During our recent survey of right-brain, left-brain tendencies, as well as our horoscope investigation, I made a discovery. Many times in artist’s reports I found a variation on the following statement: “Tends not to prioritize.” It took a while for this concept and its implications to sink in.
Many artists, it seems, drift blithely along giving equal value to a butterfly on a flower — and the state of our bank-balance or other practical concerns. We tend to live our lives as a series of undifferentiated experiences and happenings. Our more worldly friends have no problem in dismissing the butterfly — perhaps they do not see the butterfly at all — in favour of the bank situation. Their motivation has more to do with strategy. While an artist may make a connection to the poetic beauty and significance of the butterfly — which is often the nature of our contribution to society — he is also apparently not playing the game with a full deck. It might be better to say that the two individuals are holding different decks. And the bank-minded person is the one we generally accept as capable of management. It is on his discrimination and prioritization that our world turns.
We have all met artists whose worldly skills are beyond redemption — a lobotomy would not put them in order. Others of us straddle the two worlds and teach ourselves to lay down our brushes in order to pay attention to the needs of the accounting department. Look at it this way: Life is a test. The test is complicated and there are parts of the test that do not come to us naturally. But we are all capable of teaching ourselves to be a quick study of what’s needed. The breakthrough is that it’s the ability to enlarge ourselves that leads to higher self-realization and success. The human mind is a vast vessel — and just because we wacky ones figure out how to keep our bank-balance — does not mean we are diminished in the butterfly department.
PS: “What the artist gains in the way of liberty he loses in the way of order.” (Pablo Picasso)
Esoterica: Priority means learning systems of organization. Priority means using wisdom to decide order. Order is not always democratic. The employment of order can be made into a habit. “The triumph of anything is a matter of organization.” (Kurt Vonnegut)
The following are selected responses to this letter. Thank you for writing.
Wives who turn their mates into spiders
by Sari Grove (& Joseph)
The butterflies are hiding in the stomach of your bankbook. Quick, open it up, shake them out. Who knows the illicit joys of numbers? Two plus two equals five. Pablo Picasso seemed to know order when it came to women. One, two, three, four, five… Ah, the liberty. Without order we are libertine. Kurt Vonnegut got the lobotomy, his books are the result. Apparently there are no female protagonists in abstract expressionist literature. They have all been eaten up by alcoholic egotists like Jackson Pollock, the drip as metaphor for dead semen. “Out, out damned spot” sorry it must be that time of the month, Pablo, Kurt, Jackson, forgive me. My husband is hiding in a corner of his web. Miss Muffet has become Lady Macbeth. Is there any remedy for wives who turn their mates into spiders? Perhaps that is why the male artist is so angry. Female artists rant and rave while they cower and do all the real work. Pull up your socks ladies, we are looking shabby.
PS: I guess the Gorilla girls got to me after all. Here’s to you Sara Lee.
Pursue opposite interests
by Jim Rowe
In Friday’s letter you said, “it’s the ability to enlarge ourselves that leads to higher self-realization and success.” You should have put that in capital letters and underlined it. This is the basis for germinating the seeds of artistic creativity. Einstein’s method of increasing his mental capacity was to pursue opposite interests, the more challenging the better. It has been studied and proven that the brain expands when it is stretched in different and unfamiliar directions.
by Betsy Janeway
I am a new subscriber and am so pleased to be in on this wonderful twice-weekly discussion of art. I just returned from a whirlwind day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, soaking up Vermeer color and light; humbled by the excellence of Egyptian art, design and color — 15th C. BC! — and excited to discover a watercolor painter who paints sort of the way I do, with strange inexplicable brush strokes in messy landscapes of mountains and lakes, cattail marshes — do you suppose he’s copying me? ! His name is Anselm Kiefer. Well, I am a bit older than he is, so clearly HE is copying ME… :-) Then on to the Frick. I am a country person. It was nearly overwhelming, all the incredible walls of Whistlers, Corots, Vermeers, El Grecos, Goyas, Degas’s, Rembrandts, Titians and so on and on — a perfect day. I am stuffed with color and light.
by Elle Fagan
The artist must notice the butterfly in order to fill the bank account. And when he sees the butterfly, he must not see only the dollar signs that a painting of the butterfly might represent. The arts-tech practicum must be there, but the intellectual/spiritual vision that motivates in the first place must remain. The artist must also, for the sake of normal health, retain the ability to enjoy beauty as naively as the non-artist. Yoga and gymnastics help in developing upbeat and flexible positive thinking. An artist that feels all is hopeless may simply lack an understanding of his own necessary headgames. He may be misunderstood by others, as well, but in fact the logic is obvious.
by P Papadopoulous, Greece (translation)
Many of our failures in life and art come about because of the lack of strategy. This is the facility which is needed to produce better than average results. Strategy can be neglected or given a secondary place only when you have “forgivable media.” Watercolor, oils, even acrylics are not altogether forgivable. Granite and even sandstone certainly are not. Life definitely is not. “You can’t go home again.” Media strategy means both beginning strategy and progress strategy.
The hour of decision
by David Lloyd Glover, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
One day I closed the door on my career in advertising to finally pursue art. One always imagines the day when he can at last leave the corporate environment to laze away the days contemplating good composition and brush technique. As I started selling through my dealer I was content to enjoy my new leisurely pace of life turning in a few paintings every other week and then head off to the beach. Then I got to know my next door neighbor who turned out to be one of Robert Genn’s dealers. He would invite me over to the gallery to view the latest submissions probably because I showed so much interest in what’s new. This dealer was always interested in having a first look at my latest works ahead of my gallery and would give me either strong encouragement or offer some dealerly advice. Most probably he was interested in filching me away from my dealer although he politely discouraged me from jumping ship. We got to talking about his favourite subject — Bob Genn. I wanted to know his keys to success as I was always curious about everything (It’s what made me successful in advertising). The dealer described the work production and the network of dealers. Moving art around between different dealers to maximize sales exposure. Well, my bubble popped! Here I was floating in this nether world of fine art and suddenly I am snapped into reality. Good grief, in order to move to the next level I had to treat this as a business! Isn’t that the life I just left behind? I walked home to my studio and had to lie down. It forced me into some reevaluation of my reasons for doing this art thing. After some serious deliberation I decided to get serious about this so I put on my adman’s hat and wrote a strategic plan. The rest is history. I got back to the old disciplines and applied my working strategy. Did it pay off? In spades. It has taken me to places and people I would have never had the opportunity of seeing if I had done it another way. Can we artists exist with a bit of the left brain working as well as the right? I think it is essential.
by Joan Justin
The Picasso and Vonnegut quotes were thought provoking. Your comments and ideas seem to explore the balances. The ones which produce a civilized life with some creature comforts and dignity without losing sight into the offers of beauty in nature and insights into human nature, always risking naiveté or over-intellectual. This is one of the most fascinating and complex topics. I wonder if this continuing struggle is just that…a never ending struggle, not only right and left brain? However, how about the value systems? The wealthy benefactor supporting the poor talented artist? A fair exchange? Who is the more valued?
(RG note) I’ve been thinking about exploring the business of benefactors and grants and will take a crack at it soon.
Abounding in creative energy
by Tracy Call, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Five years ago I didn’t know anything about colour, art supplies, papers, composition, or colour theory. But I wanted to. So, I stuck my head into books, surfed the net like a surfer dude, asked a gazillion questions, and today, I’m calling myself an artist. I always was an artist. I just didn’t know it. I can see my progress but I still can’t quite represent accurately what I see in my head and feel in my heart. I’m finding mixing watercolor challenging. I’m finding not being my own worst critic a constant internal battle. I think I should wait until I’m absolutely fabulous before I try to sell my work. What a bunch of hooie, eh? I seem to go in spurts. I’ll watercolor like mad for 8 weeks and then I’ll go off on a gardening binge for 3. Then I’ll strip and refinish a piece of furniture and then I’ll build a shelf or make a windchime or a dreamcatcher. I’m a Jr. art director/graphic designer for an advertising agency so I’m creating all day long. I’ve got so much creative energy and so many things that I want to make/build/paint/make beautiful again that I really don’t want to work in a structured 9 to 5. I get bored easy too. When I was a kid, my parents were abusive and oppressive so maybe it’s just my time to discover all the creative fun the world has to offer. My point is, I tell myself I should be painting instead of doing all these other things otherwise I’ll never get really good at watercolor. It sounds stupid when I say it out loud but I’m not sure what to replace this message with or what kind of a “structured” routine I could get into to satisfy all these interests and get good at watercolor at the same time. How do I fight the internal critic that tells me I should be better than I am and stop comparing myself to other people?
“Mystery of Making It” book response
by Jack White
We have sent about 20 complete books to those who asked. I decided instead of just one chapter, I’d send the 20 chapters. Strange thing though I have had two different people email and ask for the chapter you mention in the clickback. I email back asking them to tell me the general area they are located in. Not street address or even town, but the vicinity. I told them as soon as I got their return email, I would send the book. I don’t think that is too much to ask, do you? Anyway, they never wrote back. However, we have had several long positive letters from those who are reading the book. Thanks for letting us share. I can see by some of the email responses that I need to complete the work. Having started at ground zero two different times and become successful both times has given me some good information to pass along. Mikki and I were talking last evening about some of the long emails we have received and know it is a book that needs to be written. Enjoyed your letter this morning… I find we must look at our art as a job. We simply get up and go to work. If we are not inspired when we begin, we just keep painting and before long we are.
(RG note) Between Jack and Mikki, they are operating with a full deck.
by Jewelene Walton
On Tuesday (April 3) in the responses to your letter on dealers, you had a response from Jack White with a note from you that if requested he might furnish a chapter of the book he referred to — “Mystery of Making It.” I emailed them at and found not only the websites of his and his wife’s work (wonderful sites) but he emailed me all 20 chapters of the book and I am so enjoying it. Please remind your readers in case they missed that chance — http://www.senkarik.com and http://www.jackwhiteartist.com I want everyone to know my fellow Texan Jack White and his wife Mikki Senkarik and their work.
Problems with priorities
by Lois Matthews Coletti
I found the right/left brain exercise enlightening. I am apparently a person with a balanced left/right brain approach to thinking. But that means that I struggle with ways to solve a problem — seeing it from all perspectives, and as you say, having a tough time with priorities. My right brain wants to savor the experience — my left brain just wants to get the job done and NOW! My test results indicated that I might be experiencing some anxiety from this struggle in the way I see the world. Ah… life… what a complex and interesting amalgam!
(RG note) You can find out about taking the right-brain, left brain test by going to a previous clickback at Right brain, Left brain.
Priorities in perspective
by Bev Willis, Fresno, California, USA
The word “prioritize’ hit me. My husband was in a bad auto accident yesterday — and he sustained a broken pelvis and other bone breaks and cuts and bruises. But even after his driver’s side of the Ford pickup he was driving being hit and dented in three feet, he is alive. The other driver was killed. Now when you talk about priorities! We only have something like this happen and we realize more and more the more important things in life and certainly wonder why we put so much emphasis on some things that really are so unimportant. I say that life is the most important thing and when one loses it or knows of someone who has, it makes it even more so. Tell your spouse you love them often and cherish and take care of him/her as much and as well as you can. Life is so short anyway you look at it. Love your family, all of them, and enjoy them all.
You may be interested to know that artists from 81 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.
That includes Robert Conrad Ledoux, “The Connecticut Artist” who asks “Do we make art to live, or do we live to make art?” The answer, he says, is “We do both.”
And Enriquillo R. Amiama of the Domincan Republic who has devised a most unusual contest …
And Jack Wahl of Tucson, Arizona, USA who says he doesn’t know any other artists to bounce ideas off.
And Rene Coloumbe of Perpignan, France, who says we have a “Beloved romanced notion of genius…which must be upheld.”
And Josef Tany of Barcelona, Spain who says he is currently “Thoroughly investigating each subject as radiant or vague as they may appear and subsequently giving greater attention to light, depth, and movement.”