My most recent transgression, two weeks ago, happened when I used an ATV to seek a painting opportunity. This event, disclosed in one small paragraph in a previous letter, caused more than two hundred purists to unsubscribe. I count this as a good thing, actually, because it indicates that we Earthlings are greening up. I’ll miss those subscribers, though, and I know that any amount of protest on my part that it was just an isolated, one-time sin will not bring them back. They’ve had it with me.
I do, however, continue to believe that sport-painting has the least impact on the environment — way less than sports such as hunting and fishing. In painting, you take from the environment without taking anything from it. That being said, I’m currently on a fishing trip. I’m just not fishing that much. I’m trying to get control of other tendencies:
Thou shalt not spill paint around in the bush.
Thou shalt not work on poorly prepared grounds.
Thou shalt not be shabby in thy looking and seeing.
Thou shalt not fight, torture or avoid thy work.
Thou shalt not take thy personal passion lightly.
Thou shalt not repeat thyself too frequently.
Thou shalt paint to please thyself.
Thou shalt be hard to please.
“The spiritual,” said Thomas Carlyle, “is the parent of the practical.” Many years ago I wrote myself a private prayer. I’ve repeated it in a couple of books and tacked it on the wall of my studio. Here, under the dripping cedar-boughs of a Queen Charlotte’s forest cathedral, I find my prayer again on a folded paper down in the sticky part of a much-travelled paintbox. It contains the sort of innocent zeal found in many youthful conversions, but it’s still welcome:
The world’s engagement of beauty is my bible,
And Art is my religion.
I come to it as a child.
I add all the grown wisdom I can gather.
Creativity is my salvation.
My easel is the altar.
My paints are the sacraments.
My brush is my soul’s movement,
and to do poorly, or not to work, is a sin.
PS: “My hand is the implement of a distant sphere. It is not my head that functions but something else, something higher, something somewhere remote. I must have great friends there, dark as well as bright. (Paul Klee)
Esoterica: The dinner conversation at a fishing lodge is laced with tales of success as well as failure. Eyes grow misty as we speak of the big ones that got away. Out on the water, sea lions, Orcas and Humpback whales are the competition. Fishers thrive on competition. When the bite is on, macho passion focuses our minds. In a lull, I mention that painting is just as exciting as coaxing Tyee out of the North Pacific. But we quickly revert to the religion of fishing, and once again I marvel at the diversity of the human species. “Whatever is received is received according to the nature of the recipient.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)
Covering our trail
by Richard Mason, Howell, NJ, USA
Rather than leave they should have stayed and tried to make you aware of the error of your ways. Your transgression in their opinion – might have led to another blog. I personally feel that attitude is extreme and is totally unnecessary, I have 4 wheeled in the past I admit with eyes downcast and great sorrow in my heart, not. Use your four-wheeler to get in to paint and hold your head high. Those are the people who would make the world off limits and deny its beauty to all but the chosen few who can still hike. Nature has a way of covering any tracks we might make.
Following the path
by Ellen Kirk, Long Beach, CA, USA
I’m no ATV fan, but sure do love the time and sketches I get when we go off canoe camping. Since we portage a lot, I have an ultra compact set-up and to be good to the world, I use non-toxic water color paints. I would suggest that there are some shades of grey when it comes to using ATVs. Cutting trails in pristine landscapes would be a big no-no, but using existing trails, keeping your speed and noise down, come on, it is reasonable!
Mind your own business
by Cynthia Nelms-Byrne, Dubuque, IA, USA
The fact that so many subscribers quit on the basis that you used an ATV to go exploring is kind of indicative of the US climate now. There’s zero tolerance of anyone or anything who doesn’t agree with you on every single point of existence. While I wouldn’t choose an ATV to go exploring (I’m kind of afraid of them), I acknowledge your right to do so. I am thinking of starting a new political/philosophical party called the “Mind Your Own Business” party, where people don’t judge others so harshly. Of course, that would probably cause an argument over what the word “harshly” means. Anyway, I congratulate you on your outdoor ventures and wish I were painting in the wilds as you are. I’d take my Mazda Miata to do so, hoping that is politically correct enough for everyone!
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ATV a necessity
by Walter Hawn, Casper, WY, USA
I actually bought an ATV last year. My knees dictate that I can no longer hike the 20 or so miles I sometimes need to get close to a place. My top now-days is about six miles, out and back, so an ATV is a necessity for me. And, I’ve discovered a whole world of responsible ATV riders, who far outnumber, but are far less visible than, the dreaded *sses who annoy so many. It’s possible to quiet the machines a lot below the stock noise levels. It’s not necessary to run over hikers on the trails (muscle-powered bikers are, I think, guilty of this more often), and it’s certainly not necessary to be an obnoxious pest.
For me, an ATV is a tool, just as my lenses and tripod, and I use it the same way.
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by Joann DeCosta, Plymouth, NH, USA
Seems to me that those so called “purists” could use a little of God’s grace. I find it hard to believe that so many unsubscribed, how utterly sad. I do not consider limiting ourselves to nature truly greening up, but drying up. It’s not like you left litter on your ride, or polluted a puddle. I am a dog walker and pet sitter. I walk nature and recreation trails everyday, then run home to sort my tiles in mosaic trees, clouds and streams, that catch my eye as so beautiful. Snow mobile, ATVs, mountain bikers, cross country skiers, dog walkers, hikers, man and nature have a unique harmony here, where most people realize you cannot legislate or religion up God’s creation. As a dog walker, I deal with some ‘purist’ types that believe dogs do not belong in homes, or as pets with collars around their necks, but these wonderful creatures teach us (if we let them) what grace really is on a daily basis, and I truly believe they are a gift from God to reflect what kind of love He has for us humans — unconditional, unmerited, as a gift for believers in grace.
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by Saundra Hodge, Jefferson City, MO, USA
“My most recent transgression, two weeks ago, happened when I used an ATV to seek a painting opportunity. This event, disclosed in one small paragraph in a previous letter, caused more than two hundred purists to unsubscribe….” said Robert Genn in Religious journeys.
You have got to be kidding!!! Talk about being judgmental, particularly to someone who has been so giving for so long as you have been with your knowledge and advice. I don’t know how old you are but for someone who has been lugging heavy painting supplies around over the years, as much as you have, the knees and back tend to wear out and cause considerable discomfort… and a bicycle doesn’t always work in some places. And not even giving you credit in knowing that you would not go tearing through the woods like some wild man… people like that ‘need not to be missed.’
Negativity is overwhelming
by Hap Hagood, Clover, VA, USA
While I am very much opposed to ATV use in the wilds, and stated such in my response to that particular letter, I find it disappointing to learn that you lost 200 plus subscribers because of your ATV use. To do that never entered my mind, as I find your twice-weekly, philosophical letters inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable. With the exception of the one on ATV use, I find I can relate to many of your letters. I also believe we have much in common; a genuine love of art, the outdoors, fishing, belief in the Zen of Art, etc. I just can’t see basing a drastic decision on one negative in a world of positives.
by Steve Taylor, MO, USA
People who would leave (in a huff, I suspect) over one comment are more invested in the emotional than the artistic or the natural. I wonder how many of the departed fire up the SUV to drive 300 miles to a spot where they can walk in one mile. 200 thoughtful and kind emails, asking me to rethink using an ATV in the wilderness, I’d consider worthy of thought. Even more so would be the ones that recognize that my age or infirmity might be modifying factors. So keep your ATV. It is a tool that can be used or abused, like any other tool. If it helps you paint, even in transportation to inspiration, it is serving well. It is your misguided critics who have missed the point. The good news is that they will now move on to correct another of the world’s ills by leaving it, too. If only they knew how much joy and peace they bring to the world — when they leave.
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
Being a purist can stunt your growth in many ways. I don’t own an ATV or like much about them but to judge and condemn everyone who owns or rides on them is a big waste of energy. It is the same way in painting, to condemn those artists who have become commercially successful or famous, or paint in a different style than you do robs you of the focus you need to have on your own work. It is like collecting butterflies which is a strictly forbidden activity these days. You are supposed to only stare through binoculars or photograph them with some expensive camera. When I was a kid I had a butterfly net going at all times and it was my passion. I am sure I killed a few hundred butterflies in those years. I mounted them and wrote little tiny labels describing all the scientific data I could. I walked in hundreds of fields and meadows learned a lot about the specific habitats and habits of dozens of species. Now I have no interest in collecting and raise butterflies for fun and release them. I maintain, however, that the collecting is what gave me the knowledge base I have about butterflies. The present day purists would condemn my callous killing spree but my knowledge will ultimately save a thousand times the amount of butterflies I killed. The binocular crowd will never even begin to approach the knowledge of even a beginning collector. I find all these legalistic folks who restrict, monitor, censure and formulate correct behaviors are ultimately an anathema to the creative spirit. To create is a ‘religious’ experience that demands openness and tolerance. Artists should embrace these values and avoid the slippery slope of judgment and condemnation.
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by Mary Carter
I am sorry that you lost some subscribers, but it is their loss. We must take care of the earth, it is our home. However, this can be carried so far that it loses sight that humans are part of this earth. After watching “Zero Population” on TV the other night I was left with the feeling that the earth would be better off without us homo sapiens, but who would be left to appreciate it? Some of my zealous “green” friends would sacrifice their friends and family to the altar of green.
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
Although ATVs do plenty of damage around here in Central Florida, it’s airboats that most purists hate. I’ve turned down rides offered in the past, on principle. But when Ray Willis, an Ocala National Forest archeologist, invited me to accompany him and a couple of biologists on a tour of their favorite places in the forest, accessible only by airboat, how could I refuse? It was an amazing day, visiting secret springs and hidden bridges and palm grottoes; inspiring images that I’ll never forget. Still, as we roared up the St. John’s River from Alexander Springs to Lake George shattering the silence, all I could think was “forgive me, forgive me…”
Tracks, footprints and tires
by Richard Pauli, WA, USA
I invite you to suspect there is an important message you are missing. It is not that you have miffed the green PC people; rather you have revealed your ignorance of the most serious problem of our time. Most all scientists think the global climate disruption is radically under described and unfolding faster than their studies have predicted. Indeed most scientists now think human life depends on political will power to make changes. If you look carefully, you will see some very disturbing scenarios. You might be able to redeem your place with your audience by looking into the carbon footprint of the materials you use. Bicycle next time.
(RG note) Thanks, Richard. I take it you are mainly referring to Global Warming. In our family we are concerned with the problem. We walk and bike frequently, and when we have to drive somewhere we go in one of two hybrids. I have put all my V8s in storage, stopped smoking cigars and don’t burn bad paintings outdoors anymore. I’ve also just finished reading Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming by Bjorn Lomborg. Not a Warming denier by any means, Lomborg sheds light on the current enthusiasm for doing something fast. For those who might like to learn more about the phenomenon, it’s short, crisp, and worth a read.
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Reasons to boycott
by Claudia Lorenz, Saanich, BC, Canada
Do we suppose these two hundred purists also abstain from buying cotton canvas (grown in Asia with tons of water and equivalent volumes of pesticides) or refrain from using titanium white and cadmium red (metals mined and refined in industrial quantities with countless tons of toxic effluent dumped in rivers and ground waters)? Sure we are only small time users of industrial chemistry’s products, but we do use them and are (generally) blissfully unaware of the monster whose tail we’re riding. Come on people, find something more virulent to boycott than an artist who spends so much time helping people connect with the many ways of staying creative.
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The green way
by Steven Sweeney, Austin, TX, USA
It’s probably the first “stand” most of them have ever taken. Some will ride in their Escalades to work in the morning, listening to the radio for reports of their contribution to the green cause. Others from another philosophical bent will be troubled or agitated for other reasons. The endorphins will be wasted, as they won’t make their carriers happier.
Do your own work. Get to your locations in whatever manner is required or convenient. Why should a difficult pursuit such as painting be made more difficult by arbitrary and non-artistic rules about decorum, transportation, and artificially imposed impediments to “pure” access to location? It’s not limited to art. I belong to a very large and active group of outdoor recreationalists, but I draw the line at the one-way practitioners. They are interested neither in recreation nor in art. Their heads are in other clouds.
Get a life
by Peggy Guichu, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I am always so amazed at the energy exerted by those of an obsessive/compulsive personality. For me, it is more important to keep a balance. I agree that ATVs tear up the environment when used to race around hysterically, throwing up dust and plant life, not to mention the utter horror to the wildlife in the area. To most, that is the reason why ATVs were developed. On the other hand, what a wonderful invention for those of us who aren’t in triathlon training to be witness to the isolation and quiet of the deep forest. Having been married to a man who spent endless hours pulling out the see-through windows on envelopes in order to recycle correctly, I say to those who feel you have crossed the line, get a life.
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Do what it takes
by Wayne Cooper, Noelville, ON, Canada
Re: your ‘transgression’… let me first say that I live in Northern Ontario… Canada and many people up here virtually ‘live’ on their ATVs… or quads as they are more often referred to.
The country up here does not otherwise lend itself to ‘exploration’ without them.
Whatever it takes for the artist to ‘see’ what they need to see is always going to be accepted by some and rejected by some… ultimately it is your decision alone.
Rejecting, out of hand, a tool that would permit you to go to places otherwise unreachable is beyond my comprehension. One might as well object to the use of a jet to carry you to a foreign country. In the end however, thankfully, even the narrow of mind have the right to their opinion. If I may, let me quote something that might give you comfort… it certainly has done so for me.
“My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” (Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.)
by Janet Vanderhoof, Morgan Hill, CA, USA
I have been painting for the last 18 years and many times I want to quit. I realize the value that my art has in my life to keep me whole and sane. Sometimes I find it such a challenge to keep moving forward and when I do well I also start to sabotage myself or second guess my work. I guess the bottom line is that we essentially are just channeling the gift and when we think we have created the work on our own we are fooling ourselves. Then I remind myself of the letter Nelson Mandela wrote in jail and it gives me strength to keep on painting. “Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God: your playing small doesn’t serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
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Enjoy the past comments below for Religious journeys…
At Thirty Five
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 Kate Landishaw of the USA who wrote, “I’ll just have to keep receiving your missives to find out in what other ways you’re such an awful person.”
And also Susan Moger of Maryland, USA who wrote, “I guess when it’s transportation for an artist it’s a lot different from ATV-ing for the hell of it.”
And also Linda Tindall of Placitas, NM, USA who wrote, “Sorry, so many people objected to your ATV. You’ll not find me objecting.”
And also Shari Jones who wrote, “One comment to your critics, ‘To err is human, to forgive divine.’ Their loss!”
And also Delilah Smith of Onsted, MI, USA who wrote, “How about thou shall not get Cadmium Yellow all over one’s self no matter how many times the wind blows the easel over.”
And also Shirley Hayes Shields of Delta, BC, Canada who wrote, “Let the purists eat cake. Their loss.”
And also Carole Macrury of Pt. Roberts, WA, USA who wrote, “Why would you care about 200 unforgiving ‘green’ subscribers who apparently only see things in black or white?”
And also Claudia Meades of Alaska, USA who wrote, “Please do not stop what you do… I don’t think you will, but I ask anyway. I am not your typical artist so my request may mean little. But, it HAS to be more than those who protest. I have never been a purist; hopefully never will be.”
And also Alex Nodopaka who wrote, “I would add to your list of Shalts the following most important sacrament: Thou Shalt not torture the fish you catch.”
And also Dave Wolfe of Canon City, CO, USA who wrote, “Tell your purist “ex-subscribers” to go paint the nearest land fill.”
And also Selwyn Owen of Toronto, ON, Canada who wrote, “Well good for the purists! Leaving you at the top of the mountain with all the viewpoints, I am sure that their point of marshlands and lowlands in the shadows has some merit. I am also sure that you get off your ATV as I do and allow the moose to walk freely and closer to your area of work.”
And also Lambert McLaurin of Valle Crucis, NC, USA who wrote, “How can art occur if we all think alike?”
And also Carlana of MS, USA who wrote, “I think this reaction is actually hilarious… wish we could see how those unsubscribers pollute their environments.”