Crisis of confidence

Dear Artist, Lately I’ve been studying the plight of several painters who claim to be having a “crisis of confidence.” All of them began painting in their youth, sold work in their teens, had at least one hyper-critical parent, enjoyed moderate success with their art, and now find themselves, in mid life, “losing it.” While there are variations in their styles, media and techniques, all three suffer from indecision, dissatisfaction and overworking. All are having trouble finishing, signing, and getting work off to shows or galleries. I’m not going to dwell on all the possible reasons. Suffice to say they may include too many works under the belt, knowing too much, thinking too much, lack of joy in life, the misplacement or loss of the inner child, the feeling of never being satisfied, health issues, economic pointlessness, boredom and other depressing thoughts. A thorough vacuuming is nevertheless in order. Here’s a little program that can play out over a week or so: Line up a hundred or so small inexpensive panels, papers or canvases and have them ready to go. Give yourself a more limited palette — perhaps half your normal range. Put all reference material and prior works out of sight. If this is not possible, work in a new environment such as a hotel room or friend’s cottage. In preparation for starting the program, bring yourself to a mentally uncluttered, dream-like state. Now, over a relatively short period of time, fill the first support with a limited number of strokes. Get your subject matter from the deep well of your memory. Don’t finish, move on to the next. Even though you may consider yourself a real pro, try not to lean on what you know, but rather take yourself back and try to paint as if you were four years old. For some folks, this can be mighty difficult. Persist. Keep in mind that the exercise has nothing to do with creating great art, but is rather a ruse to free yourself from an all too common crisis. You’ll be temporarily re-routing tried-and-true habits and exchanging them with temporary new ones. The program is based on, “If what you’re doing right now isn’t pleasing you, try something else.” Anything goes. For the sake of the program, the wilder the better — the more childlike you are, the more confident and fresh your regular work will become. Best regards, Robert PS: “It takes a long time to become young.” (Pablo Picasso) Esoterica: Here are a few predictions: The first few attempts will be filled with timidity and resistance. But because there are so darned many of them, you’ll find the middle ones getting more and more cursory and loose. Then, toward the end, you’ll feel yourself tightening up and incorporating some of your treasured knowledge. At the very end you’ll become thoroughly wild and unruly, partly in the knowledge that the program will soon be over, and partly because you have learned something and know that you could go on like this forever. Some pieces you’ll want to frame. If you do, that won’t be bad either.   Embrace the creative performance by Rick Austin, Fort Mill, SC, USA  

original painting
by Rick Austin

I have been painting professionally for close to 40 years and have experienced most of the artist downers that life can throw at you. I’ve found solace in a few simple realizations. Artists are a unique breed of performers. Yes, performers. We are compelled to act out our creative addictions in the hopes of finding release. We outwardly ‘perform’ by physically creating our own kind of art, and who do we do that for ‘just us?’ I think not. Musicians, dancers, actors, etc., need an audience to find validation. We remain behind a veil as though the creator and the created were distinctly separate from each other. Imagine going to hear a concert and not see the performer? We would feel cheated. Doesn’t the stage performer need the audience as much as the audience needs the stage performer? I’ve observed that most people have little or no concept of our creative blood, sweat and tears. They assume that, “it must just comes naturally”! Or, my favorite, “Oh my gosh, did you paint that!” (my response, “yes, but I hid all of the numbers! — talk about being under-valued” ? Perhaps if we embraced the creative performance, we might find we like the applause. There are 4 comments for Embrace the creative performance by Rick Austin
From: Michael Jorden — Feb 12, 2010

Unlike other performers – ice dancers for example – if we turn out a good one we invariably get a comment like “It must be great to be talented”. I don’t know about the talent – I was born with a desire to draw – but what little painting ability I have took more than 40 years to develop. Sometimes the audience can be a bit frustrating.

From: Isabel Benson — Feb 12, 2010

Sorry to say this but Myself could not call it original. The Pose to too too much the same as Michelangelo’s study for the Libyan sibyl. Not also red chalk I hope? Anyway nice effort.

From: Deborah Levy — Feb 12, 2010

You are definitively very wise :) My husband and i moved for the winter to Miami running away from the cold weather in Chicago and i am painting in one of the rooms of the apartement that we rented, i do not have all the confort of my studio, and i was feeling completely lost and dry of imagination, but i decided to play, and do what i do not dare to do and experience with new colors and strokes and brushes and even with different concept, i must say that it has been very diffiicult for me, because i wanted to do serious work, and all what i am doing now is not serious and i cannot call it even ART. But as you write in your newsletter it takes time to recover the inner child. Thank you, your letters are always inspiring and i learn a lot from them. Deborah Levy

From: Anonymous — Feb 13, 2010

I agree with Isabel – this is a direct copy from the image on the Sistine Chapel – but it’s a very good copy.

  Get shoveling by Diane Weintraub, San Diego, CA, USA   Robert Motherwell did that… took a stack of papers and his usual limited palette of black, white, red and yellow-ochre. It was hot in NYC that summer. As Motherwell tells it in that great video on him, he took his shirt off and went through over 100 sheets of paper trying to get at something. Finally there came the breakthrough he’d been looking for. Then later he heard that his good friend David Smith had died that day. As the old joke goes: the kid said, “With that room so full of manure there’s gotta be a pony in there somewhere!” Sometimes it takes shoveling through a lot of manure to find your pony.   Take the program into your being by Haim Mizrahi, East Hampton, NY, USA   Your suggestions make sense, but you are leaving out the most important aspect which is that the exercise you offer as a tool to expedite the “going back to normal” should be what people need to consider as a way of life, as a given in the realm of constant creative engagements, as an attitude builder to face the one dimensional society we live in.. I work with kids and I realize that they can really relate to complex subject-matter by mixing it with their adamant beings. It fortifies the durability needed for any and every creative interaction. We waste our time with 80 percent of verbal garbage, 10 percent sorting through the crap and finally, maybe, the rest that applies to a real coming together with a powerful pleasing force, i.e. the free flying of pathetic encounters that speak the language of the era that changes daily and therefore encountering all the syllables as a language of its own. I think it is a no-brainer to understand the secrets and beauty of the alternative. I will leave it up to you which avenue you are going to use getting there.   Find again the boyness by Charles Peck, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA  

“Garden in the Back”
acrylic painting
by Charles Peck

Robert you hit a home run this time. Not just for those with this “crisis of confidence” you speak of or worse yet those, up against the wall of painter’s block, but for everyone who paints — those who have been at it for several decades and earning their sustenance from it as well as those still relatively new at their painting pursuit. Haven’t done it yet in as complete a way as you describe but I commonly have an extra surface about to “get loose on” when doing something else to “tune myself up” during the process. It is my way of fighting anal retentiveness and its dastardly staining of an image. While reading your letter I sensed I need to do this. So I shall get my pieces lined up (center cut-outs from mats) and find the way back to my inner/larger self even if the boyness can’t be found alive and well.   Loosened fatigue and tension by Gillian Hanington, Ajijic, Mexico  

original painting
by Gillian Hanington

In an attempt to deal with the tail end of a similar sort of funk last November I got a pad of watercolor paper and told my unconscious it could paint the pictures and “I” would stay out of the way. Actually I am not a painter. I make glass sculptures. Putting myself into “a dreamlike state” I started to paint. I put music on to distract my intellect and over two months painted a series of strange and wonderful pictures, many of which were mandalas. They used different colors than “I” do, and the designs and subject matter were different. Once when my intellect was trying to take over and THINK about what I was doing I kept having spasms in my arm which jerked the paint out of the carefully defined boundaries I was trying to maintain, and I realized that someone inside was saying “Hey, you said I could do this.” So I got out of the way again and let it continue. I have made no attempt to analyze these things in any way, but they freed me up and loosened up the fatigue and tension in my heart and now I am eagerly awaiting a turn in the weather so I can return to my outdoor glass studio refreshed and full of new ideas. And they were fun! I was always so curious to see what would come out.   Creative rebound triggered by sound by J.R. Baldini, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada  

“Spring Thaw”
oil painting
by J.R. Baldini

When I experienced this condition, it lasted for close to 5 years. During that time, there were multiple personal situations that I had little control over. I did not choose to ride it out, I just eventually went with the flow. What turned the tide for me, was when I went back to painting outdoors. I have since realized that even though I am a painter, I am an Audio. That is the sense I lead with. The other two being Visual and Kinesthetic. We’re all a combination of all three with one being dominant. It was not enough stimulation for me creatively to paint in the studio. I truly come alive creatively, when I can hear the ocean, the birds, the wind and feel totally in synch with my world. When I don’t get outside to paint for an extended period, I get grumpy and my husband will remark, “Why don’t you go out and paint?” There are 13 comments for Creative rebound triggered by sound by J.R. Baldini
From: Anonymous — Feb 12, 2010

I can relate with you, painting outside helps me. I begin to get stale in the studio. I love feeling the air, the smell of the sea salt from the ocean. All the senses seem to find there way on to the canvas. Valerie May Douglas

From: Lanie Frick — Feb 12, 2010

When the weather is too nasty to paint outside I have nature cd’s to play in the studio. My favorite right now is spring birds. It’s a nice substitute.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Feb 12, 2010

I had not thought of it your way! I tell people all the time about having withdrawal symptoms. I love nature, and know I need to get outside or I will go nuts. You said it very well.

From: Phil the Forecaster — Feb 12, 2010

Jacq…I agree with all of my senses! Painting outside brings everything alive even though the strokes may not be as polished as in the studio. But the strokes are honest and in touch with the moment. As far as the weather being too nasty – that is hard to believe although I must admit that I can no longer take the wind chill – I froze my hands years ago but did a solid work doing it. On those days, I do something else.

From: Rodrica Tilley — Feb 12, 2010

I definitely hear you on this…and how worthwhile when you make a painting as strong, energetic yet serene as this one.

From: Michael — Feb 12, 2010

Maybe I’m Kinesthetic. I go to work after a good run.

From: Anonymous — Feb 12, 2010

The sounds that go with painting plein air are an important part of the experience for me, as is the feel of warm sun (or a raw wind) on my skin, the short interactions with passers-by if in a public space, and all the other unpredictable environmental stimulations that come with it. But I also like to work in the studio, with some pieces being impossible to achieve in the field. Then, I often try to choose music that creates the mood for the style and subject matter I’m painting that day. It might be jazz, 70s rock, or blues, whatever it takes to create the right indoor environment.

From: Karl Eric Leitzel — Feb 12, 2010

OOps, forgot to add my name on that last one.

From: J. R. Baldini — Feb 12, 2010

Michael – you, no doubt, are kinesthetic… This really is not just about art, but how we communicate with others & understand others in all areas of our lives. A fascinating subject. It was truly a revelation to me to find out that I was an Auditory and not a Visual. It made sense in the way I related to my art and other people.

From: Michael Chesley Johnson — Feb 12, 2010

Good analysis, Jacq! I enjoy the sounds, too, but I forget them about 5 minutes into the painting and start dealing with kinesthesia.

From: Molly DeLaney — Feb 13, 2010

What a great thread of ideas! I am a psychologist doing psychotherapy with a specialization in hypnosis. Discovering one’s primary sensory style whether visual, auditory or kinesthetic has often been the key in solving my client’s dilemmas, so its an easy stretch to see how this would work when one feels blocked in their work! the way this works for me is that I am primarily kinesthetic, then visual and when I am blocked it is the auditory (my internal critic voicing her relentless opinions) taking over. So, it makes perfect sense that the sensory and visual stimulation that plen air brings helps combat that!

From: Pamela Simpson Lussier — Feb 13, 2010

I feel the same way Michael feels I need to feel the forms with my eyes. I have been sick and unable to get out to paint very much the last 2 years and I miss plein air painting so much. I am finally doing a lot better and I have gone out even in 24 degree weather. Looking forward to the summer and painting in Maine. See you then Jacq.

From: Marilyn Fairman — Feb 15, 2010

I agree with you Jacq that studio work can lack that “inspiration” we plein air painters seem to crave. I realized early in my painting career that I needed the stimulation and challenge from changing light, color and sounds that happen outdoors. I hadn’t realized that my years of painting outside had given me knowledge of birds until I was at a party and there was a game to identify birds by their songs …. I managed to recognize birds that I didn’t realize I knew. What a wonderful discovery – when I paint outside, I am also absorbing my environment.

  Using The Artist’s Way by Lanie Frick, Licking MO, USA  

“Ready To Ride”
acrylic painting
by Lanie Frick

Your painting program sounds like so much fun Robert that I’m going to do it even though I’m not experiencing the same art career issues as those you refer to here. Another helpful breakthrough program is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. When I was in a very stuck place in my life and art The Artist’s Way was given to me by a friend. I followed the Julia’s program, completed the exercises and made some big creative breakthroughs. I went through it by myself but the author recommends going through it with fellow artists. In fact, three other artists and myself are meeting next week to begin the course together. Revisiting for me, new for them. Wow, wonder what might happen doing your painting program and The Artist’s Way at the same time? Think I’ll try it.   There are 3 comments for Using The Artist’s Way by Lanie Frick
From: Gary Johnston — Feb 12, 2010

Wonderful, Lanie. My wife and I, both musicians and visual artists, were given copies of the Artist’s Way by a friend, as well.We used Ms. Cameron’s techniques to renew careers that had become stagnant and bound by the pursuit of public validation money. Now we enjoy widely varied careers focused on our art and each other. Regards, Gary

From: Gary Johnston — Feb 12, 2010

Sorry. That should read “public validation and money” GJ

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Feb 12, 2010

Wow! More people helped by The Artist Way. After experiencing the book and doing the exercises (especially the morning pages)not only did my painting improve but I wrote a memoir and three novels (now published). Now I have two outlets for my creativity and one seems to play off the other.

  Child not easily found by Andrew Baker, South Downs, UK  

original painting
by Andrew Baker

This method is familiar to me. I ran a ‘Big Draw’ event here in the UK where 200 people came of the street and ‘Take a line for a walk’ many would preface their start with ‘I haven’t done this for years.’ The results were astounding to all and a rediscovery was made of earlier delights in this instinctual activity. More importantly, watching a group of about 12 people around one table, children, grandparents, unemployed, the well healed, wrapped in full silence, creating, was a powerful experience. I know the importance of this method because it is a lesson that I have to learn and relearn often. I need this now as lack of esteem which is at the root of our issues of motivation, (Doing something for me) is hard and confounds our adult best sense.   Only playing! by Gary Hiscott, Wales, UK  

acrylic painting
by Gary Hiscott

I enjoyed your most recent post not because I find myself at a point of lack of confidence but because I have just decided after a long run of painting ‘a series’ of paintings, to do something out of my normal range. I have been painting over paintings that have not worked, or have gone past their best stage. I have experienced such joy in launching out into the deep, not quite knowing where I was going, changing course mid-stream and ending up somewhere very beautiful I didn’t even know existed. Being ‘playful’ in this way started to bring about feelings of ‘will THEY like it — will they tick the NO THANK YOU box.’ It was good to become aware of these feelings, aware of the way perhaps I was beginning to paint …and still carry on working regardless, after all I’M ONLY PLAYING! I keep getting ideas during the day for starting points — but I know that is all they will be for in play the elephant can easily turn into an aeroplane, the orange carrot into a red setter or beetroot!   Daily art plus Facebook by LeEtta LaFontaine, Prince George, BC, Canada  

“Losing touch”
acrylic painting
by LeEtta LaFontaine

My own self-imposed criteria for this exercise were: using my non-dominant hand, min 20 minutes, min 8×10 inch any medium. Then I needed to journal about how I felt doing each piece, connect on the internet in some form as well. I chose to open a page on Facebook to make my journey and comments public which has certainly helped me keep up my commitment. I’m really enjoying the freedom of making mistakes, because after all I am using my left hand. The feedback that I receive is fun and inspiring. I hadn’t considered that others would enjoy my journey with me, I had only thought about what it would do for me. eeeYup! The usual… “it’s all about me” to start with. This process is giving me a freedom of expression that I’ve not given myself before and the opportunity to just be on paper is wonderful. I hope that others take you up on your suggestion because it is so worth the time it takes to help shift the boredom into a new dimension of discovery! There are 2 comments for Daily art plus Facebook by LeEtta LaFontaine
From: Lanie Frick — Feb 12, 2010

Great idea LeEtta. I knew about writing with the non dominant hand but painting with it….I’m in. See you on facebook.

From: Cristina Monier — Feb 12, 2010

“Losing touch” is just fantastic!

  Breakout technique after travel by Carol Mayne, Leucadia, CA, USA  

original painting
by Carol Mayne

I’ve just returned from 4 weeks in India, and your Crisis of Confidence hits a nerve for me. The contrasts of opulent jewel-encrusted marble of the Taj Mahal, silk-work that goes beyond timelessness, to the stark primitive existence of those living and squatting on the side of the road, to the burning ghats on the Ganges, all stirred gently with cell phone consciousness, and driving on roads where there are no rules for cows, camels or cars. These sights and feelings have asked me to dig deeper into my psyche and go past ‘pretty things’ in my paintings. I trust these kinds of breakout techniques you outlined will usher a new paradigm in perspectives to add to my tool kit! I’m ready for the next leg of my journey and will take whatever time is necessary to open up. Light! Love! Namaste.   Forgetting and not forgetting by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA  

“Books & Mug”
oil painting 18 x 24 inches
by Warren Criswell

There’s another instance of this in Phillip Roth’s last novel, The Humbling, about a formerly great actor who has lost the ability to act. He can’t lose himself in a role anymore. He and his skill, his experience, his knowledge is always there, like a wall blocking his entry into the character. When I’m painting I often have the feeling of complete ignorance, like I’ve never done this before, so that every brushstroke is a new discovery. I almost have to have this feeling in order to paint — or sculpt or whatever. Richard Foreman, the New York writer and director, put it this way: “There are writers who despair that a gap exists between the self and the words that come, but for me that gap is the field of all creativity — it’s an ecstatic field rather than a field of despair… It’s the unfathomable from which everything pours forth.” That gap is created by forgetting. When we study art or science, the focus on what’s known gives us the impression that almost everything has been discovered. With art you can make a good case that “There is nothing new under the sun.” But the physicist Richard Feynman wrote that science creates an “expanding frontier of ignorance,” where most discoveries lead to more questions, and I think it’s the same with art. This is what intrigued me about Husserl’s phenomenology. Husserl wanted to set aside, or bracket — which is another way of saying forget — everything you know about an object or a process, and concentrate on the immediate phenomenon itself. Reading Husserl and Heidegger led me into still life painting for the first time. I abandoned all thoughts of a narrative or any associations the objects might have for me and tried to look in complete ignorance at the visual phenomena in front of me. I can never plan or set up a still life, I have to be ambushed by it. In this way, things I’ve seen all my life come to me as fresh and mysterious discoveries that lead to more questions, as Feynman said — like how do I paint this? … The upshot of it was that everybody but me saw narratives in the work! In fact I’ve been told by more than one viewer that some of my still lifes are my most intimate self-portraits. Because, as Jung says, we don’t really forget anything, we just exile it temporarily into our unconscious. It comes back in dreams, psychosis or during the creative process. Only in retrospect do you realize it’s you after all. There are 2 comments for Forgetting and not forgetting by Warren Criswell
From: Darla — Feb 12, 2010

One thing you said about being “ambushed” by still lifes — it seems that I am getting ambushed by still lifes and landscapes more and more — and they’re not anything I would have thought of on my own. They must have been there all along, but I just didn’t see them until now. It seems to be something about learning to see — does this happen to every artist? When I go out looking for something to paint, I don’t usually find them; they find me.

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Feb 12, 2010

An artist’s world is filled with so many possibilities for paintings it is difficult to only see the special trees in a vast forest. Some artists use a view-finder (a small picture mat will do). Doing a pencil sketch helps me; if it isn’t complete in itself I look around for another element to add to the composition for balance. However, some of my best landscapes have been developed in my studio with nothing but my imagination, paint and brushes. I don’t think you’re unique, Darla, you’re letting your creativity guide you.

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oil painting by Karla Bogard, CA, USA

  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 Deborah Tidwell Holtzscheiter of Aiken, SC, USA, who wrote, “Take a class painting in a different way, paint with a friend and try it their way or, as I did, spend some time with an artist friend and see what she does.” And also Gena Courtney of Macon, GA, USA, who wrote, ” ‘Nevertheless’ Thank you for using this word. It’s my favorite.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Crisis of confidence

From: Bob — Feb 08, 2010

As an architect my desire to create visual art was satisfied by painting/drawing perspective views and/or building models of building designs. When I retired I decided that painting in watercolour was all I wanted to do. Then an opportunity came up for a one-day introduction to oil pastel and I took it. Knowing nothing about it I had no expectations to be dashed. I came away gobsmacked! Drawing is what architects do and this was a ‘drawing’ medium used to create a painting. I focused on it for a time and then thought that if I enjoyed this new medium so much, what about dry pastel? And on it went. Now various printmaking techniques, collage, photomontage and even some assemblage work has added renewed enthusiasm to my creative process. Picasso, Duchamp and many others didn’t limit themselves to one medium. If, as Robert has suggested, altering your mindset and your style isn’t enough, maybe experimenting with other mediums will light your fire.

From: pascale boulon — Feb 09, 2010

c’est si vrai ce que vous dites dans ce texte bravo et merci beaucoup

From: Rene Wojcik — Feb 09, 2010

Sounds a lot like burn-out to me. Solutions vary as how to handle that problem. Taking a break for a few months or changing mediums often help. Doing the same thing over and over again in the same medium can make you feel like you’ve done it all. When you feel like your work is becoming stale it’s time to change direction. Who knows, perhaps you will find a new passion and become a better artist.

From: Bill Foehringer — Feb 09, 2010

Apart from the artistic considerations it may be that some in mid-life are just spread too thin, way too busy. A frenetic life may not be conducive to creativity for everyone. I know that I will be simplifying my life in the time I have left. ‘What to leave in and what to leave out’. I can’t remember what song those words came from but they ring true with me as I move toward 60. Bill

From: Daniel — Feb 09, 2010

Bill- That line was from Bob Seger, Against the Wind. Great song.

From: Cherie M. Redlinger — Feb 09, 2010

Thanks for coming up with this program. I am always trying to tap into my childlike dream state to start my artwork. This is truly another avenue I can utilize. Thanks again for your input and encouragement.

From: Pamela Vosseller — Feb 09, 2010

It’s become a prideful battle for me to accept that I could possibly have lost that inner child. I spend many a day in the studio racking my head why my work seemed stalled. An opportunity arose for me to attend an Altered Art meeting to create something besides Watercolor painting. What, me a fine artist try something that seemed child like. It was an awakening! I was no longer focusing on techniques, what I’ve learned, as you said Robert. I was focusing on the art for the beauty of creating. Several weeks of this was releasing. Although I may never show one of my altered pieces in a gallery show, I have them to remind me why I love ART so much. I have now returned to my studio, attempting “NEW” Art for me… for the first time in my 17 year Career I am painting people. Thank you Robert for always hitting this adventure right on the head.

From: Kay Keyes Farrar — Feb 09, 2010

Again you have touched something that I have struggled with. I too had highly critical parents who were always quick to say how talented I was as a child, but “you will never be able to make a living or be successful”. Why do we do that? I am in my early forties and not really a successful artist, not really making any money at it and full time mom – but I keep painting…Your advice about letting go and finding memory and visions to guide you only to the point that the painting allows. Then, call it complete – it may not be finished, but it is a response to an impulse or memory, it has indeed become very valid for me and my work. Every once in awhile between commissions, I allow myself to paint freely with no gallery or outside demands for subject matter etc. For myself basically, to try something new or respond to a new subject matter, knowing there is no risk, no one ever needs to see it, we have a firepit in our back yard – but the risk to do something beyond my normal painting is more than liberating. It can be so cartharctic.

From: Leslie Edwards Humez — Feb 09, 2010

Buy the largest pad of cheap newsprint you can find. Splurge on a big box of crayons. Be alone. Enjoy touching your new possessions and browsing the palette. Pick your favorite. If you are right-handed hold the crayon with your left hand or vice-versa. Print your name. (The results will look pre-school, but go with it!) Ask your child to write and draw pictures which tell the story of how you became an artist. Say please. Enjoy what you see. Communicate your feelings…out loud! Insight will come. On some level, each of the painters with crises in confidence already know why their certainty is lagging. Using this tool to explore, they may find that it’s their child who will lead them to a better place.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Feb 09, 2010

Your prescribed exercise goes back to the play category, so it must be good for those who found themselves overwhelmed with their dislikes and indifferences. But I think that there should be a continuation for that therapy to move from the play to a positive outlook. What comes next Dr. Bob? My list: Favorites (play): – begin a new painting – buying art supplies – collecting reference material – reading art books Likes (outlook): – upcoming show – new gallery – sales – open-ended commissions – good advice – learning opportunities Indifferent (pivot): – finishing a painting Dislikes (wasters): – preparing canvas – painting edges, varnishing, packing, shipping – mounting a show – opening reception Major dislike (reach out): – marketing – approaching galleries

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 09, 2010

Your letters always seem to find me the appropriate mood. Just before Christmas I found myself in the boat you now float in this letter. Uncanny to say the least. I’m an experienced painter with galleries, sales and shows and forty years now behind me. I found my work getting stale and dull. I did what you said before you said it. I completely changed subject, stashed all the reference material, filed away all recent work, opened my sketch pad and sat for what seemed a long time before and idea stated to form. Not to make this letter uncomfortably long, Two months later I now have over forty new works in a new style (for me) new color pallet and format and the ideas seem to be flowing even now. I’ve shown this new work to close artist friends and my wife (of course) and response has been very favorable. So much so that I feel inspired to hit the galleries again with a disc and renewed enthusiasm. I haven’t uploaded these new works as yet to my site but did attach a few works. Thanks for having an unusual ability to see into my physique.

From: Sandra — Feb 09, 2010

your words are splendid!….what a terrific idea..I don’t feel like I am in a crisis, however this is such FUN…thank you for being here today…wow….

From: Dyan Law — Feb 10, 2010

Although I sold many paintings in my teens, had to hide under the covers with a flashlight to draw, have found good success with my paintings and teaching, I am often dealing with a “merry-go-round” of self-confidence. My best “antidote” to date for this state of flux is to line-up several of my “unfinished” paintings, place a complete range of colors onto my palette, hide all reference material, and turn-up the classical music. Then I work each canvas to completion with a devil-may-care attitude, totally open to ruining what I’ve already done. I figure that these “starts”, as I refer to them, are going be trashed anyway so WHY NOT pull-out all of what I’ve got? It’s quite freeing to risk it all, but first and foremost, I must be completely WILLING TO FAIL in my attempts. It’s easier to find success when fear of failure is overcome. A good skier focuses on hangin’ in there, and completing the run, not falling face-down! Many old masters repeatedly fixed or painted-over their “clinkers” and today we are left marveling at their over-paintings.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Feb 10, 2010

Although I’m unsure of who said this (and I’m not even sure it originally about art and artists,) but I always liked the saying, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” I think it takes a special mind-set, tremendous heart, and great courage to approach the life of an artist; so that in itself should be something to be proud of. :) Keep creating and know that you will be ready when opportunity presents itself.

From: Norman Markham — Feb 10, 2010
From: Liz Reday — Feb 10, 2010

Going to India really did it for me. Immersion in a complete change of culture, color, smell, sound, taste and the people! The people really changed my head, so yes, I’m painting people for the first time in 25 years. Also, Robert’s trick of accumulating 20 – 30 canvases in a strange different size made me see composition with new eyes. At the end of my painting day, I grab a new/old canvas and use up all the leftover paint (& then some) and do an abstract/semi-abstract piece from out of my recent memory only. This works too, when the figurative-representationalism is getting too finicky or detailed….I just de-construct it or destruct it, giving myself a 20 minute time span to do or die, then turn the studio lights out for the night. The next morning, I wonder how I managed to do more, better in those 20 minutes than in the 4-6 hours preceding it.

From: Robin d’Arcy Shillcock — Feb 11, 2010

We all know moments of indecision, call it “crisis of confidence” if you will, but let’s not dramatize. After all, getting through the rough patches is part of what being an artist is about. Being an artist has less to do with Fun! The Joy of Painting! Be inspired! (all fine for hobby painters) than with being deeply connected to what you consider to be your subject matter. If people say they’re “losing it” I wonder if they really ever “had it”. Playing around with paint will suit some, but I just don’t buy it. It’s just a game slick shrinks have come up with, playing at being a four-year old is supposed to connect us to our “inner child”. But we’re not four, are we? Besides, some kids aren’t happy with their skills, they want to learn to do better or give up on drawing. Here’s another way of making the blood flow again: Don’t dispense with your interests, but forget about paint and doing Great Art for a spell and turn to drawing. Go somewhere with sketchbook and pencil as your only tools. You don’t need to know how to draw to benefit from sketching, you learn as you go. I suspect that it’s the learning that does the trick, besides feeling connected with, well, the universe! It helps clears the mind, it draws you out of yourself (and your cluttered studio), it’s de-stressing and invigorating —in spite of most doodles remaining unfinished. You might learn something you did not know before, and go home with a buzz. Groningen, Netherlands

From: Brushbuster — Feb 11, 2010

Yep, there is altogether too much of this going back to a kid happening right now. What’s needed is true professional skills, that’s where satisfaction lies.

From: Edward D. Griffin — Feb 11, 2010

“When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” I Cor. xiii. 11.

From: Sarah Garland — Feb 11, 2010

Robert Genn will be demonstrating various techniques and signing books starting at 6.45 PM on Monday, February 15 at the Pavilion Building at the Surrey Arts Center, 13750 88 Ave, at King George Hi-Way, Surrey, BC

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 11, 2010

I took a lesson from the many cats I have had over the years. One was a pedigreed aristocrat. All the rest were “domestic short hairs.” In other words, the mutts of the feline world. The pedigreed cat was aloof, self-confident, decidedly beautiful, possessed a quality coat, assured of his superiority. But, so did my many adopted alley cats. They all had one common attribute: muddled color, maybe an ear chewed off, limping leg, scraggly fur, no breed distinction, poor quality. But ALL were smug, convinced of their fine essense of being. Try telling a half-wild tomcat he isn’t the most desirable, beautiful cat in the region. He sits on his elevated perch surveying his domain, supremely confident of his excellence. As artists, regardless of our real ability, we need to have that same singular confidence of our skill. Our individual style will emerge. When we believe in ourselves we will excel. It will not matter who sits as an observer and dismisses our quality.

From: Theresa Bayer — Feb 11, 2010

I have simply got to get back to doodling.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Feb 12, 2010

Dyan, you are doing exactly what I have been doing since the Christmas holidays. I had many “starts” because I give classes and workshops and had many demos. I went through them and destroyed anything that was not speaking to me. The others I lined up and have put away any reference material and tried different things. As you said, there was no pressure to “do” something specific. I was free to try, brush off (pastel), try something else, brush off again, try something else, etc. I produced several winners, and still have a few sitting around the studio waiting for me to try again. Love this exercise. The painting gets to tell me what it might want. And play it definitely is!! Robert as always your letters seem to hit a nerve I needed at just the time you post it. Thank you for all you do.

From: Pil — Feb 12, 2010

Jacq, Painting outdoors close to the water is a dream especially the ocean. Rivers, ponds and streams have almost the same cleansing effect. Once you’ve experienced it don’t deny yourself this activity. I agree with you and can’t wait until the snow melts here. P

From: Anne Hamilton — Feb 12, 2010

On March 4, I will be 71 and for the past five years or so I have suffered a birthday crisis shortly after every Christmas. This robs me of so much energy there’s none left for art. However, this year it’s different. In the gloom of it all, when I could hardly pull myself from the bed, I decided to review some of my art books and lessons I had previously taught. Studying brought me comfort and I no longer felt guilty about drinking hot chocolate. There were other ways I began to indulge myself. Among these was by ordering a couple of new art books. Before the books arrived I watched several videos; among those were one on abstract painting and another on portraiture. They renewed my interest–so much so that I began to use my basic design skills again. As a result I have already finished one painting and started another. Too, I have promised a friend to do a portrait of him. It will be my first, but I hope, not last. I also began to read poetry again, even to write a bit. This motivated me to go to the library and check out a biography of T.S. Eliot. Wanting to better understand what I was reading I began to do some research online. This continues, reading the biography and doing the research. I was so excited to come across videos on YouTube where I could see and hear Eliot read some of his poetry. I hope these tips help others. Robert, I love your newsletter. I have you on Facebook and that makes me feel even closer to you. Anne

From: Jennifer — Feb 14, 2010

I have no confidence whatsoever and I just wonder is it because I am 17.

From: Jeanne Rhea — Feb 15, 2010

Jennifer, Work, work and work, apply yourself and the confidence will come. You will get better and better and with time and work, you will lose many of your doubts about your work. I’m 40 years older than you and oh how I wish there had been something like the Internet when I was your age. You have an advantage in some ways as you see possibilities, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Take what helps you and then work to find your own voice. Good luck!


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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