In praise of crazy


Dear Artist,

Some people think she’s crazy. She’s a bronco-busting, motorcycle-riding, video-making, sky-diving, giant-picture-painting kind of girl. She makes loud noises in social situations. “Man, look at that tree,”she shouts. She can laugh like a logger and giggle like a baby. She disappears from view for long periods of time — nobody knows where she is.

Zoe has what appears to be irrational exuberance as well as private enthusiasm. No grass grows between her feet. She moves too fast for passers by to even pick at her lint. Affected? I’m not sure — but she does come from a long line of sobersides.

Zoe’s energy focuses right down to the tip of her brush. While she has not always been a professional, she is now. Her overt craziness is the flip side of a serious passion. As long as I’ve known her she has been able to face down fears and reversals. She’s both a worker and a dreamer. She goes for the bull’s eyes that she sets up for herself. When she misses, she laughs out loud.

In degree there’s a Zoe in all of us. A quiet smile — seeing the silly side. It may be a tell-tale for the right-brain, left-brain yin-yang. Humour sees incongruity and makes inappropriate connections. Humor takes imagination — a jump from the ordinary to the extraordinary. That’s art. It’s Picasso’s bull made out of bicycle parts. It’s Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture “Fountain,”made out of a urinal. It’s Georgia O’Keeffe’s iris petals, Turner’s magical light, Monet’s shimmering water-lilies, Gauguin’s red skies, Dali’s moustache. It’s the transformation of commonplace reality into individualist personality. Video-makers like Zoe know that invention is the mother of invention. Motorcyclists like Zoe know that there is Zen in riding and maintaining. Painters like Zoe know that there’s value in thrill and play, in being loose and goofy, in giving every dumb idea an opportunity to breed. When Zoe jumps from aircraft she is in the company of a great guru.

Best regards,


PS: “Many blocked creatives tell themselves they are both too old and too young to allow themselves to pursue their dreams. Old and dotty, they might try it. Young and foolish, they might try it. In either scenario, being crazy is a prerequisite to creative exploration.” (Julia Cameron)

Esoterica: Zoe says: “Choose to be a baby. Ask how would a baby handle this. See the world with baby eyes. Babies are seeing everything for the first time. Cool.” I ask Zoe what is her main secret. “Secret” It’s what Peter O’Toole said at the Oscars: “Private study.” Crazy?

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.


Living up to her name
by Elsha Leventis, Toronto, ON, Canada

Thank you so much for today’s letter — Zoe is an inspiration. In Greek there’s a saying about people’s names — Onoma kai pragma, which means literally “the name and the thing” but means that the person lives up to the name they were given, or that their name is the perfect one for how they are. “Zoe” in Greek means “life” and it sounds like Zoe is living up to her name every day. Go for it, Zoe!


Surfing the surfaces
by Louise Zjawin Francke, North Carolina, USA


painting by Louise Zjawin Francke

Youth is a state of mind!

It is the ability to let go and fly.

To seek and find things in your own way.

To look at everything as if it’s the first time.

Nothing is beyond enjoyment.

To allow your brush to surf the surfaces.

To forget how we have viewed things yesterday.

To allow your mind to float on that magic carpet.

Then the breath and smell of Spring will permeate everything.

I walk into my studio everyday with a smile on my face because I know it will be an adventure into my world of fantasy. My paintings are my menagerie where my imagination reigns supreme.


Taking yourself too seriously
by Lorna Dockstader


painting by Lorna Dockstader

Emptiness and loss of creativity are a symptom that you are taking yourself and others too seriously. The best part of being a creative individual is in sharing our happy and sometimes foolish times with our closest artist friends. The benefits are numerous; these include an anticipation of future shared laughter as well as the actual laughter, a renewed sense of health and well-being, the total freedom of being oneself without fear of judgment, the development of a highly awakened intuition and well exercised stomach muscles. How many times have you laughed today? Laughter is sadly too often seen as the action of children. Call a friend you can really laugh with and nothing else seems to matter much.


Yet another abdominal workout
by Jean Pederson

I know people like Zoe and I look forward to every encounter with them. I believe humor to be a very dear friend who helps see us through the difficult periods in life and who is also there to celebrate and share the bouquets. As we get older we are more inclined to laugh out loud when we see humor. Humor gets me through those periods as an artist when I feel blocked and can’t paint if my life depends on it. Life is too short to hold back laughter, and far too short to not share a great abdominal workout with a friend.


Trying hard to be brilliant
by Carolyn Smith, Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada


painting by Carolyn Smith

I might not have Zoe’s enthusiasm for jumping out of planes, but I understand what you are saying. Can I have too much enthusiasm? I am mostly self -taught with the odd teacher here and there and on PBS-Lynch. I have no trouble trying watercolour, pastel and now acrylics. I wonder what is a good painting? Because I like the painting? Because my neighbor likes it? My husband? I am new at this but absolutely adore your letters and trying my hardest to be brilliant! What ever that might be.



Otherwise, I’d be bored
by B. Shimmel

I enjoyed the visit with Zoe. At 88 I still paint, but have switched to abstract, “‘er something.” I have lost some of my enthusiastic, jazzy self over the years, but must paint or I will leave this vale of tears, bored.


Courage to create
by Cesar Girolamo, Padova, Italy

Taking part in risky pursuits is a prerequisite for accomplishing anything in life. A few years in an army never hurt anyone, although I never did it, I raced fast cars and the Mille Miglia down the spine of Italy and survived to laugh at a crash I had in 1988. Painting is made of a lot of little risks that pale in comparison to what real courage is all about. Courage is needed to create and it’s good to know there are Zoe’s over there too.

(RG note) The Courage to Create, by Rollo May is a book that ought to be read by timid artists. It suggests methods of putting yourself into unknown zones, unfamiliar places, as well as methods of exploring and discovering what each unique artist has to offer. “If you miss the opportunity to express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.” (Rollo May)


The old pizzazz
by Barb Matson, Oregon, USA

Your letter comes just in time as I sit in the desert wondering how to go horizontal in eye-scape from the vertical of the northwest tree-laden landscape. It has been a struggle I’ve had to just absorb, and yesterday, all set for the tackle with 3 canvasses and a sun umbrella, I braved the heat and sands. At first I was thrilled it was appearing on the canvas, and I was again learning something very new, as the desert is such a change from the lush gardens of Oregon. I’m usually a fast and competent painter and I found as I approached a beautiful bleached bare tree, I was going to have to learn all over when and where to stop, even the starting has been difficult as I can’t rely on all the skills I’ve used over these last years. This morning I realized half of me was enjoying the new challenge and then the other half moaning over the fact I was going have to start the canvas over again if I was to be pleased enough to have it in the show coming up on Tuesday. You put the old pizzazz back into my craw.


Watercolor vs. Acrylic dept
by Shirley Batte

I have been painting for a number of years and am a graduate of a visual arts program. I started painting in oils, then for many years in acrylics and then in acrylics and pastel. I was very taken with the watercolours I saw and am now taking lessons in watercolour. My question is do you still do watercolour or do you find acrylics more challenging? I find watercolours very free and the water sometimes creates unusual patterns. After seeing your acrylics I’m doubting my decision to study watercolour.

(RG note) Like falling in love, sheer attraction is as valuable as a lot of other reasons for going for it. The idea is to explore as many directions as you can handle. It’s a personal thing. I love watercolors. I just don’t do them as well as I would like right now. The reason acrylics are so appealing to so many artists is that it’s possible to change your mind and cover up what you consider to be errors and flubs. Also, acrylic fits all moods, even sloppy and lazy, which happens sometimes. With watercolors I find that I really have to stay on my toes. This is an opinion, but watercolor is the more challenging medium. However, acrylic can harbor a wider range of processes and techniques. In my opinion acrylic can be made to speak as loud as oil, plus it’s more forgiving.


Axis of evil
by Andrea Pratt

I sometimes wonder what politics, diplomacy, and war would look like if people like Steve Martin or Robin Williams were in the driver’s seat. John Cleese recently wrote this piece in the British press:

“Bitter after being snubbed for membership in the “Axis of Evil,” Libya, China, and Syria today announced they had formed the “Axis of Just as Evil,” which they said would be more evil than that Iran-Iraq-North Korea axis President Bush warned of in his State of the Union address.

“Axis of Evil members, however, immediately dismissed the new axis as having, for starters, a really dumb name. “Right, they are Just as Evil… in their dreams!” declared North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. “Everybody knows we’re the best evils… best at being evil… we’re the best.” Diplomats from Syria denied they were jealous over being excluded, although they conceded they did ask if they could join the Axis of Evil. “They told us it was full,” said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “An Axis can’t have more than three countries,” explained Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. “This is not my rule, it’s tradition. In World War II you had Germany, Italy and Japan in the evil axis. So you can only have three, and a secret handshake. Ours is wickedly cool.” International reaction to Bush’s Axis of Evil declaration was swift, as, within minutes, France surrendered. Elsewhere, peer-conscious nations rushed to gain triumvirate status in what became a game of geopolitical chairs. Cuba, Sudan and Serbia said they had formed the “Axis of Somewhat Evil,” forcing Somalia to join with Uganda and Myanmar in the “Axis of Occasionally Evil,” while Bulgaria, Indonesia and Russia established the “Axis of Not So Much Evil Really as Just Generally Disagreeable.”

“With the criteria suddenly expanded and all the desirable clubs filling up… Sierra Leone, El Salvador and Rwanda applied to be called the “Axis of Countries that aren’t the Worst but Certainly Won’t be Asked to Host the Olympics.” Canada, Mexico and Australia formed the “Axis of Nations that are Actually Quite Nice but Secretly have some Nasty Thoughts about America,” while Scotland, New Zealand and Spain established the “Axis of Countries that be Allowed to Ask Sheep to Wear Lipstick.” “That’s not a threat, really, just something we like to do,” said Scottish Executive First Minister Jack McConnell.

“While wondering if the other nations of the world weren’t perhaps making fun of him, a cautious Bush granted approval for most axis, although he rejected the establishment of the “Axis of Countries Whose Names End in “Guay,” accusing one of its members of filing a false application. Officials from Paraguay, Uruguay and Chadguay denied the charges.

“Israel, meanwhile, insisted it didn’t want to join any Axis, but privately, leaders said that it’s only because no one asked them.”

(RG note) I’d like to thank all of those artists who have written with their heartfelt opinions on the current situation in Iraq. As I mentioned before, artists’ percentages before the war began were mainly anti-war. As soon as the war started the percentage shifted toward a general support of the Coalition. In the last few days and hours there has been more of the “I told you so,”and “this is going to be tough,”and “where is the dancing in the streets?”type of letters. Some artists have demanded that their letters be published — immediately. We may yet publish another carefully balanced collection, perhaps next week. For those who have not seen the opinions and observations that we published last time — please go to

We will continue to archive your war letters. Thanks for writing.


(RG note) The selections below are from the section on “Courage” in the Resource of Art Quotations. This is the largest collection of quotes by artists and other creative people anywhere — online or in books. Artists, art instructors and their students consult this resource for inspiration.

Quotations from The Resource of Art Quotations

Creativity and Courage

Over a thousand new art quotations are being added to this site this week!

Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. (Alan Alda)

The courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource, adding colour and suspense to all our lives. (David Boorstin)

The paradox of courage is that a man must be a little careless of his life in order to keep it. (G.K. Chesterton)

Most acts of assent require far more courage than most acts of protest, since courage is clearly a readiness to risk self-humiliation. (Nigel Dennis)

Aren’t the artists brave to go out and paint a sea as rough as that?” I don’t see how he kept his canvas dry. (Ruth Draper)

There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. If you get away with it, you are brave. If you don’t, you are stupid. (Francisco Escario)

Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was. (Richard L. Evans)

Why did I hesitate to put all this glory of the sun on my canvas? (Paul Gauguin)

I begin to feel an enormous need to become savage and to create a new world. (Paul Gauguin)

Courage is grace under pressure. (Ernest Hemingway)

The first prerogative of an artist in any medium is to make a fool of himself. (Pauline Kael)

Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount. (Clare Booth Luce)

The effort to see things without distortion takes something like courage and this courage is essential to the artist, who has to look at everything as though he saw it for the first time. (Henri Matisse)

Courage is when you do what you have to do though people don’t think you can. Courage is when you think you can’t do something, but you do it. (Adam McCord)

The only cats worth anything are the cats who take chances. Sometimes I play things that I never heard myself. (Thelonius Monk)

With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity. (Keshavan Nair)

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. (Anais Nin)

To create one’s own world, in any of the arts, takes courage. (Georgia O’Keeffe)

Don’t be afraid in nature: one must be bold, at the risk of having been deceived and making mistakes. (Camille Pissarro)

A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whom timidity prevented from making a first effort. (Sydney Smith)

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. (Mark Twain)

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? (Vincent Van Gogh)


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