Contrarian critters

Dear Artist, In the studio or on the road, many artists find they’re at their most creative when they’re simply on the lookout for joy. When a job has some sort of outside payoff — typically cash — it’s known as an “extrinsic reward.” When there’s no payoff except for the joy, it’s known as an “intrinsic reward.” Experts are now seeing intrinsic reward as the silver bullet of motivation and a principal key to evolved work. A revealing study by Teresa Amabile and colleagues at the Harvard Business School tells some of the story. The researchers asked a number of artists to select 20 of their works of which 10 were commissions and 10 were from their regular production. A panel of curators and art experts, knowing nothing of the nature of the research, were then asked to rate each work on creativity and technical skill. While skill ratings turned out to be pretty well the same, the commissioned works consistently rated lower on creativity. In my experience, grants can have a similar affect. By the time the bureaucratic slot machine paid off, friends who recently applied for long greens were burdened by “receiver’s remorse.” Projects lost their lustre and creative quality suffered. While we may work to perfect our craft, and we definitely need to be challenged, to get the best from ourselves we need to pretend that nothing of what we do is actually work. A creative thriver needs to be an independent self and a seeker of joy. If joy’s not in you, you might need to delude yourself that it is. Blessed are those to whom a sense of joy comes naturally. But artists need to be reminded that the squeezing of joy is also a responsibility. There’s an irony to it all — it’s been my observation that the most blissful players are the hardest workers. Best regards, Robert PS: “The misuse of extrinsic rewards, so common in business, impedes creativity, stifles personal satisfaction and turns play into work. After basic material needs are met, the quid pro quo of if/then rewards — if you do this, I’ll give you that — saps the juice from the job.” (Daniel Pink) Esoterica: My son James and I have just wandered 4,800 kilometres in Argentina. We had no agenda and no commissions to fulfill — we were just looking around seeing what came up. Listening to downloads and audio-books on the car radio illuminated the spaces in between. Late each evening, over the spectacular Argentine steaks, creative conversation flowed like Iguasu Falls. Like the sea lions on Peninsula Valdez on the west coast of Patagonia, we artists need to be contrarian critters. It’s my observation that, deep down, we artists know what works. It’s just that we don’t always have the insight — or perhaps the courage — to let the joyous work flow. “Humans are self-directed and work best when we have three things,” says Daniel Pink in his audio book, Drive : (1) Autonomy — the ability to control aspects of our time, tasks and techniques. (2) The opportunity for mastery, and (3) A sense of purpose — a connection to something larger than ourselves.”   Bottled up creativity by Tim Alcock, Denver, Colorado, USA  

original painting
by Tim Alcock

I loved art — any kind — in high school, but never believed I could turn on creativity for extrinsic reward. Instead of becoming an architect, I became an engineer. Now retired, I’m taking classes at the Art Students League of Denver. All that bottled up creativity! Wednesday I got chatting with a very talented lady painter next to me – an unemployed architect. Apparently architects are amongst the most underemployed professions these days. Meanwhile I’m retired and painting for intrinsic reward. PS: I’m signed up for your Bugaboos workshop with CMH this summer and I’m doing my best to keep in practice for the trip. There are 2 comments for Bottled up creativity by Tim Alcock
From: Win Dinn — Feb 07, 2012

Lovely depth & colour in Oesa, Tim@

From: Anonymous — Feb 17, 2012

Love, love love your colors, especially in the shadows! Bravo!

  Loving a portrait to ‘life’ by Ann Lohmann, Houston, TX, USA  

pastel painting
by Ann Lohmann

As a commissioned portrait artist, I must say that I feel the most joy when I am portraying a subject in a way that will give the viewer feelings of love, appreciation and enjoyment each time they view the painting. There is an intense feeling of creativity involved in the process of bringing a subject to life as I begin to get the feeling of”loving” it into being. I have thought of paintings I might do just for the”fun” of it, but, as Dr. Eric Maisel would say, the idea loses vivacity. There is fun in arranging the background in a large painting to complement the subject and use it to support the feelings about the subject I want to convey, but only loving a living being”to life” on the canvas or paper and knowing that it will honor the subject and please those who love and/or respect it, moves me to joy. There are 2 comments for Loving a portrait to ‘life’ by Ann Lohmann
From: Kay Christopher — Feb 06, 2012

Beautiful painting & beautiful words.

From: glenna blomer — Feb 08, 2012

I happen to be a student of Ann Lohmann & I get to watch her “love” her subject to life quite often. Her “style” of creating a portrait makes the observing eye want to continue looking/enjoying & loving it. Her classes are weekly “treasures”. She carefully works with each student personally & all take turns watching. Amazing.

  Reverse order by Carol Mayne, Leucadia, CA, USA  

“Prayer Changes Things”
original painting
by Carol Mayne

I looked into my own heart and found the truth that lies between my ‘inner anarchist and inner conformist.’ My self-employed status has been a happy job title for 40 years, and I feel grateful to have worked from home long before it was considered ‘cool.’ Did making commissioned art cramp my style and dull some latent genius? Perhaps, but no more so than going hungry would have! These words of wisdom have motivated me as I move forward: “Live a Life of Balanced Recklessness!” That and doing the three things in Drive in reverse order!   There are 2 comments for Reverse order by Carol Mayne
From: Patti Cliffton — Feb 07, 2012

Hi Carol, lovely painting and wonderful words of wisdom. Patti

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 09, 2012

Nice work. Great contrasts and reflections.

  Continuous flux! by Darrell Baschak, Manitou Beach, SK, Canada  

“Morning on Schist Lake”
pastel painting
by Darrell Baschak

We humans are contrarian critters for sure. We are accosted daily with messages from all kinds of sources that seek to deny us our basic human right, which is to exercise our free will to live in happiness. Your statement “Blessed are those to whom a sense of joy comes naturally” is in fact true for each and every one of us humans that inhabit his blessed earth. Again, there are those who would deny us that joy in favour of some mindless consumption of worthless products or activities that always seem to put off true living until sometime in the future. Artists are not”the be all to end all” but we definitely are onto something that is good and right. It is hard to pinpoint who “they” are but I suspect we are all responsible for the state the world is in now. I would say that I live in relative obscurity as an artist in rural Saskatchewan but I honestly enjoy this inward journey I am on. I discover much about myself and my surroundings when I am honest about my motives behind being an artist. My motto lately has been, “Paint what you know; paint what you love.” The thing is that what you know and love is in continuous flux! It’s all good. When you mentioned that you were with your son on these travels I was reminded of the movie The Motorcycle Diaries which was filmed in South America and chronicles part of Che Guevera’s life. I am somewhat envious! There are 2 comments for Continuous flux! by Darrell Baschak
From: Jakki Kouffman — Feb 07, 2012

What a lovely light! So full of mood.

From: Darrell Baschak — Feb 07, 2012

Thank you Jakki, it was an extraordinary day in a supernatural place!

  Joy carried throughout by Elizabeth Patterson, Hollis Center, ME, USA  

coloured pencil
by Elizabeth Patterson

The word, “joy” has been in every version of an artist’s statement I have ever written. It has probably been present in half of every conversation I’ve ever had about my work. It’s there in the conversations I have with myself inside my head. Joy is something I hope is carried along from my first inspiration, flows through the execution of the work, and slips right into the eye of the viewer, where it settles in, at least for a moment.         Charles Hopkinson, portraitist by Tom Halsted, Gloucester, MA, USA  

“Colorful Fields”
watercolour painting
12 x 23 inches
by Charles Hopkinson

My grandfather, Charles Hopkinson (1869-1962) was a “contrarian critter.” All but forgotten today, he and a few contemporaries were known and much sought-after during the 1920s-1940s for his academic portraits. Many were literally academic having over 40 commissioned portraits of Harvard presidents, professors and deans alone, as well as of many other academic officials, civic leaders, US presidents, captains of industry and others. A friend and contemporary of Sargent, Tarbell, Benson, and Cecilia Beaux, among others, he was paid well for his portraits (he was getting good commissions even during the Depression, which didn’t hurt a bit), of which he may have painted more than 1,000 in his long and productive life. But he loved nothing better than to sit down between commissions to turn to watercolors, of which he turned out more than 1,000 as well, nearly all of them far from academic in any sense. Many of his land and seascapes were wild explosions of color and near-abstract form that he delighted in creating, and he was constantly experimenting with new approaches to his subjects, even the scenes (maybe especially the scenes) that he painted hundreds of times of the view from his lawn overlooking the sea. I was fortunate enough to know him fairly well (he died when I was nearing 30), and used to sit with him while he worked and chatted about what he was attempting. I have never forgotten the time, when he was probably 90 or 91, sitting on the lawn in a heavy wool overcoat and scarf (it was mid-summer, and the temperature was probably in the 80s, but by now he was always cold), working on what could have been the hundredth attempt at the same view of the sea and shore to the west, with a setting sun. The painting was almost abstract, with a sky dominated by blurry clouds that ranged in color from golden yellow to lavender, the land on the horizon a thin line of blue, the tree-covered point of rocky land in the foreground a dark streak of green and salmon, the evening sea a pearly pink. He put down his brush and turned to me with a smile. “I think I’m beginning to get it,” he said. There are 2 comments for Charles Hopkinson, portraitist by Tom Halsted
From: Darrell Baschak — Feb 07, 2012

Your words about your grandfather conjure up a painting in my mind of the two of you sitting before that lovely setting sharing the moment that lasts forever. His statement”I think I’m beginning to get it” is wonderful and so true of many artists in their later years. Thank you.

From: Sarah — Feb 07, 2012

Such an interesting account of your grandfather’s life and work. He must have had a delightful sense of humor, and a lot of wisdom.

  Satisfying curiosity by Gail Caduff-Nash, Mountain home, NC, USA  

“Bedroom Cat”
watercolour painting
by Gail Caduff-Nash

It’s a bit of all-or-nothing in your article — and I’m glad that some of my joy comes from simply squeezing paint onto the palette. I just love the stuff. And then the mixing. The applying of paint has varying degrees of emotional content. From wow to oh-no!! The joy of the “happy accident” and the joy of skillfully doing it well are great perks to the basic joy of squishing paint onto something. But it is an even greater joy of satisfying my curiosity that makes me want to do the work. I’m forever curious about how that paint is going to mix with this paint, how that will look on that background, etc. And I’m curious about how Nature works re: light on all the objects of the world. I enjoy studying it; analyzing it. Getting a good painting out of all that is just a nice ending. The joy of painting is in the doing. Even commissions (and maybe especially?) can have moments of joy contained in them. If you look at the Mona Lisa, for example, it is said that Leonardo didn’t like painting backgrounds so his are dull and vague. And he used his skill to do clothing and furniture. But he had a good deal of joy in accomplishing that face, that smile, which has become the focal point. He didn’t love her hair all that much. Her eyes are nice. Her skin tones are lustrous. But the smile is where he found his joy. And it is where we find ours, too. I wouldn’t do a commission if I didn’t think I’d find joy in there somewhere. It is why you get hired in the first place.   Decorum conundrum by Cecilia Lea, Revelstoke, BC, Canada  

oil painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Cecilia Lea

Yesterday, I attended an art auction at our community Visual Art Centre where I had entered a piece. The purpose of the auction was to raise funds for the Centre. I do not enjoy these large events. I am not a person who is comfortable in a crowd or one who enjoys promoting my own work face to face, but I was interested to see how the evening progressed. Looking around, I realized that most of the attendees were the artists themselves. Our facility has a small maximum capacity of around 200, and there were perhaps 40 pieces there. My piece did sell (as did every piece there, as our community is very supportive — although the better pieces sold for prices well below those I would consider appropriate). I am pleased to say mine was among the higher prices paid. However, as I left I wondered if I should have hovered around my painting to see who ended up with the piece, and whether I should have sought that person out to introduce myself and thank them for their purchase. I felt I should have, but I also would have been intruding on the extremely busy scene being conducted as people lined up to claim their piece. When I arrived home, having been away for a few days, I checked my email to find the Centre had tried to contact me prior to hanging the piece the previous day to ask me to lower my minimum bid price. I did notice while I was there that it was at least twice the amount of almost every other minimum bid there. I am not talking large amounts here ($25.00 – $60.00) as we are a smaller community and the people here do not pay large amounts for art on the whole. I am glad I was not home to receive that request as I felt my piece was fairly priced, and lower than I would have asked if I had shown it elsewhere, or sold it through my web site. So, I have two questions for you: — Is it considered worse to be actively watching the progress of the silent auction so I would be able to know who the buyer was, or worse to not have thanked my buyer? I still intend to ask for their name at a quieter time and see if I can send a note of thanks. — Was it right for the Centre to ask me to reduce my price, or were they trying to save me from looking “greedy” in relation to the other artists, the majority of whom do this solely as a hobby? (RG note) Thanks, Cecilia. Thanking buyers can be the wrong approach. Consider making yourself known to them and wait to see if they thank you. But don’t hang around — it’s embarrassing and unnerving. With regard to letting some organization fool with your reserve, tell them to forget it. It’s most important for artists to know their own worth and their boundaries. If it ever happened to me I’d back up my truck and take the painting away. There is 1 comment for Decorum conundrum by Cecilia Lea
From: Robyn Rinehart — Feb 06, 2012

I’m not sure that everyone wants to meet ‘the artist’. Some like the mystery of that shadowy creator making wonderful work in their studio, and others want to make a friend of them. I recently paid quite a lot for another artist’s totally inspired work. It’s the first time I have put someone else on my walls. I tossed up whether to ring her and say how much I loved it, but decided against it because I prefer the mystery.

  Rewards of spirit and health by Lou Everett, Greenville, NC, USA  

“Hunting lodge”
watercolour painting
by Lou Everett

The”intrinsic rewards” of creativity have meant so much to me and paid off in helping me to achieve a balance of health in mind, body, and spirit. I began painting in 1994 after having health issues such as bronchitis and pneumonia from”burning the candle at both ends.” Having been a farmer’s daughter with a strong work ethic, and then later becoming wife, mother, administrator, educator, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and even caregiver, I had difficulty setting limits and found art in 1994 to provide me with the”intrinsic rewards” of taking time to enjoy all the beautiful scenes around me. Each time I became sick, I painted more, until finally, in 2005, I chose a different”street.” I retired from administration, accepted my retirement with the state at 27 years of service and chose to contribute to my nursing professor by working half time at the College of Nursing. By devoting more time to my art, I became much more spiritually rewarded and have had far more time and energy for my family. There are 2 comments for Rewards of spirit and health by Lou Everett
From: Pamela Sweet — Feb 07, 2012

This is such a lovely watercolor. Thank you for sharing your art.

From: Sarah — Feb 07, 2012

Love your Hunting Lodge!

  The Joy of Writing: The Olson Ten-Step Method by Anna Olson, MB, Canada   Below is the method that I have used for more than two decades to pump me up and get me going on writing projects. This is a creativity-liberating process. Once you learn the theory, you can apply it to other areas besides writing. It’s important to start at Step 1 for every project. Steps 1 and 2 will help a little bubble of happiness to form and percolate through your project from beginning to end. If you do those two steps at the beginning of each work day, you will gain even more benefit. Five to ten minutes on each should suffice. Step 1. Stream of consciousness writing about your life. Step 2. Stream of consciousness writing about the topic. Step 3. Cluster on the topic. Step 4. Research if necessary. Step 5. Write first draft. Step 6. More research if necessary. Step 7. Second draft. Step 8. Show to someone for feedback. Step 9. Third draft: edit and polish. Step 10. Publish (or send to publisher) and reward yourself. Stream of consciousness writing (also called speed writing) is important because it entices your inner child into the project. Your child is the source of your artistry and creativity so it’s really important to have her or him along for the ride. Your child is happiest with the simplest structure. With speed writing, as long as you keep writing about your feelings and then the topic, you can’t fail as long as you keep your pen moving. What could be easier? You’re a success right at the beginning of the project and you will carry that feeling through to the end. Avoid the temptation to start further along in the process. You may be able to do the project, but you will miss out on the joy. First you need to play: do speed writing about your life, how you feel today, what are the problems, what is going well. Then do speed writing about the topic. Don’t look at your notes, just be opinionated. You may have not even started your research. That’s even better. Pretend you know everything. Be irreverent or sarcastic if you feel like it. Crack jokes. Have fun with the topic before getting serious. Clustering is important for bringing ideas to the surface. For the uninitiated, here’s how it works: put a “seed word” in a circle in the middle of the page like “tree” for example. Put a line radiating outwards and a relevant word in another circle, like “trunk.” Keep adding lines, circles and words, building on associations. When you feel a sense of completion, that you have enough words down, write a paragraph about the subject. For a full understanding about clustering, read Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico. It’s a good idea to give yourself a reward after completing your assignment so that you get a treat even if others reject your effort. You stayed with it, you completed something, you deserve a reward. Think about what it will be early on so you have a carrot dangling before you all the way. If you are a visual artist, try playing for five minutes by drawing faces of how you feel, and cartoon images of what you intend to paint. Be irreverent and child-like. Have fun before you get serious.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Contrarian critters

From: Robert Sesco — Feb 03, 2012

An artist friend of mine, who is very talented but who elects to remain an amateur, once said to me, “Art is Play.” I’ve never forgotten that succinctly put phrase. At its core, I believe art IS play. As children, our first experiences with a blank sheet of paper and some crayons invites our imaginations to play, with color, or with drawing. Over time, we learn technique, and with this we continue our explorations. At some point many of us head down the path of imitating the masters for the purpose of empathizing with their accomplishments, and/or learning new techniques. Some will head down the path that allows their imaginations to continue bearing fruit with unlimited images that perhaps have never before been corralled and frozen onto a page or a canvas. Learned techniques can be applied in our play, just as play can reveal new technique. I personally believe that even an accomplished high society portrait painter benefits from revisiting that childhood moment when faced with the prospect of unlimited white pages and more colors in the box than your imagination had heretofore been aware; when someone in your life arranged for an unlimited supply of large sheets of white paper, an assortment of non-toxic paints, and no applicators other than your hands and fingers. Because of our culture, and its slant toward business and profit and youth, as opposed to, say, spiritual health, honor of our elders, and raising the least among us, it is easy for us to become distracted with the bending of our creations toward that which will make money. I believe that at some point, unique to each of us, this insidious mental framework begins to release the joy from our play like a pinhole in a balloon. If we are not vigilant, we become what are called ‘meat cameras’, or we devolve to rendering the imaginings of others to the exclusion of our own beautiful thoughts. Although our society obviously discounts the value of art by cutting the budget for art as a first item, or haughtily defines art as a ‘luxury’ item, we artists understand the nature of art. We understand how art elevates us out of the primordial soup and into higher realms; how one painting hanging in your home can cause you to smile every time you pass it. Art elevates, or can, and regardless of our society I suppose it is up to us to set an example for our otherwise distracted brethren, until they also realize that life does not have to be a drudgery, that life can be balanced with something as simple as a thick pad of white paper, all the colored pens around which an opposable thumb and fingers can wrap, and one’s imagination. Play might be a great warm-up for artists who are happily locked into five year’s worth of commissions. Joy is our natural state, it is also our goal because we have forgotten our natural state and who we really are; we are distracted by Madison Ave. and our culture, and our understanding needs improvement. Art as Play helps.

From: Markus — Feb 03, 2012

Robert, I agree with the joy verses material reward being and creating finer art work, but a question lingers. The most beautiful, evolved, skilled, and creative works, were done on commissions. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Pollock, Rembrandt, etc… Not sure how to make sense of the study.

From: Robert Sesco — Feb 03, 2012

Markus, I specified, and I believe Robert’s intention is, that a balance is required, not a total dedication to play. I merely believe that we need to consistently drink from the fountain of play, not that we necessarily need to adopt it as a lifestyle. Your post is insightful, and I will merely add that historically, art and culture, from dramatic plays to sculpture to paintings, and all of the most wonderful of life’s elevating activities, thrives typically only after a brutal conquering and establishing, by force, of order. The egregious merchant commerce that many artists abhor, the trade routes and the bartering that commences after order is militarily established, is the foundation upon which elevating art can begin and thrive. Our greatest works of art were created during times of obedience, during times of great divides between Haves and HavesNot, after times of great brutality, and loss, during which the value of a life dropped precipitously. Only when order is established does art seem to flourish. It appears that only when commissions are available from the Haves, can artists create our greatest works. Additionally, whenever the great antebellum mansions are pointed out to me, the great family fortunes are mentioned, the huge historical estates, I think of how easy it must have been to accrue on the backs of slaves. The pyramids are great works, but again on the backs of slaves, or the destitute of Egypt. There is always a duality in this world, and it is our job to be aware of this dichotomy. Many of our ‘great works’ are great because the victors have always written the histories that survive. Each succeeding culture has nothing more to go on than surviving histories, thus distilling the ‘greatness’ to that which has survived. The more history that accumulates, the less of the surviving ‘greats’ that survive due to simple manageability of information. There is an infinity of perspectives.

From: Gordon Wilkinson — Feb 03, 2012
From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Feb 03, 2012

It’s a bit of all-or-nothing in your article – and I’m glad that some of my joy comes from simply squeezing paint onto the palette. I just love the stuff. And then the mixing. The applying of paint has varying degrees of emotional content. From wow to oh-no!! The joy of the “happy accident” and the joy of skillfully doing it well are great perks to the basic joy of squishing paint onto something. But it is an even greater joy of satisfying my curiosity that makes me want to do the work. I’m forever curious about how that paint is going to mix with this paint, how that will look on that background, etc. And I’m curious about how Nature works re: light on all the objects of the world. I enjoy studying it; analyzing it. Getting a good painting out of all that is just a nice ending. The joy of painting is in the doing. Even commissions (and maybe especially?) can have moments of joy contained in them. If you look at the Mona Lisa, for example, it is said that Leonardo didn’t like painting backgrounds so his are dull and vague. And he used his skill to do clothing and furniture. But he had a good deal of joy in accomplishing that face, that smile, which has become the focal point. He didn’t love her hair all that much. Her eyes are nice. Her skin tones are lustrous. But the smile is where he found his joy. And it is where we find ours, too. I wouldn’t do a commission if I didn’t think I’d find joy in there somewhere. It is why you get hired in the first place.

From: John — Feb 03, 2012

Commission work. Interesting dialogue. I have done only one “commissioned” piece. It was a barter trade and in the style and size that I was joyfully working. I felt no less pleasure in my creativity than with other pieces in the same series. So it was simply a continuation… Question then for one and all. Is it a true commission if it comes naturally from the artist under the artists total control at the request of a buyer to fill a specific site. Or conversly must the artist bend his vision even a small degree to the buyer. Perhaps when an artist has the luxury to pick an choose his commissions both parties win. I’m considering Richard Serra right now and his unique installations.

From: Anon — Feb 03, 2012

I was asked to do a commission for an elderly man who was terminally ill with cancer. The painting would be a portrait of him that he would leave to his family. A huge feeling of compassion made me think that I need to and have to do that commission. What greater cause for a portrait painter than fulfilling someone’s wish to leave a piece of themselves for posterity. My thoughts and wishes were with this man. But, in my heart I felt dread and helplessness in face of the horrible illness. I felt paralyzed at the very thought of having to work on the piece and I realized that I am unable to do this commission. So I referred the man to another artist. I still feel with half of my heart that it was my duty as a portrait painter to do that commission, but I know that it wouldn’t be fair to the task to do it with the horrifying feelings I had. Not being in control of my emotions just sucked the passion out of me.

From: Robert Sesco — Feb 03, 2012

Markus, I apologize. I realize now that you may have been more appropriately addressing your post to “Robert” Genn, and not myself. Sorry if I misunderstood. I was in a writing frenzy.

From: Mary Catherine Jorgensen — Feb 03, 2012

I’ve noticed that when I finish a painting that I really really like, I am so excited that I cannot even sleep very well. Otherwise, I’m continually thinking about what I am painting, enjoying it or being frustrated, but the excessive excitement is not there. Odd. But then, I’m a slow painter and less excitement is no doubt a good thing.

From: Betty (Elizabeth Jean) Billups — Feb 03, 2012

“In the studio or on the road, many artists find they’re at their most creative when they’re simply on the lookout for joy.” You know, another way of implying the above quote, is “on the look out for adventure”: looking for the unknown, and discovering how to capture it! And because of the excitement of the adventure: to learn more and to capture that rare moment in time that you are witnessing, then yes, one is wrapped in joy!

From: Jan Albertin — Feb 03, 2012

Perfect description of my life and process!

From: Mariane Hostmark Tveter — Feb 03, 2012

Your always insightful postings has had an amazing correspondence to what was on my mind that day but never knew.

From: Ellen Key — Feb 03, 2012

Last year, I did a 3’ x 3’ painting of some funky flowers and leaves on a very turquoise background. These colors were selected for my house (I didn’t care if they “went” with anyone else’s living room) and this was the most fun I’ve ever had in creating a painting. It was just for me and I found myself painting several days into the wee hours – filled with that wondrous joy of creation! I’ve had several people come to my house and indicate that they really liked it and was it for sale? (Of course not!) Now, I find myself encountering “painter’s block” when it comes to what I’d paint if I were to paint something similar – to sell to them!

From: Pat Merriman — Feb 03, 2012

How interesting. I will only take a commission that I have had some prior investment in like my children’s grandfather’s brick farm house…it has my memories in it too. When I do some wearable art, the commissions I sought out were personal memorabilia to incorporate into vests, purses, dolls…then I was motivate to spend the time to give back to a friend…just shopping for stuff to create with has failed me time and time again, and I usually turn down commissions for it feels like “shopping for stuff” aimless, without personal investment.

From: John — Feb 04, 2012

Pat M. you’ve got it. That’s it. It comes down to personal investment. You’ve given me an idea going forward and that is, if a commision is requested, to incorporate objects of meaning from the investor and integrate those objects into my personal style of making art. In a way, I’m fortunate in that my practice is subjective and that I have neither the desire or hand/eye coordination to do portrait work for example. One really must have the exceptional gift to fall in love with their subject for at least the length of the transaction and process.

From: Jill Bukovnik — Feb 04, 2012

Very interesting…something in me has known this all along. I only sketch, paint & carve things that “tickle my toes”. I know if I do this because it’s completely joyful to me, this will trickle out to the viewer and they to will became joyful by just looking at it. In this world we can become bogged down by so much negative reality, we forget about just pure joy & the impact it has on us. I’ve watched many people stand in front of my paintings for the longest time, smiling, giggling, recognizing lives simple moments captured in a fun & unique way with happy colours. That’s my payment in full.

From: Dr. Robert — Feb 04, 2012

In addition to being an artist, I am a sailor and world traveler. My entire reason for being an artist is to find a way to share the joy, awe and ecstasy that I have experienced in nature.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Feb 04, 2012

When I am painting I am in a world of my own. Exploring lines, colors and presenting these aspects to their best advantage is the greatest challenge that I face. When my work is completed and I see how my efforts came true to form gives me great joy. That moment of accomplishing something to my own satisfaction is the greatest reward for me.

From: Marie Smith — Feb 04, 2012

I have enjoyed your letters for a long time. They really cheer me up! I have been in a painting slump for about three years. Really wonder if I will every get out of it. My husband and I have health issues. But let me tell you, I do view that cup half full. We will be celebrating our 63 wedding anniversary May 25. I’m going to try very hard to do a small painting for him. Acrylics, are my favorite. Again, thanks for your wonderful letters.

From: Tara Holl — Feb 04, 2012

It would seem that we do need to buck the imposed system, be the non conformist, be contrary to the accepted norm in order to quiet our crowded, noisy surroundings so that we can hear our own creative voice and respond to it. At least that is what I find myself doing more often than not when I either feel that fevered pitch that it is time to work or finally can tuck away the little “fear demons” that are always lurking close by to carve out that chunk of creative time. I think that once one actually gets started, they have the potential to experience joy but only if they can give themselves, without profound expectation and/or over trumped up “hope”, to the creative process. We live in such a busy world – certainly for some – it is fraught with too many distractions, too many obligations, and too many technologies to keep in mind, in heart, the importance of quieting our surroundings and seeking a safe place to just be with our artistic selves. Sometimes we forget how simple and simultaneously complicated it can be to do that. In my case, the “autonomy” that author Daniel Pink refers to in his book, was to make the time, give myself permission to leave the obligations for later in order to go to the model session. The “opportunity for mastery” was when I was there and decided to change my approach in order to take full advantage of the creative situation. And finally, the most important guiding force to me in this given situation, was to allow the “sense of purpose” to be in the moment as fully as possible, suspending judgment, expectation, and hope.

From: Jamie Lees — Feb 06, 2012
From: Linda Saccoccio — Feb 06, 2012

I have been making art with a good mix of agitation and joy for a while. It’s possible some of the agitation comes from the discomfort with joy. How much joy can I safely experience? How much can I hold? Is it dangerous to be joyous? Will it be taken from me if I boldly create out of this blissful state? Will I be too vulnerable? Will people doubt art made of joy? I think thoughts like these have made the acceptance of joy a slowish journey. Not to mention we artists are expected to be cynics. I mean who could, with a clear conscience be happy in a world with so much suffering? This as a premise has made it challenging to be brave enough to hold the joy and let the paintbrush run with it with abandon. But alas, joy seems to have a stronger hand than I and so it is beginning to win. To top it off it is demanding, it pushes me forward steadily. There is always a higher bar to hurl myself over to find the next horizon of creative expression waiting to be articulated. Perhaps that is where the tension lies, it’s not completely gone even when joy reigns. So if you are a believer in the angst of the artist in order to create, then fear not. Joy will allow for a certain amount of it, it just won’t snuff out your flame in the process as it gives a gentle breeze to keep you wavering, along with ample heat and light.

From: Odette — Feb 06, 2012

I’m a Contrarian! In possession of a very strong sense of purpose as far back as I can remember – maybe as far back as age 2, when first challenged by the common beliefs of my parents began asking ‘why’ . And in doing so, I accepted the responsibility of relating. Soon after I began the journey of looking everywhere for confirmation that it wasn’t just Me who felt this joy of knowing.

From: Ina Beierle — Feb 06, 2012

“Contrarian Critters” is about my motive for making art the way I do. When the inevitable question arises, “Do you sell your work”, my first reaction is to cringe. While making money from one’s art is certainly a wonderful way to make money; the freedom to think and work unencumbered by that motive alone is a gift. I am of the ilk that supports my art by working other jobs just to keep my creative freedom… and I have to say, I think I am addicted to that freedom.

From: Colleen Crandall — Feb 06, 2012

Nine years ago I left a career in law, at what appeared (from the outside) to be the zenith of my practice. I left to pursue a more self-concordant way of earning a living. My goal was to earn a living through creativity. Since, I have tangoed with the following issue: I love to oil paint-I truly love creating in oils, mostly faces. I don’t even think I consciously choose to do faces, it is what has emerged over time as a constant. I earn a decent living, however, through designing jewelry, marketed in an even more creative manner. I have never fully understood, but nonetheless knew, that to retain this true love of painting- the almost spiritual aspect to the process of painting, it has been important to me to not earn my living by it. This blog shed so much light on my wondering why this is, and will support the flow of my dance with my paints! Thank you for your wonderfully creative and inspirational writings!

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Feb 06, 2012

This letter digs deep and I appreciate it very much. I haven’t been to the studio much since my last show in November, and I feel a slight nausea at the door. When I am in the office (unable to get to the studio), ideas start coming although not with the usual passion. When I get home I either can’t make myself go downstairs, or I go for couple hours, do some half-hearted work and run away. I have been there before – usually in winter or after a show. Your thoughts about intrinsic awards makes me want to go to the studio (but I am reading them in the office so I can’t go now). I will let you know what happens tonight. If you can cure my post-show / winter studio nausea, I owe you a fee.

From: Louise Francke — Feb 06, 2012

The quest to regain joy in my paintings, after a life’s works’ stream in the surreal realm has run dry and no longer revs my motor, has pushed me into abstract impressions of nature.

From: Karen Mader — Feb 08, 2012

My friend teaches acrylic painting. She is full of joy when she teaches. She is so positive, encouraging and fun I don’t want to take lessons from anyone else. My joy is giving a painting to someone who is thrilled to receive it. My friend encouraged me to sell photos of my paintings on cards. I have done that at a local Craft Fair. That is exciting for me. I am fortunate to be retired so that I can do this. really enjoy reading all the letters, comments and seeing various art that is shown. I was a real stress bucket most of my life. I am trying to be positive by saying to myself each day: “Go forward, HAVE FUN.” Thank you.

     Featured Workshop: Robert Genn in the Bugaboos
020712_robert-genn Painting Workshop with Robert Genn in the Bugaboos   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

An Argentine Family, Tombo, Patagonia 2012

acrylic painting, 12 x 16 inches by Robert Genn, Vancouver, BC, Canada

  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 Amy Mull Fremgen who wrote, “Your letter today on ‘contrarian critters’ reminds me of that saying, ‘managing computer programmers is like herding cats.’ Most programmers love what they do and will work long hours solving problems but don’t like to be told how to do it.” And also Markus who wrote,”I agree with joy (versus material reward) creating finer art work, but a question lingers. The most beautiful, evolved, skilled and creative works were done on commissions. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Pollock, Rembrandt, etc., …not sure how to make sense of the study.” And also Margret Henkels of Santa Fe, NM, USA, who wrote,”Contrarian or what… for most of us artists, it means ‘keep the day job.’ Of course, wandering around Argentina sounds a lot better than showing up at the office.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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