I knew my birthday was coming when a Facebook posting read, “I wanted to get my best wishes in before the rush.” Then on Monday the emails really got going. Some said things like “Happy Birthday, Glen,” so I knew they were close friends. A few just said “HB” as if an abbreviated wish were the dues one had to pay for the free social networking. Not that I was disappointed — on Tuesday, the actual day, there were more than 3,000 by 9 a.m. Sincerely, thank you to everyone who took the time to write.
About 10 a.m. one of my distant dealers phoned to say she was nearby in her motorhome and wanted to drop in. “Nothing special, just to give you a hug.” I put down my brushes. While she was here she mentioned one of her current peeves was artists who were constantly asking her what the market needed. “Goodness,” she said, “artists should paint what they love.”
We talked about the struggle for sincerity in a commercialized world. It seemed to us that art is the last bastion of integrity, and thrives on it. I was reminded of the remark: “The main thing is sincerity, and when you learn to fake that, you’ve got it made.” It’s attributed to Cody Fisher, Sam Goldwyn, Groucho Marx, and others. Then there’s “I have principles, but they can be changed,” but I’m not sure which politician said that.
Fact is, artists need sincerity as much as they need to know how to draw and paint. Meher Baba, the Indian master and mystic advised his followers to “Live a sincere life; be natural, and be honest with yourself.” I’ve always thought art starts with your life — your loves, your interests, your weaknesses. Throughout my own life I’ve had to grab myself a few times before I went off the rails. I think we all do. The temptations are there.
Getting in tune with sincerity requires a daily search of your “passion inventory.” You have to clear your way past the clutter, impedimenta and obligations, not to mention your own personal bedevilments. About noon, after my dealer friend had left, I drove to the bookstore and bought myself 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD by Stephanie Sarkis. The good stuff never stops. Happy Birthday, Bob!
PS: “Be guided by feelings alone. Before any sight and any object, abandon yourself to your first impression. If you have really been touched, you will convey to others the sincerity of your emotion.” (Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot)
Esoterica: The passion inventory, as I’ve said before, often stems from the joys of youth. It is a deeply ingrained set of interests that can safely drive both your life and your creative life. It has so many corners and crinkles that it can keep you going through a long one. We should all be so lucky. To stay on the right side of the grass and keep exploring is the goal. Having friends helps. Every day is a birthday for all of us. It’s my sincere wish that we can all have this privilege.
You are your work
by Jeanean Martin, Boyds, MD, USA
How you live and work reflects in your paintings. It cannot be separated. Even your past creeps into your present and also into the future. Maintaining the highest integrity and honesty in your work is the most important part of who you are as a painter. Staying in touch with your inner feelings means painting for yourself first and not the market. The work is coming from a place inside you. Your work is a direct reflection of you. It is you. I will add one more quote for the day from Winston Churchill:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words,
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they determine your character.
Watch your character for your character is your destiny.
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by Rene Wojcik, Midland, TX, USA
In ancient Rome being a sculptor was a popular profession. Statues were everywhere. And, as with every industry, there were good and bad quality statues. When, upon occasion, a sculptor made a mistake in carving a particular statue, it would be remodeled with wax. Most people could not tell the difference in quality with the naked eye. If anyone wanted an authentic statue of fine quality, carved by someone who took pride in his work, he would go to the artisan marketplace in the Quad in Rome and look for signs at the booth Sine Cera — without wax. In the Sine Cera booths he could find the real thing. In everything we do in life we look for items or individuals who represent the real thing. More than any other virtue we look for in people we value “sincerity” — without wax. Robert, you are the real thing — Sine Cera.
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To thine own self be true
by Larry Santucci, FL, USA
Shakespeare said it best through Hamlet’s Polonius:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
Strange coincidence … I just began reading 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD by Stephanie Sarkis! Naturally, I am not reading it Chapters 1 through 10 … I’m jumping around. How ADD of me!
Antidote to New York
by Catherine Stock, France
After working most of my life as a designer and illustrator in New York, I am holed up in a small village where I am doing my own work and it feels great. I have a small gallery and not many people find me, but I am happy being left alone and doing what I love. Occasionally I sell work, but never to anyone who offers me less than my pretty reasonable asking price because I need to feel I am releasing my picture to a good home. My tale is probably a bit precious for some and may well be an antidote to my 25 years in New York, but it feels right.
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Art world hermetic and anemic
by H Margret, Santa Fe, NM, USA
So your dealer buddy says artists should paint what they love. All’s well when that fits in with establishment thinking. A refresher look at history shows that dealers don’t choose much in the way of original work for their galleries.
The greats usually had one dealer, not a stable. And even Paul Klee’s wife was working to collect payment from New York when Klee died of scleroderma at 60. I always laugh at all the truisms I read in the warm & fuzzy environs of the art world, where making money is easy. Most of us don’t have that experience, and it’s not our attitude or work that’s the problem. The society controls what is seen very strictly. Landscapes and versions of reality are tightly curated. Look at a Biennial show.
Your own work is a variation on an accepted theme. That leaves out a lot of creativity. Small wonder the art world is so hermetic and anemic, with so few participants.
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Sincerity up there
by Nader Khaghani, Gilroy, CA, USA
Good that you mess with our heads. You Socrates, you. When are you going to start Robert Genn’s Church of Dead and Alive and To Be Born Painters Brothers and Sisters of This Universe and Parallel Universes? I reserve a disciple place and I want my papers. Dangerous to walk around without papers these days.
Here’s the image: I will be sitting there with worry beads, drinking tea, smoking water pipe reading and mediating the Twice-Weekly Letters July 10, 1999 to Sept 25, 2009. I keep reading and reading my weighty bible while praying for a good painting to drop from sky. And I hear the messenger Bro Bob: “Get up. There are doers and dodgers. Pray while you paint.” I hear you, Bro.
Now that we have established the Church, the Messenger, and the Disciple (we keep Judas out, as Cher used to sing: “It is all in his kiss,” that insincere kiss!) let’s get to the subject at hand. Sincere! This is what your disciple Bro Nader has to say on the subject-hey, the disciples wrote the bible so don’t argue:
“To be honest to one’s own feeling is to discover (more like catch glimpses of the mysteries) of one’s own subjective nature. How can we be sincere to what we have not touched and don’t know? That is when the non-conceptual knowledge enters the mix in this age of conceptual art. I submit the image is the doorway to the subjective self and sincere feelings. Since image is both by will and desire and autonomous of both. Comes in a moment of inspiration, or having filled the intellect, it digests ideas and appears before the mind’s eye on its own accord.”
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Jacques Riviere on sincerity
by David Lauterstein, Austin, TX, USA
Your entry today reminded me of the words of the French man of letters Jacques Riviere (1886-1925):
“First, a distinction must be made between sincerity toward others and sincerity toward self. We shall not speak of the former. As it is understood in society, it is too easy. (That is probably why it has been made into a virtue.) It consists in never confessing to feelings that the person with whom one is speaking has not been able to foresee; a man is lacking in sincerity toward us when the thoughts he shows us are not those we should have had in his place. Sincerely toward others, as it must be understood, is called confession. But this word awakens so many ideas of such a serious nature that a whole book would be required to develop them.
Sincerely toward self is a dangerous virtue. It cannot be recommended; it does not make a man more sociable; it does not ingratiate him with his fellow creatures; it is not one of those good universal duties that molds our tractability. To attempt it, one must be secretly chosen.
It would seem to be sufficient to let oneself go in order to be sincere — not to prevent oneself from feeling, from yielding to one’s spontaneity. We stop being sincere the moment we intervene in ourselves; if I work on myself, I deform myself. Sincerity means yielding to myself, obedience to the natural course of my emotions, an easy inclination, a self-satisfied access to my inner facility. It requires no effort on my part; I shall exercise it by relaxing.
However, it is more exact to say: sincerity is a continuous effort to create one’s soul in its real image. There is nothing more deceitful than what is spontaneous, nothing more foreign to myself. It is never with myself that I begin; the feelings I adopt naturally are not mine; I do not experience them, I fall into them right off as into a rut; they carry me along because they are convenient and reassuring; everybody has already traveled along them; we know where they go; no one has ever come to harm through them. They introduce themselves to my heart right away with their credentials. So clearly do I see advantage in them that I do not dream of doubting their truth. They have just the right amount of declivity to bring me to the level of another person, into agreement with his thoughts; they are calculated to allow conversation. But in spite of these amenities, they have no closer connections with my soul than the formulas of politeness.
My second thoughts are the true ones, those that await me in those depths down to which I do not go. Not the first thoughts alone are thinking in me; in the very depths of myself there is a low, continual meditation about which I know nothing and about which I shall know nothing unless I make an effort: this is my soul. It is feeble and seems almost ideal; it scarcely exists; I sense it as if it were a possible and faraway world. Every man, even those who get along with conventional emotions, is vaguely warned of the depths in himself, vaguely filled with a secret suspicion. There is faint taste of insufficiency in everything that he experiences; he understands that he could be more authentic than he is, that other more hidden, more astonishing parts of himself could be concerned in the event. But he does not know how to seize this reality which he contains; for it neither invites nor calls to him; and soon he loses even the very desire to find it.
In fact, how my soul disdains me! It is not eager to live, it will make no sign to me. All my feelings, which are still virtual, though already more real than I am, look at me ironically and seem to say: “Will you dare get acquainted with us?” They are enclosed and silent, but not vague; but their terrible precision is slumbering; it is still in imagination. They well know that they can be born only through me: nevertheless they treat me with disdain.
I must spy them out, lay hold of them. Sincerely is a subtle hunt which pursues only silences. It requires an untiring intellectual agility, a pitiless presence of mind. It reigns over all that is silent within me and awakens the necessary feelings. It avoids the most easy ones because they are deceptive; the ones it has to discover are not evident. It tries several paths, and having tried them, turns away from them. It has experience in truth; in other words, it has a hesitant touch which does not make mistakes any more. For each event that befalls me, through a bold, diversified exploration, sincerity assembles all the thoughts I must have; following a mysterious necessity, it composes my soul; with ingenuity, it recognizes the scattered elements of that unedited, strange combination which will be my natural response. Nothing is more unexpected than myself; I should never have imagined such a face. However, when sincerity introduces it to me, I do not for a moment dream of denying it. This is indeed that unknown person I was — and so close to me! How might I have guessed that such opposite antagonistic feelings could come together and form a single soul so skillfully?
The sincere man is not the one who is always seen bounding forward, always ready to answer, always intimate with his heart and eager to reveal it. The sincere man is not in such a hurry, for he knows how much work he has. He is not a man of first impulses. He does not possess his soul once and for all, he has not learned it by heart. On the contrary, he constructs it anew for every occasion. He doubts, waits, applies himself; he is filled with calculations like a financier; he stops at each level of himself and chooses what he needs to form his truth. Or rather, let us compare him to a fine, joyful hunter who tracks his feelings, follows them, brings them to bay, brings them back. How I like this merry prudence, this lively, tough attention, this contained enthusiasm, this reflective glance from under lowered lids, this smile! Finally he exclaims: ‘This is what I think!’
It is more difficult, more gay to be sincere than to be just.”
(RG note) David Lauterstein is the author of The Deep Massage Book – How to Combine Structure and Energy in Bodywork.
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Artists collecting artists
by Leslie Kruzic, Orange Park, FL, USA
Your letter has me thinking of Mortality and Immortality. I hope you live forever, because I so enjoy your letter. However, the odds are against you, so. Will your daughter, Sara, take over?
I am both an artist and a collector. I am self-aware enough to think the two are very connected in terms of “immortality.” If I can’t be “famous” for my own art, perhaps I can be famous for the art I collected. What are your thoughts on artists as collectors? Do you think it diminishes our “value” in the eyes of the public when we collect other artists? Might we be the “worst” collectors because we may tend to collect those we know personally? Could a “personal” collection be appraised properly if there is no one to know the local artists a “personal collector” knows?
(RG note) Thanks, Leslie. There are a lot of great questions here. My daughter, Sara, if she ever takes over, will definitely turn this schmegegge into a class act. Artists are great collectors and the act of collecting doesn’t diminish them one iota — in anyone’s eyes. Just as musicians love music, the act of collecting art reinforces the value and brilliance of our profession. My experience is that we don’t always tend to collect those we know, but rather those we admire. This is where the term “Painter’s Painter” comes in. Artists tend to admire other virtues (Craft, facility, technique, etc) in works of art than regular people — just one of the reasons the collections of painters are not always so readily re-salable into a generalized market. But true, a collection of relatively unknown “friends” can be tough sledding. Dealers, auction houses, and other secondary marketers are in the business of selling names, not necessarily friendships, however valuable.
by Karen Jones, MA, USA
In the electronic age, where it is now possible to take a photo of virtually anything and have it printed on a canvas, how does one distinguish between ‘original’ and ‘enhanced photo or digital art’? I think this may be becoming an issue; sometimes it is very difficult to detect the difference. If the ‘artist’ enters a show and under medium puts “digital art” is that acceptable? Is it also acceptable to enter a piece under acrylic/oil, etc, painting if there is a photo underneath and the ‘artist’ has painted over or enhanced it)? Jurors are having a difficult time trying to tell the difference between an original piece of artwork and one that has been ‘manipulated’ — particularly if the entire image is painted over. What is your opinion on this and how would one a. detect the difference or b. confront the artist about its originality — or — should there be a new category in art shows / galleries? Thank you for any advice you can offer.
(RG note) Thanks, Karen. When I’m jurying and this sort of thing shows up, I try to determine how much creative “value added” the artist has given the photographic image. In many cases these days a photocopy or other mechanical image is just the starting point for a more significant work that holds your interest beyond the fact that it was photo-derived. On the other hand there are people who use perfectly good photos and turn them into aardvark poop. This is especially true of the “paint over the photo” crowd. Regarding the arts of detection and confrontation, more than once I’ve phoned an artist, told him I’m a juror, “found the work interesting” and wondered about the process. I have no reason to suspect I don’t get an honest answer. Further, the “separate category” solution is one that many clubs and contests are currently trying, but in my opinion there are too many tiny photo incursions and grey areas nowadays. I don’t think you want to be too rigid.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Sincerity…
acrylic painting 48 x 60 inches
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 Brenda Swenson of South Pasadena, CA, USA, who wrote, “I am extremely grateful for my collectors. To show how genuinely sincere I am I always send a hand written thank you note for a purchase, and if the painting is published I send a copy of the magazine or book. Sincerity goes beyond the passing of money from one hand to another; it is showing the act of gratitude, also.”
And also Valerie Norberry Vanorden of Kalamazoo, MI, USA, who wrote, “Sincerity is like character; it’s who you are when no one is looking.”