Dear Artist,

The difference between courage and recklessness, writes social scientist, musician and columnist Arthur C. Brooks, is using your conscious brain to reason, not just your amygdala reactivity, or your fight-or-flight response, to feel the thrill or fear of the danger. “If you don’t know how to climb, don’t try to free-solo El Capitan,” says Brooks. Instead, visualize going for your white whale, and what will be the worst thing that could happen. Unlike falling off a rock wall, in most cases, it’s not a dirt nap.

Blue Poles, 2007 Enamel on metal 60 x 72 inches by Marilyn Minter (b. 1948)

Blue Poles, 2007
Enamel on metal
60 x 72 inches
by Marilyn Minter (b. 1948)

You might begin by really pinpointing the thing you want. Perhaps the feeling it conjures is terror. Or at least uncomfortable scenarios. For artists, it’s often a creative risk that feels at first off-course or messy or painful or terrorizing, and then there’s the element of one’s identity being at stake, or the risk of being judged or measured against others with more experience in that lane. Social scientists call it “status quo bias” – a type of cognitive bias that involves people preferring that things stay as they are – a kind of irrational resistance to possibly better, but personally unproven systems. It is a type of fight response, but can also hinder growth. What we need to strive for here, is a kind of threading a needle: an appropriate and purposeful pushing through. The kicker is that it is not the fantasized-about result that’s going to make you happier, but rather, the act of courage itself that holds all the magic.

Spiked, 2008 Enamel on metal 96 x 60 inches by Marilyn Minter

Spiked, 2008
Enamel on metal
96 x 60 inches
by Marilyn Minter

And the thing is, as an artist, this is the zone you really want to be in, all the time. “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area,” said David Bowie. “Always go a little further into the water that you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” This push is the very essence of creativity. In my experience, it’s also the access point to happiness. In painting’s daily meditation, excitement is criminally underrated. I’ve found a way to summon it by simply trying something terrifying within my own technical and idea pursuits. Depending on how things go, I hit the pillow either crestfallen and consumed with problem-solving, or floating on a cloud.

Between technical danger and idea danger, the heavy hitter is ideas. Technique, style, presentation, even medium are moveable parts in a long game of natural development that you should be able build incrementally over time with some organic predictability. Ideas, however, are those ineffable imaginings that need to be struck out at; chased and captured in order to know if they’re any good. All the while, there’s a search for a clearer truth in whatever it is you’re trying to give the world. “I was demanding of myself a deeper and greater honesty; more and more revelation in my work in order to give it back to the people, where it goes into their lives and nourishes them,” said Joni Mitchell. “It strikes against the very nerves of their life and in order to do that you have to strike against the very nerves of your own.”

Glazed, 2006 Enamel on metal 96 x 60 inches by Marilyn Minter

Glazed, 2006
Enamel on metal
96 x 60 inches
by Marilyn Minter



PS: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” (Nelson Mandela)

Esoterica: In a recent interview, singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers revealed that what was most important to her was making stuff she liked, even if that meant it didn’t stand the test of time, or it wasn’t commercially marketable. “I’m trying to look back at some of my earlier music with radical acceptance – instead of looking at my songwriting with the critical eye that I have now,” she said. “At the time I meant it 100 percent. Everything I was saying, I meant. That’s a cool map of the way that it’s changed over time.”

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” (Louisa May Alcott)



  1. Great letter to get us out of our comfort zones, where creativity dwindles… try something terrifying…yes even a new brush, canvas size or colour can be terrifying …but worth trying to end up in the clouds and if not a pillow always a good place to rest. I’m going to go sky diving – in my painting that is! Happy falling …into bliss!

  2. Going into marketing in a bigger way, I am terrified. I built my new web page,, and am now an Associate Artist in the Manhattan Arts International. Lots of hard work (you need both sides and the middle of your brain for this), but on such a journey new energy, new ideas, and overcoming fears give me courage and confidence to keep painting.

    This piece is perfect, Sara, and I appreciate what you and your Dad did for so many of us fledglings!

  3. yes yes YES!!! Love this, Sara!!! I am in the thick of painting for a show in November. I did start months ago at a pace I could handle without stressing myself out. Stress does hamper courage. Stress over not-enough-time can keep us in a safe zone, picking subjects that we know we can do alright. But, I was finding I didn’t love what I was doing, so decided to go to that box of enlarged photos of “ideas” I put aside out of fear, fear they were “too hard”. Well, unstressed went to that box and I hit up the Nike motto, and attacked very large canvasses and courageously began just doing it. I am not bored. I can’t say I am in love with anything at this point, none of them are finished, but I am not bored, and do feel I am doing exactly what I should be doing. If we find ourselves turning them out one after another in a safe zone, boredom does go with that. Love this letter, Sara, THANK YOU!!

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Featured Workshop

Painting Plein Air on the Coast of Maine
August 8, 2022 to August 12, 2022

Sharon WorkshopPainting Plein Air on the Coast of Maine
August 8th to August 12th 2022
Adventure-Artists will be painting on the Coast of the United States this summer! This exciting painting and writing opportunity includes instruction and demos of Plein air painting techniques with award winning Artist Sharon Rusch Shaver in inspiring nautical surroundings. Comfortable, en-suite accommodations with balcony views of the harbor, all ground transfers, airport pickup and return, and to painting sites. Join us for a lobster roll or pizza night, and an optional Schooner boat adventure. Walk from your accommodation to the coastal village of Rockport to experience east coast hospitality on your own. $2,950 all Inclusive*, book now for early bird discount! $450 holds your spot. Join us on this next exciting adventure for artists! Neomosaic
Mixed Media
30 x 30 inches

Featured Artist

We live in a fractured world. Wars, famine and power games are forcing people to abandon their homes and their way of life in hopes of finding peace. For lack of education or specialized skills, the poor are not accepted into our northern communities. They stay in the camps on the borders of turmoil, separated from local community. Animals are caught in the crossfire. Even the trees and the rocks suffer the agony of imbalance. This chaos is evident in my work. In between the rivulets of paint and the textural accidents I choose colours and forms to suggest a landscape where beauty continues to reign. We can still change the tide and build a new world harmony. Certainly, contemporary will focuses on gold instead of beauty. Yet, beauty is essential to the wellbeing of the planet. She is essential to the survival of humanity.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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