About getting to ‘must’

Dear Artist, Psychologist Abraham Maslow has written, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write — if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.” The question for many would-be creators is simply how to get to “must.”

Abraham Maslow

Maslow spent a lifetime researching mental health and human potential. He emphasized the study of healthy minds and successful systems rather than the abnormal and the ill. He was particularly interested in the hierarchy of needs, meta-needs, self-actualizing persons, purposeful play, and peak experiences. Leader of the humanistic school of psychology, he referred to his ideas as a “third force” — beyond Freudian theory and behaviourism. Maslow saw human beings’ needs arranged like a ladder. The most basic needs, at the bottom, were physical — air, water, food, etc. Then came safety needs — security, stability, comfort. Then psychological or social needs — belonging, love, acceptance. At the top were the self-actualizing needs — the need to fulfill oneself, to become all that one is capable of becoming. Maslow felt that unfulfilled needs lower on the ladder inhibited a person from climbing to the next step. For example, someone dying of thirst is not likely to write or paint. People who managed the higher needs are what he called self-actualizing people. These folks, he found, are able to focus on problems outside themselves, have a clear sense of what is true and what is phony, and are spontaneous, creative, and not bound too strictly by social conventions. Here are a few of Maslow’s ideas for artists wishing to further evolve: Systematically study, understand and neutralize the effects of lower needs. Accept the world in all of its complexity, mystery and ambiguity. Take cues from the winners in this world, not the losers. Keep the company of the doers, not the talkers. Play your personal game on as many levels as you’re able. Fall in love with your processes, innovations, dreams and higher ideals. Be sensitive to and welcome the arrival of peak experiences. Have no guilt when you see yourself becoming compulsive and proactive. Allow yourself to be swept up in your personal “must.”

Maslow’s Hierarachy of Needs

Best regards, Robert PS: “Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? A good question might be not why do people create, but why do people not create?” (Abraham Maslow, 1908-1970) Esoterica: Peak experiences are profound moments of love, understanding, happiness or rapture, when a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world — more aware of truth, justice, harmony and goodness. Maslow found self-actualizing people have many such peak experiences. Acts of art can be structured so an individual sets himself up for a series of them. He feels good, becomes habituated and demands their repetition. Maslow was not a snob about his conclusions. “A first-rate soup,” he said, “is more creative than a second-rate painting.” This is a favourite Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter previously published as “Getting to ‘must’” on November 23, 2007.   Not going anywhere by Mellissa Meeks, Huntsville, AL, USA  

“Will Run with Help”
original painting, 48 x 48 inches
by Mellissa Meeks

This was the best one!!! I got sooo much out of that last couple of paragraphs… perfect timing — because my art career is beginning to expand — networking is key. Surrounding yourself with like-minded doers is a must! Often we find ourselves in stale conversations with some individuals that think you are “braggin’ ” if you are merely discussing your goals, accomplishments, and future objectives. Some people are resentful of what you are doing… meanwhile, they hold down their sofa cushions and wonder why they aren’t going anywhere.       Worthy of the indulgence of creating art? by Marcie Maynard, South Acworth, NH, USA  

“Valley farm”
pastel painting, 12 x 15 inches
by Marcie Maynard

This was a profound and important letter. I have believed in this idea for years (but have struggled with actually doing my artwork — and justifying the doing of it — daily needs to make a living always seemed more pressing, and I didn’t feel worthy of the “indulgence” or “selfishness” of doing my artwork on a regular basis, even after grappling with illness. Things are finally shifting.   There are 3 comments for Worthy of the indulgence of creating art? by Marcie Maynard
From: Jackie Knott — Nov 12, 2013

Selfishness tends to crop up in the negative sense when it has a definite positive side. Maslow quoted “family” in two areas of his pyramid. Sacrifices made in the name of family can skewer personal development to where you (as in all of us) will never rise above midlevel: that is the worst of failures. The sad part is those who demand the most least appreciate the sacrifice. I’ve done that. Place a reasonable limit on love, support, and help to fulfill your calling. That is a lovely painting.

From: Denyse — Nov 12, 2013

“mom guilt” — i get it all the time — the laundry, cleaning, etc MUST be done before art – that takes all day, then my darling child comes home, and i MUST pay attention to her — so says my inner critic. Then the me who wants to be the best i can be says, take care of yourself first, you MUST make art in order to be happy and do the all the other “musts” cheerfully. Balance is the key i strive for.

From: Coho — Nov 12, 2013

Here is a hint from a child of a guilt-less mom. I believe that children whose loving parents dedicated time to a meaningful creative activity, have enriched lives. Only being neglected by a detached parent that has nothing to show can build resentment. Art is a great gift for a rich family life. It should never be ignored.

  Givers and doers by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA  

“Live Oak”
oil painting, 36 x 61 inches
by Linda Blondheim

I found this to be very inspiring, particularly the “Take cues from the winners in this world, not the losers. Keep the company of the doers, not the talkers.” I make it a practice to spend my time with the doers of the world. My friend Rick often says that there are two kinds of people, the givers and the takers. I want to be remembered as one of the givers.   There is 1 comment for Givers and doers by Linda Blondheim
From: Anonymous — Nov 12, 2013

Lending a hand to a loser can be far more rewarding than hanging on with the winner of the day.

  Constantly striving by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“The Painter as Subject”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

Getting to “must” is only possible if you are constantly striving to work at what it is you do. You can’t be a “weekender,” a “once-in-awhile” person. It doesn’t take a genius to understand if there is anything you wish to do… you do it. You don’t talk about doing it, you do it. You don’t ask advice or seek permission… you do it. You do it because you must. The danger is this: Just painting doesn’t make you an artist. Just playing an instrument doesn’t make you a musician. Writing a poem doesn’t make you a poet. To be any of these things you “must” be it. It must become a part of you. It must burn within you to the exclusion of everything else. Otherwise you just make pictures; dabble at music; write meaningless words. It isn’t a mystery; it isn’t science; it isn’t alchemy. It’s work and dedication and years of study. It’s climbing a mountain where you never reach the top. There are 2 comments for Constantly striving by Rick Rotante
From: Mary Jean Mailloux — Nov 12, 2013

Well said Rick. It also means taking yourself seriously. I’m getting there

From: Michael McDevitt — Nov 15, 2013

Nice piece.

  The joy of the process by Ina Beierle, Glencoe, IL, USA  

Ina with her mixed media artwork

The last line in this letter you write how Maslow compares a great soup to a second-rate painting… that line alone filled in the very cracks in my creative soul. I love to create in the kitchen and as a painter; the meals are sometime (not always) more satisfying than making art. From this experience throughout my life I have been grateful for any creative endeavor I take on: painting, mixed media, cooking, beading or knitting. The most rewarding time is when something comes from the hand and heart — not machine made, but conceptualized and put together with my thoughts and time. When I saw crafted work (not paintings) in the shows of: Redon, Grant Wood, Gauguin, and certainly Picasso, those were moments that formed a connection between what it is to “create” whatever one is making. I have been a painting snob many times, thinking that only painters of all genres, and sculptors as well, were the “real deal” when it comes to making art. But again, that last quote of Maslow says it all for anyone putting together “good work” whatever that might be, I’ve known for a long time now that it is the process that can carry me. Oh, the joy of the process… whatever one is creating.   A solid core of conviction by Lynda Lehmann, NY, USA  

acrylic painting, 28 x 22 inches
by Lynda Lehmann

I read so many of the humanist psychologists back in the ’60s, and what wisdom l might have gleaned from them, seems to have remained with me. Thank you for reminding me of people like Abraham Maslow. I also read Carl Rogers’ book, On Becoming a Person. And Eric Berne, who wrote Games People Play. Also Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. And many others. I only wish that such dialogues and conversations were going on today, as we seem to have lost so much of our humanity. And especially in times where violence, loss of stability, and loss of trust in institutions prevail, we certainly need to regain and redefine our common humanity. At any rate, we who are addicted to creativity are certainly blessed, because we have a solid core of conviction and passion that will carry us through circumstances, through adversity and fear, and through despair and loss. There is 1 comment for A solid core of conviction by Lynda Lehmann
From: Sharon Knettell — Nov 12, 2013

Gorgeous color. Cobalt and orange. Love it.

  Art as recovery tool by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA  

“Lady Justice slays the paper tiger”
original painting
by Terrie Christian

Recovering from PTSD and speaking up about what triggered it caused my family to disown me and my employer to begin to build a paper tiger to rid themselves of me after a boss abused her whole district. I had a breakdown as a result of the abuse and became disabled. I lost my career. I believe that I am destined to write a recovery book that puts myself out there to strangers after having such losses. November 1st, I submitted an article that is a start of this writing, to The Sun magazine for an upcoming topic called “Speaking Up.” I have worked for years helping others who were harmed in the workplace. It is scary to go forward, but I must do it for the very reasons that you outline in this letter. A few years ago I painted a painting called Lady Justice Slays the Paper Tiger. It is about knowing the truth and shining light on abuse. The sidewalk represents the paper trail that employers create to sink truth tellers. Justice is not blinded because she needs to see the truth. The cat is fat. The light is peaking out from behind the violence, represented by the red circle. There is such stigma surrounding mental illness. Many hide in the shadows to protect themselves. I am writing because I feel I must be part of the solution, and I have learned many things over more than 30 years of recovery that can help others. My plan is to put the recovery details and tools first in my book and the story in the second part because story is what connects us. Art was a one of my recovery tools and I will have a chapter on that. There is 1 comment for Art as recovery tool by Terrie Christian
From: Anonymous — Nov 12, 2013

I admire your painting, and your dedication to your writing. You have discovered an underreported form of workplace violence. It is my experience that the one who bells the cat is the one expelled; but often lives to ring some more bells.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for About getting to ‘must’

From: Keith Wilkie — Nov 07, 2013

Exceptional then and this time too!

From: Mike Barr — Nov 07, 2013

It goes without saying that in peaceful, settled societies art in whatever form will flourish. Indeed it is true as we see the proliferation of art and artists in the developed countries of the world. Everyone it seems, is an artist! Great letter.

From: Mary Ann Laing — Nov 07, 2013

Oh, great timing for this letter, thank you :)

From: Patty Cucman — Nov 07, 2013

“Keep the company of the doers, not the talkers.” Reminds me of something else a wise man once told me. “You can’t be a boxer by watching the match. You have to get in the ring.”

From: Carol Kairis — Nov 07, 2013

More aware of “truth,justice & harmony within goodnes of the world? Truly belonging to those of

From: Carol Kairis — Nov 08, 2013

“truth,justice & harmony within goodness of the world? I am reminded upon the words of our Great Creator “Jehovah God”. Declaring within each creative day…it “was Good”! How lovingly appreciation is valued within each of our brush strokes. Yet to ourselves, “life’s value”… does not belong. Are we honoring towards the promised reward found at Rev. 21:3-5.? Considering, not just life now…but the “everlasting life” we aspire too within our inheritance of our loved ones & ourselves? It really is the only promise which historically validates worthwhile aspirations…enriching us all.

From: Damar Minyak — Nov 08, 2013
From: Bill Bartels — Nov 08, 2013

What an incredible reflection.

From: Nelson Edwards — Nov 08, 2013

Maslow’s ideas are so simply intelligent and straightforward that one wonders why more of this is not simply applied today. The idea of falling in love with your processes, is, in my estimation, the obvious key to thriving in any medium. Most people have no “must.”

From: Joan Alsworth Bacon — Nov 08, 2013

In spite of not ever meeting you in person, I so enjoy reading what you put out. You put in words some of my own thoughts that percolate in me and very often new and interesting ideas that help me to keep on keeping on . A few semesters ago I wrote a paper on Maslow’s theory. I related to what he had to say, so it is fun to connect with you and remember those insights.

From: ReneW — Nov 08, 2013

Maslow was a guiding light in my career but only to a point on the ladder. I never made it to the top rung as I ran out of time. Came really close, however. No regrets.

From: Allan Homann — Nov 08, 2013

Many creative endeavors, including collecting art and other collectibles, are based on the concept of having peak experiences, and then trying to repeat those peak experiences. Like the making of art, it’s habituated.

From: Donald Hausser — Nov 08, 2013

By controlling and limiting our baser needs, or taking care of them efficiently and yet lovingly, we free our greater minds for the main appropriate activity of life–that is to create.

From: Meg Nicks — Nov 08, 2013

Have been quietly reading your letters for the past 2 or 3 years… They have been a source of pleasure, inspiration, contemplation…Thank you so much for your dedication to sharing with other artists your thoughts, teaching & experiences. Our unknown futures can only be lived moment to moment. This past spring, a flood was a big wake-up call; I feel blessed that my studio was not flooded, though other artists suffered real loss. While I plan to keep on working/playing in my studio (when not at the “day” job), it’s also going to be a winter of going through & evaluating my own creative output. Clearing out and looking at what I value most. I wish you only the best for your time ahead, made sharper and even more moment-to-moment intense by having to live with a time limit – your love of life & creativity will give you added time, even if it’s because you are living even more clearly than ever. Thank you!

From: Jane Public — Nov 08, 2013

this one really got to me. I understood right away the barriers between me and doing, being. I don’t know how to get around them but knowing they are there i a HUGE start right?! thank you SO much for your insight. and for being thoughtful enough to pass it along. you are a blessing!!!

From: Ronnie Bookbinder — Nov 08, 2013

You have made a difference in my life. You have been a positive voice in the void. You have been so strong in every way and have taught me the best way to live. You have been a mentor and an example. I know that you will be strong in the face of your illness and I send you my force to use as a support. You are an “Art Rock Star”.

From: Sandy Bogert — Nov 08, 2013

Thank you for this it is so appropriate for all to read no matter what their endeavors ….it is extremely generous of you to forward this out to all your subscribers under your present circumstances…

From: Charles Chapman — Nov 08, 2013

I believe this is true. Maslow has thought this out very logically and personally when the lower needs were not met it did interfere with my “must”.

From: Frances Stilwell — Nov 08, 2013

This is one of your best. Yesterday I realized my responsibility in this world: (at least) pause for beauty. Not everyone has a “beauty reaction.” Next after that is to make the beauty visible to the world. The making benefits yourself as well since the beauty becomes almost like a muscle memory.. Corvallis, OR

From: Shari Haufschild — Nov 08, 2013

Thanks for sharing again this very inspiring letter! They always seem written just for me at a time I need them most!

From: Christopher Pierce — Nov 09, 2013

I have never written to you before, but I need you to know that you have been a solace and steady companion for years now. About seven years ago I met another artist, Michael Abraham, from Canada. he came to NYC to draw and we met at the well-known Spring Studio. One day I was telling him how lonely I felt when I was painting, and since my studio was way in the country in upstate New York, he told me about your letters. Robert, they have helped me so very, very much. THANK YOU! I have spread the work since and other artists have thanked me for that. Fortunately for me I have kept most of your letters and will always refer to them. In peace and admiration.

From: Sandy Bogert — Nov 09, 2013

Maslow is so appropriate for all to read no matter what their endeavors ….it is extremely generous of you to forward this out to all your subscribers under your present circumstances…I wish you and all best. your

From: Suzanne in Sawtell, NSW, Australia — Nov 10, 2013

Your emails are so valuable to artists everywhere. Thank you for your generosity.

From: Ken Gillespie — Nov 10, 2013
From: Jack Frances — Nov 11, 2013

Maslow would have said to be open to the possibility of peak experiences. Many try, but artists are in a unique position to make it happen. Thanks, Ken, for your heartfelt tribute to Robert, above. You are both on the same peak.

From: Yves B. W. Pelpier — Nov 11, 2013

The main message is that we have to guide ourselves.

From: Martin Brookes, New York, NY — Nov 11, 2013

People don’t take the time to find their “must”. They instead fill their life with chores. They mistake these chores for their “must.”

From: Sally Martin — Nov 12, 2013

I wanted to add my heartfelt thanks and best wishes to those of the thousands of people responding to your recent news of illness. What you have offered out to the world is a truly precious source of support, knowledge and advice. If we could all be as selfless in the giving of ourselves and our gifts to others what a world it would be……I will continue to strive to learn from you and also share what I can. The re posting of some letters from the past make it evident that your gift is without end, that these letters can be re-read and still bear further gifts of knowledge and insight. Perhaps a different passage that resonates more, is more relevant to the recipient a few years down and in a different phase of their creative journey. I am often approached by young artists wanting advice and the most valuable direction I can ever give them is the link to your website. Thank you for your help now and for the future.

From: betsey mulloy — Nov 12, 2013

Dear Robert, You are on my heart constantly because you have been such a wise and stimulating friend through the years I’ve read these precious letters. I am praying that this season will be filled with “the peace that passes understanding” and that knowing about the thousands of people you have blessed will fill you with great joy. May the Lord restore you completely.

From: Denyse — Nov 12, 2013

One of my favourites!! As a single mother, i find all kinds of excuses not to allow myself “art time” — and then if i don’t, everything else falls apart.. so i must go !

From: tatjana — Nov 12, 2013

The Maslow model is universally generic and very helpful as a reminder at times when we lose focus or things just somehow go astray. But I would never subscribe to a recipe of what my life should be (with no liability by the way). There is nothing new under the sun from the perspective of the sun, but from my perspective, everything is new. Every day I come across a new discovery, and in many cases they unapologetically don’t fit in the Maslow chart. For me, the must is about unfolding my own genuine path.

From: Terry Thirion — Nov 13, 2013

For over 20 years I helped individuals find out and honor their values, such as Adventure, Creativity and Community. We can not get to the values till the needs are met or at least recognized. A project of bringing attention to the decline of the environment was on my mind for 10 years but could not be fulfilled. My need of not being a failure was stronger. I had a realization that if I did NOT do it, this would be the failure. I now am realizing what I need to do, acknowledge that getting it started is a success. All sorts of unforeseen events have led up to communicating about it to others including you, Robert. Terry Thirion

   Featured Workshop: Ingrid Christensen 111213_robert-genn Ingrid Christensen Workshops Held in Nayarit, Mexico   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa


oil on paper by Cyn McCurry

  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.

“Morning watch”
acrylic painting, 12 x 16 inches
by John Burk

That includes John F. Burk of Timonium, MD, USA, who wrote, “Maslow’s concept sounds to me like the essence of a healthy existence. You are there, brother.” And also Gins Doolittle of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “Quote from Maslow’s biography: ‘Maslow’s life was dedicated to the study of people.’ Indeed, self-actualizing people are those who have come to a high level of maturation, health and self-fulfillment… the values that self-actualizers appreciate include truth, creativity, beauty, goodness, wholeness, aliveness, uniqueness, justice, simplicity, and self-sufficiency.”

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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