Dear Artist,

“The easiest person to fool is oneself,” said my older brother, Dave, a musician, reminiscing recently about our dad’s idioms. With this cue, I realized that Dad must have had a unique set of material for each of us. Mine included “Keep busy while waiting for something to happen” and “Start with the foreground.” My twin James, a television director, chimed in with, “Don’t want to slump over the oars!”


“Betty” 1977
oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cm
by Gerhard Richter (1932- )

On the flight home to New York, I took a rough tally of my possible personal deceptions: originality, productivity, efficiency, evolution, revolution. I slid into a momentary spiral of sobriety over a packet of mixed nuts. “Everything that deceives may be said to enchant,” said Plato. Painting, as the ultimate illusion, depends on it — you need only surrender to the wooden, doll-like glare of Diego Velazquez’s Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain in her oystery, light-kissed silk and dangling handkerchief to know what I’m talking about. The fantasy — painted as three versions to be sent to potential husbands — feels more alive in some areas than others. Gerhard Richter’s two Bettys, painted over 300 years later, invite the same study. Art, like life, is but a reconciliation of the truth and our most ardent and steadfast illusions.


“Betty” 1988
oil on canvas, 102 x 72 cm
by Gerhard Richter

If you, too, have discovered yourself straddling unevenly between truth and enchantment, begin by recapturing solitude and the surroundings that spark your most unadulterated passions. Limit the outside influences that conflagrate doubts into a negative wildfire. The turmoil of a new reality needn’t paralyze. As awkward as it sounds, a forced, solo beginning — that is, squeezing out and dragging a fat, loaded brush across a virgin ground — is your proven, soul-sustaining act. The lace, the drapery, the wisps of teenaged hair, while a flat deception on a surface of your making, shimmer in the knowledge of their own impersonation. By being a sham of the real, they are in reality something else entirely real.


“Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain”
oil painting by
Diego Valazquez (1599-1660)



PS: “When you meet triumph or disaster, treat these imposters alike.” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

“Art is the most beautiful of all lies.” (Claude Debussy)

Esoterica: Sweat and earned achievement are what build authentic, life-lasting self-esteem. This is why toddlers, at the kitchen counter or while turning the page of a book, need to put in hours of practice before usurping expertise. And, like them, we build skills of creative resilience by riding the peaks and valleys of a life we’re committed to interpreting. “Art,” said Picasso, “is a lie that makes us realize truth.” “Life,” wrote E.M. Forster, “is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice…”

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

“Sweat the small stuff. Without letting anyone see you sweat.” (Chris Hadfield, astronaut)



  1. This speaks to me:
    If you, too, have discovered yourself straddling unevenly between truth and enchantment, begin by recapturing solitude and the surroundings that spark your most unadulterated passions. Limit the outside influences that conflagrate doubts into a negative wildfire. The turmoil of a new reality needn’t paralyze.

    I am currently in Iceland for a 2 month retreat full of solitude and the opportunity to listen deep within to find the real, the authentic, what is mine and only mine, away from the clamor and shouts of politics at home. Already, after only 2 days, I feel more clear-headed and full of exciting ideas and wonderful themes to explore. I was worried I was wasting my time and should, instead, be taking on the situation at home until an acquaintance wrote and reminded me what I know at one level is true: doing my art is what I am meant to do, and it changes the world when I follow my calling.

    Good words for challenging times.

    • And plunging into our work opens spaces we do not realize are there for the breathing. The past three months have shaken us all in one way or another, but setting new goals, working to bring our visions to life, and aiming to go beyond anything we have ever done goes beyond deception to enchantment.

      • Thank you! I appreciate encouragement at a time that so much has shaken us all.
        It is far better to create and bring our visions to life than to slump into a fantasy world of denial.

  2. this was a very timely article in that our Art Group of the Comox Valley have had quite a lively discussion regarding what art is and how seriously we should be taking ourselves in our efforts to make it. I appreciate the “experts” perspectives on the subject.

  3. What a wonderful essay. You have such a poetic way of expressing essential truths about art. Thank you for carrying on so beautifully in your father’s footsteps. I appreciate the time, talent and effort you take to share with us!


  4. Good letter about checking in on reality…..For me painting is what makes me feel the most alive and real….and my inner critic sometimes has truths to tell and other times they are just deceptions. Persevering through them is the hard part but I believe possible and can spur new beginnings. After all a new canvas always invites if you let it.

  5. Sara I so agree with Shirley Britisch and George Reis, you write beautifully and inspire all of us your readers with your prose that reads as poetry for an artist. You allow us inside your artistic mind and world to reveal that we are all in the same boat, we all tally “our possible personal deceptions” we all need to be introspective and start again over and over. I am going through difficult times, I am trying to go deep within myself away from the noise in search of my own truth.

  6. kathryn taylor on

    I love what you wrote! As artists, so much of what we do, is done “solo.” It has to be. But we also have to get inspiration and encouragement from other people, and other things. So, thanks for that, and for confirming that, in what you wrote! Enjoyed the paintings, too.

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Featured Artist

Painting is my passion and joy.  My process is intuitive, though informed by good composition and design principles.  I paint what I remember, or think about, or feel, or just what comes off my hands to the brush to the canvas.  Texture and color are of primary importance to me.  I typically choose my support, texture it, select my palette, and go.  There is nothing more satisfying to me than watching paint run and move.  I love the surprises. I experiment and learn constantly.  It is a remarkable journey.  One I am pleased to share with you.


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