Art as ‘campaign’


Dear Artist,

You may not have heard of Carl von Clausewitz. Back in the early nineteenth century he wrote “On War,” a brilliant treatise that is read and taught in military academies to this day. His observations were based on his experiences in the Wars of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and on considerable historical research. The book is shaped not only by purely military and political considerations but by Clausewitz’s strong interests in science, education and art.


Carl von Clausewitz

Clausewitz said that you have to have a battle plan but the plan had better include plenty of room for the absolute certainty that the plan will start going wonky from the get-go. “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy,” said the great German general Helmuth Graf von Moltke who spent an energetic lifetime applying Clausewitz’s theories.

Clausewitz figured “strategy” belonged to the realm of art. “Tactics,” on the other hand, belonged to the realm of science. True brilliance in the field requires the blending of the two. Clausewitz was obsessive about the roles of chance, uncertainty and what he called the “fog of war.”

In our game this is the fog we get into when we can’t see ahead and are confused, disappointed and even disabled, generally through the effect of our earlier, poorly planned sorties. In war and art, courageous early sorties determine the early coup.

Clausewitz also talked about what he called the “culminating point of victory.” This is where the happy resolution is in sight. The business of battle is to get to this point, he thought. Early culminating points are better than late ones. This is one of the reasons we need to cut to the chase by laying in basic strategy early on.

His was a dialectical approach to problem solving — “if not this, then maybe that.” Improvisation overcomes what he called “friction.” Friction deranges, to a greater or lesser degree, all prior arrangements. Successful campaigns in both art and war require boldness, audacity, creativity and targets of opportunity.

Best regards,


PS: “Given an equal amount of intelligence, timidity will cause a thousand times more problems than audacity.” (Carl von Clausewitz, 1780-1831)

Esoterica: To see an art project in the manner of Clausewitz, we must see our canvases as fields to be organized, both in area and order of deployment. Just as you might bring up your horses later rather than sooner, you must learn to deploy resources appropriately. For example, keeping reserves of colour and tone, and finessing in the safety of the culminating point. Oh, and always keeping in mind that if you don’t pay attention, something is sure to come along and ruin your day.


Additional points from Clausewitz
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic


“Knowledge of the spirit”
wood sculpture
by Norman Ridenour

You too are an eclectic collector of the arcane. My copy of Clausewitz is marked up in various colors, each one from a different epoch of my life as I have reread it. I first came across it in my days as a young midshipman as the Naval Academy. (How many artists have come out of that environment?)

You did leave out some important points for your audience of artists:

a. Find the critical point and focus all of your resources on it. This was Napoleon’s and Nelson’s key to success. Rothko and Beuys would apply as well.

b. Mobility; do not let the game stagnate.

c. The military (life at war in the studio) will not be victorious without the political (marketing).


Overcoming timidity
by Vivian Anderson, Sydney, Australia


charcoal drawing
by Vivian Anderson

What sound advice. One must make things happen in life, I have found. For the longest time I worked quietly away on my own, and one day I decided to “just do it” and entered my website in my favorite Art magazine’s Encouragement Corner. This took great courage, because I am not used to being judged, but I was awarded the Winner’s Prize for my artwork and encouraged to show it locally. I never felt better. It was the pure exhilaration of having the courage to overcome my timidity. I now have lots of feedback, good and otherwise, all of which is rewarding beyond words. Thanks for putting the ‘campaign’ advice out there for we who needed courage… it works.


The 700 Billion Dollar Bag
by Rolf Räcker, Germany


700 billion dollar bag
by Rolf Räcker

I just had that very experience while I was designing “The 700 Billion Dollar Bag.” Its culminating point of victory was the day the US Senate approved the 700 Billion Dollar Bailout Bill. On that day all the parts of the puzzle slipped into the right place, the scheme of the early strategy emerged. “The 700 Billion Dollar Bag” which gives every Girl the right to cash any sum of money at any bank in the world. The bag will be offered through galleries as a numbered edition.


Courage in making and marketing
by Jim Doubleday


“Winged figure”
copper on marble base
by Jim Doubleday

I think this letter on Art as Campaign applies particularly well to art marketing, as well as art making. Let’s face it, we creative types tend for the most part to be on the coy side, to the detriment of our selves and our audiences. A battle plan, with audacity in the mix is probably a healthy approach.





Gaining control
by Kate Lackman, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Recently, I noticed that some paintings get to an almost point. The Almost point is where you just don’t get that Wow factor. I was talking with another artist that I admire and he told me something that gave me a better understanding of what I was missing in these “almost” paintings. It is very similar to what I think Clausewitz was getting at in his treatise. My friend said, “Imagine you throw your things into the car and take off driving. The day may go fine and you may have surprising moments that create great memories. On the other hand, you may run into having no where to stay, you may get lost, or things just go awry. Now say you are going from New York to California and you make travel arrangements, book hotels to stay in, and prepare your agenda. It’s a better way to control having a good experience from the start. One could still have problems arise but they are better equipped to make the necessary decisions to strategize and improve the trip.” As artists, we are all striving to paint better paintings each time we prepare a canvas. Starting out with a plan just helps us control where we envisioned going in the first moments that made us decide to paint a particular subject.


Saving the loudest for last
by Gail Sauter, Kittery, ME, USA


“Casa Caburlotto”
oil painting
by Gail Sauter

I find the choice of which white is used in a painting can add extra punch in the final strokes in the canvas battle. This is the strategy I use. Use any white except Titanium White for the majority of the painting. Titanium white is the whitest and brightest white there is — save it for when you need to kick things up a notch! It’s the “loudest” gun in the color arsenal. Instead of using it for the whole painting, hold it in reserve. This will give your highlights that something extra that allows them to really stand out.



The value sketch
by Carol Jessen, St. Louis, MO/East Boothbay, ME, USA


“Kirkwood Train Station”
watercolour painting
by Carol Jessen

Recently I gave a demonstration at a local art group’s monthly meeting with exactly this point; you should have a plan before you start. I brought the value sketch I had done and set it up next to my easel. It had all the basic information I needed to start the painting. But as the watercolor started to progress, I altered the tactics and adjusted a few things. A few background shapes had to be added to stop the eye from wandering off the paper. Naturally, one color would determine what color to glaze over it or place next to it. Many in the group commented afterwards that they appreciated the advice because they are often so tied to a photographic reference which contains too much or too little subject matter. The value sketch is an important aid to confident and smart painting.


Churchill on planning
by Chuck Rawle

I don’t know if you are familiar with Winston Churchill’s discourse on the subject of art and war. I have included it below. It is from his small book Painting as a Pastime:

“In battle, two things are usually required of the commander in chief: to make a good plan for his army and, secondly, to keep a strong reserve. Both of these are also obligatory upon the painter. To make a plan, thorough reconnaissance of the country where the battle is to be fought, its fields, mountains, rivers, bridges, trees, flowers, its atmosphere all require and repay attentive observation from a special point of view. So many colors on the hillside, each different in shadow and in sunlight, such brilliant reflections in the pool. In order to make this plan, the general must not only reconnoiter the battleground, he must also study the achievements of the great Captains of the past. He must bring the observations he has collected in the field into comparison with the treatment of similar incidents by famous chiefs. Not only is your observation of nature sensibly improved and developed, but also you look at the masterpieces of art with an analyzing eye… But it is in the use and withholding of their reserves that the great commanders have generally excelled. After all, when once the last reserve has been thrown in, the commander’s part is played. If that does not win the battle, he has nothing else to give.”


Buyers detect timidity
by Cathie Harrison, Roswell, GA, USA


original painting
by Cathie Harrison

I think the notion of timidity causing more havoc than audacity is an absolute truth in the arts. My experience has led me to understand that even the most uninformed and inexperienced viewer can smell timidity and see that the artist did not approach the work with true conviction. Audacity rules the day! I plan to embrace the concept for my 2009 resolution.



Striking a balance
by Carol Mayne, Leucadia, CA, USA

Your last line is supported by General Patton, who I believe said, ‘When in doubt, attack!’

People-pleasers with me included have a tough time with this concept, artistically and personally. The secret must lie in knowing how to ‘fight fair.’ We must know when to go for the big contrasts (principles) and when to stay in the middle value zones (sensitivity to others). We also must know when to yield in order to not just win the battle, and then lose the war.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Art as ‘campaign’



From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Dec 19, 2008

Most amazing letter from you this time. I have been torn recently between ‘safe'(lazy) and ‘audacious’. So just guess what I’ll choose now! Thankyou!

It must be extremely satisfying for you, Robert, that your letters help so many, seemingly with great serendipity.

From: Jim Larwill Lac Bussiere, Quebec — Dec 19, 2008

Dear Robert,

Painting a Book

As I poet I might add to the saying “In Art, War, and Love….”

For some time I have been frustrated with putting a book together for a pile of about 75 poems (I like to tell people the number is a 100). The campaign to create a cohesive collection with an entertaining explorative storyline for the reader over two years has been a bit of a muddle. Watching artist paint is now helping me to better understand how to “paint” this book. Each poem is an individual colour on a pallet; story frame is the canvas I must apply them to. Basic structure is the sketch. Painting a book one must be free and let inspiration flow in choosing and placing each colour. Once placed upon the story canvas the pallet colours no longer remain fixed but need to blend together and change. Individual poems which I once thought were finished works suddenly become flawed drafts that must be woven into the whole. (Are colours, colours, if they are forever stuck in their individual tubes?) In life if taping things to your gun with duct-tape works, you use duct tape. Outward parade ground appearance needs to give way to under fire functionality.

“Bugling their way…and you’re in it;

If you want more experience at this game

Pull well and slant well. Your aim

Is another helping of life. You’ve got to win it.”

from The Squall by Milton Acorn (Canada’s People’s Poet)

Like a battle field where things are fluid, ridged positions need to flex, opportunities need to be recognised and taken advantage of. Insurmountable obstacles need to be avoided. Orderly retreats can be advances to positions of victory.

If one canvas is an open battle field to small, shift to a larger one where you have room to manoeuvre under cover and the true colours of your pallet can dance fluid into the future growing stronger and alive, becoming one with the landscape where poems are printed on trees.

best, thank you again

yr mad poet in the woods


From: Rick Rotante — Dec 19, 2008

This has to be one of your most fascinating letters to date. Thought I abhor comparing art to war, the similarities once again show the interconnectedness of all human endeavors. The tactics and strategies mentioned can apply to business, relationships, dating, driving and many other human conditions.

The one thing I saw was not attached to the handling of the canvas as a target as Robert stated, though this is a very apt analogy, I saw it as it relates to dealing with the business of art.

I am a firm believer that one needs to leave room or “maneuvering” or foreseeing your plans go “wonky” so to speak which they always are want to do. Those who are dogged and leave no room for error will have a harder time. There always needs to be a contingency plan when painting though most are discovered at the time of need. But the main point here for me is being flexible and going with the moment. To think in terms of strategy and tactics applying to paintings may leave one feeling the process is mechanical and artificial but we think in these terms despite being conscience it.

From: Jim Larwill Lac Bussiere, Quebec — Dec 20, 2008

and after the campaign, perhaps gentle defeat….

Passing Away

In a world of dream quiet holds me;

late night now cradles silent touch,

my breath releases and embraces

warm moments before cold sleep.

Sacred war of love, fetch my defeat.

Despoil my soul to soft desolation,

make my homeland never return:

I wander forever free from arrival.

Inner death of all future possibility

brings petals of icicle time falling

where my lovers are held by others,

giving comfort to gentle memories.

All our warmth that once was woven,

wraps them safe in fine winter coats,

our kisses snowflakes in starry curls

when twinkling spent our love away.

In a world of dream quiet holds me;

late night now cradles silent touch,

my breath releases and embraces

warm moments before cold sleep.

Slumber dances darkness far away

powdery wings of moon owls glide

my soaring thoughts to tranquil end;

peaceful caress of words until light.

Wind is my blanket. Stars my bed.

I did not die alone. My heart was a

monumental scar mapping an epoch,

until blessings made it still as stone.

Spent with labours a body finds rest,

makes a nest next to rippling stream,

eyes close to harvest forth in night

where dawn never wakes a journey.

In a world of dream quiet holds me;

late night now cradles silent touch,

my breath releases and embraces

warm moments before cold sleep.

From: Micaek B Nelson — Dec 21, 2008

As a close reader of Genn’s books and missives, I like to look for sub texts, metaphors and innuendos. Some of the letters are loaded with them. Genn’s book, “The Painter’s Keys” has at least thirty references to “The Wizard of Oz” worked skillfully into the text. I’m wondering of this current letter about Clausewitz, the art of war and the triumph of imagination has been brought to us at this time of year in celebration of Santa Clausewitz.

From: Russ Hogger — Dec 22, 2008

Spontaneity is lost in planning the outcome of a painting.

From: georgianne fastaia — Dec 23, 2008

Dear Robert,

A few points stood out for me in your letter, Art as Campaign:

“Clausewitz figured “strategy” belonged to the realm of art. “Tactics,” on the other hand, belonged to the realm of science. True brilliance in the field requires the blending of the two.Successful campaigns in both art and war require boldness, audacity, creativity and targets of opportunity.”As I am looking forward to the SmARTist seminar in January, strategies for promotion are on my mind.

Bear with me here while I explicate.:

Last week I was searching YOU TUBE for love songs, when up pops MS.FIRECRACKER (below) dancing to classic tunes. I watched,perplexed as she interspersed close-ups of vintage clothing between her moves. A year ago her first video received about 600 visits. As I scrolled through her videos I noticed that her latest uploads averaged over 10,000 views and counting. Cute girl. but whats with the CLOTHES?Further reading revealed that she is an EBAY POWERSELLER. and her shop is called VINTAGE FASHIONSHOW.

boldness, audacity, creativity and targets of opportunity:

Look at the Phenomenal Strategy: people stumble upon videos her via wildly popular song searches which lead them to her videos , where they stay, subscribe to her channel or blog , where she directs them to her website and /or ebay shop to buy the vintage clothes she models in the video. And it is all 100% FREE.

So I considered doing a little market research of my own to discover if artists could benefit from the You Tube platform (without dancing in bikinis of course) : I made a quick little slideshow of my art, set to music (using Windows movie maker) and posted it on You Tube for 24 hours. During that time it received 144 visitors, and according to the sitemeter , referred seven unique visitors to my website. As my website received zero visits during the entire proceeding month I decided to put together a good video of my work, tie it into an area of interest via search words, and follow the traffic it generates.

I invite your readers to watch the video on You Tube and comment on it ( you need to SIGN IN to YOU TUBE) as I collect and analyze the data.


Georgianne Fastaia

The art Explosion Studios

2425 178th ,Studio 148

S.F. Ca 94123

Wishing everyone a very Happy Holiday from Georgianne at badfishstudios.

If you have a moment, I have a favor to ask. I have posted a video of my new series, The Floating City, New Orleans flood paintings on You Tube (FASTAIA Channel). It would mean a lot if you could spare a moment to post a comment on it.

The comments are important because this is a MARKET RESEARCH test on the efficacy of using free promotion on You tube to direct visitors back to artist websites.

Your comments will help make the video visible which is needed to generate data for analysis. I’ll share results in january. I know everyone is busy around the holidays, but if you could take a moment, it would be awesome.

Thanks, Georgianne

Sign in to You Tube

Search for FASTAIA channel

Watch and Comment On:

the floating city: new orleans flood paintings

paintings for those who suffered during Hurricane Katrina and for those still longing for Home.

The Floating City is a metaphor for the resilant, hope-filled hearts of its residents and seeks to convey the weight of loss while offering hope that New Orleans will rebuild and triumph.

My heart goes out to the people of New Orleans as I struggle to visually translate the sense of loss and sorrow I experience viewing footage of the devastation.

By placing most of the information in the bottom quarter of the canvas, dwarfed by the sky, I allow the composition to reinforce a sense of our smallness against the bigness of nature. In some pieces I used multiple horiz… more

From: angie lenius — Dec 23, 2008

thank you for all the great news and thoughts throughout 2008

god bless you this christmas season and keep you going in good health 2009 angie

From: Bob Posliff — Dec 23, 2008

To Russ

Sponteneity is important in jazz, America’s only art form. Why is it important in art? If you study composition you will learn that many of the masters carefully planned their paintings before they began to paint.

From: Russ Hogger — Dec 24, 2008

To Bob, I thought afterwards about my comment that it might leave a few people hanging. To me sponteniety is the life-blood of any painting. Take a close look at a Goya and see how he moved paint around on the canvas. The looseness of his brushstrokes appear as just smears but from a distance they look like fine lace.

Goya may not have heard of the word spontanious, but he painted with tenacity and vigor in a way that could never have been planned. I can not see the point in planning a painting from begining to end knowing what the finished painting is going to look like, something is bound to go wrong. this method might be OK in comercial art but not in fine art. You have to leave some room for the creative juices to flow.

From: Randall Simons — Dec 26, 2008

Clausewitz’s theories apply as well to the art of movie making. Any director knows that things can get awfully out of hand awfully soon. Sergei Eisenstein, the great Russian director who filmed Battleship Potemkin on the Odessa steps where Robert was recently, said, “The secrets of good film making are careful planning and brilliant improvisation.” And while things can come along that ruin your day, there are also things that come along that make your day.

From: Richard Juniger — Dec 26, 2008

I always work in neutralized monotones and leave my bright colors for the coupe de gras.

From: Sila Collins-Walden — Jan 16, 2009

I try to have a strategy, a plan when selling my work. Over the many years that I have been

painting I have had various plans / strategies. Some successful, some failures so I go back to the drawing board and start again! As a professional artist of some 20 years I find that many artists are taken advantage of and made to feel as if we have no value and not good enough for “posh” galleries. By that I mean when some customers feel work is priced too high because your are not considered to be a well known artist, especially at art fairs where you are expected to reduce the price. I have to select my galleries carefully; I decide which kind of works suits particular galleries. Some gallery owners will only have the “known names and don’t look at the work produced by the artist. However, I never give up and go on trying new ways and methods of doing things.

I actually have started to produce works under different names, different style of course! It works . I do love painting.





Looking up
watercolour painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Silvia Forrest, CT, USA


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 Moncy Barbour who wrote, “Remember that a lost battle does not mean a lost war. And a defeat only is reality when one gives up. Those that fear to live life never really live life at all.”

And also Mark Larson who wrote, “Successful campaigns also require adaptability, cunning, and knowing when to retreat.”

And also Helen Opie who wrote, “You say, ‘If you don’t pay attention, something is sure to come along and ruin your day.’ I’d add, ‘If you don’t pay attention, something wonderful may give a hint of its presence and be ruined instead of sought and brought out.’ ”

And also Bruce Meyer who wrote, “This letter Art as ‘campaign’ captures the dynamic of artmaking better than anything else I’ve heard or been taught.”

And also George Robertson who wrote, “Unfortunately, I all to often and too easily become faint of heart and shy away from that audacious stroke, settling instead for the comfortable line that I know will suffice. Still, it is one day at a time.”



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