Perennial Puppy Syndrome

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Dear Artist,

A few days ago a young bicycle courier brought his first five paintings around to my studio. “I’m not trying to get good,” he said. “I just want to enjoy myself in my evenings after I get off the streets.” We wondered together if it was possible to enjoy oneself as a painter without trying to get good. “Your definition of good,” he said, “may not be my definition.”

During the past few decades biologists have been noticing changes in the behaviour of wolves. They’re getting nicer. Not nearly as aggressive. Their ears no longer stand straight in anticipation of danger. Some researchers think they may be howling just for the fun of it. In captivity they can be trained to sleep with pussycats. Even in the wild, many wolves are now acting like your dog and mine.

Apparently, the same thing is happening to us. Many humans now choose to be tail-waggers. We’ve become domesticated. We’re gentler. If you’re an easy going, relaxed, fun-loving, non-competitive artist, you may be one of the breed.

It’s mainly a Western phenomenon. Less challenged by our environment, out of harm’s way and generally better off than previous generations, we’ve become complacent. Getting away from boredom in the workplace, we need only a pastime.

An estimated forty million hobby painters propel the art-materials business. Like quilting, journaling, or maintaining an aquarium, folks just do it. Quality control may be a lesser aim. Marketing is a non-starter. These days, many artists mention goals of fulfillment and personal happiness over challenge and professionalism. The play’s the game. The emphasis on inner child, return to innocence and the youth bias of the media stirs up the latent kid. Delayed maturity, in the traditional sense, is the result.

What are the possible benefits of all this puppyhood? In the arts, immaturity has become a good place to start. We need the puppy-love before we seriously fall. The work, in Bernard Berenson‘s words, is simply “life enhancing.” The downside may be chronic mediocrity, the effect of which can fan out through an entire culture. While teachers and workshoppers report daily discoveries of potential in beginners and hobbyists, many just stay put, ambition free, content to be out and about and part of a happy pack.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “Ambition is made of sterner stuff.” (William Shakespeare)

Esoterica: An artist may be a lone wolf. She may occasionally run with the pack. Most often she is happy foraging on her own. She may be wily and alert to opportunity. She may know that adventure can bring out her best. There are times when she’s out for blood. There are also times when she’s as playful as a puppy.

 


Neotenous cultures
by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA
 

051110_bobbo-goldberg

“Pinny”
digital painting
by Bobbo Goldberg

I think what’s being discussed here is neoteny. How long does a particular creature stay a child? Some say that domesticated dogs are wolves that forever remain puppies. My new dog, a shepherd mix named Rosie, is very puppy-like at about 2 years old. Our cultures have become increasingly neotenous. At one time, people were marrying in their late teens, grandparents by their 40’s and often dead by 65. Today, 90 is the new 19, and we seem to maintain “the things of youth” with an enthusiasm approaching the Alpha wolf’s survivalist ferocity.

Can an artist thrive without “growing up?” Some would say that the wild spark of childhood is an absolute necessity for the artist. In view of the many forms of art, I’d not agree with that, or any such generalization. Is it more mature to market your art? Hey, it depends what you’re getting out of it. As long as the happy howl is there, it may be all the “successful” artist really needs. I recommend the film, Where the Wild Things Are, for an example of a child’s world view brilliantly processed into a story for all.



There is 1 comment for Neotenous cultures by Bobbo Goldberg

From: Bonnie — May 11, 2010

Making statements like – “I’m not trying to get good,” is often a means to evade criticism. If I don’t care, why should you? It can veil the secret hope that someone actually thinks your work is good [and tells you.]

 


Settling with our muse
by Barbara Ettles Carter, NS, Canada
 

That young courier brought the paintings to YOU, not to his grandmother; not to the lady down the street who used to put a band-aid on his knee when he fell off his bicycle when he was a kid. He brought them to a professional artist. He doesn’t want to be good? I don’t believe it. I think he hopes to be told that he (or she) has enough talent to continue and to work to be better. Sure he (or she) wants the pats on the head but a person doesn’t put paint on canvas for no reason — he wants to paint and be a painter. The self-effacing “I don’t want to be good” only deals with the possibility and in his mind maybe the probability that he is going to have his work rejected and therefore is going to feel rejected as a person. We all want to be a “Master” from the beginning — we all find out that most people succeed through hard work and perseverance. And those who reach the highest levels of success seem to be the ones who work the hardest. Weird, huh? The worst that can happen is that we learn to “settle” in our relationship with our muse. Especially the muse that tells us that we must settle for mediocrity because we just aren’t good enough. That’s a muse we must put in handcuffs, leg-irons and gags!



There is 1 comment for Settling with our muse by Barbara Ettles Carter

From: Karen R. Phinney — May 11, 2010

I agree with your assessment..he was preparing for “bad news” that he wasn’t good/had no talent. So many people are afraid of being told they don’t “have it”………I have seen amazing things done by people who quickly say, “it’s not very good”, when clearly it IS. But hanging ourselves out to dry is very difficult…prepare by saying, “it isn’t good, or I am not very good”, you are saying in essence, “your comments won’t surprise me!”

 


Creativity a lawless activity
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA
 

051110_warren-criswell-art

“Frog he went a courting”
oil painting
by Warren Criswell

If there are artists satisfied with mediocrity, I guess this doesn’t matter. But for the rest of us it’s a very serious question: To be or not to be? Wolf or puppy? A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Man on Wire about the guy who evaded the authorities and walked a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Philippe Petit risked his life to transform himself into a work of art, literally. That was the way he looked at it. It existed only for an hour or so, and can never be repeated, but still I felt it had the spark of great art, and I started feeling something that I think I’ve always known and feared but had put away in a black box: that great art demands that we walk that wire — that we are willing to risk everything for the work. No wonder Plato thought artists were crazy and banned them from his Republic! It’s a matter of freedom vs. security.

The “divine spark of inspiration” can be a dangerous thing, dangerous to us and to those we love. How many of us have the courage (or foolhardiness) to go for it full out? — to crawl into the darkest, deepest part of the cave, like the Paleolithic painters, or walk in the air between the tallest buildings in the world? Our cowardice may make us good, decent, productive citizens — but is it also the reason we fail as artists? Or is the feeling of defeat and failure a part of being an artist — maybe a part of being alive?

On the other hand, that could all be bullshit, as several of my friends have pointed out. One reminded me that Charles Ives held onto his security as an insurance man, and yet in his spare time composed some of the greatest and most daring sounds in the history of music. Charlie Ives was certainly no puppy. There are no rules for creativity. It’s a lawless activity, and we have to make our own rules. But I think that, if we’re possessed by the demon Art, sooner or later, like Hamlet, we arrive at that question.



There are 5 comments for Creativity a lawless activity by Warren Criswell

From: tikiwheats — May 11, 2010

That demon art has sure caused me to flick a few tears. Still, I prevail.

From: judy — May 11, 2010

Great painting!!! And it’s perfect for your comments! ;)

Your questions are thought-provoking… but I’m not sure I quite agree with you. There’s a fine line between courage & stupidity, but I don’t look at it as a black & white/all or nothing issue. Life & art have far too many exceptions to put them into one little box of philosophy. I don’t think it’s all bullshit, though. Just one little slice of truth that can fit into a big enough paradox.

From: dottie dracos — May 11, 2010

Don’t know why, but I loooooove your artwork!

From: Jamie Gray — May 11, 2010

That is one crazy painting, Warren! I love it. It made me look, and then look again. And then stare at it for another full minute soaking it up. Thanks for not making boring art.

From: val norberry — May 13, 2010

There is a syndrome among vets who “walked point” years ago in the V-war (“conflict”), that many of these vets 20 years after the war were working in high stress jobs…reason? Addicted to adrenaline. So goes your tightrope walker, and maybe even the “courier” who faced Bob G., the mentor, for the first time with his “stuff”.

As for puppies and wolves, I adopted (bought) 2 blue-heeler mix pups, who are 1/2 dingo wild Australian dog, they are really vicious at times. I really think genetics plays into it all. I surmise that we’ve got here, in this world, many 3rd and 4th generation “C.O’s” or contiencious objectors who prefer to “make love, not war” or make art, not office wars, etc., acquisitions. Where are the wolves? Check the Dow Jones stock market floor.

 


Leaving validation to someone else
by Keith Cameron, Sierra Madre, CA, USA
 

051110_keith-cameron-artwor

Untitled
watercolour by
Keith Cameron

I am feeling this point is often made when someone wants to separate the process into immediate moments. In my humble opinion the act of making art does not require value judgments except when it is an addendum to commerce. I’m not against someone earning a living making art (I try), for if more did it the world I think would be a much better place, but I don’t know if that is the pinnacle of the act, selling that is. If the act is play, and people affirm that then they are the ones who should value that process. If people take to task the difficulties in space, form, color and viewership then they are the ones who should value that. As an Artist I like to leave the difficult job of validation of my work to people who want to do that. If one is going to enjoy more economic benefits then they had better cater to economic sensibilities in one way or another. Be it Art to their taste, creating a mystery, or simply socializing as part of the process. In economic circles who is really looking for anything else? They don’t make Art they buy it.

 


Internalized hobby-orientation
by Gerti Hilfert, Langenfeld, Germany
 

051110_gerti-hilfert-artwor

“Red jacket”
illustration
by Gerti Hilfert

Concerning hobbies, I believe that each person is an artist. It is a question of discovering the talents instead choking them at very early age by wrongly grading from teachers, perhaps parents.

Artist’s kids are mostly privileged — being raised in a special atmosphere teaches them casually playful what other persons have to study later at school or university. AND have to analyze from their ratio. The early impressions are the most important for any model. The same concerns languages, including animal language. A child raised in a healthy atmosphere with dogs or horses, for example, doesn’t have to overthink its behaviour with these species later because a clear communication has grown early enough very naturally. It doesn’t need any explanation, no reasons, no studies. It works the way it should because the basis was internalized at very young age when impressions and influences just happen – without thinking.

If we manage to live more in the Now instead worrying about any definition or grading we would be much happier and healthier. See Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now.

We cannot change past or future. But as long as we live in positivity, respect and responsibility for the present moment we can change the future today.

 


Exposure to art
by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA
 

051110_jackie-knott-artwork

“Lisa”
oil painting
by Jackie Knott

Nearly every adult can drive a car but that doesn’t make all of us Dale Earnhardt. It is all about goals. Do I want to enjoy a leisurely drive or beat everyone else to town? Both taxi drivers and NASCAR champions earn compensation.

Humans are artistic by nature otherwise we would never have progressed past hunters and gatherers. We dream, we solve problems, and we seek: art is not just a life vocation for the truly driven but can be an enjoyable pastime for others. How is that not positive? Hobbyists do not take from the gifted but are bypassed by those who truly excel. Often, those who try their hand at art are more appreciative of real talent and become patrons and buyers.

I wish art appreciation were taught from early education through high school rather than an occasional field trip to the local art museum. This same class of children after ten years of exposure to art will pause and be able to give a more balanced reaction to any work of art.

 


Striving to improve
by Richard Mason, Howell, NJ, USA
 

051110_rich-mason-artwork

“Self-portrait”
original painting
by Richard Mason

“I’m not trying to get good,” “I just want to enjoy myself.” I think the artistic gene pool has become contaminated because of this attitude. I don’t want to be relaxed, fun-loving and non-competitive. I prefer challenge and professionalism. There are far too many mediocre paintings flooding the market place. As for me, I want to become a good artist. When I feel complacent about a painting and not care what others think of my work it will be time to put away the brushes and take up something that doesn’t drive me to constantly strive for improvement. Ambition is not a bad thing. I think it’s the only thing. It’s great to have fun and enjoy yourself but I believe you can do that and still strive to improve.

 



There are 3 comments for Striving to improve by Richard Mason

From: Janet Badger — May 11, 2010

You said it!!

From: judy — May 11, 2010

Good thing brain surgery isn’t a hobby. ;)

From: Don — May 25, 2010

Perhaps it would be best to worry about your own ambitions and not worry so much about the “artistic gene pool”. I would imagine that everyone would like to improve…but not everyone can dedicate their entire life to this…many enjoy the process and let the judgment part fall to others. In fact I would say too much ambition or judgment will hold you back as an artist.

 


Intimidation
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
 

051110_john-ferrie-artwork

Untitled
original painting
by John Ferrie

I remember asking a friend of mine after she told me she left Ballet school in Paris and gained 40 pounds, “Were you any good?” She said, “Of course I was good, but I just couldn’t make it to the next level.”

Being an artist can be intimidating. Everyone seems so talented and confident. You try to express yourself and carve out a niche for your work. But what is selling is not necessarily “good.”

I would say the best thing to try and be when you’re an artist is, “Always try and be better.” No matter what, keep creating. I know more artists who are waiting for a grant, or waiting for a gallery to sign them or just waiting and yet they have little or no inventory. They haven’t done anything in years because they are fed up with this and that. You have to paint like nobody is watching and do it like you don’t need the money! I am about to open my latest exhibition in less than two weeks. While the paintings are lined up on my studio floor like little soldiers, I am confident this is going to be a good show. But I know my work can always be better. Being good is just a state of mind.

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There are 3 comments for Intimidation by John Ferrie

From: Mary Bullock — May 11, 2010

“Being good is just a state of mind” – I like that!

From: Victoria Hadden — May 11, 2010

The ones who are making excuses are like your chum but not as honest with themselves about their inability to make it to the next level. Being good is more than a state of mind though. There are formal elements that make good art plus, of course, the x factor. I admire your spunk as well as your rouge marketing. Best of luck with your new show.

Victoria in TO.

From: Anonymous — May 11, 2010

I also like – paint like nobody’s watching!

 


Chronic mediocrity
by Skip Van Lenten
 

I think you might be wrong when you say the downside to “Perennial Puppy Syndrome,” as you call it, may be “chronic mediocrity… which can fan out through an entire culture.” There will always be people who rise above the pack, and stand out as a superior example of what human beings are capable of becoming, but that does not mean that the rest of humanity labors in mediocrity. I think the young courier had it right, “Your definition of good may not be my definition,” and who is to judge anyway? The point of art is self-defined. It is not necessary to become a professional if the aim is simply to enjoy the process of creating something, and the quality of the finished product (assuming money is not involved) is ultimately the artist’s to judge. It doesn’t matter if we come in last, as long as we ran a good race, and enjoyed the personal satisfaction of having reached the finish line.



There are 2 comments for Chronic mediocrity by Skip Van Lenten

From: Anonymous — May 11, 2010

Well said.

For some reason I cannot put my name in the “name” line.

Libby Dodd

south Florida

From: judy — May 11, 2010

But I think part of the point is that the general culture won’t be able to recognize the good stuff if they become conditioned to mediocrity. And then the critics become the only guardians of the ivory tower. Just take a look at post modernist installation art. I’ll admit that I have seen a few good installations, but generally speaking, most of it is crap.

 


Surprising results
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
 

051110_linda-blondheim-artw

“Bald Cypress”
acrylic painting
by Linda Blondheim

I used to be very cutthroat in my career and very competitive. About 5 years ago, I gave up my climb to fortune and fame and turned to my easel to work. I have focused only on painting for awhile now, not concerning myself with what is going on in the art scene. I guess you could say I have become a tail wagger, nicer to other artists and so forth. The result has been surprising. My work has grown tremendously and so has respect from other artists, museums and opportunities. Perhaps the tailwaggers have something going here.

 

 



There are 2 comments for Surprising results by Linda Blondheim

From: Anonymous — May 11, 2010

Libby Dodd south Florida

Assuming this is an example of your later, more recent work, I’d say your approach suits you well. This is a finely crafted painting, In my opinion.

From: Anonymous — May 24, 2010

Very kind of you.

Love,

Linda

 


Never enough energy
by Tony Wetherington
 

051110_tony-wetherington

“Buddha”
original painting
by Tony Wetherington

I live in Eastern North Carolina, and actually have never been very far from home. Local artists here were hard to find, and mostly if they had talent, they moved away as fast as they could to seek a Professional Level of Education and exposure. I didn’t have those options. So, I stayed here. And I worked with my art. During all these years I never sold but just a few pieces, because, I was never good enough. I never was ‘enough.’ Never had enough education, background, degrees, etc. I worked for a small community college for a long time helping others learn basic academic skills. This drained me to the point I didn’t have “enough” energy to paint. Three years ago, I had a major heart attack and open heart surgery which left me still without enough energy… for much of anything. So, I had to quit work in order to return to WORK… at 50. I don’t have a bank account, and live on a very small social security disability income. We often have to lose the world in order to gain it.



There is 1 comment for Never enough energy by Tony Wetherington

From: tikiwheats — May 11, 2010

Me too, and that is a beautiful painting. The Buddha and good music do inspire. Let’s keep painting!

 

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woa
 
050710_john-burrow-artwork

Guisachan Garden

oil painting
by John Burrow, BC, Canada

 

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 Catherine Thornton of Cary, NC, USA, who wrote, “Puppy syndrome could be very dangerous, if, like an oil spill, it spreads into the hearts of every artist around.”

And also Marti O’Brien, who wrote, “Perennial Puppy Syndrome has comforted me somewhat as I have been feeling guilty for not taking my art more seriously. After reading this letter I feel much better in just enjoying myself.”

 

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Perennial Puppy Syndrome

 

 

From: Bill Erlenbach — May 06, 2010

Two statements caught my attention.

“Less challenged by our environment, out of harm’s way and generally better off than previous generations, we’ve become complacent.”

“The downside may be chronic mediocrity, the effect of which can fan out through an entire culture.”

As much as a appreciate that some (many?) people see painting as essentially self-entertainment, I find it troubling. I see the same thing in other disciplines, a general sense of the prolific common, or as you say “chronic mediocrity.” Of course what is “mediocre?” How do we measure it?

Setting aside those obvious questions, I do wonder if we are so over exposed to masterful works that we see little chance of becoming ‘that good’. No doubt, few excel to the level of the pinnacle of the few.

So what is the goal? Is it to be self-entertained? Is it to become better than someone else? Neither or these satisfy me. I am far more drawn to rise above my own level of self imposed mediocrity, to be able to look at a finished work, knowing that I have pushed my self, and be able to say that I am more than I was yesterday. Then it is more than entertainment, it is rising above the prolific common.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 06, 2010

Just kill me now.

From: Faith — May 06, 2010

What is self-imposed mediocrity, Bill? Are you punishing yourself? Stop doing that! Take some comfort from the knowledge that “excellence” is also relative. After all, nobody’s perfect, or ever will be. And the issue of “self-entertainment” is not confined to the arts, but embraces many other activities e.g. eating, sexual activity etc.

From: Eric — May 06, 2010

Robert is a master at straining to find analogies and metaphors, and this letter is a good example of that. Might be a good time to cut back to twice a month.

From: Dave C — May 07, 2010

I think we’ve become a nation of people who do just enough to get by. When we look at graduation statistics for high school and we see that a district is only graduating 63% of the students that start, what is our answer? We lower the standards so we can then graduate 80% of the students and we pat ourselves on the back at our great achievement in education.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think there is a place in this world for hobbyist artists, but I think too many people are beginning to think that their works will become the norm for what we see in the museums. But, when we see works such as Rothko or, as featured in the last column, Bennett Newman, hanging in museums it’s hard to convince young artists that they should strive for more. Why spend all my time learning to draw accurate figures, still lifes and landscapes when I can just slap three stripes of paint on a canvas and have the world fall all over itself in adoration of my skills as an artist? Many have said, “You need to experience Rothko in person before making judgments about his art.” I have seen his work in person. I have stood 18″ from his works as he blithely suggested. It still didn’t do anything for me.

Would we be making pilgrimages halfway around the world to view the works of Michelangelo if all he did was paint a canvas green and stick a purple square in the middle of it? Will people still be standing in front of the works of Newman 500 years from now, trembling with joy at seeing it, or will his works end up at the local Goodwill and become a fresh canvas for an artist like me to gesso over and paint on? Will aliens conduct archaeological digs on our planet 100,000 years from now and come across a Rothko and marvel at its use of color or will they wonder what the heck it is? I’m sure when they find the statue of David they won’t have any trouble figuring it out. Of course, they will also be glad they didn’t try to conquer us back then because we were obviously seventeen feet tall, muscular and ran around naked.

There once was a time when more was expected from artists, but when Pollack started dripping paint on canvas I think we started expecting less from them. I sure sooner or later someone is going to bring up the name of Bob Ross and blame him for this change in the winds, but that blame would be misplaced. Bob always encouraged people to start with his method and then move on in their art education. His method was strictly to get people to pick up their brushes and give painting a try.

Mediocrity is a way of life for many of us and in many areas of our lives. I ride a bicycle for exercise and pleasure and can do the odd one hundred mile century ride when I want to, but I consider myself an average cyclist with no desire to rise above that. I know a few people 10-20 years older than my 52 years that are training for the next Ironman triathlon. I wish them luck and support them wholeheartedly. But I will stay just a hobbyist cyclist and work on my art to become much better than mediocre.

From: Ron Unruh — May 07, 2010

Last July Roger Federer won a record sixth US Open Tennis Championship, besting Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors who each one it five times. At that time I asked myself some questions. “What must it be like to be better at something than everyone else in the world?” Accompanying questions might be, “Is it important to be better than everyone else?” or perhaps, “Am I better at something than everyone else in the world?” I came to some conclusions. It’s more important to some people than others to be better at something than anyone else. It becomes the dominant motivator of competitive people regardless of the contest. It is enormously beneficial to careers and advancing oneself in the world. I came to yet another conclusion. It is never too late to try to find that something in which you are better than anyone. And finally I fashioned a personal conviction. I am not better at anything than everyone else, and it is no longer important for me to be better than anyone else but I will strive to do what only I can do and to do it so well that it makes a positive impression or contribution within my influence circle.

From: Darla — May 07, 2010

I think there is a vast difference between artists (musicians, athletes, etc.) who keep going along doing the same thing, contented with themselves, and the ones who are always trying to do more than what they can do now. Most of the artists I know are not making a living from their art. They occasionally sell a piece, but they are always working hard on acquiring new skills and techniques. We learn from and get sparks from each other. It’s a competition but with ourselves.

I generally conceive of an art work then have to work and scramble to make it express the concept. What fun is art if it’s not a challenge? You might as well be hanging wallpaper.

From: Robert Redus — May 07, 2010

Dave C., you are forgetting the most important issue about Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack; that is the historical context of the work. certainly in year 2010 painting color fields or dripping paint on a canvas is no more innovative than painting a canvas black and calling it a “new” approach to minimalism, but at the time they were painting, their work was transitional and not only showing the changing environment and mentality of the the artist but that of society. The search for mediocrity in the art world is easily traced and it is not the artists who have perpetuated it. Society has dumbed down art to a level where everyone is an artists by just claiming the title. Countless galleries have opened with the notion that since it is called a gallery, it therefore must be showing great art. There is no bar for artists, some are professionally trained while others have talent and creativity and produce work, while still others are deluded into believing their work is art…so I guess the question becomes, who defines what is art and who says that definition is correct. Take the time to check a place called MOBA…The Museum of Bad Art…the alarming thing is …bad work has a place……other than Goodwill….

From: PeggySu — May 07, 2010

I’m not sure I get this post. What’s wrong with enjoyng as a hobby something that others do at a professional level? Before I retired I worked in a highly technical area of software development requiring an advanced degree. I always tried to be the best I could and the demands of the job were such that I had to constantly acquire new knowledge and learn new skills.

Does that mean it bothers me that many people enjoy using computers and software written by others or even playing around a bit with HTML? Of course not.

I hope I’m at least keeping the cost of materials down for those of you who are artists.

From: Skip Van Lenten — May 07, 2010

Ah, mediocrity. Doesn’t it feel great not to have to compete all the time? I love to sit around and doodle on my drawing pad, while my wife is curled up next to me, watching tv, or drifting off to sleep after a long, weary day of teaching. Tomorrow, I’ll get up and go to work again, tired as I am of the physical labor of painting houses, but there will always be the nights to look forward to, my drawing pad, and the feeling that everything I will ever need in life is right here at home.

From: John Ferrie — May 07, 2010

Dear Robert,

I remember asking a friend of mine after she told me she left Ballet school in Paris and gained 40 pounds, “were you any good?” She said “of course I was good, but I just couldn’t make it to the next level”.

Being an artists can be intimidating. Everyone seems so talented and confident. You try to express yourself and carve out a niche for your work. But what is selling is not necessarily “good”.

I would say the best thing to try and be when your an artist is “always try and be better”. No matter what, keep creating. I know more artists who are waiting for a grant, or waiting for a gallery to sign them or just waiting and yet they have little or no inventory. They haven’t done anything in years because they are fed up with this and that. You have to paint like nobody it watching and do it like you don’t need the money! I am about to open my latest exhibition in less than two weeks. While the paintings are lined up on my studio floor like little soldiers, I am confident this is going to be a good show. But I know my work can always be better. Being good is just a state of mind.

Always, John

From: Marilyn — May 07, 2010

Artists come in all ages. I encourage all ages to take a beginning art course or art therapy and learn that everyone can draw. The joy of creating either what lies in front of them or from the imagination is worth the effort. I draw and paint for the pleasure in it. When I get the drawing perfect, I know the real job of painting that drawing will be the challenge. And, I do like challenges. Once the passion begins, it is always there. Paintings that bring a smile to others is usually my intent. Anyone can draw or paint. To become a better artist, Practice every day!

From: Bill Erlenbach — May 07, 2010

RE: “What is self-imposed mediocrity, Bill? Are you punishing yourself?”

Self-imposed mediocrity at it’s worst is the place where either we no longer care or or think we have “arrived.” It is self limiting.

Punishing my self? Not at all. Striving to grow — even in a hobby — is, personally speaking, is life.

Most hobbiest I know, from model makers to painters, seek to learn more and refine their craft. Certainly, as a hobby, it is not done with the same pressure and drive that most experience in vocational work — that would take the fun out of it. No doubt when I worked in the software industry, the pressure to keep learning was significant. As for a hobby, who really wants to push out assembly line work doing the same thing over and over. Is not the joy of discovery and creativity at the heart of a hobby?

Personally I am not too worried about being “better” than someone else. If nothing else, art is far too subjective. I am, however, very interested in growing as an artist, becoming better than I was last year.

I am an amateur artist. That is to say I do it because I love it. I have also spent years as an amateur musician. During that time I have had opportunity to play along side professional musicians who have studied long and hard to get their posts in symphonies. There are two notable difference between amateurs and professionals. Professionals have to produce art even when they don’t feel like it, while it is optional for amateurs. Amateurs have the luxury of growing at their own pace, professionals have to struggle to stay in the game. There is one other notable difference, the pros I played with really were masters…I wasn’t.

Perhaps mediocrity comes when we think we are masters, when in truth we are are not. Self-imposed mediocrity is just that.

As an amateur painter, I don’t have to paint, but I paint because I want to. I seek to learn because, like in music, the better you get, the richer the experience.

At least that’s how I see it.

PS – when in doubt, paint.

From: Dorothy Wing — May 07, 2010

Art is another way to communicating, supplementing speaking and writing, physical movement. All the arts communicate. Some people do one better than another. Thank heavens for the variety!, and your letters!

From: Jackie Knott — May 07, 2010

Nearly every adult can drive a car but that doesn’t make all of us Dale Earnhardt. It is all about goals. Do I want to enjoy a leisurely drive or beat everyone else to town? Both taxi drivers and NASCAR champions earn compensation.

Humans are artistic by nature otherwise we would never have progressed past hunters and gatherers. We dream, we solve problems, and we seek: art is not just a life vocation for the truly driven but can be an enjoyable pastime for others. How is that not positive? Hobbyists do not take from the gifted, but are bypassed by those who truly excel. Often, those who try their hand at art are more appreciative of real talent and become patrons and buyers.

I wish art appreciation were taught from early education through high school rather than an occasional field trip to the local art museum. This same class of children after ten years of exposure to art will pause and be able to give a more balanced reaction to any work of art.

From: Gwen Purdy — May 07, 2010

I paint to keep sane in this insane world, if someone wants to buy one of my experiments than fine, its not my goal and never was. Even though I have had a gallery and sold many during my long life. To create is to find joy in life, in whatever field of endeavor. Its my little place of contentment and joy.

From: Ed Pointer — May 07, 2010

Old habits die hard, don’t they Robert…

Esoterica: An artist may be a lone wolf. She may occasionally run with the pack. Most often she is happy foraging on her own. She may be wily and alert to opportunity. She may know that adventure can bring out her best. There are times when she’s out for blood. There are also times when she’s as playful as a puppy.

Come on Robert, I think you’re developing an affectation with the “she” thing…

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — May 07, 2010

I am a little bit confused by the meaning of the PPS.Does it mean that people have given up their individual conviction that they would agree to anything said whether they don’t really believe in it or not. Is it a form of escapism from the harsh reality of life akin to the Peter Pan Syndrome that people would like to fly to “Neverland”?In art, are artists are afraid to challenge themselves to create something that is new or complicated that they keep creating what they believe is easy and pleasing?Are they also afraid to express in their art what they believe to be controversial ? Are they also afraid of rejection and criticism?It is easier to go to their comfort zone.

From: Ben — May 07, 2010

Be careful. By introducing the necessity of becoming a “good” painter, you may throwing a wet blanket on the joy of it. I am ra retiree who has been painting for three years and love it. I want to be “good”, but definitely don’t want to be told that I ought to be!.

From: Randy Davis — May 07, 2010

Reading this info set off a spark of truth and soul searching! Although I have been a professional scenic artist in the entertainment industry for 31 years now, and know what “professional” quality and work is in that realm, but,I don’t know what that is for my PERSONAL work! An interesting dilemma solved only by continued work and search!

From: Gay Pogue — May 07, 2010

“When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff”. – (Quote Act III, Sc. II).

A different concept, and perhaps your point.

From: DLS — May 07, 2010

If all the hobby artists were content to just paint and have fun, I’d say “more power to them”. The problem is, my observation is that mediocrity is indeed taking over the local art scene. For example, I participate in an art show every summer that draws loads of talented painters and, in ever-increasing numbers, loads of not-so-talented ones. These are the hobby painters who are not content to simply enjoy making art, they are out there peddling it. They don’t care to do the groundwork that involves study and discipline and practice, but they can paint a pretty picture and therefore think they should be able to sell it, and they also have no qualms about selling it for a song — it’s just a hobby after all. Now, to add insult to injury, every Tom, Dick and Harry is making giclée prints, as if selling the originals of their poorly conceived and executed artwork wasn’t enough. I would rather see Joe Public buy a print of an old master than some rubbishy original or worse, giclée copy of a rubbishy painting. At least then they’d be getting a piece of decent art for their walls and not supporting some mediocre, amateur wanna-be’s fantasy of being an artist without doing the groundwork. Gee, I think I sound just a little cranky about this particular topic and I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone. It’s just that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to feel tolerant about what I consider the dumbing down of the public’s understanding of what makes good art. No offense to all the talented amateurs out there, or to just about anyone who loves to make art for the sake of making it. There are few more joyful experiences and I would never suggest for a moment that people shouldn’t know what that feels like. I just don’t understand why anybody who makes art figures they can also sell it.

From: anon — May 07, 2010

Dear DLS, when you get worked up, ask yourself one question – is it illegal? It’s not – end of story.

From: Jim Larwill — May 08, 2010

Got a howl out of your post this morning. It was just a few weeks ago I shared the Carnivoresque with you. If nothing else the canine is the most common metaphor used by apes. In short, for your readers, the Carnivoresque postulates the original “human” culture was a totemic hybrid culture of ape and wolf co-operation. Our first thought was “i Wolf” and this invention of metaphor sparked our ability for language.

Evidence for our cross-species co-operative hunting culture of origin displays itself in the stories we apes tell about ourselves up until this very day. (A fun game is watching for canine references and appearances in movies just as the status of the central character is about to change.) Hierarchcal Troops of loosely banded grazing individuals with its harem was replaced by hunters with small highly organized Collective Packs with a pair bonded Alpha and Omega (symbolic tails up), supported by Beta’s (symbolic tails down). The Omega centered the pack by picking the Den Site, and the Alpha marked the surrounding territory. Incest was prevented by dispersal individuals who started as Beta’s who lifted their “tails” and were driven from the pack. These Wags became wanderers who eventually replaced an Alpha or Omega (by cannibalization – symbolic or last supper real – ape and not wolf behavior); or formed a new pack with another Wag. Evidence for this is similar to the Big Bang theory of the Universe in that this behavior pattern of origin continues to echo within the plot structures of most of the stories we silly apes tell. And just watch for those wolf and dog references…

Lac Bussiere Quebec

From: Haim Mizrahi — May 08, 2010

We need to examine the: ” I am not trying to get good ” a little further. This statement is an emotional rather than rational one, its owner is lacking the ability to judge a fact of life through an intimate desire coming to be through him. a very typical sensation in the new zone of operation, as in adding something to your life that can, actually, take off on its own. the poor guy, he should have come to see me, I would have made him aware of the magnitude of the place he have already reached as he wonders and toils with doubts and question marks. I would have showed him how powerful the light already is, how the veins expand to accommodate for the expansion, the abundance of subject-matters at random, interpreting together the willingness to cope with a desire. unfortunately we are al naive and, therefor, limited.

we are carried by the slightest movement of air into disproportional distances, away from the warmth of closeness to a truth.

” I am not trying to get good ” is a simple truth and art dissolves between these lines. this is power in its outmost manifestation, Casual.

Ps, one does not need a finger-nail to scratch.

From: Susan-Rose Slatkoff — May 08, 2010

I think there is something to be said for that attitude that says, “I do it because I love it.” When I was acting in amateur productions, I had so much fun. There was an excitement and a zest for the process. Once I turned professional, however, I discovered that I had to do shows which didn’t grab me, suffer tyrannical directors, and found myself in competition with my colleagues. It drained some of the sweetness out of acting.

It can be the same when an artist starts to sell her works. I have found myself thinking that I “_should_ do more of those watercolours, because they sell best”, or worrying that what I was producing wouldn’t sell well. It took quite a bit of the magic out of the whole enterprise.

Oddly enough, I found myself blocked (not really odd at all).

I have had to juggle attitudes and hone my awareness in order to incorporate that puppy feeling, while considering my saleability at the same time. It isn’t easy. Nevertheless, without the joy that accompanies the painting (even when things are not going well) I lose my spiritual connection to doing the work. I believe that I can work with joy, keep a critical mind, aim to improve my quality, and that my paintings will get better, and will sell. The works that were done with joy have always sold first. I think there is a lesson here.

From: Gavin Logan — May 08, 2010

If everybody loses ambition, gets soft, goes spiritual, gets sloppy, we’ll go the way of the Roman Empire. We need to remake ourselves as sterner stuff.

From: Patricia Paine — May 08, 2010

Wouldn’t it be transforming if in our culture people were encouraged to make art because in even attempting to do it one begins to change? In some cultures, for example Native American, it seems that everyone is artistic. Perhaps this concept leads to a greater appreciation of beauty and order over time.

From: Margaret Heuges — May 11, 2010

Friends who have admired my work often show me the work of other artists that impress them, and expect me to be as excited as they are. Most of the time I am at a loss for words because my viewpoint about painting is so specific that I rarely find another artist that moves me, although when I am moved it is a wonderful experience. Because I dislike any attempt at being superficial I end up fumbling for words. I’m seventy and I’ve formed some clear viewpoints over the years.

My gallery director, however, is austute and she seems to know which artists to show me, especially if I have shown curiosity about a certain style or medium, so my response can be sincere.

Cape May, NJ

From: Karen R. Phinney — May 11, 2010

It’s different with art than with say, running or tennis, to be the best. Who decides who is “the best”…the art cognoscenti? The public? It’s still subjective, and bound to be very polarized. There is no “clear cut best”, although we all can agree that Michelangelo “had it” for sure………… although I guess “the worst” is usually self-evident!!

From: judy — May 11, 2010

I would think that one would want to improve for the personal challenge, not competing with others, but only with oneself. However, the real problem is when you don’t recognize that you are in a sea of mediocrity.

And as a side comment, about mediocrity & culture, I’ve always thought that post-modern art wasn’t really that dissimilar from the childhood excitement of theme parks. Perhaps it’s a desire to shock ourselves out of mediocrity. Disneymania, brought to a chic dishonesty. Perhaps as we age, our minds become… stale? bored? We seek the passion, the wonder, the intensity of new experiences. Picasso wanted to paint like a child. I dunno. I think it’s overrated. Childlike wonder reads a lot different to me than a Childish mind set. And again, the problem is when one does not recognize the difference.

From: mesu — May 12, 2010

DSL, I agree with you 100%, but you did forget to mention the “artists” who are peddling blatant copies of others works and don’t (or do?) realize they are stealing, ‘couse they are too lazy to do the work themselves. Makes me crazy.

From: artista — May 13, 2010

I was once in a class where the leading artist was quite tyranic person demanding from students to paint just so as he demonstrated. Most students couldn’t match his skill and he made some “fun”, but actually quite rude coments about studen’t “lack of commitment to make sacrifices and practise to get better”. I did a very good job and in most exercises did better than the instructor. I knew from his attitude that I shouldn’t expect any praise, but it was quite schocking when he said that I should “paint original” and not “copy his style”. If he wanted to say that the course was below my skill level, he should have said that, but he chose to offend implying that I was stealing (while he indeed demanded that we all copy what he did). I have noticed throughout the years that most of the artists who complain that someone is trying to steal from them, and usually talking about younger artists who are actually better in painting a similar subject. They rarely complain about students who do lousy copies. For example, my friend got really good in painting florals. One day I heard an old artist how this young artists copied “her peonies”. I wasn’t familiar with “her peonies” so I did some search and found that she did make a similar painting many years ago, but it was neither unique nor very good.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — May 13, 2010

“Childlike wonder reads a lot different to me than a Childish mind set. And again, the problem is when one does not recognize the difference.” Thank you, Judy, for pointing out something that to me should seem obvious. As I was reading I kept thinking “Childlike is not the same thing as childish”. This discussion became amusing at times, as responders demonstrated both in turns. But the childlike openess is an essential part of not only art, but other creative pursuits, such as science. Childishness, in my opinion, gets in the way, not only of art, but of living fully. Now I’m going to go back up and listen to Pavarotti.

From: Grace Gisselquist — May 24, 2010

My favorite Cohen verse

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everyting

Thats how the light shines in

From: Sherri Donlon — May 25, 2010

The esoterica comment rang SO TRUE with me. I keep an illustrated journal, and immediately wrote it in. Since then, several close friends and family have commented that it describes me perfectly. Thank you, Robert!!

From: Frank — May 25, 2010

I have to say many of these comments amuse me – “art is too subjective” , “ambition is the only thing”, “If everybody loses ambition, gets soft, goes spiritual, gets sloppy, we’ll go the way of the Roman Empire. We need to remake ourselves as sterner stuff.”

Wow! It seems that a lot of folks posting want art to be a certain way and think everyone should pursue the same goals they have…folks – that is ridiculous…do what you do for your own reasons and let others go their own way…dealing with people like this is why I think I paint in the first place – as a refuge from type A, anal retentive folks. Now everyone take a deep breath and remember you are not in control here…. ;-)

 

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