In praise of crazy


Dear Artist,

Some people think she’s crazy. She’s a bronco-busting, motorcycle-riding, video-making, sky-diving, giant-picture-painting kind of girl. She makes loud noises in social situations. “Man, look at that tree,” she shouts. She can laugh like a logger and giggle like a baby. She disappears from view for long periods of time — nobody knows where she is.


“Woman with Raised Arms” 1936
oil, charcoal and sand on canvas 50 x 61 cm
by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Zoe has what appears to be irrational exuberance as well as private enthusiasm. No grass grows between her feet. She moves too fast for passersby to even pick at her lint. Affected? I’m not sure — but she does come from a long line of sobersides.

Zoe’s energy focuses right down to the tip of her brush. While she has not always been a professional, she is now. Her overt craziness is the flip side of a serious passion. As long as I’ve known her she has been able to face down fears and reversals. She’s both a worker and a dreamer. She goes for the bull’s eyes that she sets up for herself. When she misses, she laughs out loud.


“Seated Woman in Blue Dress” 1939
oil painting 70 x 60 cm
by Pablo Picasso

In degree there’s a Zoe in all of us. A quiet smile — seeing the silly side. It may be a tell-tale for the right-brain, left-brain yin-yang. Humour sees incongruity and makes inappropriate connections. Humor takes imagination — a jump from the ordinary to the extraordinary. That’s art. It’s Picasso’s bull made out of bicycle parts. It’s Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture “Fountain,” made out of a urinal. It’s Georgia O’Keeffe’s iris petals, Turner’s magical light, Monet’s shimmering water-lilies, Gauguin’s red skies, Dali’s moustache. It’s the transformation of commonplace reality into individualist personality. Video-makers like Zoe know that invention is the mother of invention. Motorcyclists like Zoe know that there is Zen in riding and maintaining. Painters like Zoe know that there’s value in thrill and play, in being loose and goofy, in giving every dumb idea an opportunity to breed. When Zoe jumps from aircraft, she is in the company of a great guru.


“Reclining Woman Reading” 1960
oil on canvas 51 1/4 x 77 1/4 inches
by Pablo Picasso

Best regards,


PS: “Many blocked creatives tell themselves they are both too old and too young to allow themselves to pursue their dreams. Old and dotty, they might try it. Young and foolish, they might try it. In either scenario, being crazy is a prerequisite to creative exploration.” (Julia Cameron)

Esoterica: Zoe says, “Choose to be a baby. Ask how would a baby handle this. See the world with baby eyes. Babies are seeing everything for the first time. Cool.” I ask Zoe what is her main secret. “Secret” It’s what Peter O’Toole said at the Oscars: “Private study.” Crazy?

This letter was originally published as “In praise of crazy” on March 25, 2003.


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

“One must act in painting as in life, directly.” (Pablo Picasso)




  1. Crazy is, as crazy does. Up before dawn to grab the bags, fly to Santa Fe and participate with 1000 other crazies participating in an event that makes you realize you are not alone. The Plein Air Convention is in full swing and I am here to tell you, its windy in Santa Fe! Hold on to your hat…

  2. Mary Manning on

    It took most of my life to embrace crazy and to let its energy create art. In these times, crazy is safer.

  3. I just wondered if you ever published your fathers
    “How to be an artist” notebook mentioned in the 2016 letters. I would love to purchase a copy if it’s out there. Thanks Bonnie

  4. Can I find the work of Zoe in the internet? I am asking a sort of rhetorical question here because I have the feeling that Zoe is a representation of feeling, emotions, wantons, etcetera, that we already have within ourselves, somethings that we need to let it out to roam free and do crazy things once in a while. Her description is something close to how I am. Empiricism at it’s best.
    Thank you, Sarah.

  5. Barbara Belyea on

    Love Zoe!! Thanks for letting us meet her and for the affirmation that we all have something of her inside.

  6. I always believed craziness is what creates art because you’re doing it for yourself and yourself alone. All artist are crazy in some way. Like the universe, chaotic and beautiful and inspiring. I love Zoe seeing the world through baby eyes.

  7. Yes, Zoe is a universal phenomenon, living in each of us and expressing herself through our crazy creations….no art can be serious enough to create pathos…its darkest side also provokes light in viewers…
    Let us celebrate Zoe in each artist…

  8. I love my craziness! Its what lives inside me that gives the spark for art! I’m happy to know now I’m not alone as I’v been led to believe!!

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