Brotherhood and Sisterhood


Dear Artist,

On the beach at Le Pouldu, near Pont-Aven, Brittany, there’s a leaning formation of rocks that could be organized a bit by looking down on it and laying the horizon fairly high in the composition. It took a while to get the position right. A few minutes into the painting I realized it would benefit with a figure or some other motif in the lower right. The next day I organized my daughter, Sara, to stand in as a model. This painting was among the ones I brought home that summer. Off it went to a gallery and subsequently disappeared into the great Diaspora where all paintings go.


“Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven”
oil on canvas, 1888
by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Some months later I was thumbing through a book with illustrations of the work of Gauguin. Here, on page 75, was the same painting — produced in 1886 — same rocks, same high horizon, my daughter’s figure replaced by a Breton girl and a couple of cows.

This coincidence, like all the others, was just a part of the greater mystique that artists know about. It’s not only that there’s a brotherhood and sisterhood out there, but the phenomenon is without the constraint of time. It’s a plenum of inspiration and working-out from time immemorial — from the feeling of immediacy you get from those first scrapings on the cave walls at Lascaux to the timeless smell and wet-spotted floors of a Manhattan walk-up. It’s even in the rhythm of pulling and tacking a canvas to a stretcher. There’s some sort of eternal music in the air, and if we listen and move with it we may have the feeling that we are taking part in a larger dance.


“Sara In Brittany, 1985”
acrylic on canvas 24 x 30 inches
by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

Best regards,


PS: “Neither Imperial Russia, nor the Russia of the Soviets needs me. They don’t understand me. I am a stranger to them. I’m certain Rembrandt loves me.” (Marc Chagall)

Esoterica: The book is called Gauguin and the text is by Robert Goldwater, a professor at New York University. He suggests that artists, even from widely divergent backgrounds, “have a uniform will to create, to invent methods to match visions, and the concentration on the artistic goal to be achieved against all obstacles.”

This letter was originially published as “Brotherhood and Sisterhood” on January 9, 2001.


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

“We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love.” (John Muir)



  1. Greatly appreciate your article on the brotherhood and sisterhood. Duly noted after just finishing stretching a fresh piece of 300lb Arches. Ready to begin a brand new dance. I appreciate this article as I do most of your insights. Thanks. Ed

  2. Thank you for this story today, a great experience of connection and I appreciate the reminder. It is a thing that (for me) needs reminding often. But with each reminder, I feel the affirmation of connection and that joy is delightful, so it is fortunate to be reminded often.

    Thank you Sara and Robert,

    • jacqueline snitkin on

      I love this! what a gift to be reminded of the great flows of consciousness that are available for us to tap into.

  3. The “esoterica” about …”will to create” brought tears…at 71 and relative new to “real” art making..the insight rings so TRUE.

  4. I had a similar, and somewhat embarrassing experience, when I finished a winter scene of birch trees and stood it up on the kitchen counter for my husband to see. He looked at it and smiled. It was at that point that he held up the Globe and Mail to reveal a beautiful photos of a painting by Tom Thompson of the same image. Reassuring to think I see composition similar to him but I certainly don’t consider myself to be in the same category.

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Featured Workshop

to Over the Farm #2
original pastel 15 x 15 inches

Featured Artist

Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.


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