Monthly Archives: May, 2019

Letters The unfinished Adoration of the Magi (1481-82)
by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

In the most recent issue of the journal Brain, Marco Cantani, professor of psychiatry at King’s College London has linked Leonardo da Vinci’s chronic inability to complete projects to undiagnosed ADHD. According to Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 seminal artistic biography, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Leonardo jumped from project to project, slept only in short bursts and had trouble finishing his paintings. To Professor Cantani, the tumbling evidence is enough to suggest a posthumous diagnosis and explore the creative edge ADHD could offer affected artists.

Letters Lake George (formerly Reflection Seascape (1922)
oil on canvas
by Georgia O'Keeffee (1887-1986)

In the recently published Against Happiness, popular writer Eric Wilson disparages our current love affair with putting on a happy face. With our “feel good” culture and the widespread use of happy drugs, everybody’s trying to be cheerful and there are no decent dollops of melancholy and sadness, he says. When this happens art becomes bland, unchallenging and redundant. Dr. Thomas Svolos of the department of Psychiatry at Creighton University School of Medicine thinks Wilson is right. “When you’re melancholy, you tend to step back and examine your life,” he says, “That kind of questioning is essential for creativity.”

Letters Drift, 2010
oil on canvas
36 x 36 inches
by Sara Genn

Yesterday, my twin James arrived in the evening with an early birthday present. I could hardly believe it when he wheeled it across in front of the window under the eave lights, where he knew I would see it from the kitchen. Sky blue, with 3 speeds and a basket, James might as well have given me a second studio. After I hugged and thanked him, we reminisced about every other bicycle we had ever known, and all the pleasure and inspiration that can be drawn from such a timeless creativity machine.

Letters Getting started on Ramparts, February 2004.

When I was a boy my dad owned a sign shop. There were four employees: Nort, Mort, Phil and Bert. Each had their specialty — show cards, banners, silkscreen, illustration. It seems my dad was always walking around and asking, “Do you have something to get on with?” Dad lived in fear that one or the other would run out of something to do.

Letters I Love the Whole World, 
1524 x 1524 mm,
Acrylic paint and graphite on canvas
by Agnes Martin (1912-2004)

Not so long ago, I moved to New York to paint the paintings I had always longed to paint, with the dream of showing them in a place where they needed no explanation. I found a small loft behind Canal Street, between the fish market and the counterfeit handbags, and began filling my new-old studio with the largest paintings I could muster. There was no purpose or goal to it other than to see if it could be done.

Letters sara genn lake ohara

My daughter, Sara, and I are again up to Lake O’Hara and Yoho National Park in British Columbia. Today, in the champagne air of a place known as “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” both of us are struggling with extra-large canvases. We’ve come this high with a little help from our friends, and we’re talking about “strong and wrong.” It’s a term currently used by some of Sara’s New York musician friends. Apparently it’s better to blow a strong note off key than to produce a wimpy one that doesn’t get noticed.

Letters Girl with Rabbit, 1905
by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907)

“Your doubt can become a good quality if you train it,” wrote Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to 19-year-old Franz Kappus, an officer cadet at the Military Academy of Vienna who, disenchanted with military life, began sending his poems to Rilke for critique. For seven years, Rilke replied with letters about love, loneliness, truth seeking, suffering and feeling and engaging with art and the world. When tackling doubt, he suggested that Kappus could transform it into a productive creative tool. “It must become knowing, it must become criticism.” Here are a few ideas:

Letters The Studio, 1881
oil on canvas
by Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884)

When I was a kid my folks took me on a road trip. As we approached the town of Hope, B.C., we saw, crawling up the shoulder of a steep hill, an ancient Model T Ford. A skinny, mustachioed man wearing a fedora was sitting up tall behind the wheel. Below him, a sign on the side of the old car read “Toronto or Bust.” Toronto was 5500 miles away. As we flew by in our ’47 Chev Fleetline I distinctly remember my dad turning to me, winking, and saying, “No hope.” My mom laughed. Dad turned out to be wrong.

Letters Ram's Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico), 1935
oil on canvas, 
30 x 36 inches
by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

Women artists may be knowingly or unknowingly practicing a creative system called, “cycle-synching.” Neuroscientists have concluded that the two main female reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, do not only rule the body’s fertility but also have a powerful effect on our neurochemistry. Add to this that new fertility-tracking apps like Clue are enabling women to predict the onset of productivity tools like high energy, sex drive, boldness, tiredness, sensitivity and body pain.