Janet Rasmussen wrote yesterday, “I had thought my art would be getting into high gear right about now. No, I’m stalled. You see, I have just been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. I must be spelling those awful words a lot these days, as I didn’t have to think about it this time. My sculptures are all over the world; the Queen Mum has one. I had put my career on a side table. I was about to launch myself back into the art scene when I found out my news! So you see, I am a good example of don’t wait for tomorrow. You know it’s a terrible thing for a procrastinator to find out they have cancer — now I’ll have to make a list of the things I want to do before I get too sick.”
It’s like being on a train where you don’t know your stop. The conductor comes down the aisle and says: “You’re off at the next.” Any breathless protest about the precious gift of life or the “yet-to-do’s” are of little avail. Work and fresh ideas could soon be left for those who still hold onto health. “So much to do, so little time,” takes on added urgency. There seems no antidote. Station by station we all shamble toward this greatest of mysteries.
Let it be said that we are grateful for whatever life we have. Let’s be thankful that we still do what we can. Let’s be aware of the joy that art brings to others as well as to ourselves. Let’s be thankful for all of the fields and forests we have tramped, for spring-times we have inhaled and autumn leaves we have raked. Let’s be thankful for the privilege to go into that magical room for the purpose of making things. Let’s be glad that we often worked in times of peace and that our easels were always full of projects. Let us thank our hands while they still work, our eyes while they still see, our minds while they still conceive and dream. Let us never for a moment hide our talents under a bushel. Help us to remember that while we may not go on, our art will. And that whatever art we have made stands a good chance of being re-varnished, restored, re-framed, resold and respected — even treasured — and that we will continue to be a part of the brotherhood and sisterhood.
PS: “Right now a moment of time is fleeting by! Capture its reality in paint. We must become that moment, make ourselves a sensitive recording plate, give the image of what we actually see, forgetting everything that has been seen before our time.” (Paul Cezanne)
Esoterica: One of the lessons of the train is the respect for time. The mind can drift, be distracted or go soft with the movement. A generation can pass in a blur while looking out the window. Seize the day. Seize the chisel. “Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.” (Natalie Goldberg)
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above letter. Thank you for writing.
by Lea Nickless, Miami, FL, USA
Your words made a big impression on me this morning. I don’t want to put off anything that I need to do to fulfill my creative mission. I am an artist that often puts off working in the studio. I know that I have great potential but seem to find amazing ways to sabotage actually WORKING. And the saddest part is that I know that in the process I am denying myself the greatest joy that I feel when I am in the creative mode. I will be sending big, warm, positive thoughts to Janet as she begins her battle. Please keep strong.
Straight in the eyes
by Greet Meesen, Netherlands
I have an international website for children and young people with a chronic disease or handicap. The site is called Macadam. I myself am homebound. I can understand how much strength it takes Janet to look the future straight in the eyes; but I think that is the right way to do it. Because then, you know how to use your time and your talent. I like your courage, but sometimes the days will be hard. If you ever need a listening ear, please don’t hesitate to write me.
The present is eternal
by Luc Poitras, Montreal, Canada
“The past has come and gone. The future will come and go. The present is eternal.” Keep on sculpting, Janet.
by Julie Dunleavy
I am a poet and struggling to work less for money and more for what I love to do and trust that I’ll find a way out of the 9 to 5. Aren’t I lucky to have this problem? I will print and share your letter with my work colleagues — someone loved, on our staff, died today.
Applies to all
by Jim Gola
Janet’s sentiments are the same for all of us artists who feel the pressures of limited time left. Whether sick or healthy, her sentiments apply. Let’s move ahead posthaste! “Time… she is a-wast’in!”
You get used to it
by Warren Criswell, Benton, Arkansas, USA
Unfortunately, we don’t have a sense of time until we have a sense of death. We all begin as immortals, and time is nothing to an immortal. But at some point we become mortal. This was the idea of my painting Death Waking Time (1998). We realize with a shock that we will die like everyone else. Before this point, like W. Somerset Maugham, “I felt that in my case an exception would be made.” Suddenly, time becomes precious. Probably nothing can be done about this, or should be. It’s actually quite a stimulating experience, which is why I painted Time not as a skeleton but as a beautiful woman. Our work will reflect the immortal and mortal stages of our lives. There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which the immortal Q had lost his immortality. He said, “I don’t see how you people stand it. I can feel myself dying!” Capt. Picard, in a wonderfully offhand way, says, “You get used to it.”
Ease and comfort
by Kathleen Putnam, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Thank you for writing your letter. I understand talking to try and make sense of something. We all dread hearing what you heard, and yet know that sometime in our future this awaits us all. My prayers are with you, that you might find joy in every day, discovery in every piece of work that you conceive and finish, and feel the love of the people around you as one of the greatest gifts of life. I pray ease in all that you face and ease in all your fears. I pray for great comfort to surround you.
by Kathryn Uster, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA
A friend of mine has this type of Leukemia and there is no reason for Janet to get sick. The new drug Gleevac is putting people (over 90%) in remission. Janet, please email my friend Gail at email@example.com for a wealth of information!
Family and friends
by Barbara Mason, Portland OR, USA
Do all you can every day you can. Spend time with your family. When all is done, family and friends are more important than art. But create also, you can leave inspiration for others so do so. Clench your teeth and be positive. Let us know if you need support, email is wonderful for this. Strides in medicine are enormous. You may beat this, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and do not spend any time feeling sorry for yourself. You can choose how you spend the rest of your life so make it count. Be strong and positive. You can do this.
by Elsha Leventis, Ontario, Canada
I was one of those who put things off until someday — someday when the kids are big, someday when I have enough time, etc. It wasn’t me that became ill, but my husband. He died in 1995 after battling cancer for a year. His death threw me into a tailspin. Then I took “Drawing for the Absolute and Terrified Beginner” in January 1998. The rest has been a fabulous road to recovery and beyond: I’m just finishing my degree in Drawing and Painting at the Ontario College of Art and Design and will be one of two dozen students selected for “Go West,” a show of the best thesis students, in several galleries in Toronto, Canada. (April 24 to 26) I’ve also been accepted into a program to train as an art therapist. I plan to do both art and art therapy. People ask me why at my age? I tell them that I’m going to be older anyway, I may as well be older and do what I love doing. I figure I still have the time.
The thief of time
by Faith Puelston, Wetter, Germany
When I was at school, we used to be punished for minor “crimes” such as eating in class, talking in class, laughing in class, or writing poetry in class, the latter being my way of surviving boring teachers. We were kept in after school to write a hundred “lines,” or more. The text was: “Procrastination is the thief of time.” By writing vertically instead of horizontally, you could cut minutes off this tedious task. The result was that I would write PRO-CRAS-TIN-A-TION with all its subliminal connotations a hundred times and then fill in the rest at high speed. And that’s what I’ve basically been doing ever since — procrastinating! Janet, hold tight, we are all on the same train.
by Candace Meyer, Vancouver, B.C., Canada
It is uncanny — every time you speak of something, I am able to use it. Today, while shooting, I got caught up in a moment where a young girl was having a laugh, stuck in the mud on a beach, up to her elbows in black grease; a lot of fun and laughter. We returned to the car, giggling, to find all of our gear stolen (6 lenses, another camera body). You know what? In a pinch, a real pinch, I can have it replaced. Can I have those giggles back? Can I have my boyfriend’s consolations returned? Take my gear you wicked thing. Spirits are unbreakable.
by Janet Rasmussen, Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada
I am so overwhelmed by the response! I had 133 emails yesterday and I am truly touched by the comments of the art community. I will be printing them off and using them as an inspiration booklet. Thank you very much — I never expected your letter, let alone this wonderful and unexpected boost from other artists.
What am I doing wrong?
by Ron Sanders, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
In the past couple of years I have signed with a number of new galleries — Boston, San Francisco, Fort Worth, St. Thomas. Half of them are startups, the other half smaller, but established. I’ve signed with a publisher of limited edition prints during “the worst time in 20 years” to get into that market. We’ve produced 4 paintings — two are published, two are on hold. I’ve been juried into major shows and accepted as a member of the best arts organizations in the country. But nothing is selling. Last year I had my worst sales in years. I’ve been talking to fellow artists about the problem and have gotten a few suggestions.
1.) quality always sells, regardless of subject or style. Maybe I need to improve the quality to get the sales. (but then why am I getting accepted into arts organizations and juried into shows and invited to show at new galleries? Of course quality can and should always improve, but is that my problem?)
2.) I may be overpriced. I’ve been talking to a number of artists about pricing. Many price dollars per square inch. My friend Fred is a part time cardiologist, part time painter. Last year he made more painting than doctoring. He prices his work around 3 or 4 dollars per square inch. Many established artists price $8 to $20.00 per square, depending on size. The best are as much as $50 or $60.00 per square inch. I am around $7 for figurative work and $5 for landscapes. And Boston and San Francisco have been INCREASING my prices for those markets.
3.) I’m in some good markets, but maybe I need to get into better, more established galleries that
will work harder to promote my work regionally, and nationally.
4.) all of the above.
After reading your letter the “distinction” comment seems to be hitting at the issue. I’ve been struggling with how to key into the emotional side of buyers. My work may be too intellectual at times, and not emotional enough — that is to say, I paint the elements more than the mood at times. While my subjects are interesting to me as an artist (I often think how much fun it will be to paint the scene/person/animal/ etc.), I may not be making them interesting to the non-artist viewer/buyer. In discussions with my publisher and with other artists the comment has been made to me that people need to identify with the scene, whether it be with the place, the mood, the colors, the subject, or whatever.
My friend, Mark Keathley, paints bird-dog pictures about every six months because they sell so well in Texas. But the ones that sell best always have a quail hidden in the grass somewhere in the foreground. No bird, and the thing hangs on the wall “5 times as long.” People want a story, maybe.
Morgan Weistling does what I’ve always been told not to do, he paints pictures of pretty girls face forward. They look like portraits, but the girls are in 100 year old costumes and the paintings are subtle in their color and edges. His work sells out at shows. Go figure.
Based on advice and criticism, I’ve painted with a more muted palette and with a more pure and colorful palette. I’ve painted glamorous women and the more average looking. I’ve painted beauty-for-beauty’s-sake and I’ve painted stories. I’ve painted from photos, from life, and from research and imagination. And through it all I feel like I’ve wasted ten years trying to figure out what to paint and how to paint to sell better. So, of course, everyone says “Paint from your heart!! Paint what you want, how you want and you will paint more sincerely and with more excitement and quality. Then the buying public will sense that and will love your work and they will buy it for its quality.” Thing is, only successful artists who are selling say that. When the works aren’t selling, you start asking what to change!!
A couple of years ago all I wanted to paint was neoclassical beauty and eventually have that lead to classically influenced paintings that had moral stories and lessons like the great art of past centuries. But that didn’t sell either. Even though some galleries liked the neoclassical works, they haven’t been able to move any of them. So now I have a collection of paintings sitting around the studio and nowhere to send them. Don’t think I’ll be painting any more of those subjects!!
My publisher has got me doing the American historical paintings which I find very challenging and fun. This work is leading me toward western themes and, combined with some travel out west, has inspired me to focus more on western historical themes and landscapes and I am making efforts to get a foot in the door at a couple of top galleries: Greenhouse Gallery in Texas, and Trailside Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming. I’ve just been juried into an international open salon show at Greenhouse and am working on paintings for the Arts for the Parks show in Jackson.
As for the web site, my stats have continued to rise for number of visitors, but the number of people looking at the art is fairly static. Which means that the majority of visitors to my web site are other artists looking at my tutorials and educational section, not buyers looking at the art. What interest I do get from the web is mostly inquiries about portrait commissions from people who want to know what they can get for 100 bucks. Though recently a man called about 7 large portraits of his family — total value of about $40,000. He didn’t seem put off by the price either. He’ll be deciding in July, but I was the first artist he had spoken with. We’ll see. And the galleries don’t seem to mind the web site. All of the new galleries that I’ve signed with lately have either come from magazine advertising (last year) or from the web. And all of the galleries that have invited me to show with them (including several that I have turned down) are aware of my web site and have no complaints with it. Most see it as 1.) a means of sharing images and info about my work when making decisions about what they want to show in the galleries and 2.) a positive public marketing tool that helps to promote the idea of professionalism. I seem to get the most online interest from the portraits and the murals, neither one of which I really want to pursue as much as the gallery painting. But then, that interest isn’t translating into many real job offers any ways, and commissions are a time-consuming pain in the rear most of the time.
The sincerity quote from your recent letter caught my attention: When we learn to fake sincerity, then we’ll find success. Perhaps that is what it’s all coming down to — finding a niche and crawling in. I’ve just always hated niches — that’s part of why I left commercial illustration. Dan Gerhartz paints a broad range of subjects and he’s selling out his shows too. So I guess that brings me back to, “What do I do to increase gallery sales?” Better quality and better galleries?
(RG note) Ron Sanders work can be seen at http://www.sanders-studios.com
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
That includes Larry Angelo who wrote, “Hail, Mr. Genn and thank you for your mind-whirling abondanza on art and life. Useful, valuable and great fun. I may be especially grateful because I not only love art, I love quotations. In the ’80s, I amassed about 200 that have not been reproduced very much and am going to start typing them out for the famous “Resource of Art Quotations.”
(RG note) “The Resource of Art Quotations” is at http://www.art-quotes.com/