As a man thinketh


Dear Artist,

James Allen (1864-1912) of Ilfracombe, England was the granddaddy of the self-improvement industry. His little book, As A Man Thinketh, has gone through multiple printings and translations and has influenced millions, including Norman Vincent Peale, Earl Nightingale, Tony Robbins. His ideas, told mostly through metaphor, can be summed up thus: “The mind is the master weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance, and where they have hitherto woven ignorance and pain they may now weave enlightenment and happiness.”

He makes the case that men with unwholesome thoughts are not fit for prosperity, creativity, success, or even happiness. And while experience shows us that there are lots of unsavory folks who become presidents of corporations, or even rich artists, he has a message that many artists will intuitively know to be true.

Thought and forethought are imbedded in our business. Visualization and imagineering are tools that we lose at our peril. Honesty and childlike purity are our stock in trade. We know that anything that can be conceived can also be accomplished. We know about accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. Self-employed, self-anointed and self-starting, we know that the building of character and achieving the right mental habits are as important for the serious artist as learning to draw and paint. Many of us have taught ourselves techniques to throw off depression, self-defeat, dry periods, criticism. We have learned how to deal effectively with the tides of disillusionment and even despair. We are a people who build castles in the air, then live in them.

James Allen died at age 48, before he could see his ideas truly fly. His was a newly-industrialized, exploitative society. He hardly mentions women. Were he alive today he might be surprised at the number of artists and other independent thinkers who “just do it.”

Best regards,


PS: “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall unveil.” (James Allen)

Esoterica: At the same time there are many of us who believe we are creatures inhibited by outside conditions. Allen’s idea was that we are our own creative power. “Master yourself,” he said, “then you can master your world. Man is manacled only by himself; thought and action are the jailers of Fate.”

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.


Key to Yourself
by Bobbie Kilpatrick

I have the James Allen book (one of my favorites) and if he was the granddaddy of self-improvement then Venice Bloodworth was the grandmother. Her book Key to Yourself published in 1952 is the book I turn to again and again when I need reinforcement as an artist and as an individual. We are all unique and if we are expressing ourselves with truly personal work it is unique as well. No one has seen through our eyes or walked in our shoes so our experiences color our work to give it individuality. Our life is what we make it and our success or failure is determined by the choices we make. We attract to ourselves from the thoughts in our mind so if we want to change our circumstances we must change our attitude. This art journey we have taken is by necessity lonely. While in the art mode we retreat into ourselves with only the knowledge and ability possessed to this point for expression. True creativity must be, I think, heaven on earth.


Channel the energy
by Sandy Triolo, Silver Spring, MD, USA

Certain people throughout time have known that each individual creates their own fate, destiny, circumstance, whatever you want to call it, in the course of what they think. This little gem of knowledge must be learned, if someone just told you to think it and then you will get it, you would not believe him or her. But once you learn to use your own power, you believe anything is possible as long as you are willing to channel the mental and physical energy into the endeavor. Right mind, right energy and true determination are the keys.


by Grace Cowling, Ontario, Canada

James Allen was contemporary with my paternal Grandfather, Samuel John Ireland who was born in Barnstaple, Devon just a few miles from Ilfracombe. I was privileged to visit both places and the Cornwall coast with a group of painters last May. Our hotel for 3 nights was in Ilfracombe right at the seaside. I’ve printed out Allen’s book and shall cherish, digest and highlight much of his wisdom and have a sense of time and place as I read. My grandfather studied at the Royal College of Art, London and in Europe, taught at King’s College, University of London and was selected to emigrate to Canada in 1886 to be principal of the Hamilton Art School where he taught technical drawing to J. E. H. MacDonald.


Pleasure in the journey
by Jo Scott-B

The bonus and the curse of our modern world is instant access to information, trivia and imaging. People flip through headlines, scan pictures, become instant experts and then forget. Involvement in the process of painting brings me satisfaction: experimenting, ruminating, spending time with the subject. It is a visual joy to watch the grays in the morning light turned to color by the sun, watch evenings with color saturated shadows; to see how the noonday sun flattens, how colors sing on a rainy day. This wonder filled process is a nebulous experience to describe. The finished piece is the destination, but the pleasure lies in the journey.


Yeats’s friends
by Jan Sinnott, UK

James Allen’s apparently sexist attitudes were not such a problem to readers 100 years ago. The use of the word “man” was meant to imply all mankind with a tacit nod to members of the fairer sex. In the recent book Yeats’s Ghosts, the Secret life of W.B. Yeats, author Brenda Maddox deals with the self-starting and independent thinking woman poets, writers and painters that came in and out of Yeats’s life. Most of them were lesbians and had already burned their bridges.


by Bev Willis, Fresno, California, USA

It is good to hear these good thoughts for so many times we read in the paper such horrible tales of folks doing such unkind (to say the least) deeds to others. It is good to read something that sets a goal in front of us, something to aim at. “The mind is the master weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance, and where they have hitherto woven ignorance and pain they may now weave enlightenment and happiness.” This made me remember how it is when one puts a quilt together. First picking out a pattern, or designing your own, then picking out the right colors and material. As you put it together, piece by piece, thinking you have the pattern in mind, but finding the real excitement comes when you turn the quilt over. What a wonderful surprise, a colorful picture, even more beautiful that you could imagine. It takes a long time to make a quilt, just like building character.


Views of genius
by David Keirsey

Most views of genius are a combination of the outside and inside world, as it’s hard to be a self-declared genius, even though just as valid as the rest. But looking at the “geniuses” declared in the public arena, one is struck at the variety. Clearly Gandhi and Rockefeller are quite different in their “genius.” And of course, there are some kinds of genius that many do not like to acknowledge, such as Mao’s, Stalin’s, Marquis De Sade’s, and Theordore Kaczynski’s genius on the dark side of human nature. Recognized genius may be born of favorable circumstance (and also “good timing”), but it is clear that genius is only accomplished as it has been said by “hard work”. But if the question of going from “smart” to “sharp” to “bright” to “genius” is a matter of persistence: what makes that persistence? I say temperament. For persistence, you need passion, and for passion you need temperament. It’s easy to “practice” skills that you have a passion for doing. Needless to say, however, there are an almost infinite number of skills, so genius can vary greatly.







“Rocket girl”
Leanne Cadden, Victoria, BC, Canada


painting by Leanne Cadden



Submitted by Tania J. Bourne:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life!
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.

That includes Vic Johnson who says, “You did a magnificent job of connecting Allen’s teaching to the specific challenges that artists face.”

And Ed Berkeley of Portland, Oregon reminds us, “Psychiatrists have patients who build castles in the air and live in them — in the meantime the psychiatrists collect the rent.”

And Jewelene Walton who wrote, “As a Man Thinketh made me go home and pull my copy and reread it last night — what a scary thought that I alone am responsible for all my failures due to bad thoughts. Isn’t email fantastic? What I would never have dreamed of learning about just 2 years ago that I have found here.”


Will wonders never cease dept.

(RG note) One of the most popular features of The Painter’s Keys site, The Resource of Art Quotations is now available on palm devices. (PDA) This service has been facilitated by subscriber Ruth Temple of San Francisco, California. Palm telephones with internet access are currently one of the fastest growing areas of the communications industry, and we are pleased to be in the forefront. What this means is that the busy artist, artistic businessperson, or stressed art-educator can get any quote from our resource while on the go. Amazing. “The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation.” (Isaac D’Israeli)

In our recent survey many writers requested that we make a regular feature of various artists’ work. One that was particularly mentioned was “Me and My Art” (see above) where we publish a photo (perhaps an unusual or amusing one) of yourself, and one or two of your recent works. This could be in the same photo or in separate jpegs. If you have something along these lines please consider sending it in.


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