Enfant terrible


Dear Artist,

A friend of mine (let’s call him Dino) entered retirement the other day and took up painting. You could say Dino has a life-long appreciation of art, but until now he has only thought about actually doing it. He went to a lumberyard and bought some wood for stretchers. He quietly helped himself to a bed-sheet from the family closet. He was thinking big. His work is huge. He primed with blue latex, then hit it with commercial acrylic, roller and brush.


“War, 1894”
oil on canvas
by Henri (Le Douanier) Rousseau (1844-1910)

While he’s one of my best friends, he’s a non-subscriber. “I just want to have fun,” he says. “I don’t want to get anyone else’s information.” In my eye he’s on the way to becoming another Douannier Rousseau, if you know what I mean. Except that he’s fast. “I love this,” he says, “Haven’t been this turned on for years.” He’s now on his fourth painting. His kids have them in their rumpus rooms. They had to take down a lot of other art in order to find the space.


“The Muse Inspiring The Poet”
oil painting
by Henri Rousseau

What’s to be learned from this? Is there a law against having fun? If it feels good, should you do it? Does it matter?

“Dino,” I asked, “What are you thinking?” He told me he’s no longer so enamoured with abstract art because “making a mess is the easy part.” He told me the big payoff so far is an increased awareness of the world around him — the design of leaves, the cut of mountains, the color and patterns in water. “Wow, look at that,” he says of the new-found sunset. His vocabulary is definitely peppered with superlatives: “Fantastic, outrageous, riotous,” etc. He’s a walking spark-plug of creative enthusiasm. There’s not a jaded bone in his body. Quoting as usual, I said, “Dino, your strength is as the strength of ten, because your heart is pure.”

“That’s true,” he said.


“The Dream” 1910
oil painting
by Henri Rousseau

Best regards,


PS: “Enlightenment takes place when one lets his innocence emerge and sees nature and life with a childlike awe and respect. The ‘why’ of a child is repeated over and over, causing more questions and the never-ending process of discovery.” (Charles DuBack)

Esoterica: For the “pros” it’s part of the job description to hold onto what Dino’s got. We cannot allow that everything pales, everything perishes, everything passes. Every day we must search in our heart for our child. In life and art it’s better to be an enthusiastic amateur than a jaded professional. “Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.” (Arthur Koestler)

This letter was originally published as “Enfant terrible” on March 15, 2002.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“It is often said that my heart is too open for my own good.” (Henri Rousseau)




  1. The key here is to have fun and love what you’re painting. If you aren’t enjoying working on a subject, then pick another. Of all the art work I’ve created, there is one that I really, really had a good time working on. It ended up being a multi-winner in several competitions!

  2. I love this. He does not need to get feedback from other artists and is not interested in seeing what other people do. He is just loving what he does and is loving the journey. He is confident and happy. I want to be like him

  3. I agree with all the above. There was a group of us gals, all had never painted anything other than a few craft pieces, or redecorated our homes with paint and paper but that was the extent of it. We joined an art group after retirement and it is amazing the ‘artist’ some of us have become, slowly and at more or less a peace within brought out some beautiful paintings that are memorable to everyone. Enjoy your letters, keep it up.

  4. It feels a bit odd to be responding to this, given that Robert himself is sadly no longer with us. That said, ‘Dino’ reminds me of myself in some particular ways. I didn’t become a subscriber to The Painter’s Keys untill sometime *after* I had abandoned painting in favour of photography. I took up painting while recovering from a protracted illness that included being hospitalized, wrongly diagnosed and prescribed medication by a resident psychologist that I had never even met. While ‘Dino’ began his retirement, I was on extended sick leave supported by the insurance policy offered by the firm I had worked for over many years. I found myself unexpectedly with time on my hands and little to occupy my days. Like ‘Dino’ I had always wanted to explore painting and had ‘a life-long appreciation of art’. I went to a local Art Supply shop and left with a broad selection of acrylics, a variety of brushes, several ‘implements’ that looked to be of interest to me plus a few frame-supported canvases 24″ x 24″. I told nobody I was doing this. I didn’t even speak to anyone on the staff of the store when I made my purchases. Playwright Samuel Beckett spoke often about ‘the freedoms of restriction and the restrictions of freedom’. It worked for him in his writing and as it turned out, it worked for me. I painted for a year without showing anything to anybody or talking about it to a single soul. One day I ‘revealed myself’ to a friend who curated modest exhibits at a local downtown bistro that also featured neighbourhood solo musicians most nights of the week. The friend offered me a month-long showing without having seen any of my paintings. She simply ‘took a chance on me’. Brave girl, she was. I arbitrarily priced my dozen canvases identically, each to the value of what I had spent the day I started. I sold seven paintings during the first week. That was almost two decades ago and I haven’t painted since, even though I still have the tools. Robert said to ‘Dino’: What were you thinking? To me, that was actually the wrong question. ‘Dino’, not unlike myself, was interested in anything BUT thinking. The restrictions of freedom, the freedoms of restriction. Merry Christmas. P.S. It might be noted also that “Fantastic, outrageous, riotous,” are not in any way ‘superlatives’. They’re adjectives.

  5. It was at the end of Robert’s letter where he adds his thoughts and quotes Robert Koestler: (Robert Genn) In life and art it’s better to be an enthusiastic amateur than a jaded professional. (Robert Koestler) “Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.”

    That brought me to this:

    With a jaded eye I begin again. I fret, grasping at well-worn tools as I know it is the only way to get “there” again. Faded shreds dot my memories of glorious moments scattered across the overgrown and nearly forgotten entryway to where my highest drama always begins. I lift the value of all that went before this moment by giving it another chance to show me something new. Hours disappear as naivety and love of discovery begin to take over. I am working at high speed as my music pulses faster and the beat is telling me to move, dance! Feeling now liberated from the cataract of accepted belief by foraying into another creative act, I have given this jaded professional the boost of an enthusiastic amateur!

    Cheers to the Robert’s! :)

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Featured Artist

My art represents a journey that has been on-going for more than forty years. Guidance from some wonderful artists. Years of plein-air painting and instructing have developed a style that I can call my own. I believe that my current work has attained its highest level so far, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me.  I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop that I gave – and remains true today.


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