The outlook for fame

Dear Artist, Andy Warhol figured everyone was now going to get their fifteen minutes of fame. Courting celebrities and his own celebrity, he needed more time at it than that. J.D. Salinger wrote a novel and a few short stories he didn’t want to talk about. Thus he became famous for not wanting to be famous. We are living at a time of obsession with celebrity. People substitute celebrities for friends and acquaintances. TV heads are good enough. Question is, I know David Letterman but does he know me? “There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society,” said the noted priest/psychologist Henri Nouwen. “Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired. Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It has become difficult to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with patience, perseverance, and love.”

“Fame, for a painter,” said Pablo Picasso, “means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated. I am rich.” Emerson thought fame only proof that people were gullible. Valuing study and depth of understanding, the 4th century Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu said, “He who pursues fame at the risk of losing his self is not a scholar.” And Winslow Homer, in yet another moment of privacy, noted, “The most interesting part of my life is of no concern to the public.” Where I live there are green shoots everywhere. Crocuses are here and even daffodils poke through. The park pathways are fresh with volunteers and there are new puppies in the district. In the daily ritual of creation, ordinary plain canvases have paint added and become something they were not. In such a place, at such a time, in such a life, perhaps we do not need to confuse things with fame. Best regards, Robert PS: “Fame is like a river that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.” (Sir Francis Bacon) Esoterica: Last summer I was helping out one of my dealers by personally delivering a large painting to a guy who already had a pile of New York biggies at his various ranches. He was one of those oversize, meat-handed characters who made his dough in oil or something and was now sunning by his pool with his third trophy wife. Contemplating my painting with a cool connoisseur’s eye for about three seconds, he read my name at the bottom and said, “I think I’ve heard of you.” I thanked him for hearing of me, and then his wife thoughtfully added, “We got you because we’d heard of you. You’re fairly famous.”   The true value of art? by Cynthia Waring Matthews, Ojai, CA, USA   I was dreadfully bitten by that bug of fame. My Uncle Fred created the Waring blender, and my father was a concert pianist. It seemed that the only way to get attention in my family was to do something spectacular and important. I’m not saying my family members were trying for fame, it is how I took it as a young child with my need for attention. I wrote a book, performed a one woman show all over the US, and the elation lasted for about a half hour. Then I read a passage by Henry Miller about art’s purpose was to transform the artist. He had an idea that he took into all his cells, digested them with all the parts of him, all his ideas, desires, creativity, and when he was done he was a different person. Transformed like a butterfly. But the art itself was like dung. He felt embarrassed at giving his books to people because it was dung. There are 2 comments for The true value of art? by Cynthia Waring Matthews
From: don cadoret — Mar 05, 2010

Ahhh….there lies the rub. Importance versus transformation. Nature relies on transforming itself seasonally while we worry about what someone thinks of our work. I love what I paint and how I transform those thoughts and images, despite what someone else thinks. I’m fortunate to survive and paint every day without too much present-day fame. I’ll leave that to succeeding generations to worry about….

From: Bud Cahill — Mar 08, 2010

Dung. That’s an interesting comment by Miller. Maybe that’s what art is: scat, the spoor by means of which we track the culture of the species whose genes we share, finding out how it lives it’s life. It may not be reclusive, but it certainly is a mystery.

  Fame as illusion by Karl Leitzel, Spring Mills, PA, USA  

“The Sarah Jane at Dock, Edisto Island”
oil painting
by Karl Leitzel

Fame, notoriety, material success – it’s all so elusive and seemingly almost random in how it strikes. In any the arts, whether visual art, music, or another performing art, we all know that there are relatively obscure artists struggling to make ends meet who are probably every bit as good as the “famous” ones past or present. Some of us may even be among that number. Every now and then something clicks in the public awareness and another artist is catapulted, either in slow stages or a sudden head spinning upward trajectory, into the limelight. When that happens, there are probably almost as many downsides as advantages, but most of us would at least like to see what it feels like. In the larger scheme of our lives, though, to simply do well enough to be able to pursue our creative passion while enjoying our circle of family and friends is enough. Robert, one of the sentences you wrote in your letter is probably the best summation I’ve ever heard of why we artists do what we do. It’s pretty much the same whether a painter, a songwriter, or an author. You said, “In the daily ritual of creation, ordinary plain canvases have paint added and become something they were not.” There are 3 comments for Fame as illusion by Karl Leitzel
From: Gary Irish — Mar 05, 2010

Thanks, Karl. Not only does the canvas become “something that it was not” but it becomes something “that has never been seen before.” Ever. I realized this when I was discouraged about my progress on a large commissioned still life I had been working on for six months. For some reason this thought was very positive and fueled me to venture on with excitement as in, “Yeh, I want to see the outcome also!” I found I was looking at it with fresh eyes as if I was seeing it for the first time! It caused me to fine-tune areas that needed improvement. I was energized and stoked.

From: Suzette Fram — Mar 05, 2010

…there are relatively obscure artists struggling to make ends meet who are probably every bit as good as the “famous” ones past or present… AMEN!

From: Pam Flanders — Mar 12, 2010

Just now getting to responses and yours rings so true, thanks Karl

  The pap of the famous by Tony Lebaigue, UK   “Fairly famous” if that isn’t damning with faint praise I don’t know what is — the question isn’t who are you but who is he? I agree with your letter that fame is overblown and celebrity even more so. Here in the UK people pour through magazines that just talk about what some celebrity has done, who they have had dinner with and what night club they came out of drunk. I for my part cannot abide the pap! — it is propagated by media groups who need to draw in gullible people to watch their shows or read their papers and web sites and even politicians look to be celebrities in their own right as if this is another way to get in the press as “any news is good news” — This has now got so bad I have given up buying papers and magazines and get my news from BBC news radio or the Web. I am just hoping the wind will change and people will realize that it’s what you do that counts not what you say you will do.   Other ways to be rewarded by Rebecca Gottesman, White River Junction, VT,USA  

“Bev’s place of peace”
watercolour painting
by Rebecca Gottesman

Fame is a constant internal strife and debate for the artist. As a lifelong artist and a teacher of painting, many of my students want the answer of how to make money from their painting. I do not have the key to understanding it myself. I know that the first step is showing up to learn and make the work. The 10,000 hour idea is a reality that some people just don’t have the time and patience to let happen. Outside of that, I do not have the silver bullet to bring them, or myself to fame and glory. I find as soon as that is on the fore front of my motivation, that I have just killed the creative spirit that lives within. Lewis Hyde analyzes in his book called The Gift about the struggle between Eros the subconscious creative self and Logos, the conscious self. He states the “gift” of creativity has to be given away, or at least shared in order to have value. I feel after all these years of trying to make “it” that I have been making “it” and been very successful at it indeed. It has nothing to do with marketing or a gallery relationship – that is a separate issue entirely. Furthermore, today I have the distinct privilege of working part time in our regional hospital as the “visual artist in resident.” I get to paint paintings for patients in their hospital rooms, spending time visualizing for them their special places that make them feel whole, in watercolor, and leave it for them as a gift. I could never do this without putting in my time of practice and find that the rewards I receive by giving “it” away, far outweigh anything I could have ever imagined by pursuing that golden ring called fame. P.S. It’s never too late! There are 2 comments for Other ways to be rewarded by Rebecca Gottesman
From: caroline Jobe — Mar 05, 2010

wow i love the job you have making hospital stays more pleasant. what a beautiful thing! you have really “made” it in a compassionate way, a very benevolent way.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Mar 08, 2010

What a beautiful way to give of yourself and your talent…inspiring!

  The joy of the journey by Bobbi Dunlop, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“Creamer and oranges”
original painting
by Bobbi Dunlop

How does one go about becoming ‘famous’ anyway? Has someone yet come up with a “How To” manual or an exact science to do this? The pursuit of this lofty ideal is for the young artist who has the prerequisite energy yet insufficient experience to know what life has in store. Also, does fame equate to success… and does that success equate to fame? I had a similar conversation with my daughter yesterday — in her case a musical pursuit. Looking back on my own life as an artist I cautioned her not to hold out fame as a measure of success nor to set out on this journey with this idea even remotely in mind. Growth and knowledge must be the single-minded pursuit. This is a glorious journey for which there is no end, and I’ve learned it’s one which never gets much easier. I’ve come to realize with much satisfaction and hard won hindsight that the joy ultimately comes from the journey… and perhaps when one achieves the perceived pinnacle of fame there is a trade-off. One hopes that the fame is not reached too soon. There are 3 comments for The joy of the journey by Bobbi Dunlop
From: Man — Mar 05, 2010

growth and knowledge are worhtwhile and lifelong endeavors. good quality painting there– but the name jumping out in the forefront really diminishes it.

From: Ron Ruble — Mar 09, 2010

I totally agree. A beautifully composed and rendered still life which is ruined by that horrendous signature. Reduce it by 90% and the painting will stand alone, as I said, beautifully. I wish that I could do something so simple to improve my work. What a simple fix.

From: anon — Mar 09, 2010

The painting is very lovely. The signature attracts more attention than necessary, but it’s a nice signature, just making it smaller, move it more to the corner, and maybe the same value as background would help.

  Why haven’t I heard of you? by Jim Larwill, Lac Bussiere, QC, Canada  

Jim Larwill

As a poet, for the most part, I have been happy just to show up in a random way at open-sets. New audiences often say, “Why haven’t I heard of you?” Which is maybe the opposite of your story. People who know my work better shake their head as they tell me I am better than any featured poet they keep seeing. “Why am I living in virtual obscurity?” they ask. However; within the Purdyfest tribe of poets I am known as “The Raven King.” Circles of Community verses Corporate Fame? After my last email to you, you mentioned Leonard Cohen. Given I write in the People’s Poetry Tradition of the lesser known Milton Acorn (Milton and Cohen two polls in Montreal in the early ’60s… a great comparison of a fire-hydrant work shirt and the decadent silk dressing-gown meeting, written by Al Purdy, comes to mind)… maybe one day I will manage to get you talking about the long tradition of People’s Art in Canada vs. Consumer Products and Investments the passing trend. “Did the shelled tempera vaulted public cathedral ceiling of feudal art give way to privately framed cracked oily investments stuck in individual capitalist vaults?” There are 2 comments for Why haven’t I heard of you? by Jim Larwill
From: Gabriella Morrison — Mar 04, 2010


From: Puzzled — Mar 05, 2010

????? Say what?

  Get a consultant to market your fame by Karen Weihs, Asheville, NC, USA  

“Card carrying”
original painting
by Karen Weihs

I have an art PR person that I have consulted with and she is positive that I am famous and need to tap into my fame in my career. Her idea is a good one, “Feel famous and you will be famous. Blog and you will get fame. Put yourself out there, and people will actually feel you are famous and begin to know you are famous.” Yes, I can actually try to feel it, like I can at that moment be in a tongue in cheek channeling moment, it but in reality, I disagree, because I can’t really channel it on a daily basis mostly because I am not feeling the fame like she is trying to get me to do. To explain that, her PR talent is all about how to market, and my talent is all about the art. I feel that artists who can do both really get the goods. I have had moments of getting the goods, done the famous thing at book-signings, and at art shows and it is a great moment, but it is a moment. That 15 minutes of fame goes away and there is the canvas staring at me, reducing me to the next moment in time. The dual feeling of emptiness begins, staring at that canvas with a moment of emptiness coupled with the excitement of possibility, wondering if a jewel will appear, that is real. The let down of trying to be famous is a bigger let down. The real deal is this: “That moment when someone responds to your painting and buys it for the sheer pleasure of owning something that touches their heart, is the real deal, famous or not, no one can take that away from me, and I live in those moments forever.” (RG note) Karen Weihs is the author of Out of My Mind, Life Lessons as an Oil Painter. There are 4 comments for Get a consultant to market your fame by Karen Weihs
From: Sandy Donn — Mar 05, 2010

Mary Cassatt wrote, “I have touched with a sense of art some people — they have felt the love and the life. Can you offer me anything to compare to that joy for an artist?” Much like your “real deal” I think!

From: Jan Ross — Mar 05, 2010

Karen, I agree that the greatest satisfaction for me, as an artist, comes when my work has touched someone so deeply, they’re willing to part with cold, hard-earned cash. Not only purchasing the work, but also have it nearby to repeat their feeling is gratifying.. Also, having a painting I’ve exhibited, tho’ not purchased, remembered at a later date, also reminds me my work lives on. Hearing, “You’re the one who painted…” in a positive tone, sure brings me back to the drawing board!

From: Tatjana — Mar 05, 2010

Concept of marketing is fascinating. It is based on the art of getting people excited about something. In the marketing world you don’t need a quality of anything (or anything at all) to excite people. The theory is that people remember, seek, appreciate and pay for that excitement. Art is just one area explored by marketing. The question is – what is more powerful, marketing or art?

From: Pam Flanders — Mar 12, 2010

I live for those same moments and they usually bring me to tears, thanks for that reminder. Guess I haven’t had any recently. Will have to look for your book.

  Has anybody tried multiple identities? by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada  

“Winter study”
original painting
by Bill Hibberd

Many artists seem to be concerned about losing their artistic integrity by satisfying the gallery systems need for consistency. I have some empathy with this issue as I too have requests to produce work similar to previous adventures when my mind and heart are consumed with subjects or processes totally unrelated. I feel blessed that anyone would part with their hard-earned money for anything I do so I do try to accommodate these situations. I’m curious if any artists have successfully managed to maintain multiple identities in order to satisfy their personal need for growth and a commercial need for conformity. I think it could be great fun exploring totally different genres and methodologies while building relationships with divergent galleries and people. Maybe it’s a bit deceptive but could be interesting. There are 3 comments for Has anybody tried multiple identities? by Bill Hibberd
From: anon — Mar 05, 2010

Yep, doing it now. It’s tough to do. It’s hard to talk to neighbors, relatives and friends about the art. Which art? I’m one person here, another there. One thing sells and another doesn’t. I’m more proud of the non selling art but people don’t buy it. The other art sells but I can’t tell anyone about it. I’m lost trying to decide which artist to be. I blog in my “nom de plume” but can’t tell acquantances. My spouse likes the one art and I like the other. I have to remember who I am with the folks I’m talking to. I have two sets of emails, two web presence. It’s hard to maintain. I’m always in a quandry about what to do about it all. It may work to test market some work but I think in the end you have to be one entity. Sincerely, Ongoing Experiment

From: Jan — Mar 05, 2010

I know an artist who uses two different names/signatures for his work. He finds it amusing when works with both names are exhibited in the same exhibition, but when asked, viewers will speak glowingly about the work done by the “Famous Italian” over the average Joe-sounding named pieces.

From: John Smith — Mar 08, 2010

Ever since my first witness protection identity collapsed, I’ve longed to return to the media I had struggled to learn. Now, as John Smith, the ceramicist, I find that with a third identity I can once again produce oils. I’ve forgotten who I actually am, which I think is a good thing. I don’t think it’s healthy to have a specific and fixed notion of yourself. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing.

  Pulling the chain on fame by Nev Sagiba, Katoomba, NSW, Australia   People, people, people everywhere, nor a friend in sight! Everywhere we go there’s arguments and fight, We’ve killed too many Albatrosses, and also the geese that lay the golden eggs, And now we pay the price. You can pull the chain on fame, And flush it well, Give me a warm friendship any day, Family, tribe community, and real life. But where is it to be found? Instead just gadgets, money frenzies and acquisition’s hell! (To paraphrase that famous segment from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)   Will integrity win out in the end? by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada  

“Iridescent Iris”
original painting
by Marney Ward

In the cosmic scheme of things, fame will be pretty short-lived for those whose prime motivating force has been to seduce her. There was an artist in my home city who did very well for some time, selling copious amounts of mediocre works and sometimes winning awards for plagiarized paintings the jurors failed to spot. He was shameless about copying other artist’s styles, techniques and even compositions. He became president of an art club which he used to promote himself, without really contributing much to the group. Those of us who were struggling to remain true to our inner muse, naturally felt a combination of anger and frustration. But deep down inside I knew it would only be a matter of time before his karma caught up to him. And so it did. He failed to grow, switched to glass work, and moved to another city, where he may be doing quite well. Those of us who persistently worked at improving and developing according to our own path, are now selling well and many of us are represented by good galleries. Integrity will win out in the end, sometimes it just takes a rather long time. In the meantime, integrity is truly its own reward. There are 5 comments for Will integrity win out in the end? by Marney Ward
From: Brenda — Mar 05, 2010

Marney, I have to tell you, ‘you are at the top of my list of great artists’ … I love your watercolour florals!! I have a couple of your painting books and just get lost in a world of beauty when looking at your paintings. I aspire to one day painting on that level.

From: Jan — Mar 05, 2010

This is one gorgeous painting, Marney! Thank you also for stating what I’ve believed and taught my children, ‘Integrity will win out in the end’.

From: Pat — Mar 05, 2010

That is an awsome painting!!!

From: Judy Gosz — Mar 06, 2010

Your use of color delights my soul!!

From: Brian Bastedo — Mar 07, 2010

I agree 100%, Marney…and I love your painting (juicy colors!)

  Are you on substances? by Dennis Alter, Philadelphia, PA, USA   Robert, Are you stoned every time you write your letter? Some of your observations are so poignant and endearing that I wonder if you write in your constant state or one that’s induced by substances that would have prevented you from participating in your country’s recent Olympics. I deeply appreciate and value your missives. I’m a reformed businessman who is in the process of becoming an artist. (RG note) Thanks, Dennis. No, not stoned or drunk. I suffer from some obsessive-compulsive disorder of trying to figure it all out. Regarding that last hockey game, the third period was going to be too stressful for me so I took my granddaughter and my dog to the park where I thought I might hear distant car horns if we won. There was no one in the park but ducks, and there were no car horns, and when I got back Carol informed me we were now going into overtime. Too much! So I went into the studio and wrote that letter. Is hockey a substance? There are 3 comments for Are you on substances? by Dennis Alter
From: Stephanie Vagvolgyi — Mar 04, 2010

R.G., you are too delicate a flower….

From: Anonymous — Mar 05, 2010

Love reading your thoughts. Congratulations to Canada for winning that hockey game. Sue Johnson

From: Judy Gosz — Mar 06, 2010

Yes, Bravo Canada!!!

  [fbcomments url=””]    woa  


watercolour painting by Ann Sutherland Gruchy, ON, Canada

  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 Kathy Weber of RI, USA, who wrote, “Isn’t it funny that people who become artists depend so much on people like this oil guy, the complete opposite type of personality, because they’re the ones who can afford to buy our paintings.” And also Shawn Dahlstrom Nelson of East Dennis, MA, USA, who wrote, “This year, I watched the Grammys. I believe there was a time when these awards were meant to reward real musical achievement. This year, it was about ‘Spectacle,’ the flashiest presentation, not the music. In some cases, I find this to be the same way with what we now call ‘Art.’ The media is more impressed with the new, the spectacle, more than the thought, time and effort that goes into our work.” And also Ron Gang of Kibbutz Urim, Israel, who wrote, “This read like something out of a Krishnamurti book. Pointing to what is real – ‘Crocuses are here and even daffodils poke through.’ That’s the real action, not all the sham, plastic, celebrity glitz. Like the message in The Peaceful Warrior. The real message is without words.”  

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The outlook for fame

From: Ron Unruh — Mar 01, 2010

Fame is not synonymous with contentment. Neither is their source identical. Contentment may be enduring and full with the simplest of lives and the commonest of people. They should never be confused and contentment should always be preferred, if the choice must be made between them.

From: Susan Beatty — Mar 02, 2010

Robert, I was reading your letter to my husband, He said your should have given the “oilers ” back their money and taken the painting!

From: paintbrusher — Mar 02, 2010

The most famous person in all of the world was the most humble of all human beings that had ever lived. His fame still inspires humility through servitude this very day. He gave up all to be everything to each of us. The books written about Him outnumber any best seller on the market today. There are multiple thousands of bookstores across the world which carry information just about Him and His life. Yet, those who are the wealthiest and claim their fame do their best to smear His name.It is very odd, isn’t it?

From: Ming — Mar 02, 2010

Although many would like the freedom and joy of painting for the sake of painting without fame, it is difficult to pay for the supplies and expenses without selling. And selling is a little easier with “fame.” Really, this is a catch 22.

From: Jackie Knott — Mar 02, 2010

I have never figured out why fame is desirable in the first place. What possible value can fame give? If it translates into solid income, okay, but beyond that the loss of privacy is too great a cost. Of course there is a difference between being known in your field of endeavor and rock star status as Picasso was. I would much rather have respect. Esteem for skill will eventually turn into income as well and one can still putter through the grocery store in anonymity – and that is priceless. I would never have described your “oilers” as connoisseurs. They’re common groupies.

From: Curtis — Mar 02, 2010

Paintbrusher, I appreciate your comment and I know who you are talking about and agree with you. However, to say the wealthiest do their best to smear His name is a little over the top. Some people do and always have, but when I think of people like Bill Gates, I don’t think he is trying to smear the name of Jesus. He gives more money than many countries have. There are many wealthy people who believe in Him and do a lot of things in His name. I know several of them myself. Don’t make a blanket statement that all wealthy people are bad.

From: Rick Rotante — Mar 02, 2010

Today too many are famous for just being famous. Their fame is hollow and without substance and rewarded only by those whose lives are as empty, they raise the “famous” to idol status. The famous become surrogates for our seemingly miserable lives. Lest we forget the true purpose of fame, we miss the whole point entirely – notoriety. Being noticed. Fame equates into money for those who are famous and for those who attach themselves to the famous. It’s the trickle-down effect. Most in the world are destined to lead very ordinary lives by famous standards. Now this may not be politically correct to say, but it’s a fact. Instead of filling our children’s heads with thought of being president or being millionaires, we should teach them to be aware of who they are and that what they do is more important the being famous because of it. Fame is also no panacea. As with lots of money, fame comes with more responsibility than anyone realizes. Fame also limits some from achieving full potential due to the new pressures that arise. Pressures many new famous are unprepared to handle. History is filled with tragic stories of those who achieved fame and crashed and burned and the book on these people is still being written. Being famous forces one to be something others want you to be. Living up to that takes much out of who you were supposed to be. We all look to those with more than what we have and want to be like them. It doesn’t have to be a Rock Star or American idol. It could be a scientist, classical musician, teacher, and our parents in many cases. We all want more for our children than we had. The problem is fame distorts reality. Super fame separates you from reality and who you are and who you could be is lost in the translation. Fame can be good if you have a genuine gift or message. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Lennon. Mother Therese, to mention a few. But true fame has a price. Fame takes away our right to privacy. Fame pigeonholes us. Stifles individual growth. We are forced into being what it is we are famous for. Change becomes difficult. We could lose our fame, which is inevitable after some time. Without true substance we have little to fall back on.

From: Ken R. White — Mar 02, 2010

My family knows who I am as a person and as an artist, and likes me still. That satisfies me enough.

From: Hannah — Mar 02, 2010

Great things should be known. Great work should be known. Great people should be known. But for idiots, just the known part is important, not the great part. This has always been true. People have always aspired to power, not greatness.

From: boa — Mar 02, 2010

Oh, I thought paintbrusher was talking about another guy – the one that became popular a few hundred years later…

From: Norman — Mar 02, 2010

When you think about all the slaughter, deception, jihad and inquisition done in the name of the famous guys of religion, it makes the idea of fame even less appealing.

From: Paintbrusher — Mar 02, 2010

Curtis… Thank you for your reply. I apologize for not being more specific and seeming to be somewhat self righteous. My intention was not to smear the wealthy but to make a statement as to the poverty that can be found in riches. Thank God for the well known and the wealthy. Many of them surely adore the Lord and give endlessly to the cause of Christ and surely many are humble. I am painfully aware that even the poor can smear the name of God. But, consider the most famous and rich headliners in today’s media. How did most get there? A few might have reached their heights by being mild tempered, self-effacing and gentle, but not many. There are a few verses from the Bible that will clarify and better describe what I am really trying to say. It is found in the parable of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30. In these verses, you will find that Christ turns the world’s values upside down. It is for sure that the wealthy can enter the kingdom of God but with great difficulty and near impossibility. “…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Jesus, Matthew 16:24)

From: Jeanne Long — Mar 02, 2010

I quit painting this very week because I saw that I don’t paint for the love of painting, but instead for some sort of validation. I secretly substituted success in painting for success in relationships, which had been filled with failure for me. I thought that if I could paint I would be happy. I thought mastery could complete me. I didn’t verbalize these thoughts, but they were underground and needed to be unearthed. What I discovered was that each time I achieved a goal, another loftier goal promised the contentment I still lacked. It was never enough. Success in painting is not the key to contentment. As your letter points, humility has much more to do with a peaceful state than accomplishment does. When I taste humility, (and I know that when it’s present the sense of “I” is not) there may be painting again for the simple pleasure of it, but for now it’s been put aside. When it’s not a compulsion, but a simple part of a normal life it will be fine to pursue.

From: Angela Lynch — Mar 02, 2010

Having just returned from a week’s stay, your letter is timed perfectly. Before going there, the place got Googled by me and knew the 50+ galleries would be getting a visit from me. Ya, I visited some galleries and after the first 6, decided I didn’t need or want to see any more. Did you know that in every one, the curator assured me that the artists he represented were “internationally famous” and “are very sought after”. “Hmph, really!”, I said. So, the paintings received another going over by my eyes. Nothing had changed since the label of famous was dished out. They still looked the same. Robert, it made me realize that I can find really great art right here in my own backyard, and among my friends. Fame is nothing if it doesn’t feel good.

From: Lillian Wu — Mar 02, 2010

Who hasn’t heard about Andy Warhol? Do we envy him because he is famous? If you want to be a connoisseur of art, read his memoirs and try to understand his creativity process. At some point in his life, he must have been humble and grateful.

From: Sue Martin — Mar 02, 2010

When I was young I thought I would be famous. But, at 63, my definition of “fame” has changed. Perhaps a better term would be “known quietly.” I introduced myself to someone recently and the first thing out of her mouth was, “Oh, the artist?” She had seen my first (and, so far, only) solo exhibition last year and it made an impression. If I can accumulate some more small moments of recognition and appreciation, it will mean much more than having my art shredded by critics in national magazines.

From: Peabody — Mar 02, 2010

yep, we think that oil/whatever-rich “connoisseur” is something of a jerk for just buying art based on a name he thought he’d heard of – but you got your check! Not a bad return on semi-fame.

From: Amanda Jones — Mar 02, 2010

Regarding this fame thing. I am certainly not famous in any circle. However lately I have discovered blogging. I have spent the last week creating a new blog, sometimes the better part of a whole day messing around on the computer trying to make it interesting. I now eagerly go to my blog page anticipating hoardes of followers, but that is not the case. I am usually a very private person who values my alone time, but I get a little thrill every time someone leaves a comment, almost like selling a painting. I think it is the validation that is so rewarding. It is that I have made a connection with someone, that maybe my art speaks to them. Painting is an ultimately lonely pursuit and I think it is perfectly normal to seek out the approval of others. Yes I would still paint if I was the only one around, but a little pat on the back goes a long way!

From: Jim Tubb — Mar 02, 2010

I really am pleased to be receiving your observations. We paint because we are painters. I often feel sadness for the famous people of the world.

From: Phillippa K. Lack, MSP — Mar 02, 2010

We sometimes lose sight of he fact that we should just create and not obsess over fame and fortune, although both or either would be nice. Spring is almost upon us; a season of renewal.

From: Luann Udell — Mar 02, 2010

This essay hurts to read, because it is an ongoing issue for me. I’ve learned the hard way that if I pursue fame and recognition, I get pulled off balance. I start to think about work that other people will find appealing. I lose my center. When I am restored to sanity, I realize the only authentic work I can create is the work that’s in my heart. I love it when other people love my work, too, of course. But I must stay focused on my vision. I must remain true to my story and my heart. Interestingly, when I do that work? Other people find it authentic and powerful, and desirable, too.

From: Alan Soffer — Mar 02, 2010

Of course, fame does not make up for love and close relationships in one’s life. I always say, the greatest art form is the art of living. I have a little bit of fame in my community and a little less outside it. Would I like to be famous? I really would, but not at the cost of giving up my independence, my integrity, or my pleasures, and personal life. As the guru said, “you can have whatever you want, just step up and pay the price.”

From: Elida Field — Mar 03, 2010

I recently landed a deal with a local news station as a regular guest, coming onto their show once a month to share an easy art project for their viewing public to try at home. I call the segment, “Gettin’ Artsy With Elida.” Anyhow, on a recent trip I made some conversation with people on the plane and I explained what I did and also my new show. My new found friends got all excited when I mentioned my TV gig and said, “your famous!” I have a pair of jeans branded “almost famous,” and my retort to them was I was wearing a pair of jeans called “almost famous,” but when I traded them in for the jeans that said, “FAMOUS,” then I’d let them know. Until then, I’m just “almost famous!”

From: Dennis Marshall — Mar 03, 2010

Most people who paint would like some sort of acknowledgment of their efforts. Surfing the web brings up names of some very good artists who have been swept aside by the currents of so-called popular tastes. Many art historians have cut their teeth by re-discovering these ‘forgotten” artists that were lauded in their time with honors and recognition. Looking through their art many did deserve these awards. Fame is fleeting so all that one can do is to paint and enjoy the journey.If it is meant to be it will happen. Pursuing fame is similar to chasing water–you will just waste your time and energy.

From: Anne Parker — Mar 03, 2010

Today is my 50th birthday and I wanted to say thank you for being so insightful and giving me so much joy.

From: Steve Engle — Mar 03, 2010

I really enjoy reading your column — it is rare to find an articulate and good painter. I am always amazed to find artists who talk about how unimportant fame (as in recognition), fortune and wealth are to them, are also the very ones who are currently enjoying prosperity.

From: Esther J. Williams — Mar 03, 2010

With my famous name, I was forced to learn to deal with lots of attention in growing up. Like Salinger, I did not want it. In 1961, It took me almost drowning in a Hollywood motel pool when I was six years old to realize who I was named after. My mother informed me that Esther J. Williams was her real name too and this was just a coincidence. So, I dealt with lots of “Do you swim?” So, I learned to swim, it kept my elders happy. When I watched the 1950`s famous Esther Williams swimmer`s movies I swooned and aspired to be like her. So, some celebrities are good role models. Many years later when I had two daughters I wound up on about 50 different movie and television sets in the entertainment industry in Burbank, CA. The gate checkers always quizzed me if I was related. For 5 years, my cute girls played parts as extras, small feature actresses and one main role. I learned that in Hollywood, if you are not the main talent, you get treated like an ingrate, a follower, not a leader. Extras are treated like a herd of cattle. The pay is by far less than the main talent who receives millions. It is no wonder that in our society, celebs are thought of as Gods and every young person aspires to be like them. If you compare how clean cut the celebrities were 50 years ago with the shock factor behavior of today’s celebs, it makes you shake your head in wonder. Where has all the innocence gone? What more shocking things does one have to do to get noticed? How far can this go? Let`s go back to old values please. One thing I taught my girls is to be themselves and not to think they are more important than others because they were in the movies. Hollywood tried to dig it`s claws into my girls and I pulled them out before they turned into another Brittany Sparkle Queen or Lindsay Low Life. I am proud of my girls for being real, living life as normal chickadees, they will turn out okay, this I know. I saw too many other wanna-be actresses heading down the road where the soul gets lost. I don`t believe all celebrities are shallow, hollow human beings, there are some actual famous and good people celebs. This same attitude holds for fine artists, if I were to become famous, I would not allow the stardom to engulf me. There must be retreat time to allow the soul to breathe. I will give back like you see some celebs do with their time and money. My girls are head smart, going to college. My sixteen year old is a budding artist. I get to paint and pursue my artistic course instead of being a stage mother of famous young actresses. All is well.

From: Zingerinc — Mar 03, 2010

No one is perfect, but perhaps fame brings out more imperfection than some other traits. With fame there is more likelihood of abuse of power, the proliferation of ignorance, the disuse of intelligent conversation, unwarranted control over others and a pervasive worship that denies the just rights of the non famous.

From: zanelle — Mar 03, 2010

I never know what to do with all the art I produce. I have not been successful selling things. Maybe my kids will make me famous after Im dead…..

From: John Ferrie — Mar 03, 2010

Dear Robert, Fame is a funny thing. You do some work, there is a bit of press or notoriety about it and people come and take notice. It is all very well and good as you are riding the crest of the wave. People come up to you, they tell you they like your work and want to be near you. It can also help green light further projects based on the success of previous works. But people also claim just because they know your work they also know you personally. They hang close for too long making you uncomfortable and think nothing of saying weird things to you just to get a reaction. We love to build someone up and we love to see them fall. Look at Lindsay Lohan for this example. Fame also, doesn’t pay your rent! People are surprised that just because you are famous, you are not rich! I have a little bit of notoriety for some of the work I have done. With that comes phone calls from strangers offering to handle my “stock portfolio” and offer me an “investment opportunity”. Little do they know I made my Visa card payment with my Mastercard that day! If everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, be careful what you wish for! Fame may get you a nice table at a restaurant, but especially these days, you still have to pay the bill! Always, John

From: Ann Hardy — Mar 03, 2010

Robert, you are a toot!!! You are your own person, weirdly wonderfully you. I’m laughing out loud and glad you are alive and contributing to this art world.

From: Gavin Calf — Mar 04, 2010

A wealthy business man walked into a gallery, looked at a painting of mine and said, “This guy is very good but who is he?” He liked my work but didn’t buy it because he didn’t “know” my name. It depends on why someone collects art, (falling in love with the work, or the alternative). It’s tough, but I’ll plumb for the love motive (at least until I’m famous). 8]

From: David Thompson — Mar 05, 2010

“Paintbrush”, perhaps not so humble. He did after all claim to be divine and the sole route to heaven. Where would the world be now if he had been overcome by an attack of false modesty?

From: Sarah Clegg — Mar 05, 2010

… and he had a great PR team behind him!

From: alicia chimento — Mar 05, 2010

Maybe it’s just me, but I have never been interested in achieving fame as an artist. i just want to be able to continue painting and sell enough work to be able to do it full time.

From: john kuti — Mar 05, 2010

Fame is a measure of how resonant a person’s work or life is with people. What that means depends on who comprises the audience, To be famous among great artists means a lot more than fame among those with little depth or taste. Would you rather sell a thousand prints of a painting or only one to David Hockney? The only thing fame does is give you opportunity and every opportunity has costs. Van Gogh sold one painting in his life. Franz Kafka only 32 copies of The Castle, and he bought 16 of those. What difference would it have made if they had been world famous? JD Salinger had it right. Get famous enough to turn your back on fame.

From: David Thompson — Mar 05, 2010

Er… a thousand thanks very much, my cat knows more about art than Hockney and to be honest he’s not a very intelligent cat!

From: Man — Mar 05, 2010

re: Thompson: “…my cat knows more about art than Hockney…” obviously your cat hasn’t read Hockney’s books and essays or really looked at his sprawling works. the man knows his stuff.

From: Pat in New Mexico — Mar 05, 2010

I am not looking for fame. I paint what I want to, when I want to and how I want to. I consider painting my passion. However a buck now and then would sure help pay for my passion… it is an expensive passion.

From: Rick Rotante — Mar 05, 2010

to Jeanne Long- you don’t know me and have no reason the read any further but I went to your site and think your work shows real emotion and sensitivity. I understand your thinking and many artists suffer the same malady. Once I painted for myself and loved what I did, then fell victim to “sales syndrome”, and I know my work and well being suffered. I’ve since come full circle and now paint from my heart again. I don’t know if my new work will sell or not, I do know I love my work again and feel it’s real and honest. I look forward to going into the studio every day and painting. I don’t think about sales, galleries or if anyone would like my work. My only criteria is I need to like it and that’s all that counts. I know I will present it to the galleries soon but don’t hold out hope or desire they love it. If they do, they do, if not, no matter. I think you should come back with a renewed purpose of painting only for yourself. I feel you contributes to art.

From: paintbrusher — Mar 06, 2010

David and Sarah; I appreciate your comments… What motivates us to become famous is an important factor. Everyone loves a pat on the back and a check in the mail, including myself. Lot’s of sweat, long hours of study, hard work and the sharing of our craft with students usually produces well deserved fame and the perks that accompany such. I believe this good kind of fame comes as a matter of course and is motivated by very little thought of becoming famous. Like respect; it is earned and comes in due time. If a person only uses money and/or jealousy to motivate himself to fame it often becomes tainted with selfishness and the craft becomes a job. The joy of painting is lost, copying rather than originality becomes the order of the day and others as well as himself loose out in the long run as sharing is little or ever in their vocabulary or life style. They take but never give back. Jesus gave all He had even to death to make available the joy of life to others. He never ordered His way to others but simply described it and always left the choice to the listeners. He never claimed to be perfect. He said that only His father was perfect. He accepts you and I unconditionally even with all of our imperfections. The reason He became so famous and highly respected is because He was and is still endlessly doing the work He came to do and doing it well. His fame came about through the positive testimony of those who gave Him a try and not by soliciting fame through a paid PR team or a click of wealth. He doesn’t want our dollar, just our love. The world we see today depending on our vision is the result of people not following His prescription for a joyful life. I cannot begin to imagine what the world would be like without His presence. The turmoil we now face within our own country (US) is proof positive that He is needed more than ever. Once again, read the stories behind the media headliners to see what motivated them to the fame they now have.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Mar 06, 2010

Unfortunately- this site needs to NOT become a jesus-focused site- sorry- No matter what YOU believe- paintbrusher- not everyone shares your interest in jesus. There are as many ways to enlightenment as there are people. Jesus has been directly responsible- through his followers- for a great deal of pain- grief- hurt- anguish and death- for the last 2000 years. Unfortunate- but true. That needs to end- but it is still propagated by his followers- people like you.

From: Kathryn Clark — Mar 06, 2010

Because my husband and I were among the main pioneers in the revival of hand made paper in America, we, and our hand made paper studio, Twinrocker, became famous, especially in the early years of the 1970’s and then later, internationally. People would say, “Oh it’s so nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.” Naturally one wonders, “What have they heard? Who do they think I am?” And you know they have no idea what you are all about. It’s an empty feeling. I wanted to say to them, “Oh have you used our papers and loved drawing on them?” But that’s not what they meant. In the midst of our career, a documentary short movie was made about our life as paper makers called “The Mark of the Maker.” It was nominated for an Academy Award, and so we went to the Oscars and walked across the red carpet and had our 15 minutes of fame. When those kinds of things are not important to you, just surprises that may come, and are the fun “icing on the cake”, that you never have striven for, you can enjoy them and not let it go to your head. Privacy is a very wonderful thing that many don’t value until they loose it. Fortunately, living in Brookston, Indiana has had the natural effect of keeping our egos at the humble level.

From: Jack Lillis — Mar 08, 2010

An artist friend of mine forwarded to me “The outlook for fame” I just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed reading it a lot; it is a refreshing outlook on fame. I have nothing against fame or fortune, but it’s nice to know that not everyone values them excessively.

From: John Dobrowolski — Mar 10, 2010

Re: J. Bruce Wilcox comment… I expected as much from You – a truly hate inspired, insecure, damaged little man. …get well soon, dude.

From: Bob Ragland — Mar 10, 2010

The only fame I want ,is the fame to be known as a NON-starving artist who was able to heat and eat from his artistic effort.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Mar 11, 2010

Dear John! I’m 6’4″- so- sorry- not little at all- anywhere! Maybe you should grow up being bashed by heterosexist christian a**holes- too! And then maybe you should spend much of your life crawling out of the damage wrought by said christians- while exploring the totality of religion/spirituality on this Earth- only to discover all the direct connections you need inside yourself. It is perpetrated that jesus said the kingdom of heaven is within you. I found it. Jesus isn’t necessary.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Mar 11, 2010

One other thing I’ve learned, John- is that christians- who love to be seen as victims- still- even after 2000+ years- really hate it when somebody (like me) illustrates to said same christians that they have- in fact- become the victimizers. Every week- virtually every day- I can find stories online illustrating how christians have become bullies. But not to leave out other organized religions- because many of them have become bullies too. So here’s some truth. If you have a vengeful wrathful god who thinks there’s even a single good enough reason to kill somebody else in the name of your god- your god is a bully. If your preachers preach this- your preachers are bullies. If your congregations support this- your congregations are filled with bullies. I am an artist. Growing up in a religious christian community as a male artist was enough of an issue that I became THE target. And that made me- to the christian community bullies- a sissy- a queer- a homo- and a faggot. I WAS 8. And all because I just didn’t care about competitive sports. So you see- John- I’m what you get. (Eternally long pause…) I’m what you get? That’s right! An enormously creative individual who will no longer tolerate being bashed by christians without standing up to them. Enjoy!


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.