, without restraint, 20 or so small abstract pieces that express the emotions of an illness I have been managing for years. I find myself stuck, stuck, choked with fear…emotion. I find myself not knowing how to visualize, begin to ‘show,’ express emotion. Usually it seems that feeling or emotion just shows up. To invite, command the same has me stuck. Does one just begin?”


A few minutes ago I was watching a young couple staring at a huge abstract painting in a commercial art gallery. The painting was mysterious, dark, tentative — with perhaps, only perhaps, the whisper of a female figure. Previously, when I’d daringly checked out its very high price, a gallerista swept by and assured me, “We sell a lot of this man’s work.”

Letters A Dash for the Timber, 1889
oil on canvas
by Frederic S. Remington (1861-1909)

In 1872, businessman, racehorse enthusiast and former governor of California, Leland Stanford, commissioned photographer Eadweard Muybridge to prove a theory about a horse’s gait. Until then, equine painters, including Western painters, had been depicting horses at a trot with one foot on the ground and in a gallop with all four legs sticking out — like a hobbyhorse. Muybridge set up 12 cameras and photographed Standford’s own Standardbred trotter, Occident, trotting. Amongst the 12 frames was a single, groundbreaking photographic negative showing Occident with all four feet off the ground.

Letters Lake O'Hara, Rockies, 1926
oil on wood-pulp board
21.5 X 26.6 cm
by J.E.H. MacDonald

Out over the dark sea, near the horizon, whales move steadily northward. People silently gather on the rough black lava and red dirt at Makahuena Point. Cameras ready, braced against the wind and crashing surf, they await the sunrise. These are not sun worshippers or members of some peculiar cult. They are neighbors, tourists, morning joggers, loners, and honeymoon couples up before dawn to witness an event.


The other day, a gardener was clearing ivy from the external wall of an art museum outside Milan when he discovered a hidden metal panel. He pried it open and found a black garbage bag holding Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady. She’d gone missing from the same museum 23 years earlier.

Letters Study for “Improvisation 28” (Second Version), 1912 Watercolor, india ink, and graphite on paper
15 3/8 x 22 1/8 inches
by Wassily Kandinsky

Composition is the relative positioning of shapes and forms within a picture plane. “The composition,” said pioneer abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky, “is the organized sum of the interior functions of every part of the work.”

As a frequent juror, I notice the tendency of my fellow jurors to reject work thought to be poorly composed. Many artists, often photo bound to start with, fail to redesign their reference and take control of compositions. Consequently, in my occasional sorties into workshopping, I sometimes hand out a list of compositional keys.

Letters Wunderbild, 2018
Acrylic on draped canvas
by Katharina Grosse (b.1961)

Recently, a young artist who is self-taught and self-employed asked if I might help with a letter of recommendation for grad school. Knowing her work and self-starter style, I agreed and asked her to draft the letter herself, in order to feature the details she thought would be most helpful. She replied with a list of bullet points about what drew her to the school’s program, her artistic aspirations and a mostly completed letter draft. She also sent me an updated CV listing the eight shows she’s participated in since graduating from university in 2017.

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