Art junkie


Dear Artist,

A subscriber wrote, “Success as an artist to me is when you go to sleep your last thoughts are about creating. When you wake up in the morning your first thoughts are about creating. It comes from the gut, from your insides.”


“Deep Forest” ca. 1931
oil on canvas by
Emily Carr (1871-1945)

They say that if you wake up in the morning looking for a cigarette, you’re addicted. Quite a few creators — not all — fit the profile described. Further, it seems there’s often a relationship between our feelings of success and some sort of addictive behavior. But unlike other habits that may threaten health and happiness, this condition might just be good for you. As one friend put it: “Art’s the dope, and I’m the junkie.” I’ve always noticed that the artist’s life is chock-a-block with mind-bending contradictions.


“Vanquished” 1930 (Q’una Skedans)
oil on canvas by Emily Carr

Here are a few ideas how you might sniff more of the good stuff:

Work secretly. Don’t let the cat out of the bag.

Share the joy. Enjoy the high with others.
Work quickly. Speed speeds inventiveness.
Take your time. Get it right. Take pains.

Be focused. It’s just a habit.

Multitask. Do something else while the paint dries.
Be self-trusting. Follow your nose to your bliss.
Be strategic. Plan your work, work your plan.


“Zunoqua of the Cat Village” 1931
oil on canvas by Emily Carr

Be compulsive. This dope won’t kill you.

Be beguiled. Let enchantment happen.
Calculate. Take time for enchantment.
Pace yourself; rest, relax. Know your limit.
Take trips. Great things come from altered states.
Be obsessed with the pursuit of perfection.
Know that perfection can never be achieved.
Laugh. Fly. Go naked. Dance in the snow.
Get hooked. Art is its own magic mushroom.

Love. Love of creation. Love of process. Love of others. Love for another. These are the great addictions. Success comes when you can’t stop serving that which you love. “Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)


“Blunden Harbour Totems”
(circa 1927-1932)
oil painting by Emily Carr

Best regards,


PS: “For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.” (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche)

Esoterica: It could be in the DNA. Some folks may be simply wired to connect their hands and brains almost automatically, obsessively, to keep themselves learning and making. Recent research has indicated that certain life activities and values are built into us. Feelings of religious certitude, for example, seem to be related to missing DNA in some individuals. Is it possible that creators may also have a little blank spot, or perhaps a rogue gene?

This letter was originally published as “Art junkie” on March 2, 2004.

Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Over and over one must ask oneself the queston, ‘What do I want to express? What is the thought behind the saying? What is my ideal, what my objective? What? Why? Why? What?’  ” (Emily Carr)