The art of becoming

Dear Artist, In ceramics, there is always the kiln. Half-baked and half-made, the objects enter the kiln in slips of brown and grey. Later, after the Gods of Fire have had their way, they emerge ultramarine, ruby, golden. They appear as a miracle, seemingly unbidden, like some sort of magic or alchemy. “There is nothing in a caterpillar,” said Buckminster Fuller, “that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”

“Entry of a Nicomekl Creek, Canada Day”
acrylic painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn

Most art goes through such a transformation. Even a symphony lies flat on the plainest of pages until it is sent out onto the air by an orchestra. On the other hand, unless we plan for it, a lot of visual art doesn’t benefit from this sort of process. The painter, in one sitting or ten, may merely unfold a vision without the crucible of becoming. Creative failure and visual boredom are the frequent result. For visual artists, directing the torch of our imagination is our main art. Art happens when alchemy is found. One, two and multi-step systems modify reality and create what has come to be called “style.” Art without style is yesterday’s laundry. Here’s how to direct (or redirect) the torch: You need to see your art as a state of becoming. Vigilance and attentive observation during work-in-progress provides the opportunity. The process takes place with individual works, and over a lifetime of trial and error. We are the clever inventors of ourselves. Opportunities include nuances, conscious and unconscious mannerisms, evidence of unexplainable magic, flinty zips and happenstance gradations, strokes, splodges, slubs, bumps, bubbles and colour changelings. They may be gentle or violent. They may be planned or accidental. They may be lines or they may be patterns. They can be fat or lean, thick or thin. You need to look out for elements that change in front of your eyes, things that become something other than that which they just were. The artist lives by awaiting these events; and they are expected. “Becoming,” said Paul Klee, “is superior to being.”

1926 Austin 7 ‘Chummy’ with Dorothy and Stanley ready to go. Canada Day, 2009

Best regards, Robert PS: “The labor of the alchemists, who were called artists in their day, is a befitting comparison for a deliberate change of style.” (William Butler Yeats) Esoterica: Last summer I was out and about painting in my ’26 Austin “Chummy.” On the way home I had the dogs in the back seat and a half-finished painting blew out from beside me. Still wet, I saw it miraculously land face up. My joy was immediately diminished when somebody’s motor home ran over it. Going back to get it, I realized my ordinary sketch now had cubist tendencies. After replacing a smashed stretcher, I decided to keep it more or less as it was.   A slap on the head by Sally Martin  

“Magic III moorlands”
original painting
by Sally Martin

I am still reeling from the main body of your letter. Honestly, I feel like I have been slapped upside the head with a barrage of angles, suggestions, possibilities and permissions to play… I now can’t wait to vacate my office and head out to the studio and just a few minutes ago I was feeling lacklustre and squished from today’s ‘do it’ list!! Thanks for the turnaround!!       There are 4 comments for A slap on the head by Sally Martin
From: Celeste Gober — Feb 19, 2010

What a stunningly beautiful painting, and a very powerful compositon.

From: Win Dinn, Painted Turtle Gallery — Feb 19, 2010

Love the Magic III, Sally. I haven’t ridden in years, but this painting whets my appetite for it!

From: Sarah — Feb 19, 2010

What a stunning painting!

From: Jonathan — Feb 19, 2010

You really captured the power, movement, and beauty of the moment. This is a wonderful painting!

  Spontaneity of watercolour by Georgie Davidson, Birdwood, Australia  

“Pots of Magic”
watercolour painting
by Georgie Davidson

After reading your letters for almost three years I now feel compelled to respond. “The art of becoming” connected deeply with the spontaneity I feel when I paint in watercolour. At times it feels like magic that has me asking, where did this painting come from? Pots of Magic seemed to just paint itself and it even had a butterfly!         There are 3 comments for Spontaneity of watercolour by Georgie Davidson
From: angie — Feb 19, 2010

what a beautiful painting absolutely magic it is!

From: Anonymous — Feb 19, 2010

At first glance, I thought this was the back of a herd of elephants. Much deeper on closer inspection!

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Feb 19, 2010

Funny, I, too, thought they were elephants at first glance.

  Our peripheral vision by Kathy Hirsh, Beijing, China  

original painting
by Kathy Hirsh

Your comment about “elements that change in front of your eyes” brought these articles to mind. A student of mine (she’s a PhD in neurosciences — a nice sort of student to have) sent me this link. The two articles are “The Scientist at the Easel” and “How Artists See.” Both are quite interesting. From the first article: “The fact that our vision isn’t consistently sharp may also explain the enigma of Mona Lisa’s smile, says Livingstone. Our peripheral vision is only good at picking out big details, while images projected right on the center of our retinas can discern sharp details. That’s why we move our eyes as we read, she notes. When da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, he hinted at her smile with big brush strokes, but he put her more neutral expressions in the painting’s fine details. So if you look at Mona Lisa’s hands, for example, you might see her smiling out of the corner of your eye. But as soon as you focus in on that smile, it evaporates.” There is 1 comment for Our peripheral vision by Kathy Hirsh
From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Feb 22, 2010

This info, and your work, is illuminating! Thank you.

  Who do you think you are? by Margaret Rooker, Mendocino, CA, USA   I had a bunch of my (few) best life drawings getting ready to be framed, stolen from my car just for the large drawing pad paper they were spliced between. One had blown out of the car several weeks before and a truck tire rolled over it. I thought it was a “sign” as in: “Who do you think you are — trying to be an artist? ” But I now see that was foolishness. I love your painting and your wonderful dogs! By the way… how do you paint outdoors with dogs? Are they super well-trained? Tied up, very old (they don’t look it) or??? The photo alone could win a prize! (RG note) Thanks, Margaret. Stanley is four and a bit rambunctious. Dorothy is eight and settles down as soon as she sees me settle. Stanley sometimes takes queues from Dorothy, but not always. Squirrels are our major hazard. A dog is an artist’s sure companion who never criticizes. “If you need a friend in Washington, get a dog.” (Bill Clinton) You can see Dorothy helping me out in the video Forest Spirit. There is 1 comment for Who do you think you are? by Margaret Rooker
From: Nana — Feb 19, 2010

Dogs stay by their master/owner at all times. They are very well behave pets. The more you take your pets out with you the more they like hanging around you, usually right by your side if you are working at your station/desk.

  Husband bakes painting by mistake by Ruth Bodycott, Brookline, NH, USA  

“The finished stage”
original painting
by Ruth Bodycott

I had a particularly detailed and, I felt executed wonderfully, full-figured husband/wife wedding portrait (11×14 oil) scorched to sepia when I put it in oven w/pilot light for faster dry, a habit I had. My husband later in day without looking in oven, turned it on to preheat for our evening meal. We rescued it soon thereafter when an odd burnt smell permeated the house. Too late for salvage and customer. Had to start from scratch and repaint, saved the first for reminder of bitter lesson. I learned from this episode: even though I got more experience chalked up on my scoreboard, no matter how cautious we are, there is always room for more caution and more importantly, put a sign on outside of oven door when using for such purposes.   There are 3 comments for Husband bakes painting by mistake by Ruth Bodycott
From: Rose — Feb 19, 2010

Christmas in New York…Sweet memories…

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Feb 19, 2010

I had never heard of this practice. Does it work, and is it acceptable practice?

From: Ruth — Nov 19, 2010

This incident happened around 1980. The canvas is exactly the same as when I took it out of the oven. (I keep it in my studio as a reminder of a number of things) So whether this is acceptable practice I can’t say, but time is the best tester and I’d say it has stood the test of time. Definitely works, white used to take a week to dry; in pilot warmth, it was dry overnight.

  Changing styles by Brian Crawford Young, Forres, Scotland  

“Into the Maelstrom”
original painting
by Brian Crawford Young

As (almost) always, your letter reaches me here in the north of Scotland at precisely the right moment, with precisely the right subject matter. Is it alchemy or are you actually inside my head? I’ve been thinking of changing styles recently, but a bit nervous about it, as I’ve invested a lot of canvas hours working in an abstract expressionist (I prefer process-led) way. How do I go back to the landscape? As with you in Canada, we have a lot of it here, maybe not on such a big scale, but ours is probably more accessible. So why the long pause, as the barman once said to an Airedale. Why not just get on with it? Partly because I am surrounded by other painters who do landscape, and the market is skewed somewhat by tourists looking for rather wee souvenir paintings of the Scottish Highlands. Aye, they do! You have given me sudden hope and an idea — to bring happenstance and my “process” to the landscape. Oh yes, and just enjoy the doing of it. So here goes. I’m off to the studio right now. P.S. Presently in Scotland there is enough snow to host the Olympics. There are 2 comments for Changing styles by Brian Crawford Young
From: Brad Greek — Feb 19, 2010

I say go for it Brian. You can keep your style while doing a landscape. Look towards Cezanne for the abstracts in landscapes. You can do any subject in your own style. Tools and mediums can also change the outcome, so try those as well.

From: liz Reday — Feb 19, 2010

There’s nothing finer than an AbEx painting done outside in direct reaction to the landscape, yummm. OK so there’s snow & it’s cold, but check out the work of Walt Gonske for inspiration. Nice cosy little landscapes they are not. Wild, loose, spontaneous and brushy: get crude, get raw, get loose. But most important, get out of your studio unless you have a large picture window. Small paintings can be done in the car with the heater on, Walt had a snowsuit and truck/trailer/studio.

  With just a little help from me by Alicia Chimento, New Jersey, USA  

mixed media
by Alicia Chimento

Yes, there is a magic that happens when the hand and the mind are allowed to work together without preconceived end. It’s almost like being in another state of consciousness where the work itself transforms itself. Images take shape, are changed by additions or subtractions, but all as part of a purely visual piece of the whole. The ideas come as the work unfolds, until finally it makes sense, probably only to me. Just trying to explain how this happens for me so difficult, but the process is the most fun I’ve had painting in years. To realize that what is pleasing to me in the end is the result of many decisions made without regard to the whole, but to each part, which somehow can say here I am, like it or not. The piece becomes its own, with just a little help from me.   Phases of creation by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA  

“The cracker”
original painting
by Dorenda Watson

To illustrate the art of becoming I tell my adult students to think of the art process in this way… art goes through a series of phases, much like that of a human being. This process can take minutes, or months, depending on your individual practice; it is as follows… When you first think of an idea to create, it is like a new Baby… fresh, exciting, wonderful, scary, and full of all the possibilities to be had. You nurture it and you coddle it and you await what you imagine to be the greatest outcome of all time… and then you begin. Next, there is the Adolescent or “teen-ager” phase… this is when the work gives you grief no matter what you do, and then in the next minute you love it with of your heart despite the drama of growth, and once in a while, you just need to get away from it so that you can both cool off and re-evaluate the steps needed to bring it to a successful adulthood. And finally, the Mature painting… it’s not perfect… it’s possibly not what you had in mind when you first started it, but it is done… and it is what it is with all of its beauty and imperfections. There are 2 comments for Phases of creation by Dorenda Watson
From: Karen R. Phinney — Feb 19, 2010

I love the whimsy of your parrot and cracker painting! A sense of humour in art…..wish we saw more of that!

From: Anonymous — Feb 19, 2010

I love your analogy! From now on whenever a piece is in a difficult phase, I’ll just think of it as an adolescent who needs time to mature.

  Creating an intuitive state by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA  

“Roadside Blessing”
original painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Liz Reday

Painting must have magic, and that cannot be self-consciously contrived, it has to ‘happen” as you say. When I was a teenage babysitter, I found an issue of Art in America which featured the events of Allen Kaprow, original inventor of the “Happening” in the early sixties at a New York gallery. It was the beginning of early conceptual art of that time, and I was fascinated. I bring this up because all art-making should be a “happening” as you say. How to create this intuitive state? Apart from alcohol and drugs (which worked for some artists who inevitably died young), how does the artist assume the transcendental state that allows the painting to paint itself? I’m sure you have a checklist for this, but here’s mine: Music and other forms of total immersion in the senses, like being on an empty beach or beside a gurgling stream (with easel/sketchbook in hand in the moment). Meditation or some form of physical exercise before entering the studio (again, outside in nature for achieving optimal ecstatic mood). Not trying, not contriving, not working. With supplies at the ready, have fun, be playful, set time limits, pick themes, i.e. blind contour drawing, etc., or limited color palette as per your past letters. Grab old paintings, sand and turn upside down, then watch as the unconscious makes connections and color combos come out of the ether. Also, pre-prime canvases in abstract color blocks with nothing in mind, let them sit around for months or years before starting to paint. Did I mention music? The bottom line is achieving an altered state without poisoning the mind/body too much and creating without judgment. Like you say: becoming. There is 1 comment for Creating an intuitive state by Liz Reday
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 19, 2010

Many times now folks have commented about finding themselves in the zone. To find yourself there means you’ve stepped outside of ordinary reality into an elevated plane- a higher mind/soul kind of place. It is a place of Being. When we lose a sense of our ego-selves and are just simply creating- we’re Being. It is a place that with practice is relatively easy to enter at will. One masters the ability. Artists- and creative people of all stripes- are do-ers. We manifest material things. It’s our nature to do- to create. So a relatively significant shift takes place when we lose our ego-selves in the moment of creation- and do effortlessly- while Being. This is the superior state. To learn through doing how to BE. And then just keep creating.

  Lost painting used as frisbee by Sarah Clegg, Knutsford, UK  

original painting
by Sarah Clegg

On my way to see a client I made the fatal mistake of putting a canvas and my order book on the roof of my 4×4 whilst I loaded the dog into the back. I clearly recall actually making a mental note ‘not to forget the stuff on the roof’ as I did so, but having the memory of a goldfish, realized I had left my mobile phone in the house. Finally, I drove off at some speed… Some 25 miles down the road, on arrival at my client’s house, I announced that I had a lovely new hunting painting in the car to show her and… as the sentence trailed from my lips, the awful realization dawned that I hadn’t in fact put the canvas in the car at all. In a panic I rang a friend and neighbour, who kindly dashed off to look around the street, in my driveway, etc, but all to no avail. The painting, and the precious notebook with all my contacts, clients and their details, had simply vanished. Undeterred, on my return home I set about retracing my journey, looked everywhere then knocked on every door in the neighbourhood, put a ‘lost’ notice up in the local supermarket, told the local paper (even bad news is good news when you can get some PR out of it) and generally gnashed my teeth. My ego, I’m afraid, somewhat got the better of me and I began to imagine that one of my neighbours was beaming like a Cheshire cat at their good fortune in having discovered an original Sarah Clegg just lying in the road… I rang all the local framers. It was a bittersweet moment therefore when a couple of weeks later there was a knock at the door and one of the local kids was standing there waving a very battered canvas at me. Being one of my son’s schoolfriends he knew the painting had been lost and had found it out on the middle of the playing fields at the local leisure centre, where it had apparently found its true market worth and was being used as a frisbee. Like yours, my painting had also been driven over. One side of the canvas was ripped right through, the stretchers were crushed and there were dings and dents all around it. However it was salvageable, and after cutting it down to within an inch of its life and mounting what remained carefully on a board, I ended up with a rather pleasing little 8×10 oil portrait of a local huntsman, looking better I think than the original. I put it in a nice little English frame and it sold for a good price not long afterwards. Later, I also managed to recover most of my equally battered notebook from the hedge of a nearby garden. There are 2 comments for Lost painting used as frisbee by Sarah Clegg
From: PainterWoman — Feb 18, 2010

Always love a happy (enough) ending!

From: sharon cory — Feb 19, 2010

I also think the revised version is better.

  [fbcomments url=””]    woa  

Yellow Banks, Santa Cruz Island

oil painting by Laurel Mines

  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 Martha O’Brien who wrote, “I thoroughly enjoyed your letter and it put me in mind of a quote: ‘I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind.’ — Ralph Waldo Emerson.” And also Susan Roach of Angus, ON, Canada, who wrote, “A motor home running over your canvas. Now, that’s funny!! I’m still laughing as I write this note. The dogs look, TOTALLY IMPRESSED. The tire treads make your trees look like they have sails, nice touch! Oh to be a fly on the wall, OR, a bird on a fence. Thanks again, keep your letters coming.” And also Janet Morgan of Brooklyn, NY, USA, who wrote, “Your delightful letter reminded me of my love of clay and a poem in part: ‘Earth to bake, air to dry, fire to fire, water to wash. Add time and deities and vessels, cups and homes are born.'”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The art of becoming

From: John Levi — Feb 16, 2010

“Becoming,” said Paul Klee, “is superior to being.” I am always leery of such absolute statements or ideas, even my own. All ideas and concepts, even if ‘true,’ are provisional, and reflect various stages of potential growth, understanding, or insight. I would suggest that at a ‘higher’ level of functioning, being and becoming are essentially indistinguishable. What is true in life and art depends upon, firstly, grounding, experience, and perspective. As well as honesty and seriousness. And the ability to transcend, or suspend thought, so as to perceive more directly. An attitude of, for lack of a better word, indifference, is necessary to achieve a mind state capable of engendering the freedom to genuinely engage the creative process. No doubt, my ideas may appear somewhat absolute. The difference, I suggest, is the greater degree of specificity with regard to the creative process, and ones ability to evaluate, in practical terms, the relevant elements sighted. Still, Paul Klee’s quotation, “becoming is superior to being,” and similar statements, if well founded, serve an important purpose; to explore how, and ‘where’ it figures in the creative process generally, and how it relates to an individuals current understanding specifically.

From: Katherine S. Harris — Feb 16, 2010

Dear Robert- I usually paint what I see, and if I want to go into the abstract mode, I take a painting I either don’t like, or which didn’t succeed very well, and paint over it, often leaving elements of the under painting showing. Am I “cheating”? I used to think every painting should be “original”, from the canvas on up. Now I’m not sure. Katherine

From: Ted Duncan — Feb 16, 2010

Don’t trust style. Chasing after it can take you away from yourself.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 16, 2010

I also must take issue with this statement: “Becoming,” said Paul Klee, “is superior to being.” I could/should (and maybe even will) write a book about it. One must first ask at what age of his life & stage in his career did he say this- because out of context it’s a cute (but very judgmental) line that doesn’t make much sense. How would you know if becoming is superior if you’ve never made it to Being? Creating art- as with creating anything- is a process. It requires visualization as well as imagination. But if you are an imaginative genius and cannot do the work because of some spiritual- mental or emotional dysfunction you will not manifest your vision. These hang-ups are all material realm things that work to distract you from pursuit of your vision. They are many and varied. Many folks like to think of the materiel plane as school/education- with the potential for learning and growth- lifelong. I myself view it this way. Many folks like to think of this life as a journey- not a destination- and at the end of their lives they’ve had a wonderful experience (a good thing) but never arrived anywhere. Arriving can be relevant. Creating a work of art in any medium is a process (journey) but when you sign the incredible/ridiculous thing- you’ve arrived at a destination. While you may immediately embark on a new journey (or if- like me- you’re already on several journeys simultaneously because you work on more than one piece at a time) to disregard arriving at a destination (being) because the journey is somehow more important flatly suggests you’ve missed the boat WHILE ON IT. For many the growth wheel remains forever a grind. For those pursuing creative self-knowledge the wheel often becomes an upward spiral. Humans tend to think of themselves in terms that can only really be seen as the small self- and they rarely even grow up into the Self. Sorry. Yet what needs to be seen are the several different potential states here. The self. The Self. The SELF. And in viewing this- one can then also see the self as being- Being and BEING. Each is potentially a uniquely understood level of self-attainment. Each different growth stage is essential in the educational unfolding of the creative human- but only humans pursuing the SELF and BEING will ever likely get there. I asked. I received. I opened the door. If I can- anybody can. The resulting experience I’m having I describe as a Direct Experience of the Divine- and/or creative mysticism. And inherent in this is a physical understanding of the body’s propensity to become a radiant BEING of Light/Love. The end result is mastery. SELF MASTERY. One ends and begins in every moment- because the moment is what is most directly being experienced. If one is utilizing one’s creative energies and becoming/being one’s creative self- ONE IS. Out of that state one creates using all faculties available to the SELF. Becoming is not more important. BEING IS. It means you got where you initially intended to while still wearing your physical body. And that then facilitates further more inspired becoming.

From: Betty Jean Billups — Feb 16, 2010

THE ART OF BECOMING February 16, 2010 Dear Robert PREFACE: all that I share here, is based on MY GOALS FOR PAINTING, can’t speak for other artist!!! OBVIOUSLY!?!? I SOMEWHAT DISAGREE with your statement: “On the other hand, unless we plan for it, a lot of visual art doesn’t benefit from this sort of process. The painter, in one sitting or ten, may MERELY unfold a vision without the crucible of becoming. Creative failure and visual boredom are the frequent result.”……. EVERY FAILURE on the painted surface (FOR ME!)…. be it only a stroke, or a passage or an entire painting…IS A CRUCIBLE OF BECOMING!!! A DISCOVERY of something “unknown”…It is delving into the unknown regions of MY mind and spirit… not knowing, but possibly only sensing or “feeling” something that needs to be shared, that needs to be discovered, something that might bring beauty, or awareness to whomever chooses to view the creation!……. THERE are times, where almost like magic, every brush stroke is “right on”… and hardly a stroke is changed… and other times, where NOTHING happens but a big mess!! IF THIS ISN’T A “CRUCIBLE OF BECOMING”… I don’t know what is??!?!……. Also, your statement: “Art without style is yesterday’s laundry.”….. SORRY, CAN’T AGREE TO THAT!! Maybe I don’t know what your definition of “style” is?!?!……. PERSONALLY, IF AN ARTIST IS ONLY WORRIED ABOUT STYLE… (how they apply the paint to the surface) THEY HAVE ALREADY MISSED THE BOAT!!! “A STYLE” to me, is no more than the “sound of a person’s voice” (a person using someone else’s “voice” is called ” an impersonator”)… a “style” is not “made up” … it is not “picked out” like a pair of shoes at a store… A PERSON’S STYLE IS the final expression that comes from a person’s very soul, it is how THEY apply the paint!!! IT SHOULD FLOW NATURALLY, ALMOST WITHOUT THOUGHT. BUT WITH TIME, IT IS A CONSTANT “BECOMING”……. To me, as an artist, it is my GOAL (my “becoming”) to capture an inner FEELING of what I am viewing, and hopefully be successful, so that I can share that with the viewing world…so that I can open a door of understanding, appreciation, and maybe even LOVE, of the greatness that surrounds us!!… (Actually, one of the greatest compliments I have ever received, even over a sale, is when people come up to me and say: “I will never look at a sunset again, without thinking of you! I just never saw the COLOR that happens!!! THANK YOU!”) I believe that when an artist “gets out of the way” and allows their inner feelings to flow thru their brush…. They are in a constant state “of becoming”…… In whatever manner that my desire or goal may be expressed, in capturing the strongest image…then that is the path the new painting will take! …….. and like a buggy behind a horse, my “style” will follow! IT IS MY VOICE!!!!…… IF MY ONLY GOAL…IS TO “SHOW STYLE” OR TO “IMPRESS” ANYONE WITH MY “STUFF”…. THEN THE TRUE “ART SPIRIT” HAS BEEN MISSED!! THE GOAL OF PAINTING, should not be merely “style”, how one applies the paint to a surface…PAINTING should not be about TECHNIQUE!! My personal goal, MY END GOAL, is hopefully to open doors to the beauty, gentleness, greatness that surrounds us all, and thus thru this awareness, cause a healing in the world, so that Mankind can come together, support one another on this magnificent journey we are all on, and begin to live in peace with one another!!!……. PERSONALLY, I DON’T THINK “STYLE” IS A “SURFACE” THING…….. but more, it is something that touches and comes from one’s very soul… How ever the “paint” ends up on the surface, is the final result of my emotional response to what I am viewing, AND FEELING, to what I am attempting to capture… sometimes it is successful, and many times it is not…and when not, those end up scrapped, or tossed!……. BUT to “develop style”, (as you put it) one must “to thine own self be true”…. not PAINT something in a certain “style” because the “style” is popular at the moment.. .and you think there is a “Market” for it…BUT PAINT, CAUSE YOUR VERY SOUL DEPENDS ON IT!!! Painting from “inside” oneself, will always produce a beauty based on “truth”…and like your own voice, the “style” will automatically be there!!!……. As you mentioned: “We are the clever inventors of ourselves”….. Personally, I DO NOT THINK WE INVENT OURSELVES…more than not, we DISCOVER OUR INNER VOICE, OUR VERY SOUL!!! Sometimes, I think artists that “invent themselves” are like putting the cart in front of the horse…. they find “what is popular”, what “is selling”… and copy that, chase that, leaving themselves in the dust! The horse (our driving creative force) should PULL us (the wagon) along our creative path… and being true to one’s self, we produce great, unique paintings, and hopefully the world will acknowledge us, before we get to the end of the road!!! IF we spend our lives in “copy mode” we may become wealthy, but seldom make a deep mark for others to enjoy, or worth remembering! And in truth, I do think our souls know when we have filled our lives with chasing the buck, doing anything and everything, in order to have financial success, over creative unique success! The truer we are to expressing our UNIQUE voice… the more “success” we will feel inside our spirits! (BUT, that does not always guarantee “financial success”!)…IF PROFIT, IMPRESSING ANYONE, OR EGO, ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT…THEN THE QUALITY OF THE WORK BECOMES A SHALLOW AND EMPTY VESSEL! And in time, the world will know whether or not the person was true to themselves, or just another form of “commercial artist”!!! ……. Personally, I can see this in at least one WORLD renown artist, of the past century, whose original, early work had a great power in it…but as he became “acknowledged” for his work, he seemed to “head south” and became shallow, ugly, empty…I felt at THAT POINT, his work became a statement toward society, particularly toward “art critics”…saying: “Look, I can produce INFERIOR UGLY work, and they will STILL ACCLAIM me!!!” (actually, after realizing this for myself, I found the following quote by this 20th century artist, making the same claim about himself and the critics that pushed him to the forefront of the art world!!!): ……. A friend of mine met this artist in France, at a restaurant, back in the early ’70s, and this artist, said that he could throw his crumpled paper napkin over his head, and people there would grab it, frame it, and claim it great art! He also said that he had a vault with paintings in it that were to be exhibited 25 years after his death…(which has not occurred to my knowledge) … that he felt were of a high “quality”…there is a quote by him that says something to the affect, referring to the art critics of his day: “It is sad when one person wastes their life blood, proving that a group of people are wasting their time…because by so doing, he becomes like them!”) ……. I believe that great art is: TOTAL ADVENTURE INTO DISCOVERING WHAT ONE HAS …INSIDE!!! ……. If one ALREADY KNOWS what one is going to do…then it becomes merely a statement, A COPY of even oneself!… stale of imagination! Really no longer AN ORIGINAL!! AND I FEEL it is actually WORST than copying another artist… because in fact, an artist is thus wasting their life, in playing it safe, with an already discovered success… and by copying it, actually cheapens the original painting’s originality, its very soul!! ……. BUT, jumping into the unknown, and capturing it, to share with the world!! NOW THAT IS A TRUE GIFT “A TRUE BECOMING”!! A TRUE CREATION! A TRUE ORIGINAL PIECE OF ART!!……. I TOTALLY AGREE WITH THE FOLLOWING, ROBERT, AND THINK IT COULD HAVE STOOD ON IT’S OWN, FOR THIS ENTIRE CLICK BACK…. REALLY SUPERB!!!: “ Opportunities include nuances, conscious and unconscious mannerisms, evidence of unexplainable magic, flinty zips and happenstance gradations, strokes, splodges, slubs, bumps, bubbles and colour changelings. They may be gentle or violent. They may be planned or accidental. They may be lines or they may be patterns. They can be fat or lean, thick or thin. You need to look out for elements that change in front of your eyes, things that become something other than that which they just were. The artist lives by awaiting these events; and they are expected.” ……. Best regards, B.J. Billups http//

From: Anonymous — Feb 16, 2010

Got a chuckle out of your “motor home painting,”and the humorous shot of your dogs in the back of the “Chubby.” I can imagine your day, and it lightens my own with cheer! We can take everything too seriously. I loved the shake-up I felt upon reading Klee’s statement that “Becoming is superior to Being.” From a Zen level, Being should be superior, but we’re all familiar with the truth of the adage “the journey is better than the arrival.” I think the truth is a little more nuanced. Without Being there is no Becoming, and without Becoming, Being cannot be realized. Being in the Now as a painter, as a person requires that you participate in the mystery of cooperating with the Creative Force that causes you to become all you are meant to be.

From: Claudio Diluca — Feb 17, 2010

I appreciated so much your ‘The art of becoming’, that I want to say thank you very much. This represents a great encouragement and at the same time an explanation about psychological aspects of creation process. Specially useful to people like me, working in a different field and having started not long time ago a fine arts study. Ciao from Italy!

From: Ravi Grover — Feb 17, 2010

I would like to work on a group art show titled `Being and Becoming` after reading this twice weekly letter of yours. I will select the artists and invite them to participate with a work of art, be it a canvas, water colours, sculptures, etc. Mumbai, India

From: Eric Suchman — Feb 17, 2010

Thank you Robert, I really appreciated that email.

From: Ed Pointer — Feb 17, 2010

My gosh Robert, are those dogs the genus “horsus doggus” or is the car that small? The dogs are beautiful, what “brand” are they? I must say the painting is quite nice as well and the tire track adds a sense of movement to the viewing experience…

From: Darla — Feb 17, 2010

Robert — I won’t even get into the question of “being vs. becoming” or the value of style — you might as well ask, “what is the purpose of life/art?” Enjoyed the pictures of your painting and the dogs, but if you were really hung up on style, you might line up some wet landscapes, run over them with an SUV, and have a show on the influence of fossil fuel transportation on the environment!

From: Duncan Greenlee — Feb 17, 2010

Your letter about imagination, magic, and happy accidents was a real breath of fresh air to a man gasping for it. From the bottom of my heart, Thank you!

From: Kittie Beletic — Feb 17, 2010

Although I don’t define myself through my artwork, it is truly an expression of who I am. As it becomes, so do I … and vice versa. Allowing life’s experiences to paint my life’s picture has taught me well to see the beauty in what might have been perceived a mishap from another perspective. I am attending a “mishap” at this very moment. How I arrived here might be interesting to some (especially in the current economic client) but it is what I am doing with it that is pertinent to the art of becoming. Of course, it is affecting how I see. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men go oft agley …” Robert Burns We can plan to the smallest detail and in the blink of an eye (or the turn of the wind as was true for Robert), the painting is altered irrevocably. Not always salvageable, most often, there is merit to be found. At the very least, my experience has been to learn from the obvious. At the most, the occurrence has been deepened, raised from an ordeal and made into a story which is always my hope in both life and painting.

From: Haim Mizrahi — Feb 17, 2010

Too many empty statements. If you cannot tell us “how” to do “it” exactly, then, do not tell us “what” to do. Awaiting the events will not get us anywhere. And who is Paul Klee anyway

From: Bill — Feb 17, 2010

Haim, give Bob a break. Imagine writing a letter twice a week every single week. Some letters are bound to be better than others…Klee is the dude that liked to kiss, that can’t be bad…

From: Tatjana — Feb 17, 2010

Robert, What amazed me and made me laugh (knowing how many paintings you create) was your upset at the prospect of loosing this one, and salvaging it from under the wheels. Good for you, there is something to be said for stubbornness!

From: Nicholas Stewart — Feb 17, 2010

M Mizrahi—If you have to ask “‘how’ to do ‘it’, exactly,” you’re not an artist. Sorry. As for who Paul Klee is, that one defies comment.

From: Lanell Penrod — Feb 17, 2010

Your letter was just the thing I needed to read to cheer me up. It’s a hard job creating something…whether a living canvas or any other media… Brazoria, Texas USA

From: Eleanor Blair — Feb 17, 2010

The most frequent reaction from people in the audience as I painted a 4′ x 6′ canvas on stage accompanied by the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra last week, was how surprised they were to see the painting turn out so well, when it looked so awful at the beginning. I suppose non-painters imagine that a good painting looks good right from the first brush stroke. Sometimes, I must say, it feels good from the beginning, but even that’s no guarantee of the outcome. Gainesville, Florida

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 17, 2010

Every painting is a process of becoming for all artists. I’ve always believed art is autobiographical. We use it to speak, to convey our message. Some artists have little to say, some volumns. I think we connect with the level of art, for lack of a better term, with a like response or equivelant level. I know when as a child I could not appreiciate much of what I love in art today. There are still “styles,” “schools” and methods I still can’t get my thoughts around but that doesn’t necessarily mean the artist or work doesn’t speak to someone on some level. This is why there is little agreement when artists pontificate or try and condense our thoughts into slogans like becoming or being. For me the only important thing in painting is to be as honest with my attempt. Some paintings hit a cord with the public and some miss. Maybe my thought could be better said when I find better words later. Maybe I’m the only one listening to what I say. No matter. It’s the journey, not the destination.

From: John Burk — Feb 17, 2010

Wonderful notion. I have painted shapes and colors, and sometime later in the painting realized what I painted was a woman on the other side of a window screen, sitting at a table with one hand up to her chin. I have painted colors side by side, expecting them to be the most exciting part of the painting, only to find it’s the sliver of sunlight on bright green grass that steals the show. My wife calls me my best fan. I’m not pleased too hear that, but I do think there’s some kind of truth to the matter., You have to believe in yourself, your process, the unique filters you bring to the activity, and the accidental qualities that happened because on some level you know something about what you’re up to—and the ability to recognize what’s good id something else in the work. That’s the excitement to making art. Seeing what’s become of it.

From: Andrew Jackson — Feb 17, 2010

Style if you plan it is mannerism. Style if it comes naturally, is the life blood of art.

From: Jason Wright — Feb 17, 2010

Every professional was once an amateur

From: Jane Hinrichs from South Dakota — Feb 17, 2010

Robert, I just want to say I love going through these responses to your letters. I love especially to see other artists’ work. Thank you. Stay warm.

From: Diana Quattlebaum — Feb 18, 2010

Your current clickback had the ring of truth to me. I’ve never written you before, but the “responses” so far have been surprising and opposite to my own. What makes art into “ART”, for me, is this very thing you describe — when one starts seeing “one’s self” in the lines and colors. I often get tangled up in perfectionism, leading to a grim mess, and there is no joy in the making. My best work has come from times I threw caution to the winds and zigged when I “should” have zagged, because a sudden change made me see fresh possibilities I’d not intended. Subtle things going on in the painting that make me see it in a new way. Even accidents, as you say. It’s a sort of dialog with the subconscious, I think. The interpretation problem may come from the use of the word “style”…. Today, artists often think of style as “a preexisting external style,” like cubism, or impressionism, etc. A personal artistic style is like the ways we walk and talk, little idiosyncrasies we evolve on our own. My dictionary widget defines “Idiosyncrasy” as: idiosyncrasy — a mode of behavior or way of thought peculiar to an individual : one of his little idiosyncrasies was always preferring to be in the car first.. a distinctive or peculiar feature or characteristic of a place or thing : the idiosyncrasies of the prison system.– Medicine an abnormal physical reaction by an individual to a food or drug.ORIGIN early 17th cent. (originally in the sense[physical constitution peculiar to an individual]): from Greek idiosunkrasia, from idios “own, private” + sun “with” + krasis “mixture.” I personally like the phrase: “own, private mixture”. I don’t always feel in synch with your ramblings, but hope I got it today. If not, please don’t tell me, because I need what I learned about myself! San Jose, CA

From: Liz Reday — Feb 19, 2010

Can we eliminate the phrase “As I tell my students…” from your clickbacks? Why is it that some artists need to preface their every comment by announcing that YES, they are a teacher? Why is this so crucial that it needs to be announced at the beginning of every comment? I’m sure Robert has taught many classes and yet, I’ve never heard him pontificate in this manner. It’s great that many artists can get a job teaching art to others, but why the insistent announcement? And yes, I’ve taught art classes too, but I don’t think it’s important, especially as there’s some really questionable folks teaching art these days with their articulate, shameless flattery and fawning groups of followers, like the blind leading the blind. Use your money to buy art books and supplies and your free time to get out of the studio and paint from life.

From: Norman Gold — Feb 19, 2010

Right on Liz!!!

From: Jeanne Rhea — Feb 20, 2010

B. J. Billups —winner of the “Longest Reply to Robert Genn’s Letter” award Bruce J. Wilcox—I often say it is about the journey and not the destination to me as I am totally in the being when I am in this state. Sure, I am moving along, but I am not focused on the end result until it magically arrives. I think there is really little difference in what you are saying, but would love to read a book on this. When I speak of it being about a journey, I am speaking more of it also being a way of living my life and life (as physical) always comes to an end. Hate to think of that as my destination. Hope this makes some sense.

From: Jeanne Rhea — Feb 20, 2010

B.J.Billups, Your reply is appreciated. I do not want you to take my last statement the wrong way. I tend to write a book when I am passionate about something, too!