Advisory panel


Dear Artist,

Yesterday I took part in an advisory panel. This is where a couple of somewhat respected artists take a look, one artist at a time, at the work of up-and-comers. For each half-hour interview, my accomplice Janice Robertson and I were presented with three originals, digital assemblies of recent work, and the artists themselves to talk about their goals and aspirations. Many wanted to know if they were ready for galleries. Some were looking for higher status in some organization or were wondering about more workshops and seminars. Most were simply asking, “What do I do now?”

I’ve always been suspicious of advisory panels, but artists seem to want them and not all artists are masochists.

Over the afternoon and evening we looked at beginner wanderings, wild imaginings and remarkable, professional accomplishments.

Funnily, we advisors often found ourselves telling one artist to stop painting big and to move to smaller works, while others were told to give their small stuff more power by painting bigger. Some are advised to paint “looser,” others “tighter.” So it goes.

I’m not a believer in critically picking at works here and there. I rather like looking at artists’ general direction and trying to see what they might wish to become. A few observations were clarified by yesterday’s encounters:

Artists need to learn to be their own best critics.

Artists need to go to their rooms and hone their styles.

Artists need to fall in love with their own processes.

Artists need to march to their own drummers.

Artists need to constantly ask, “What could be?”

Almost all artists need to further sensitize themselves to their subject matter and their passions, as well as to the further possibilities of their chosen media. They need to think ahead and work their plans. They need to be impulsive and audacious. Artists need to be — artistic.

Best regards,


PS: “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” (Erica Jong) “In those days he was wiser than he is now — he used frequently to take my advice.” (Winston Churchill)

Esoterica: Cao Dai is a significant Vietnamese religion founded in 1926. A synthesis of Pragmatism, Christianity, Buddhism and other eastern philosophies, its saints include diverse figures such as Victor Hugo, Jesus and William Shakespeare. A couple of days ago on the Mekong Delta I entered one of their cathedrals. My first thought was, “These folks need an advisory panel.” The décor was so over-the-top kitsch that it blew my socks off. A blend of Disneyland, McDonald’s and Salvador Dali, the garish colours and eclectic motifs were like a ball of candy-floss pushed in your face.Sucking up the incense, cruising the diversity, stared down by the “Divine eye” and giving myself a couple of minutes of quiet contemplation had me thinking “How wonderful,” and “Why not?” I was remembering Marshal McLuhan‘s remark: “Art is what you can get away with.”

A Cao Dai cathedral


These folks only need be vegetarian for ten days a month


The universal all-seeing eye keeps an eye on you and all the art.


An eclectic hierarchy of saints from east and west


This phoenix-like bird represents nobility to the Cao Dai








Surviving the inquisition
by Winston Seeney, Speightstown, Barbados

The hallways of art are made famous by the honoured presence of many iconoclastic, non-conforming individuals. It would seem like a pretty exclusive process if artists meet to compress the works of their peers into what their perception of a marketable style is. When members of such a committee tell up-and-coming artists to loosen up and paint with more spontaneity, the ghost of impressionism looks over their very shoulders. Ironically, poor old Vincent Van Gogh would have never survived such an inquisition. In turn, his loss from the world of art would have eliminated the judgment of those very advisory board members who seek spontaneity and looseness in the works of those they judge. And so the circle goes round.

(RG note) Thanks, Winston. While survival is important, many artists are not at all concerned with marketing. To defend the panel concept, the ideals are much higher than that. And yep, for sure, a design panel would certainly have put Vincent off his game.

There are 2 comments for Surviving the inquisition by Winston Seeney

From: PWBrown — Feb 17, 2009

Van Gogh’s spontaneity is greatly overplayed. It may even be a myth. One could argue in fact that very little spontaneity was involved. For nearly every major Van Gogh painting there exists a full-sized ink drawing which obviously provided Van Gogh with a blueprint for his eventual painting. These blueprints describe every brush stroke in the final painting, its direction, and length. That amazing sky in “The Starry Night?” Completely pre-designed in ink. Those wild looking cypress trees? Pre-designed down to the number of branches. PWB

From: Jennifer Bellinger — Feb 18, 2009

I remember reading a book on Van Gogh’s work about his drawings and how many of them were drawn from the finished painting, not before, with the idea that he could make money selling the drawings. A painting from a preliminary sketch would no doubt show changes as the painting evolved? What this told me is that he was as concerned about marketing his work as we painters are today! I will see if our library still has that book and report back.


The world we know has changed
by Valerie Seligsohn


“Hemlock 1”
oil/acrylic painting, 12 x 18 inches
by Valerie Seligsohn

Thanks to my dear friend, Caroll Drazen, I am now a recipient of your letter. Caroll was the first professor of art history and architect of its program at the Community College of Philadelphia. We became good friends, both graduates of University of Penn’s graduate program in fine art arts — she in art history and me in painting. Now she is an artist. After many years of suppressing her desire and need to be an active artist she is now painting wonderful works. Unfortunately, the world has changed. I have my glory. Of course I want to have more, but with the country in such turmoil, any advice I give her is mute. I do have my work in many important collections ( I know it is over; the world we know has changed. Art is not viable. All art is ephemeral.

(RG note) Thanks, Valerie. Several artists wrote today with pessimistic forecasts for the future of art. Maybe I’m stupid and don’t know what’s going on, but I’m optimistic. Sure, wiser minds must prevail to pull the world out of its current fiscal funk. But these things have happened before, and they will happen again. Art will prevail.

There are 3 comments for The world we know has changed by Valerie Seligsohn

From: Gene Martin — Feb 17, 2009

Often overlooked by todays gloom and doomers is the fact gas was about $4 when this mortgage mess began and now is $1.75. My reading tells me this drop in gas prices amounts to about a 900 billion dollar tax stimulus. In the last 30 days I have had more opportunity, as an artist, present itself than in the last 3 years. Bad economy? I really don’t see it.

From: Bonny Current — Feb 17, 2009

I too am an optimist. Just when I think that people are not buying art, something sells. I think sometimes when we economize and scrimp and save for a long while, we yearn for that thing we would like to splurge on. For some it is a meal out, a weekend away or a day at a spa. I think art is that splurge that makes us feel wonderful each time we look at it and remember what it was that inspired us to buy it/ create it, in the first place. So I am optimist about the future of art and an artist’s ability to sell and be collected, even if times are tough.

From: Anonymous — Feb 17, 2009

I feel in times like this we don’t buy,buy,buy. But become much more selective. And when we do buy it means much more to us.


by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA


oil painting
by Linda Saccoccio

I would add to your list: Artists need to commit and recommit to their work again and again. Being an artist takes self-discipline and self-motivation with courage not to do what anyone expects. Artists are visionaries and have the opportunity to pave a new way. It is a fantastic path but not a comfortable one. Artists have to learn to work with discomfort, find the edge of creativity, and move away from what is safe. If you want to see yourself, Paint!





Selective hearing
by Kelley MacDonald, Tiverton, RI, USA


“Candied apple”
original painting
by Kelley MacDonald

I know myself, I feel like I want advice from more established artists. But when they give it I bristle and think to myself, “He/She has no idea what I’m trying to do! To go smaller/bigger or focus on this/or that is totally against my instincts.” I think, yes, time alone in the studio, miles and miles of canvas, exposure, rejection, more exposure and more rejection, with a little bit of hope tossed in here and that is just the way it has to be. It’s painful. It’s exhilarating. It’s frustrating, and yet sublime. Ms. Jong hit it on the head — we know the answers, we just wish they were easier.

There are 4 comments for Selective hearing by Kelley MacDonald

From: Dottie Dracos — Feb 17, 2009

That is the most delicious looking candied apple I think I’ve ever seen!

From: Paul de Marrais — Feb 17, 2009

What a great apple! It shows why painting is exciting and challenging. Something simple can really engage the senses!

From: Karen Martin Sampson — Feb 19, 2009

Kelley, the Candied Apple painting is so luscious! I actually gasped when I saw it. So simple, so direct,

so beautiful!

From: Pamm — Feb 19, 2009

I would actually like to poke your apple and see if the coating is hard!


Unqualified critics at home
by Tom Murphy, Madison, WI, USA


“Door County Dreamin'”
oil painting, 11 x 13 inches
by Tom Murphy

You might want to devote a letter, or part of one, to the folks at home who tell the learning painter what’s “wrong” with his or her work. I’ve been teaching an adult education oil painting class for nearly fifteen years (and sell my own work exclusively through galleries), and time after time I see the disappointment of someone who did the right thing in class, only to be told that someone at home doesn’t like it. These “critics” are uninformed in composition or color or brush work, of course, but they slow down the student who is unsure of his/her abilities. It happened to me when I was beginning to go professional, and I have a stack of half-finished works in my studio which some day I am going to complete, despite my wife’s unqualified “critiques” of years ago. I told a student the other day that if “Mrs. El Greco” had told him she didn’t like those elongated human figures, and he’d listened, the world would have suffered a loss of great beauty.


Limited advice needed
by John D. Stevenson, Gatineau, QC, Canada


oil painting, 48 x 48 inches
by John D. Stevenson

I have to agree with your conclusions regarding the artistic direction. My goal is to paint like myself and not be pulled into the age old ”You should paint like X, or your work looks like such and such’s work.” I only want to paint like John Stevenson. I think the advice I would like to receive from the ”pro’s” is: “‘Does the scene look and feel complete?” I find when everything in the painting works, the painting says something to the viewer. Sometimes it says something different to each individual viewer.


There is 1 comment for Limited advice needed by John D. Stevenson

From: Francie Gass — Feb 23, 2009

John, I love how the wave is almost cresting. To me, that is what makes this coastal scene so interesting. John Stevenson’s style looks just fine from here!


Make your own way
by Terry Gilecki, Delta, BC, Canada


acrylic painting, 14 x 18 inches
by Terry Gilecki

Critiquing another artist’s art, in my opinion, is somewhat a contradiction in terms. I too am not big on advisory panels or even juried art shows. Having entered only a few shows in my career, I left them on a high note placing a third by jury and, what I had hoped for more than anything, the people’s choice award. That was the critique that I prized the most then, and still do today. Even if advice and critique are given with good intentions in mind, it can be as negative as it is positive to the development of an artist needing or hoping to improve (which is pretty near every artist I’m sure). There are potentially brilliant artists that seek critique and guidance but take it too seriously. This could limit their range of expression and creative freedom to the limits of the critics themselves. All artists strive to be identifiably unique, innovative and original. I seriously doubt anyone can direct an artist there based on an opinion of what could have been a poor presentation of their work, or their foggy dreams and unrealistic aspirations. I wouldn’t want the responsibility of not recognizing a talent greater than mine.

Art is easily as diverse as music. I don’t believe a “Classic Opera” aficionado can even hope to critique “Hip Hop” or “Grunge” or most music in general. At best, they could only offer an opinion. Their opinion would likely have far less effect than that of the general music loving public.

For me, making art is a personal journey. I rarely ask directions from another lost traveler like myself, regardless of how long they have been travelling. I have found that even though the proverbial road less travelled is often longer and tougher, there is a far greater satisfaction and reward in “making your own way” than there is “taking another’s direction.”

There are 2 comments for Make your own way by Terry Gilecki

From: Mary Wood — Feb 17, 2009


Your comments remind me of the day my 8-year-old daughter came home from school crying because she had been made to sit outside the principal’s office all morning for telling the teacher that the word was “Pen-el-o-pe” and not “Pen-e-lope”.

Also, of the wonderful parable of Alan Watt’s which goes something like this. “Come and let me help you or you will surely drown,” said the monkey to the fish, placing him carefully in a tree.

From: Pamm — Feb 19, 2009

It is hard to concentrate on your words…when your painting demands so much attention…it’s beautiful!!


Staying focused
by Caryn King, VT, USA


“Partners for life”
original painting
by Caryn King

Your list of observations today reminds me of what I hoped I would develop after art school. I wanted independence of artistic thought, which for the most part, I have. I know your list verbatim but sometimes it gets lost in my very busy mind. It is when I get caught up in what is or might sell I lose my way, my excitement with process, and inventive possibilities. It is what gets lost when I dwell on to much external happenings.

You can view Caryn’s artwork here.




You can’t stop art
by Nev Sagiba, Katoomba, NSW, Australia

I agree with most of your stuff, but this one in particular resonates strongly. Put anything alive in a box and it stops breathing and soon dies. Art is art verily because it’s alive and bursting boundaries. That’s what makes it original, unique and expanding like the universe does during new creations. Otherwise it’s merely process work. Art cannot be compared to other art because if it were not unique it would not be art! Cloned “art” is dead. Living art comes from deep within and may be a struggle or an obsession but never needs to be forced. You can’t make love “by the book” and neither can you do art by mimicking someone else’s formula or because it is Tuesday night or something. Real artists are driven; they don’t sit around with “artist block” whining they have no ideas. They have too many and have to grasp one to put it down before it goes. It’s a soul thing, a madness bursting through the bonds of matter and molding matter to capture the visions splendid. Otherwise it’s nothing but an emotional fart forced out for no good reason or copying something insecurely striving for recognition. Art, real art, needs no recognition. Mostly it is politically incorrect because it lives in the realm of freedom no tyrant can reach: The heart, mind and soul.

Art is! And there is no mundane force that can stop it. Art is the breath of life that gives life to the worlds and which some lucky few have allowed themselves to become channels of its expression.

Art is living nature reflecting the impelling universe itself through a human being. Universal magic itself!

There is 1 comment for You can’t stop art by Nev Sagiba

From: Dottie Dracos — Feb 17, 2009

Wow! Here, here! Well said.




Autumn in the hills

oil painting by
Barbara Elmslie, Quebec, Canada


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 Brad Greek who wrote, “The bottom line is that we all want to hear that we are on the right track.”

And also Jim Cowan who wrote, “General De Gaulle asked his aide, ‘If as I get older I begin to make bad decisions… will you tell me ?’

‘Oui mon general’

To which DeGaulle replied, ‘Yes… but will I believe you?’ ”

And also Nancy Cook who wrote, “Take all the advice everyone you respect has ever given you, fold it up and put it in your back pocket (so you know where it is). Then follow your dreams, work very hard, be persistent, and grow.”

And also John Ferrie who wrote, “At the end of the day, it is just an opinion… everyone has one.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Advisory panel



From: anonymous — Feb 13, 2009

So…the bottom line here is…be your own person! Wow, what an original idea.

From: Don Bryant — Feb 14, 2009

Erica Jong – I never heard that interesting comment from her. Two others, however, remain etched in my mind. She lamented over the fact that the difference between facial plainness and beauty was merely fractions of inches. So true, so sad. The other memorable opinion in her circa 1960 best seller “Fear of Flying” was her solution to hunger and birth control plaguing Africa. The female would devour the nutrition arising from being locked in the embrace of sexual congress, at the same time circumventing the natural procreative mechanism.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 16, 2009

The idea of criticism is surely a slippery slope both for the artist who seeks it and critic or adviser giving it. One point I have to agree with Robert on is seeing a body of work rather than a single work is worth more to the artist as well as the critic. No one piece defines an artist especially throughout his or her lifetime. Artists evolve, hopefully, over years as they grow and find new subjects to comment on. Finding a critic that would be beneficial to you is harder than finding a doctor. Critics can rarely be subjective when looking at a multitude of artwork from various artists. Also true is seeing only one work from one artist.

So the ongoing dilemma is whom does an artist turn to for advice? The one and only answer, meager as it sounds, is the artist themselves. You have to be your own critic.

This is scary stuff especially when you are learning and unsure if any progress is taking place with your artwork. But only YOU know what it is you want to say, what you want to accomplish. No!

Then maybe the first question an artist should ask him or herself, is why do I want to do this?

If the answer comes back …because I like it or is fulfills me or I enjoy it, fine. Then don’t look to critics at all.

If the answer comes back that you have a burning desire to change the world or make a statement on your time or life or you can’t stop thinking art or the burning in your gut won’t subside until you sit at your easel, then you should think about seeking counsel.

Look to other artists’ work, find comradery in other artists, and look into yourself. You will certainly reach a point when you know you are on the right track no matter what anyone else may think or say. This will take time. As you ability grows so your confidence, so your self counsel.

From: Brian Welch MA — Feb 16, 2009

When the student is ready, the master will appear. This “master” can come in many forms, sometimes from a surprising and unexpected quarter. The point is that the student (and who isn’t a student) already knows what he or she needs, and all that is really needed is confirmation.

From: Rodney Edwards — Feb 16, 2009

Yes, the world will survive and art will always be alive.

From: Janet Sellers — Feb 16, 2009

Pleeeeze. Paint as you like and die happy. Marketing is marketing, art is art. They only have to work together to gather moooolah. Not a bit of truth to the idea that a panel will serve any artist… unless the artist is painting ON the panel. Or panting on the pain-el… or… so unsure of themselves and their efforts that a group of fussbudgets commenting over the work is an acceptable alternative to true personal insight….;P

From: Darla Tagrin — Feb 17, 2009

I think that the idea of whether art should be juried is the wrong question. The wellspring of art is the vision of the individual artist, but we are all human beings (aside from a few painting elephants) and we crave validation from our peers.

We create art for ourselves, but no one can live in a vacuum. To know that your art is appreciated, whether it is by a jury of artists or the general public, is one of the great rewards. Conversely, if no one else likes your art, it takes a very strong, self-contained ego to not feel bad about it.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Feb 17, 2009

Despite all the negative comments re panels, and giving advice, obviously there are artists who seek input from more experienced artists, to help them if they are faltering and need some direction. Sometimes “permission” is all that is needed to one who is uncertain as to whether they are doing what they need to be doing. Especially those who are fairly new at it. I know for years I didn’t trust my own opinion. (insecurity? Yes.) But maturing brings confidence. In the meantime, we journey along with different teachers, experiences, moments of insight and breakthroughs. And a well placed comment may contribute to all that. If the artist can take from it what he/she needs and not get too rigid about following what others’ think, then another artist’s advice can be timely.

From: Norma J. Marshall — Feb 17, 2009

Did You Know?


Sings and dances

With a rhythm

Of its own–

Our eyes follow as

Lines lead us on a

A merry chase,

And colors evoke

That quick

Intake of breath!

Mass and space,

Light and shade,

Shape and form,

And composition


And yet

What speaks to one

Remains silent

To another–

A mystery, indeed!


Has the Power

To move us deeply

To reach a level

Deep inside

Where words

Are left behind!

Norma Marshall

Once Upon A Time

From: Sam — Feb 17, 2009

Does anyone out there remember the book of rejection notices to famous people. It told them to give they would never be any good. Thank God they didn’t listen.

From: Carol Ann Cain — Feb 17, 2009

After a cursory reading of Mr. Greenberg’s list, it appears to be thorough. My only addition would be to own a small dog.

From: Joyce Goden — Feb 17, 2009

Eveyone is a critic (including my family)….I don’t listen unless they know something about art, I don’t pay attention unless they know more than me about art, and I appreciate their work.

I sat in a crowded church once, and asked my husband,

-How many artists do you think are in this crowd? He said not many, I said 5, he said less, maybe 2, (this is out of several hundred people)

I have not done a show in awhile, but self appointed critics seem to flock to shows.

After asking one of these critics if they know anything about art, they said, no but I know what I like.

My response would be yea, but so does everybody else and I don’t care.

When I was teaching I would do helpful constructive critiques, only after asking the artist if they would like me to.

From: George Covington — Feb 17, 2009

To avoid criticism when you don’t want any, tell them ahead of time what you want, critique or praise or whatever!

From: Scharolette Chappell — Feb 17, 2009

Only when our boundries close in on us can we realize then, we are most free.

From: Bonnie Mandoe — Feb 17, 2009

Thank you for the letter, I enjoy it. My problem: The text on Irwin Greenberg’s 100 list is too small to read. I’d like to read it. Can you help?????

From: Bill — Feb 17, 2009

Listening is almost always worthwhile, because, if advice doesn’t edify as it was nominally intended to do, it will often illuminate some other situation, something perhaps unintended. In any case, one must keep in mind that not all opinions are created equal. Advice runs the gamut from well informed and on point, to uninformed and pointless. In an odd sense, even the latter can often have value if considered the negative space of the topic in question, or the subject(s) involved in the discussion. As with composition, understanding negative space goes a long way toward understanding the rest of it.

From: Karen Cohen — Feb 17, 2009

We can analyze technique, comment on composition, discuss color theory, debate form and function, but we cannot critique art. Art is about ideas, it is not about the medium or the method.

From: Albert — Feb 17, 2009

that’s what you think

From: James MacLean — Feb 17, 2009

I am a sketchbook with a person attached. If someone chooses to call me an artist, that’s their business. I just go around getting stuff, much like those guys that go onto city streets and pick up cigarette butts. Part of my job, as I see it, is not to get stuff out of urinals, like some bums do. These sorts of bums should not be called artists–they should be called “wet butt gatherers.”

From: R D Johnstone, BFA, London — Feb 17, 2009

Like James MacLean, I too am a sketchbook attached to a person. I see other sketchbook persons making notes of things that have already been noted by yet other sketchbook persons. What’s all this noting got to do with anything? I’m bored with all this repetitious sketching. Piccadilly Circus has already been done. I sketch my ideas and they don’t look like anything that has already been seen and trivialized by previous sketching.

From: Phil Huffstatler, Robinson, Texas — Feb 18, 2009

I went looking for “Autumn in the hills oil painting Barbara Elmslie, Quebec, Canada” to get more info on this “Premium artist.” Turns out most all links to get a print/profile/whatever outside of this blog are all bad. It seems this is very common for artists. Makes it harder for them to make money too, when you can’t get to them. Artists, at least today, need to maintain a current web presence. My opinion. At least I was able to get a digital print from the blog for a background on my PC. I’ll enjoy what I can of it.

I really enjoyed the “100 tips” today. These of course, can be applied to most any part of life.

From: Bill — Feb 26, 2009


Why would you be looking for PC background art on the web sites of artists who are not in that kind of business? Artists who create and sell original art own the copyright for their images and don’t sell or provide free prints. If you are lifting images from internet, you are engaging in a criminal activity. There are lot of businesses who sell art for PC backgrounds. The only way to acquire original art is to buy it from the artist in the way that artist runs his art business.

From: Denise C. Smith — Feb 26, 2009
From: Rick Rotante — Mar 09, 2009

Denise – I think you’ve hit the nail on head. What follows isn’t a recipe but the way I act at shows where I have to be there all day or several days.

First let me say when I started painting I wanted to do just that and never have to meet the public. I found my reason for this type of thinking was based on inexperience and lack of assuredness on my part. As years past and I learned this process so to my attitude changed.

Now, I always demonstrate whenever I show. This gets me excited as well as draws people to my area where I can comment on the work as well as inquire about the lives of those standing around i.e. do they paint? This has sometime led to crowds gathering and blocking the sidewalk or path. Also the other vendors near me benefit and I now notice they too are demonstrating to pull crowds from me.

I even have small children pick up a brush and paint on my canvas.

I have sold works that had another’s hand in it. They come back and ask if they can now buy it since they helped paint it. I also get a chance to point them to my site to see others works not exhibited.

I rarely sit down anymore at shows. Maybe to have lunch.

If a person stops, they like what they see. I tell them about the work, how it was created, if it’s one of a series, why I painted it that way, the technique used. The longer they stay the more likely they are compelled to buy.

Those who sit and watch the crowd pass might as well go home.



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