It’s pretty hard to describe something when you can’t put your finger exactly on it. Some people just seem to be blessed with the ability to paint, others are not so blessed. Some never try, others work diligently at it. When you see it demonstrated, you know it, you can see it. I call it “The Blessing.”
I think it’s largely learned and mostly self-taught. There is no overwhelming majority of art-school graduates who have it. Young and old show equal tendencies in it. At the same time it has to be somewhat intuitive — for the blessed few it’s a fairly natural way of thinking and working. It seems to me that the blessing is a treasure that’s found almost by stumbling on it. It’s fragile while held and must be nurtured. Practice keeps it in shape. Like other treasures it can be lost.
If painting’s a talent it has enemies. One of them is dependency — the blessed ones have to be self-anointing. Most that have the blessing are rugged individualists, but not all rugged individualists have it. Most are in love with problem-solving and have an innate, self-driven curiosity. They seldom need anyone to hold their hands — but they often excel in holding the hands of others. They are sometimes cranky, often ornery. If they are contrarian, this may help with the kind of reverse thinking that’s required to pull a painting together. While they may be system and process oriented, they are capable of thinking on their feet.
When people ‘get it’ there’s for sure an epiphany — suddenly they’re not in Kansas anymore. Many are probably right-brained to start with. Furthermore, they may show signs of a private world, and fantasy, and they easily default to self-employ, workaholism, laziness, messiness, antisocial or extroverted behavior, egocentricity, humility, and I have to tell you that practically all of them have a good sense of humour. But more than anything there’s something in the way they hold and move their brush — they seldom fuss away at the same spot. They go here and there like they were exorcising little devils, and in many cases I think they are.
PS: “I’ve always thought of painting as some kind of gift. And as a gift, there is a duty that comes with it: to push painting as far as you can. Artists serve society simply by producing a good painting. And that’s the hardest thing in the world. People think it’s a lark. It’s not.” (Sonia Getchoff)
Esoterica: Gifted painters often have a unique quality: They are capable of thinking about one thing while thinking about another. Their temperament permits this. And it’s their temperament that has them pick up a brush. “Painting is nature seen through a temperament.” (Paul Cezanne)
Blessed with the breath
by Marney Ward
Artists are blessed when they have a clear line of communication with their inner creative intelligence, the inner eye or inner voice which silently moves the brush in accordance with an unspoken and never fully comprehended vision. Such artists tend to be cranky when the mundane realities of survival, including silly people asking silly questions, force them to break contact with this inner vision and focus on the real, relative world instead. My two main mentors, William Blake and Emily Carr, come to mind. Both had reputations for being impossible to get along with yet both could express their artistic vision with great eloquence in words as well as paint. “What do I want to express? The subject means little. The arrangement, the design, colour, shape, depth, light, space, mood, movement, balance, not one or all of these fills the bill. There is something additional, a breath that draws your breath into its breathing, a heartbeat that pounds on yours, a recognition of the oneness of all things.” (Emily Carr, Hundreds and Thousands)
Blessing a curse?
by Bruce Wilcox
I’m a fiber artist, and though I have incorporated painting in my work, and though I have painted before, I am not presently a painter. I have an extremely twisted sense of humor, being a non-heterosexual raised Mormon in northern Utah, evolved into a Shaman. Yet this letter of yours describes me nearly perfectly.
As an artist who works from the time I get up in the morning until I go to bed, who has yet to actually make enough money to succeed financially, who only has a roof over my head and space (not enough) to work because a friend took pity on me and has allowed me “Artist in Residence” status, my “artistic blessing” is still a curse. Since I can no longer do anything LESS, hopefully one day soon that will change!
Definition of the blessing
by Mike Sheppard
I think what you have described is the individual pursuing his muse; whatever that might be. Driven by our personal abilities and curiosities, and set free to follow our talents, we each become consumed by our passions. We then exhibit the traits you have described. Would that each person in the world could find that freedom.
Not the greatest, but still blessed
by Nancy Walker
I guess I am one of those people that you call “blessed.” I never took painting in my life, not even at school, but I seem to be able to paint (although I am not the greatest). I think I do pretty well for not having any schooling or training. I love to paint rustic themes like old barns with old cars, or old trucks. I can sketch a face but when it comes to painting it, I am not very good at it. I usually give all my paintings away to friends. They say the paintings are nice, and I feel honor that they display my paintings at their houses.
Here is my problem: It takes me a long time to start a painting. I seem to be afraid to go ahead (is this normal?) but when the painting is finished I can’t believe it was me that did the work. Maybe I just have to believe in myself, or something like that.
Blessed are the eyes that see
by Alar Jurma, Montreal, Canada
Just when I thought my writing career was over… I had another thought! So what is it about certain paintings that transport us to that sweet spot at the core of our inner being? That mystical place described by different words like “Aha! Truth, Zen, Satchitananda, etc.” All different names for the same address, and where we all live.
Blessed are those with the eyes to see. If we have the “eyes to see,” we’re able to merge into the same awareness/feeling that the painter had as he/she created the painting. Some may call it a simple case of “cause and effect.” But from the highest (or yogic) point of view, the Seer and Seen are one and the same being, existing as our pure awareness. If that is true, then nothing is hidden from us. Everything is revealed. And to know that, that’s the blessing. Question is: how do we get the blessing? Ding Dong! The Avon lady just called and she wants to know.
Blessed with crayons
by Isobel McCreight
When in grade 4 or 5, the teacher would ask me to teach the other students how to draw an Easter card on a large piece of paper or some other similar art job. I couldn’t figure out why he picked me as I thought everyone could draw the same as me — I wondered why he always chose me to do the instructing and I would get just a little testy — Before too long I realized that we all were not the same at drawing and I was very surprised.
I had always drawn, being a kid whose father was at war, whose mother worked at the war plant and whose sister was looking after me and hoping I wouldn’t bother her… So my life consisted of paper and pencil and when I was ill around the age of 13, my sister bought me a set of crayons with all the new jewel colours. I thought I was in heaven and I still thank her for those crayons. She wasn’t aware of the colours… only that they were 8 sided and she thought I would like the shape of them.
Not always blessed
by Olinda Everett, Sao Paulo, Brazil
The pain of not getting it right. Hours and days. The anxiety that grows in the pit of my stomach when I am trying to achieve something and it all turns out so different, so ugly. Then having the certainty that what I am producing is not right, not what it is meant to be. Then worrying about other people’s opinion. Then feeling incapable of forcing my arm any longer. No, a blessing I have not. So what makes me want to paint? And what makes me give up? I am painting. I want to paint. I have a vision, a plan; I have the knowledge that will enable me to pick the right tones and colours, let the brush fly, tackle the small decisions, adjust. Then what is this feeling in the pit of my stomach that grows and grows and eventually sends me curled and sullen into a dark corner of the house or, worse, to my computer to play solitaire for two hours? So much anxiety, so much stress, such exhaustion? I am not blessed. Should I give up? How could I accept that verdict? Countries. I settle in my house in Portugal to paint and the work flows fast and furious. I can stay with it 8, 10 hours in one day, not tired, not finished, not out of breath or out of ideas, not hesitant but confident, excited and happy. I try to do the same in Brazil and it is pain and more pain, flitting between this and that, my head spinning, my stomach churning. What is this?
The blessed instinct
by David Louis, Coventry, UK
The split between artists and the artist, I feel is a ‘unique born at birth instinct.’ They have the instinct in the necessary mix. If you didn’t think about being an artist before 7 years of age you probably don’t have it. Don’t worry, to some degree this will make things a whole lot easier, as you will be able to paint what you want to paint, and often like the results. There’s a good chance lots of others will too. To be born with a unique instinct, will demand ‘unique duties.’
Is the blessing selfish?
by Janet Badger
Artists serve society simply by producing a good painting…” The quote from Sonia Getchoff really struck me. All these years I have struggled to bring forth what is within me, through the means of art. My gift was obvious from the beginning; my craft has been hard-won. I have been compelled always to improve my skills, and my vision. Lately I have wondered what my contribution to society has been… my art has mostly been enjoyed by my family and friends rather than a wider audience. I have read the biographies of artists and found that many have been teachers. They made a real contribution to society. People have suggested I teach. Yet I don’t feel a vocation to teach. I am compelled to keep working in my little studio, on my personal projects… is this selfish? I feel my gift is there for me to work with, to push to its limits in the time I have… that’s my job, my duty.
A blessing odyssey
by Brian Knowles, CA, USA
I think that doing art is something we’re either naturally inclined to do or not inclined to do. If we yield to that inclination, we make progress to the degree that we learn to create the effects we want. We may visualize some imagery in our minds, but we can’t get it to happen on canvas. That’s because we never learned how. We didn’t learn how to solve problems, create effects, get concrete results. So we hope for, and rely on fortuitous accidents. What we do by accident we call “creative.”
“Talent” is an awkward word to me. Inclination works better. Some of us are drawn to various art forms, others are not. Years ago, I took an art class at Pasadena City College. The instructor used to be a high school art teacher. At the end of the year, he allowed the students to draw any subject they wanted for their final. It would be graded. Invariably, the girls drew horses and the boys drew cars. The girls’ drawings of horses turned out much better than their drawings of any other subject. The boys’ drawings of cars turned out better than any other subject they tackled. The lesson: We draw best what we love most. The more love we have for a subject, the better and more lovingly we will render it.
I believe that if one has the desire, the inclination, one can learn to do good or even great art. It starts with desire. For a year, I taught drawing and oil painting in the Mission-Renaissance Art School in Pasadena. When I was studying to be an instructor, I learned more about drawing and painting than I had learned in years of going to art school and reading art books. It only took a summer, but I finally learned how to create the effects on canvas that I wanted. Larry Gluck was the best art teacher I ever had. But what he taught me is what I had to teach my pupils. It all started out very basic and became more complex as we went along. Teens and adults were amazed at how well they could draw and paint after only a few lessons of each.
When I was in various art schools, they never really taught us how to draw well — that is academically. They didn’t discipline us. I took three classes at Art Center, and learned a few things, but nowhere near as much as I learned from Larry.
I think that each artist is the product of all of his or her mentors, and of all of the influences that have crept unbeknownst into his artistic psyche. You had a very strong influence on my early formation as an artist, as did Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. I was also influenced by many of the great illustrators of the early part of the century, NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle and others. I learned watercolor from Ted Kautzky’s books. I was influenced by the Taos School, and by the California Impressionists and Plein Air painters. An English watercolorist named E.W. Hazelhust had a powerful influence on me, as did Thomas Aquina Daly Painting Nature’s Quiet Places.
But recently, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that I draw very well, and render very well, but that my paintings are soulless. They are like stage sets beautifully rendered with no lights and no actors and nothing happening. How long could you sit in a theater and just look at a beautiful set for a play that never happened? My so-called signature style has been rendering for rendering’s sake. It is only one part of the equation. So I’m rereading The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. That’ll break it loose!
Art is our memory of love
by Annie Bevan
Two separate conversations recently have caused me to reconsider the relationship between seeing and painting, between experience and art. In the first, I was asked a question, “What is plein air painting?” (The difference between studio painting and plein air is akin to the difference between Makarova dancing Swan Lake and James Cagney tapping his legs off in Yankee Doodle Dandy, or swimming fifty laps in a heated pool to dashing naked into the ocean) In answering the question, I described how hard it is for me to travel by car from one place to another, because everywhere, everywhere, there is something beautiful, and I must pass hundreds, thousands of possibilities in the vistas or the details, the sun, the shadows, the fog, the drizzle, the colors, the wild abundance of it all or the gentle quietude. All of it, in each fleeting glance, everywhere, paintings begging to be realized. I expected my anecdote would be amusing, and was surprised when my dinner companion smiled, but said softly and very seriously — “I wish I could see that.”
The second conversation revolved around the relationship between the artist and the audience. If art is a form of communication, what exactly does an artist do? And if you are communicating non-verbally, what response can be expected? I have long believed that the best an artist can offer is an invitation to experience, the gentle question “have you seen this?” Perhaps it will be something big, deep or profound. Or perhaps just a moment’s experience otherwise overlooked. (A few weeks ago, I was swinging down Rt 74 on my way to class at AB-Tech, when off to the side, a small dirt road and a cluster of red bud trees wildly giddy with color. Alas, no discipline at all: yes, I skipped class. Is it the world’s best little painting? Certainly not, but for some time that evening I was intensely alive and intensely in love with the red bud trees) And maybe, if you are not feeling mad with joy at the beauty of it all when you drive down the road, maybe that’s the job of an artist. Red buds flower and are gone in a few short days. That evening came once, and never again. Art is our memory of love. The most an artist can do through their work is say, let me show you what I have seen, what I have loved, and perhaps you will see it and love it too.
by Anne Barga
I so often find inspiration in these writings. Yet when I look at the paintings you feature in illustration, I don’t see any art works that stray from the status quo, the mainstream. What if I don’t want to paint literal pieces portraying yet another “skillful” take on the local scenery? I have natural talent for drawing and an excellent sense of color, and a Degree in Art. Why have I not seen Robert Genn departing from what he knows, and does so well, to a larger world of interpretation that is truly brave and risky? I feel he is capable. He is certainly in worldly ways able to have such an ultimately managed career. He is a father and not a mother. He often gives advice to the less financially fortunate non-formula painters such as myself, as though there are no boundaries to financial success except the ones we set for ourselves. I know he has had to work hard, because I can discern that he has, simply from his writings. Shame on him, I know he is deeper than that–otherwise I would not continue to subscribe to his letter. Show me something that has personal emotion, in any work featured on your site, and then I will be sure you perceive and believe the advice you give is not to bourgeois Sunday painters who impose their limited talents on the Art-seeking public. People who look for value and meaning and find nothing of import and become even more disillusioned about what Art can do for them to restore/maintain reason for believing in the majesty and mystery of the human being.
You are positive yet pandering, and you are helping and hurting at the same time. I continue to read all that you have to say, am relating, and also hoping that you may break out into areas that are representational but not literal. Millions of people have talent for strict representation, as do I.
Moving Fulcrum I
oil painting on panel by
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, 2003.
This includes Grace Cowling who wrote, ” ‘The Blessing’ for me was like a post-graduate class in psychology, at once challenging, insightful and refreshed.”
And Jerry Waese, whose horoscope read, “A resonance with the elusive — a fragile treasure which is nurtured by the practice of noticing and light hearted anointing.” Or “Everything shines and is at once funny and gorgeous.”
And Annette who wrote, “Every nerve in my body is tingling with word association, especially the line, ‘Most are in love with problem-solving and have an innate, self-driven curiosity.'”
And Pat Jaster who wrote, “The downside of the blessing for me, is just that I’m too right brained and don’t have enough knowledge on how to present to the world, or perhaps — too afraid to step into the circle.”
And Janice who wrote, “I agree, it’s a gift! I’m self-taught and color blind, but I have been able to paint successfully for about 5 yrs. I can’t explain it. People who have known me all my life marvel. I just say, it’s a gift.”
And Irish Red (Kim) who writes, “It’s pretty hard to describe something when you can’t put your finger exactly on it — Like trying to paint how a pear tastes?”
And Gwen of Kansas, who wrote, “Hey! I ‘got it’ and I’m still in Kansas.”
And several others who wrote and asked what the reference to Kansas meant. In the Wizard of Oz, when all turns Technicolor and wonderful, Dorothy remarks that they are not in Kansas anymore.