High up in a closet in our friend’s home on Kauai there’s a big cardboard box with my name on it. It contains old materials: paper, pens, virgin canvas, hard tubes, serviceable brushes. I’ve been to this island five times now. I think the last was eight years ago. My box is like a time capsule. It’s a box of my dreams. But what came out of the ends of those brushes then will not come out now. It will be something else. I’m looking at the same places with different eyes. I may be rerunning old tapes, but I’m recording new. The box yields. It will be depleted and added to for the next time.
You can go back again to the place of your birth. You can go back to those locations where you came to terms with your capabilities, made breakthroughs, and grew. The black rocks with the crashing waves. The cabin where I worked on the first draft of In Praise of Painting. The dusty cane-roads that wandered to magic. Here I’ve inhaled the salt air and thought out the strategies. Reassessment seems to be on the trade-winds.
How would I do it differently? In a situation like this I’m a witness, if not to maturing, at least to change. When you go back again there’s a perspective on a life. Misgivings, yes, but also seeing the bits that you did right. A few of what you would do the same again. Choices denied and choices taken. Techniques tried and techniques left for others. I have in my hand a brush that only dimly remembers its past, but still, miraculously, works. And then there are the same rocks, the same pathways, with different thoughts.
And when I finally fail to come back — this cardboard box will be taken down by the hands of another artist. The old cardboard box will be born again into another artist’s hands.
PS: “The cyclone ends. The sun returns; the lofty coconut trees lift up their plumes again; man does likewise. The great anguish is over; joy has returned; the sea smiles like a child.” (Paul Gauguin)
Esoterica: “Human beings, by change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” (Goethe) “The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.” (George Eliot) “Every generation must start again afresh.” (Maurice de Vlaminck)
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Stuff in grandma’s attic
I return to the old farmhouse where I was born and find the boxes of art materials in the attic that my mother always keeps there. As well as the potential that I might have been it’s a reminder of where I became distracted, horses, boys, then a lifetime, it seems, of relative drudgery to not much good purpose. There is the possibility that my daughter will be able to use them someday, as I have failed to do, and the stuff in grandma’s attic will have come around to use.
by Nilah Lenne, Ulm, Germany
The aim for operating with less and simplifying our lives generally may be deep within our souls. A sort of a wish to return to a more primitive time even as far back as the primordial ooze. Life has become more complex, and with this advent we have more neuroses and dysfunction than in previous times. The idea is certainly worth looking into. “Simplicity is cosmic, because it places our life on the same scale as all life, of innocent Nature herself, who is all-powerful.” (Deepak Chopra)
Rebirth and rejuvenation
by Peter Gold, UK
We all have our own magic places to which we return for inspiration and sustenance. It’s important not to overlook these places even if they hold feelings of regret. These are the places where we truly find rebirth and rejuvenation and are reminded of our circle of life.
by Joyce Madden
Your letter made me think and rethink. We get so involved in ‘things’ each day we forget our priorities and choices, and almost never go back to what the priorities and ideas, thoughts, etc. were when we decided that we wanted to be artists.
by Shirley Flinn
I struggle with growing and a desire to improve and finding my style and a comfort with the medium I have chosen, which is watercolor. Your letter really has put things in perspective for me. Your right, everyday since I bought my first paintbrush I have looked at the world with different eyes. What your letter tells me is to have patience, keep working and learning, take joy in what you are doing.
The nature of change
by Joye Moon
As an artist, I find it only natural to have our work grow and change. That is the nature of it as well as the astonishing wonder. Every twist and turn on that pathway impacts us and moves us farther way from where we were, and closer to what we will become. We are all works in progress.
I’m always surprised when someone who has been familiar with my work in the past, sees my new work. The comment is often, “Oh, your work is changing,” as if to say, why are you changing? My thought is always, of course it’s changing. Growing, evolving every day, moment to moment!
Passing it on
by Deborah Russell
I could not help but think of Picasso’s father, who turned over all of his art supplies to his son when Picasso turned sixteen. Although an accomplished artist himself, he chose to support his son through this honor. It’s the beauty of this life, to realize and appreciate what we have now, through traces of the past blended with sweet dreams of tomorrow. This day is my birthday, January 15th, and seems a particular time for reflection and a quiet celebration. One of my personal celebrations was to post a short story, on a writing forum, titled: Herbert and me, a celebration of life.
It is a story of my reflections on life, and the life of a man who personifies the words. His name is Herbert Ross. His life flowed in the continual stream of creative expression and experience. May we all continue to flow in the same stream.
(RG note) Deborah’s tribute to Herbert Ross is at http://www.arcanumcafe.com/community/showthread.php?=&threadid=8490
How to get started in art
by Angela Holmes
It has been wonderful receiving your letters! I live in a city where, I understand, it is most difficult to make money as an artist. I have my own studio and have just finished my portfolio and I do need some guidance. Where do I start? I have numerous ideas and huge financial goals. Do I need an agent? Must I go through local galleries? I could fill this page with questions. Is there some literature you could recommend to me for start up? What do you think of web sites for artists? I look forward to your response and thank you for your insight.
(RG note) Starting out, as you are, you are joining the many thousands who are doing the same thing. I’ve noticed that some artists get going rather easily while others may spend a lifetime in frustration and disappointment. It’s a fact of life that your success, no matter what route you take, will be based on the accessibility and quality of your work. Whether you are making entry-level work like Thomas Kincaid, the wildest of avant-garde, or something in between, to be effectively and quietly successful you ideally need some sort of tangible or perceived quality. It’s a tough order. If it were easy everybody would be doing it.
For what it’s worth I’ve always tried to help artists by trying to point them in what I think is the right direction. If you send me a few jpegs of your work I might be able to make some suggestions. This advice is confidential and it’s free. Keep in mind, advice is one of the cheapest and most available commodities. We may also be able to expose you to potential representation. It may be just a matter of phoning the Guggenheim. Or it could be “back to the drawing board.”
With regard to web sites for artists please take a look at our exploration of this subject at
Internet art review This also leads to other input on the subject.
Looking for an agent
by Antonio Puri
I viewed your website which was forwarded to me by an artist friend. Very valuable resources. Thank you. I have a question for you. What should an artist be looking for in an art agent and how does one go about finding the right agent? I have not run into anyone real as yet and am thinking about sending a catalog of my works to different agents and publishers around the country. What do you think?
(RG note) One of the most effective methods to attract new people who will work with you is through your website. The best agent is one who is attracted to your work, either because of its salability or personal appeal. It’s been my experience that dealers find you — if your work is out there already. The internet is golden. Alerting a wide range of agents to an understated site will often find the people who can resonate with your work. What should you be looking for in an agent? Apart from all the standard qualities — honesty, proper bookkeeping, good paying habits, salesmanship — look for someone who loves what you do.
Some valuable thoughts
(RG note) The following are from the Resource of Art Quotations. This is the largest collection of art quotes anywhere.
“I want to be as though new-born, knowing nothing, absolutely nothing… Then I want to do something modest; to work out by myself a tiny, formal motive, one that my pencil will be able to hold without technique.” (Paul Klee)
“As the human being feels the paint, new shapes can be created, new colors, new emotions.” (Mark Schlesinger)
“Artistic growth is, more than anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy: only the great artist knows how difficult it is.” (Willa Cather)
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 83 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.