An artist’s world

Dear Artist, On a boat there can be a cargo of wisdom. I’ve brought along some marvelous books. Samuel Adoquei’s How Successful Artists Study is an up-to-date, practical guide for the transition from art school to the professional world of art. In it he talks about the “Five worlds of artists”:

“The Legacy and Burial of Martin Luther King”
oil on canvas, 68 x 68 inches
by Sam Adoquei

1. The inner, personal world. 2. The real and practical world. 3. The outside, commercial world. 4. The future, aspiring world 5. The fantasy world of dreams. Adoquei suggests budding artists need to get their worlds separated from one another. Mixing fantasy with practicality is a leaky proposition. Funnily, the condition is as common as art school graduates who make their living doing anything but art.

Sam Adoquei

There is also a past world, a present world, and a future world. A highly literate artist with glowing optimism for the future is dead in the water if she’s not seeing her present world with clarity. She may have to buckle down and improve her work. She may have to make sacrifices. She may have to rethink her vision. She may have to reinvent her education. Her predicament may be further confused by the seemingly charmed life she likes to project. She may need to learn that the really charmed life is earned, and, according to Adoquei, it may not always be charming.

oil on canvas
by Sam Adoquei

The charmed life is earned by attitude. Thriving artists remain curious, experimental, joyful, self-critical and driven by a state of perpetual studenthood. Work takes pride of place and is well above talk. Art is self-anointing, mainly self-taught and independent. Our profession calls for the ego force that keeps our sense of uniqueness in ship-shape condition. Perhaps there is no other way. Successful artists live in their own worlds. A small ship brings out an independent creative spirit. Provisioned and fueled, we have reserves for a lengthy tour and ongoing self-sufficiency. A ship, like an artist, is her own world. Each day brings new horizons and navigational challenges. The human spirit needs to sail on its own terms.

“Gary Chassman”
oil on canvas, 44 x 54 inches
by Sam Adoquei

Best regards, Robert PS: “Combine all your healthy wishes, dreams and hopes into investing in your talent and in the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom. If your art contributes to society, or to the art enthusiasts around you, then you are rewarded honestly, and more so if you make yourself useful to the world around you.” (Samuel Adoquei) Esoterica: When you start to see your art as a service to others, and you begin to believe in the societal aspects of it, you begin to thrive. It is a benefit for others to invest in the character you have nurtured and developed. Your world can be larger than the worlds of others, because you exact standards from yourself that others may not reach for or care to grasp. Our world is a privilege, an opportunity and an obligation.   The perils of education by Haim Mizrahi, East Hampton, NY, USA  

original painting
by Haim Mizrahi

You should have started the letter with The human spirit needs to sail on its own terms. All the artists who are unfortunate to go through any of the arts establishments and, or, institutions as a way of getting themselves acquainted with the actual world of painting and creativity need to spend most of their lives to wash off the garbage that was bestowed upon them. There is only one world, in my opinion, through which an artist, any artist, stands a decent chance to have his or her voice heard, and it is the world of intimacy that one spends as much time in the studio as possible. Past, present and future, I do not know what that means other than question marks added to the many that already exist. There is 1 comment for The perils of education by Haim Mizrahi
From: susan canavarro — Aug 02, 2010


  Am I supposed to change? by Maritza Bermudez, Wheaton, IL, USA  

“Banana Leaves”
watercolour painting, 22 x 15 inches
by Maritza Bermudez

In other words, if you start to see your art as a service to others you may be creating for society or for what society likes at a certain time, depending of what’s in or out and not creating what you like to do which can be completely different to what society likes. So, let’s say I’m a nature artist but society is into abstracts, am I supposed to change and start producing paintings of abstracts, even if I don’t enjoy doing it just to please society and to try to sell my art? I see a commercial artist as one who creates art to sell, as I see a creative artist as one who sells what he creates. That’s my artist world. (RG note) Thanks, Maritza. It’s easy to be jaded and blame fickle fashion for not picking up on your genius. I don’t think it’s a matter of changing. I think it’s a matter of getting even better at what you love the most. There is some solace in the thought that the great wildlife painters have not yet been born, nor have the great abstractionists. They will be noticed when they are. There are 3 comments for Am I supposed to change? by Maritza Bermudez
From: Sarah — Aug 03, 2010

There is a world of difference between serving others and pleasing society.

From: Rudolf — Aug 03, 2010

Good comment by Maritza. No need to change into someone’s abstract view of what an artist should do. It is in fact shocking that non-artists have been known to tell artists what part of their painting should be done differently! Some take what they don’t understand as an artist’s inability to put out a professional product. But, yes, we should get better at what we’re already doing, I agree with that. Mostly it’s achieved by doing it more.

From: gail caduff-nash — Aug 10, 2010

great wildlife artists have not yet been born? ? ? ? wow, i certainly beg to differ with that. i’m a wildlife artist and i’ve found that society does not have a lot of respect for wildlife so why would they for the wildlife artist? if it isn’t pretty much the equivalent to a mounted head on the wall (in impact) then they aren’t interested. there have been some VERY great wildlife artists. we are just the most ignored artists of all. even floral artists garner more attention. hmmmpphh.

  Ego force lets her down by Asta Dale, Calgary, AB, Canada   I have been struggling all through life to recognize the different levels of ‘worlds’ and adjust to them. Not an easy task! It is often full of ‘pitfalls’ that require a restart and a different approach! You talk about ‘seeing your art as a service to others,’ and I agree with that. To my mind ‘Art’ is teaching us to see the world as it is — very complex — related — unique — wonderfully magical — and very challenging to understand. I believe that only a small number of people agree with my vision, if you happen to believe in abstraction, like I do. Consequently, the rewards are also limited or — perhaps — my vision, or representation of vision to others is not very clear — this in itself is always my question and constant challenge. I also realize that art is a kind of communication which is not always understood by the ‘uninitiated’ — hence — artist’s talks help overcome that. Artist talks may clarify a subject matter, but if you concentrate on a broader vision, there is a danger of getting lost in misunderstandings. How to overcome this dilemma? It is my profound belief that the artist has to be true to ‘her/his — self’ and I try to work this way. But my ego-force sometimes lets me down. There is 1 comment for Ego force lets her down by Asta Dale
From: Tatjana — Aug 03, 2010

Hi Asta, I think that your anlysis is very wise. I think that the nature has beautifully crafted our healthy ego to harmonize between the individual and social. My 2c would be not to listen to criticizers any nurture your ego to do it’s job.

  What keeps her young by Mabel Gawne  

“Okanagan Sage with Giants Head”
original painting
by Mabel Gawne

Your letters are always a learning experience, and have given me a broader view of what is forming in the minds of other painters. You are actually a painter with your written words! You have encouraged myself and thousands of other painters to explore our own style to the fullest. At the moment I am in love with orange poppies, with dark green foliage. I have blown them up, so that the poppies are a foot across. The canvases are a foot and half across, by three foot long! So I have done three panels. One lengthwise, one horizontal, the third lengthwise — (maybe, with orange cushions on the couch?) All this is exciting to a 93 year old, but this is what keeps me young ! There are 4 comments for What keeps her young by Mabel Gawne
From: Sandy Donn — Aug 03, 2010

Mabel, your enthusiasm leaps off the page! I LOVE it.

From: Lauren — Aug 03, 2010

Go Mabel Go!

From: Carol — Aug 06, 2010

Mabel, You’re an INSPIRATION! I hope I am still as vital if I should live that long. Of course you didn’t just get that way, it’s the way you have been living for every moment of those 93 years I’m sure. Way to go!

From: Holly — Oct 25, 2014

How exciting! I am 63 which means I have at least another 30 years to get up to your level of artistic competence. It’s 4 years later and I hope you are still with us.

  Why I am here by Julie Wiegand  

oil painting
by Julie Wiegand

It’s a quiet Sunday morning here in rural Missouri — not my usual time to check my mail — but today I needed to — and decided I would read your letter. An Artists World put me in a more positive and grateful place. I have been a professional artist (oil paintings and murals) for more than 30 years — and although my efforts in growing my work have not always been what they could be, I have made slow steady progress at becoming a developed artist. I have always made money — some years much more than others and the last year and a half has been less than stellar as far as my economy — so that has been wearing on my spirit. Your words within esoterica made my heart sing and brought tears of joy. Thanks for reminding me why I am here! There is 1 comment for Why I am here by Julie Wiegand
From: gail caduff-nash — Aug 10, 2010

this letter touched me because it comes from a working/selling artist, who STILL has down times. i think a lot of us would be very pleased to be able to say we’ve sold our work for 30 years – might even be big-headed about it – but the struggle never ends, does it, to find our course. thanks.

  Broken masterpieces by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA  

“Caress 20”
bronze sculpture
by Alex Nodopaka

Your letter oozes and dribbles and spatters a rainbow of philosophical hues on the necessary realization that when squeezed not every tube of paint produces a complete masterpiece. Sometimes the remnants of paint produce only a fraction of one and we must be content with it. I’m into making a series of artwork named “Broken Masterpieces.” They are of anything that shatters on the ceramic flooring and I consider if an armless antique is priceless, so are my dishes.   Finding ways to serve by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada  

“June 30”
original painting by Bill Hibberd

Sam Adoquei’s comments are very relevant. My first two years of serious consistent painting would be described as obsessive and self involved. Every choice was determined by how it would contribute to my artistic progress. Studio time took precedence over alternative activity. Two years in I’m noticing opportunities to serve others through technical suggestions, encouragement through example, or direct charity. If I can progress maybe someday my work will speak into people’s lives and the paintings themselves will become the servants, just as Sam’s are. (RG note) Thanks, Bill. Several artists wrote to ask where Samuel Adoquei’s book could be bought. The Amazon address is here.   Why do schools exist? by David Kemp, Nelson, New Zealand  

oil painting
by David Kemp

As a self-employed very uncommercial but survivor artist for the last 20 years, I can relate to the points from the book which you comment upon. The points are very important, as so many people who are into Art and go to art school and are indoctrinated in the current philosophies of what art is about and getting the grades needed to pass through the course, but have very little understanding of survival after the course, that it could be argued that art schools exist for the benefit of the tutors as much as they advocate art. I term myself a ‘blokey expressionist’ (bloke here is a common man) although I have a varied expressive arts background.   There is 1 comment for Why do schools exist? by David Kemp
From: gail caduff-nash — Aug 10, 2010

i’ve a friend in Cleveland, Ohio, who tutored me in painting. his name is William Chill. he’s done pretty well in recent years with his work. he told me his background – going to a highly respected university, etc. and that he didn’t even find his ‘voice’ as an artist until he left all that schoolin’ behind. since i’m all self-taught, i was encouraged by that of course. but i find that schooling isn’t always bad if you set about finding a teacher who you know will give you the imput you need. i’ve taken a few courses – in person and online – and gotten great ideas from it. has a ton of instructional aspects to it that i recommend, for instance. just don’t let someone tell you how to think!

  ‘The crazy ones’ by Sarah Garland, Canada Steve Jobs, Apple C.E.O. — “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”   There is 1 comment for ‘The crazy ones’ by Sarah Garland
From: Rose — Aug 03, 2010

Thank you….

  No miracle here by David Pearkes, Manchester, UK   I am not a painter. But I marvel at the variety and fairness of your approaches, Robert, and how you can be in so many places at once, both mentally and physically, and how in a subtle and humble way, you exude such curiosity. Is this something characteristic of all artists, do you think, or is it unique to you?” (RG note) Thanks, David. I know lots of creative folks who live far more exciting and evolved lives than myself. Perhaps the sort of thing you mention comes in degree with the territory. To be fair, though, I think some of it has to do with knowing you deserve your life to be charmed. In this sense, artists get away with murder. And it’s not at all neat. A few years ago some grade four students who had been to visit me were asked by their teacher to send along a finished sentence that started out with “What I liked most about Mr. Genn’s studio was…” One astute kid wrote, “…He has somebody else clean up after him.”   [fbcomments url=””]  Featured Workshop: Bruce Peil
080310_robert-genn Bruce Peil Workshops The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Year of the dog

oil painting by Yuqi Wang, New York, NY, 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 Andrea Chand of Felixstowe, UK, who wrote, “It is indeed a wonderful world if we could only let it be.” And also Jeffrey Peterson of Nashville, TN, USA, who wrote, “‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ (Plato)” And also Catherine Surtees of Hawaii who wrote, “I love the book Twice-Weekly Letters. It is informative, funny, inspiring, and poetic. I love the fact that one can pick it up and read it at any time and get something great from it. Mahalo nui loa.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for An artist’s world

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 30, 2010

That’s it? One narrow world encompassed by and confined only by our art? That is our only existence? Are we not individuals unencumbered by singular convictions, as family members, nationalists (Canadian, American, or otherwise), spiritual disciples of one persuasion or another, and philosophical and/or political devotees?

Nay, BECAUSE artists are creative beings we cannot restrict ourselves to one dimension, especially within our art. If we limit ourselves to the categories you listed we are one dimensional beings defined by profession only. We are influenced by many factors that have nothing to do with art. Beyond an artist’s immediate world people are far more complex than that.
From: Thierry — Jul 31, 2010

Where can we buy Samuel Adoquei’s How Successful Artists Study?

Chapters and Amazon don’t have it.
From: Thierry — Aug 01, 2010
From: Brenda Behr — Aug 02, 2010

Your letter sent me thinking. This is not a bad thing. I wake up in the morning and God says, “Paint.” How well I like my painting at the end of the day determines my happiness. How well the public likes my painting determines my livelihood. My career is the sea, sometimes navigable, sometimes not, always irresistible and most often, unpredictable. I was painting when I was ten, but this is only my tenth year as a “professional” fine artist. I’m one of many small craft on a large ocean. Better this than being the overly confident Titanic.

From: Jane — Aug 02, 2010

All professions and professionals need to hear and relearn the values you express so well here Robert. Your message here about values is well done – palatable and palpable, and without ‘harping’.
From: Helen Musser — Aug 02, 2010

Building character starts from the cradle and continues for a lifetime. Good character adds to our artistic growth without a doubt. Sailing your own ship requires strength of character and belief in one’s vision. Study is essential to expanding our vision and steering the ship. All of what you have identified in the work of an artists go hand and hand with creating meaningful art.

From: Jo Oakley — Aug 02, 2010

I have been reading Robert’s letters for over a year now and today’s post has moved me to say thank you. It has hit the spot so directly I have been deeply moved. Thank you

From: — Aug 02, 2010
From: lanell — Aug 03, 2010

what about need? Just the need to be creative? To give something a little tweak? the need to “waste paper”…to just get it out of your system…to get it down on something…paper? clay? bonsai? that need to make the hands do what your see in your brain?

From: Loretta Puckrin — Aug 03, 2010

With regards to “What is Art?”- art is communication. If a work communicates in any way it should be considered art – there is the art of writing, graphic arts, fine arts, performance art…it goes on. The gentleman really needs to expand his vision. The pretty paintings aren’t my view of art but you are correct – there is enough room for all types. Certainly I am jealous that someone’s graffiti art commands such notoriety and prices while mine doesn’t but my envy does not make it any less a form of art.

From: Ian Crichton — Aug 03, 2010

I am not a graffiti artist; I am much more traditional, but I admire Banksy’s craft, his composition, his political statement and his commitment to making art. What a painfully boring world it would be if everyone stopped making art because not everyone ‘liked’ it.

From: Brian May — Aug 03, 2010

Ian, I think you will find that many graffiti artists (not taggers) have excellent understanding of composition, technique and use of most of graphic design elements. IMHO, many of them have a better understanding of that than many 3rd year graphic arts students and even some professionals.

Now in terms of apprentices, most if not all of those artists studied under an already accomplished writer and many still do learn that way. I think there is a great deal of value in the master/apprentice relationship and the idea that you do not have to actually produce your “masterpiece” before getting your MFA (within 6 years) has really helped to produce a dearth of quality well crafted art.
From: sell owen — Aug 04, 2010

One thing is for sure , as I read a lot of people”s thoughts : there is an ongoing need for people to express themselves.

From: Gregg — Aug 04, 2010

I am sure that graffiti is against the law. So, if an artist feels that he has the right to paint on public or private property, he or she must know that he or she is taking a risk. I do not agree, no matter what the talent, that someone should deface property which is not their own. The graffiti artist should get a clue as to whom the wall belongs to.

From: gail caduff-nash — Aug 10, 2010

there’s an auto parts store that moved into a neighborhood nearby. a high, concrete block wall runs along the front of their property. they painted it blue to match their logo. a big blue wall. it screamed out – GRAFFITI ME!!! so the graffiti artists got busy. and they kept repainting it blue, like a perennial canvas waiting for the next masterpiece.

i lived near Cleveland, Ohio, for most of my life, and gotta say – the walls were pretty dismal. rather gray. rather gritty. rather boring. so i’m pretty fond of graffiti artists who aren’t just trying to provoke gang fights. Asheville, NC, is embracing them quite a lot. why fight it? it’s like a moveable art gallery. and sometimes it’s even good art.

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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