For months we’ve been anxiously preparing, editing and proofing. Then suddenly, “beep, beep, beep,” a truck is backing up — and there we are, cases and cases of Love Letters to Art. Getting the actual book in our hands and a few tears in our eyes, we hit the wine. It all began last Friday at Mayberry Fine Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On Sunday at my solo show I signed dozens of them. We were giving them to active collectors and selling them to others. At no time was there a lineup, but for five hours business was brisk.
A coffee table book, apart from being a beautiful thing in itself, gives people an insight into an artist’s comings and goings, his passions and mindset. Autobiographical, self-published and beautifully printed, this book gives me the opportunity to show my work and processes dear to my heart. Based in part on some of the Twice-Weekly Letters, the text gives artists and collectors an idea of what I’m up to. The foreword, written by a friend who just happens to be a significant collector of my work, gives an insight into the shortcomings of my character. It’s all a lot of fun. I recommend the catharsis to all creators.
“By and large books are mankind’s best invention,” said author Ursula K. LeGuin. In all deference to the Internet and Electronic Readers now coming on the market, there’s always going to be a need for a handsome thing you hold in your hands and leave out for your friends to see. While books are conversation pieces in themselves, they also give enduring evidence that we walked on the planet. I’ve always thought of books as a kind of spiritual connection to all other humans. And every reader takes a different spin. While the book has only existed for a couple of days, some folks have already read it. An email comment this morning said, “Your writing is fine but your work is so-so,” followed by another who wrote, “Now I begin to understand what makes artists tick. This is the best book I’ve ever read.”
Like the art we create daily, a book is a personal conception. But while a painting can take place in a matter of hours, even minutes, a book takes months and involves a committee. Some on the committee you never get to meet in the flesh, but they are all true artists. Working with these artists, making this beautiful thing, has been such a privilege.
PS: “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” (Jorge Luis Borges)
Esoterica: Once a book is between its covers, some authors desert it. I snuck a look and checked for truth, interest, information and amusement. It’s not bad. Stephen Jarislowsky writes in the foreword, “One Sunday morning Robert showed up at our door. Emerging from his mud-spattered motorhome — his mobile studio — Robert was ragged and dirty, his wild beard matted with dead mosquitoes. Gail and I saw to the washing of his clothes and drew him a bath. I lent him one of my better jackets and we took him out to a high-end restaurant and fed him.” Composing myself after reading this, I realized that all literature must surely be fiction.
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada
As a subscriber to your letters, and occasional respondent, I have learned from your perspective and insight, and I have appreciated your sharing the development and birth of Love Letters to Art. Best wishes for success with this venture — yes, the cheque is in the mail, and I look forward to receiving my copy and to curling up with it beside a crackling fire over the holidays.
(RG note) Thanks, Brigitte. More than 350 readers put in orders for one or more copies on Friday, the first day of our launch. We now have a team dedicated to wrapping and shipping, and needless to say I’m sitting behind a great pile, dedicating them. Many thanks for your friendship. I sincerely hope you get something of value from Love Letters to Art.
by J. G. Richardson
Love Letters to Art makes reference to the many facets of Genn’s work and interests. The 60 “chapters” are mostly based on his popular Twice-Weekly letters. Well written and dense, many of the items are amusing and passionate. As well, some of the cut lines under the illustrations provide an insight into how painters function. Genn doesn’t take himself too seriously and seems, from time to time, to fall into self-degradation.
by Lauren Everett Finn, Oxford, MI USA
I am a book-a-holic. I LOVE books… The smell, the feel, the words and the pictures, the “right at your fingertips” knowledge they contain. I have an embarrassingly large art book library. It amuses me that I can learn different things from the same book at different stages of my artistic development. (One of the reasons I never part with them.) I especially love the serendipity of coming across the perfect solution to a problem with a painting that I’m stumped on.
Publishing a book
by Susie Orleans, Montreal, QC, Canada
I have been an avid reader of your letters and have followed much of your direction. I have just written a book and am trying to find the best avenue to get it published. I’m not quite sure what comes first: the chicken or the egg, in other words, an agent or a publisher. Would you be so kind as to shed some light on this self-publishing business? I hear that IUniverse is a good launch pad but would like some of your insight.
(RG note) Thanks, Susie. The traditional avenue is to shop your MS around to publishers. You need to pick up a copy of Writer’s Market. It’s a yearly updated encyclopedia of writer’s opportunities. The book also tells you how to go about it — things to do and not to do. Carefully fitting your work to your publishers of choice, you may get positive feedback, even acceptance. If you get negative feedback, or none at all, it may be time to reassess your project. You can then re-edit, rewrite, abandon, or, if you still believe in it, make your own investment in it. See further suggestions below.
The right time to write
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I was wondering, when is it time to do a book like this? Or should an artist publish throughout their career? Most of us have plenty of images to illustrate a book, just not sure about the content. You being an excellent writer poses as a great benefit that most of us don’t have. So we would have to find an art writer. Which in my opinion can make the difference in whether a work is worthy or not. A good writer can make or break an artist’s book as well. I agree that a book does leave our mark in history that we’ve been here. Of course so do our paintings. But the book brings it to more viewers that otherwise would never be able to experience the work or find out who we are. It’s a document, we are who we say we are, and don’t forget us! I love books!
(RG note) Thanks, Brad. I love books too — they excite and intimidate me at the same time. I wish I had done more, earlier, and that I had the courage to make them more specific as I explored different areas of interest. I’m not so sure you need to employ another writer. There’s so much fun in turning your thoughts into words. And because you write, you get more thoughts, and your life and your work become enriched. But you also need an editor.
by Judi Birnberg, Sherman Oaks, CA, USA
Your big, beautiful baby arrived by mail in Los Angeles todayand what a lovely one you have produced! The book is even more attractive than it promised to be from what I saw online. Don’t wear any clothes with buttons for a while because they will most certainly pop off.
(RG note) Thanks, Judi. Judi Birnberg is a professional editor. She’s often responsible for correcting the errors I regularly make in the Twice-Weekly letters. She was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to be one of the editors of Love Letters to Art.
by Lisa Chakrabarti, Los Angeles, CA, USA
A few years ago a writer/martial artist friend and I collaborated on a chapbook, Black Ink, Vol 1: Entering Spirit and Form. It got published by a company that said they’d do it only if we ‘held them harmless.’ We had to foot all the bills, so we printed them up on our computers/printers. It was about 40 pages and soft-covered. A 200-book run, we almost sold out (and we gave plenty away). We’re about to launch Vol 2. (Out of a projected 3-volume set). Our publisher left the business, so we might go a similar route as you did — and self-publish. I kind of always had this stubborn attitude that a book is more valid when someone else publishes. But then, Mark Twain self-published, and now you, too. So we’re in fine company.
(RG note) Thanks, Lisa. Things are changing so fast in the publishing industry. With the availability of niche promotion through blogs, websites, online lists, and “Long Tail” distributors such as Amazon, self-publishing is no longer the maverick, it rules. No one is taking much of a risk, the books are only remaindered if you want them so, and if you have the right system in place, they’re more profitable.
Printing and education
by Paul McDermott, Greenwich, CT, USA
Regarding self-publishing, it is especially difficult for someone like me whose work is normally printed on paper to find a complimenting quality from book publishers. I know of several sites out there — mypublish, lulu, blurb — that allow people to self-publish but I don’t know the true quality of any of these printers. Although you can find reviews by customers, they rarely know what they are talking about. Are there a few printers you can advise?
I am currently a photo student earning a BFA from SUNY Purchase. I am not happy with my quality of education but understand that a Bachelors degree now is the equivalent to a high school degree years ago. I have heard a mix of responses from “It won’t make a difference working as an artist” to “It gives you credibility as an artist.” I understand both arguments but if my school isn’t helping me prepare myself for approaching galleries and making money with my craft once I graduate, what should I do? I cannot switch schools because of financial reasons.
(RG note) Thanks, Paul. Two widely different questions here. I used Friesens Printing in Altona, Manitoba, Canada. They are a huge state-of-the-art but traditional company with 1200 employees and a reputation for top work. To do a proper job and navigate the jargon, you need a book designer. Your printer will be able to recommend one suitable to your needs.
Regarding art education, a BFA might open your eyes, but it certainly won’t grow you into a successful artist. You may even pick up a touch of poisonous pedagogy that will delay your progress. Passion, private dedication, self-education and hard work are the keys to growth and joy in the art game.
Artists writing about their art
by Richard F Barber, Watford, Hertfordshire, UK
I would like to know my fellow artists views on how far should an artist go in explaining his/her art in the written word? I feel that the art should stand up for itself with, if necessary, a small statement towards what inspired the artist to produce it. I also think that the title is the most important factor which should define what the piece is about, so as to capture the mind and imagination of the viewer. Lots of artists write volumes of intellectual claptrap as to the conception of their art. I also feel that apart from taking away the opportunity for the viewer to make their own conclusions, right, wrong or indifferent, that it should be the gallery’s job to produce a short bio of the work. They are or should be more qualified at this as this is part of their job to sell your art, they know more about this field because it is them that are face-to-face with the potential buyers, so are more able to answer any questions about the artist and art in question. I would be interested to have views on this.
Why paint landscape?
by Alice Helwig, Calgary, AB, Canada
Recently I have been in the process of applying for a grant. One of my proof readers asked me why I painted landscape. Actually what she said was, “It’s such a prairie painter’s cliché. Why do you paint landscapes anyway?” It’s something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately. The Helwig email lines have been burning up. I’ve asked all my painting buddies. It perhaps is not a bad thing to question our practice. At best it does make us think and helps us formulate an answer the next time we are approached with this question. I even found a web-cast of Wolf Kahn called, Six reasons why not to paint Landscape. Of course it’s tongue in cheek — I really admire his abstracted landscapes. My favorite quote in the speech he gave was, “To be a landscape painter is to be a perverse individual.” I paint landscapes, I’ve decided, because it’s what I love. I think it frees me up to do other things in my painting. I think it will be the natural evolution to abstraction for me. My paintings continue to evolve towards an emotional response to the subject matter. But I am still curious as to why others choose to work with this subject.
(RG note) Thanks, Alice. Landscapes are painted for the same reasons mountains are climbed. Because they’re there. Landscapes contain unlimited permutations and combinations — enough to keep a curious explorer going for a lifetime. Regarding the grant questions, you state one of the main reasons you need not be bothered trying to snag one — grant givers tend to ask such inane questions.
by Sue Sasso, Rapid City, SD, USA
You may want to remind artists about scam artists. Yesterday I received an email from a person claiming to be interested in one of my paintings. I was suspicious about the email for several reasons. However, since he mentioned a particular painting by name I thought I would be polite and reply with the pricing and shipping costs. I also asked him where he saw my painting since my artwork with that particular contact address is not in very many places. Today, I received an email back that he wants to buy 2 paintings for his client and the money will be sent right away and there will be extra for me to send back to him as commission.
(RG note) Thanks, Sue. This operator and another jerk claiming to be from the Ukraine are currently writing to artists on our site and others. If you ever do find yourself with a cheque in your hand, take it personally to a bank and wait for up to a month to find out if it’s legit.
Three Legged Lake
oil painting on canvas by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Ni Elli of TX, USA who wrote, “My books remain within my brain… maybe best left there.”
And also Elsie Wilson of Fitchburg, WI, USA who wrote, “Since winter has settled in here in Wisconsin, USA, I can say that your letters are like having one’s car not want to start on a cold day and a dear friend coming along at just the right moment with cables and a willingness to jump-start.”
And also Vittorio Canta of Sutton, QC, Canada who quoted Instantes by Jorge Luis Borges: “In my next life I will try to commit more errors.”
And also this question: “I would love to have a copy of Roger Glenn’s book. Who is he?” (submitted by would-be book buyer who has since got the name right) For more fun things that have been written about the Twice-Weekly Letters, please go here.
Enjoy the past comments below for Book launch…