The happiness factor

Dear Artist, According to the recently released UN World Happiness Report, Canada’s population is the fifth happiest in the world. Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands, in that order, are happier. The USA ranks 11th, the UK 18th. According to the report, Togo, Benin, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone had the most unhappy people. Apart from income, the greatest determinants of human happiness are family ties and tribal instincts. A lot has been made of the fact that the happiest nations are Northern ones where the citizens struggle together against an inclement environment. If this were true it seems to me the Russians would be rated happier, but they’re not. The only time you see them get up on the table and dance is after 14 vodkas. And, as everyone knows, Mexican babies are by far the happiest. Check out a Mexican day care sometime. Further, if tribalism is so hot, you’d think some of the Middle Eastern nations would be up there, too. Statistics tell us that happy nations have a lot of clubs. Canada is awash with them. What self-respecting prairie town doesn’t have a quilting group? What church basement in the Great White North doesn’t have a Thursday Painting and Sketch Club where nodders endure a “short meeting and financial report” before the night’s featured demo-doer? We Canucks are such a happy bunch. But what about the art that issues from all this glee? Do tribalism and togetherness improve creative quality? Some people will swear on a stack of Robert’s Rules of Order that they do. Others are not so sure. In my humble observation, artists who struggle on their own generally do best. Are these just a few of the unhappy loners who are chasing their tails, hell bent on throwing a monkey wrench into our uncontrolled laughing? It seems to me the best club is the Great Universal Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Painters Dead and Alive (GUBSPDA). It’s sort of virtual but it meets 24/7. The last person who signed up for these free Twice-Weekly Letters at one minute to midnight yesterday was Shailaja Poddar of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. Somehow I think we are all a bit happier when we admit we’re in this together. Best regards, Robert PS: “It’s not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it’s in the happiness of pursuit.” (Denis Waitley) Esoterica: Art clubs and guilds are primarily a North American and UK phenomenon, although some other nations are catching on. A club’s main thrusts are mutual learning, gentle competition, networking and marketing. Clubs tend to neutralize the traditional model of rugged individualism and egocentricity that many now see as a hazard to the growth of quality and integrity. In clubs, in theory, all is fair. The strong are encouraged to encourage the weak until the weak become strong. That’s when the formerly weak tend to leave the happy club and strike out on their own.   Swaying connection by Anita Marshall, The Woodlands, TX, USA  

original painting
by Anita Marshall

Someone, and it could be you, recently mentioned the fact that though we are alone we are actually connected to everything. That has helped me as I vacillate between loving groups and running from them. I’m wondering if I am connected enough or disconnected enough. Enough is enough and I have resorted to self-coaching my way back into a group. Thank you for your humor and keeping all of us artists connected! There seems to be something fishy about the top 5 and did the Vikings bring it to Canada?     There is 1 comment for Swaying connection by Anita Marshall
From: Cindy Stevens — Apr 13, 2012

I really think your humor, and art work, is great keep the great work up and thanks to Krista Hasson, for bringing you to my attention. another great artist in many way’s wonderful talent keep it up.

  No work in a vacuum by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada  

original illustrations
by Richard Gagnon

The BBC News report that I saw put Bhutan in the top spot but did confirm that Canada was in fifth. Could this be due to a longing for the days of colonialism? Whatever the case, the comment on clubs reminded me of the painting lessons I used to attend and in retrospect it was more like a club with weekly dues than a school. The interaction also spurred productivity. A painter does work alone to a great degree but in my mind cannot work in a vacuum. Criticism and appreciation, if only verbal as opposed to monetary, is vital.   Phenomenon widespread by Diane Williamson, Tyabb, Australia  

“Goanna rocks”
oil painting
by Diane Williamson

You say art clubs are “primarily” a North American and Canadian phenomenon. However, I must enlighten you that here in Australia there are literally thousands of art groups, clubs, societies and artist-run galleries, one of which I am a very active member. Every town, no matter how small, has a historical society, sewing group, knitting, painting, craft, weaving, ceramics, life drawing, felting, meditation, yoga, exercise clubs and last — but always well attended — an Art group that meets regularly. Most places have many art clubs and groups who meet informally and any town with more than about 1000 people will always have an art society that exhibits regularly. I guess that makes Australians a very happy lot! In fact, ask just about any Australian and they will tell you we know we live in the best country in the world. Inspiration for our art is everywhere, from the deserts to the rain forests, from the sea to the clean, blue, unpolluted skies. We use a lot of fresh clean colours here and we have so many fantastic artists and I get to meet new ones constantly at our gallery. Being “isolated” on our big island is wonderful in many ways. There are 3 comments for Phenomenon widespread by Diane Williamson
From: janna — Apr 12, 2012

Yes I agree , I live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland there are so many arts and lots of other clubs and groups to enjoy . I and some art mates meet most Mondays , we paint on my back patio and have a wonderful time .Happy painting Janna.

From: janna — Apr 12, 2012

Yes I agree , I live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland there are so many arts and lots of other clubs and groups to enjoy . I and some art mates meet most Mondays , we paint on my back patio and have a wonderful time .Happy painting Janna.

From: Peter — Apr 13, 2012

You sound just like a North American talking to an Australian; however, your painting is wonderfully one of a kind. I love it.

  Urban sketchers by John Crowther, Los Angeles, CA, USA  

“Randy’s Donuts”
watercolour painting
by John Crowther

While clubs and guilds may not yet be flourishing around the world, it’s relevant, I think, to mention Urban Sketchers, a non-profit online drawing “community” with thousands of active international members whose mission is “is to raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.” I constantly derive inspiration and, yes, happiness from the daily posts.   Sisters in paint by Carmen Beecher, Satellite Beach, FL, USA  

“Christmas palm”
oil painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Carmen Beecher

I became much, much happier when I became part of a group of women artists, Pieces of 8, who meet weekly to paint, go on retreats together, and generally are inspired and supported by each other. It may be more in the female character, because we would all love it if our husbands had such a group. We are never bored, always excited and dreaming up new projects and challenges. It’s a local chapter of GUBSPDA that is thriving, and I wish I had discovered these Sisters in Paint earlier in my life.   There is 1 comment for Sisters in paint by Carmen Beecher
From: Donna Vines — Apr 15, 2012

I agree 100% Carmen. There is something so validating and supportive of painting with a group of happy artists.

  Class encouragement and private sweat by Laurell Hamilton, Joggins, NS, Canada  

“Just Passing Through”
coloured pencil by
Laurell Hamilton

My eyes popped when I saw the words ‘Thursday Painting… group’! The Sackville Art Association’s ‘Thursday Painters’ have been meeting and painting for 15 years, mostly under the inspired instruction of water colourist Joan Gregory of Moncton, NB. More recently, we have been receiving instruction from several very able artists from within our group. The Sackville Art Association (Sackville, NB) is 76 years old this year and counts among its early and long-standing members Lawren Harris and Alex Coleville and, more recently, well-known Nova Scotia artist Tom Forrestall. Without the active and ongoing creativity of Thursday Painters, I think the association would be a bare shadow of itself. Over time, I have noticed that those who progress the most in skill and vision are attending class and painting madly at home in between! Although I have learned a great deal from our skilled instructors and have benefitted from the honest feedback and encouragement that are integral to our class, without the sweat equity paid out in my Postage Stamp Studio, not much would be happening on the creative side.   Important group function by Loraine Wellman, Richmond, BC, Canada  

“Pottery Fair, Czech Republic”
original painting by
Loraine Wellman

I’m not entirely sure about the “happiness” link and art clubs. For the executive, they can be a lot of work. And, as for the struggle, we all have to struggle and grow on our own. However, a group such as Richmond Artists Guild serves an important function. We bring together all ages and backgrounds for a sense of community in a common interest. We have the stimulus of an interesting demo once a month for which the coordinator chooses a variety of methods and approaches. One demo alone is pretty much worth the year’s fees. We aim to support each other and have group shows and workshops. We are all in this together — each with our own strengths and weaknesses. Some may have achieved more recognition but we don’t see a division between “strong” and “weak.” Who is to judge? We can all learn from each other, as is very evident when we have a guest artist doing a critique.   Group benefits by Karen R. Phinney, Halifax, NS, Canada  

“Street view”
acrylic painting, 20 x 16 inches
by Karen R. Phinney

You certainly have it on the nose about clubs being a source of bonding, inspiration etc. I belong to a painter’s group (one of several) here in the Halifax area. Our club meets on Tuesdays in a fire hall outside of the city. It was originally a city-run extracurricular activity, and it morphed over time and circumstance into a separate gathering. We now have a waiting list. There are 24 of us, and we come over the whole day to the meeting place. No lessons, just women, painting together, laughing, socializing and supporting. I am stunned at the talent, initiative, creativity and originality of this group. We have parties, too. We meet for about 8 months of the year, and have a wingding of some sort at Christmas and when we part in the spring. I feel very lucky to be part of this group. The friendships I have from it, the support when I have a show of my work, whatever, is worth a great deal. I know those gals are all there for me and for each other. That is priceless. And it does make me happy, and I’m sure I am in good company there. There is 1 comment for Group benefits by Karen R. Phinney
From: Karen R. Phinney — Apr 13, 2012

I should have added, that the group is called “Artspa”, because a “day making art is like a day at the Spa”!

  Safety in numbers by Terry Mason, Sarasota, FL, USA  

“Harbormaster’s Marsh”
original painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Terry Mason

I run a plein air group here in Sarasota, Florida. We paint once a week together. Given the alligators and other critters there is some safety in numbers. We have about 300 members and in season we have about 20-30 come paint every week. The organization, Light Chasers, is about 7 years old and we just had our very first show. We had over 500 people at our opening. What I have observed is that the group dynamic does factor in the individual painter getting better over time. Our folks that come regularly really have improved a lot and are quite serious about improving. Our senior, nationally known members show up and are generous with their time. They don’t mind if someone watches a “start” or paints beside them. Indeed, we are setting up some type of mentorship program. The senior painters seem to realize that it helps us all when we are all better painters. And the other thing is that we have worked with the other groups also pushing plein air and representational painting in this town. It’s looking more and more like representational painting is claiming a bigger slice of the gallery and museum showings here. Given all the growth internationally in representational painting, it looks like we are earning a greater share of the buyers now, too. I do think that the camaraderie makes a difference here in both how often an artist paints outside and just plain getting better overall. I know that my own work still gets powered by showing up every single day most often, but the painters here in this town that work together are both getting better as painters and selling better, too. Maybe both alone time and shared responsibility for market growth works… both for selling and for improving personally in our work. Seems to work well here. There is 1 comment for Safety in numbers by Terry Mason
From: Margaret — Jun 01, 2012

Hi I have been an Artist for many years, But freeze when I am in a group I become useless I have tried taking a continued Ed class, and could not produce anything, is there anything that I can do to get over this problem, I would love to learn to paint out side

  Appreciation by Shailaj, India/Singapore   Thanks for such a warm welcome from you and the other members of the group. Want to give a small background about myself. I have studied commercial arts and specialized in computer graphics and have worked for almost 8 years in the field of web design and Internet gaming for kids. I could say my career and the www evolved at the same time. Much later I realized I have a natural flair for painting and decided to paint. I used to paint earlier but for the past 4 years haven’t as have very young kids, two girls 2 and 5 years old. So have been so very tied up and happily involved in parenting them. But of late I have had some time and hence am looking for getting back in the grind, though gradually. I haven’t sketched or made too many drawings, as I come from a commercial arts background. I am in a confused situation as I want to be a professional artist in the next 2-3 years but have yet to develop a distinctive style. Hence I have joined the group to understand what other artists think, and see their perspective. My roots are in India and I stay in Singapore (in a very manicured, urban setting) so I can’t see a path for myself on what I should paint and call my style and draw inspiration from. As yet I don’t have an idea, however I would like to have one before I start on my journey as an artist. I don’t have a network of friends of similar interests so I find being a part of this group will be very enriching for me. I do oils and portraiture fascinates me a lot. Thanks for your letters I feel so involved so soon. There is 1 comment for Appreciation by Shailaj
From: catherine robertson — Apr 14, 2012

Hi Shailaj ! Welcome and best wishes for your exciting and wonderful adventure ahead ! Don’t worry about finding a style and, in my experience as a painter for many years, it eventually finds you ! It evolves over time with your experiences as a painter and what you love. Also, it seems easier to know what to paint when you listen to your “heart”. I tell my students to feel the response they have when they see, perhaps a White-tail deer in a meadow or blazing red poppies in a green field, or whatever, and their inside, personal feelings of excitment and thrill tells them a lot about what they love and, therefore, might love to paint. One painting often leads to another of similar theme and sooner than later you will know what leads you joyfully to your paints ! Hope this will rest your mind on this issue for a bit. You will find your way once you just begin ! Happy painting !!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The happiness factor

From: Susan — Apr 10, 2012

Dear Robert, I happen to be one of those artist,who heads up a group in a church basement. We are “The Monday Morning Artist” We meet in the spring and fall for 8 weeks. We are a watercolor class and have had the privilege of having Bill Perry as our teacher for over 5 years. The spring classes started yesterday. All of students that I spoke with are so exciting to get back to painting. Life has away of getting in the way of our Art. Getting back together does improve creative quality. Susan

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Apr 10, 2012

In regards to art societies, I have been involved and at times, so involved I have no time to paint. I think they are great, provide a place to meet like-minded people, exhibit your work even if you are not very good, combine resources to put on workshops and more. There comes a time, however, when you have to ask yourself, “Do I socialize or do I paint?”. Then you pull away from all the society work and events to work alone. Until the next time.

From: Sam Stern — Apr 10, 2012

Some things just don’t don’t go together well; like tire warehouses and children’s day care.

From: Sonja Johnson — Apr 10, 2012
From: Jackie Knott — Apr 10, 2012

Happiness in those countries may have more to do with economic stability than anything. Extreme northern climates also have high alcoholic and drug dependency rates. My years in Alaska (even though I was young) lent themselves to times of boredom inside it was enough to drive my parents and us kids to distraction. Six months of darkness and bitter cold would induce the most sane to a little down behavior. Common interests are great for socializing but I’ve always done better alone or cultivating friendships beyond clubs, some with artists, some not. Love and family are basic to human experience but aside from that, art will always be a lone pursuit.

From: Cindy Mersky — Apr 10, 2012

Was it was a coincidence that I recently read this article from the NY Times? I thought so when I saw the topic of your Letter this morning. You might enjoy the lengths to which Stefan Stagmeister goes in his pursuit of ‘Happiness’, which appears to be a hot topic in the art world this week. Elaine Prodor, Alison Miyuchi and I had the opportunity to hear Stephan Stagmeister speak in Toronto at the Design Exchange a few years ago. Radical, but entertaining and thought-provoking nonetheless. Hope you and Sara have a great time at Hollyhock this year.

From: Tiit Raid — Apr 10, 2012
From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Apr 10, 2012

It is interesting to know that Canada ranks high in the happiness factor in the UN World Happiness Report and I am glad that I live in Canada. In my early years I was also happy living in the Philippines. Those days I was content and happy in the knowledge that I have a support system with my immediate family and friends. Here in Canada I have a family that supports each other and friends who share interests and information. In Canada we have a very multicultural population who are happy to have the opportunity to achieve their potential and fulfill their dreams. They have strong family ties and kinship where they can observe their cultural traditions. Happiness comes from contentment and acceptance of what you have and not expecting more than you can afford. In art I am happy that I am able to pursue my lifelong interests and I am glad that I have found friends who share my enthusiasm in creating beautiful images of the world around us. There are times when rivalry and challenges arise among friends and sometimes we ask each other to critic our own work in a constructive way. I have the final decision of what to do with it. I like learning different cultures and respect them.

From: Brian Knowles — Apr 10, 2012
From: Robert McCormick — Apr 10, 2012

Thanks, Robert, I needed a laugh today….GUBSPDA – fabulous!

From: Brenda McCourt Pulham — Apr 11, 2012

While I attend workshops, demonstrations and belong to three art groups I prefer to paint en plein air alone or atleast in my own space. It is interesting to see what others do and how they do it and so one absorbs what appeals. That said I do not want to paint like another person because that’s their doing. Art takes me to the place from which I write poetry and short stories, to the place where I feel the music I play or sing. I believe creativity is best left to it’s originality. Turner was a great example of this!

From: Larry Santucci — Apr 12, 2012

I consider my life well-lived as I’ve gotten most of what I truly earned and fortunately for me – only half of what I really deserved.

From: Annette Conradie — Apr 12, 2012

Uncanny timing about being alone in Lahore, Pakistan – and not alone at the same time. Enjoyed the article very much.

From: Janice Dials — Apr 12, 2012

This is so funny and so true, love your letters.

From: Karla Pearce — Apr 12, 2012

I find changing media keeps things fresh. If I painted all the time and only painted I would grow bored for sure. As artists I think we are better than that.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Apr 12, 2012

I firmly believe that people are happy when they are free to do what they want to do. This starts with their personal and economical freedom and people like family, friends or soul mates. But it can only be complete with a work of love. That’s really all there is to it. Do what you want equals happy, do what you don’t equals unhappy. Just try walking a cat on a leash.

From: Mary Ann Pals — Apr 12, 2012

Funny, funny, funny. I was laughing out loud. Loved the very last sentence under Esoterica best of all. How true! Hanging together while on our own is by far the best description of the global artists’ club. Thank you for this one, Robert Genn! Loved it! BTW, I’m Dutch, fourth happiest in the world. Woohoo!

From: Jane Kleinschmidt — Apr 12, 2012

I love your club! Thank you so much for all your inspiration!

From: Martha Loving Orgain — Apr 12, 2012

I so very much enjoy your letters and have to say that this one was hilarious! Thanks so much for keeping us laughing. When you’re in tune with the unknown, the known is peaceful.

From: Nancy Oppenheimer — Apr 12, 2012

Hi Shailaja, Welcome to the wonderful brotherhood and sisterhood of artists Robert has created by uniting us through his twice weekly letters. He is the best thing that ever happened to my art life and I know you’ll gain much wisdom as you read his letters. Good luck to you.

From: Karin Mona Törnkvist — Apr 12, 2012

Not having a proper mentor these letters are highly valued!

From: Jean Stillwell — Apr 12, 2012

I can’t imagine my retired life without my two painting groups. Home is in Boone, NC, USA for six months and the winter six months in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico. Both places I have wonderful groups that meet weekly. We have such a good time supporting each other and passing along tips. Gallery hopping on Art Crawl Nights together is also an inspiration. I feel so lucky to have these friends. My husband also attends my groups on occasion as he is beginning to paint again after many years away from it.

From: Patsy, Antrim — Apr 13, 2012

Well, all I can say is, Canadians’ happiness rubs off on their visitors. My son and his wife live there, and we have visited three times now. Each time we come home saying how kind, friendly, and caring Canadians are, and that is coming from people who have lived in two countries renowned for their friendliness: South Africa and now Northern Ireland. I have a request though, and I do hope, Robert, that it’s okay to put it in here: if there is ANYONE out there who can tell me about an art group or quilting group within easy reach of Antrim town, I would love to know about it. For years in Cape Town I belonged to two quilting groups, and to a wonderful art group, the South African Society of Artists, and I miss them both so much. Eighteen months ago I retired from a 24/7 job, and after I’d recovered (!) set about trying to make friends, by joining a club that either sewed or did art – I wasn’t fussy. Sewing classes were vaguely mentioned by a few people I asked, but someone who’s been sewing for over fifty years and started quilting in the 1970s doesn’t want lessons – and nor will I teach – I don’t have the patience. ;-) I recently joined a newly-formed community choir, which is absolutely great, but would still love to make friends who are also interested in my two great passions. Thank you in advance! Tel: 9446 1506 to locals.

From: Patricia Sciandra — Apr 13, 2012

These are sketches??!! They appear to be finished paintings. Don’t know how they can be improved by enlargement. Hardly experimental–thought out and completed. Go on to other ideas for while. Take Robert’s always wonderful suggestions less literally. Just paint!!

From: Carol Anderson — Apr 13, 2012

I think Richard Alm’s humor is showing, or he is testing out his “Happiness Factor” on us by placing what looks to be a tennis ball in the golfing picture. Hmmmm…

From: Pauline K — Apr 13, 2012

Beautiful art work Richard. Wish I was that good. Keep it up

From: Sheena — Apr 13, 2012

I teach high school art and my senior students have their own studio spaces. I tell them all the time that they can’t make art in a bubble (or in bubbles). The studio environment, comraderie, support and feedback push them to be better artists. Working alone, we may be limited in how far past our comfort zone we go – and as a result, how much we grow. The tortured artist persona is old-school and not a true reflection of how one can best grow in a creative, collaborative environment. That said, silence and the opportunity to focus inwardly is essential to making good work. Finding the balance and way to make that work is as important to ARTMAKING as the ideas we grow and develop into something significant.

From: Marilyn H — Apr 13, 2012

Luscious colors. Sketches look finished to me.

From: Jan Milner Cole — Apr 13, 2012

Wow, they are sketches? They look like finely ddetailed finished artworks. Even my finished artworks are much much messier than your lovely sketches.

From: sue huppi — Apr 13, 2012

Great to see your work-especially like the light on your white trees. I find workshops and classes stimulating-but admit it’s vital to keep on painting/drawing. (Now I have to practice what I preached!)

From: Vic Taylor — Apr 15, 2012

The problem is not how to be happy – we are all naturally & intrinsically happy – the difficulty is to avoid unhappiness – which can impact on us from many sources especially in today’s smash & grab culture which values money more than people.

From: Vivian Ryan — Apr 15, 2012

Richard Alm’s work is excellent. I had better get started by going to my room. As a fibre artist, in a slump, I think I can do some small works and get myself going again. Great idea. Enough with the pity party!

From: Gus – the neighbour’s scottie — Apr 16, 2012

It has been a delight and an honor to be able to walk by Richard Alm’s ‘back alley art studio’, stop and chat, and watch the amazing development of a true artist. Can’t wait to see the next 149 ‘sketches’. For Carol A. regarding the golf ball: The size of the golf ball personifies Richard’s optimistic approach to life. Most would see a difficult shot – the ball surrounded by brambles and roots. Richard sees it as an opportunity and a challenge to be better than most.

From: Gus – the neighbour’s scottie — Apr 16, 2012

It has been a delight and an honor to be able to walk by Richard Alm’s ‘back alley art studio’, stop and chat, and watch the amazing development of a true artist. Can’t wait to see the next 149 ‘sketches’. For Carol A. regarding the golf ball: The size of the golf ball personifies Richard’s optimistic approach to life. Most would see a difficult shot – the ball surrounded by brambles and roots. I think that Richard sees it as an opportunity and a challenge to be better than most.

From: Dianna D. Williams/ARTS — Apr 16, 2012

Good Evening – what a wonderful gift that The Lord has given to you regarding your art abilities. Your art is so precise, at first, I thought that they were photos………are you using oils? Yes, I would make giclee prints on watercolor paper……..Dianna

From: B J Adams — Apr 19, 2012

I doubt my creativity has declined although i find myself having too many ideas to pursue and hoping my time isn’t limited. Last year on my birthday i promised friends, family, and myself that I would create/paint/draw, etc., 80, 8 by 8 inch, artworks by my next birthday this year to celebrate my 80th. I made it a week before my 81st and am so tired of that size. I will not make that promise again (100, 10 by 10 inch, artworks for my 100th?) but it did cause me to rethink and plan to have a variety of images. Some should be burned and some I like but that is the way it goes. I doubt age had any play in the year of 8 by 8’s, as I was able to accomplish a few other artworks…..and now plan to cover, learn and review more of the Art Apps on the iPad, to be entered on my blog. Washington DC but now in Southern California for another week.

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Big wave

mixed media painting, 24 x 24 inches by Colin Whitebread, 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 Claudia Roulier of Idledale, CO, USA, who wrote, “I know that the Scandinavian countries have the highest suicide rate in the world. It seems to me that this study may be flawed.” And also Fran Steinmark of Florida, USA, who wrote, “Your letter made me feel happier today.”    

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