It’s our behaviour


Dear Artist,

In this studio, a high percentage of inbox letters are from artists complaining about things. Some are like leopards jumping out of the screen, clawing wildly. As I like to keep our website fairly positive, some of this growling gets answered personally. A lot of complaints are about art dealers, art clubs, and general and specific lack of support.


“Mona Lisa, Age Twelve” 1959
oil and tempera on canvas, 211 x 195.5 cm
by Fernando Botero (b.1932)

Other complaints include the state of the economy and personal frustrations. Many of these are real and genuine, but I always think how things might improve if artists were to bend their own behaviour. I’ve noticed that some artists thrive in all seasons — in sunshine and in rain. They somehow rise above misfortune and the influence of problematic others. It’s more than a shield that they carry — it’s how they are. Without claiming any kind of uniformity, artists who thrive often have a certain kind of behaviour.

A lot of this behaviour has to do with what these artists have to say. I recognize that in certain environments it’s difficult to keep optimistic, to keep a smiley face. That’s one of the reasons why thriving artists tend to avoid certain environments. Because we’re a most specialized type of creator-entrepreneur, we have to develop specialized techniques to maintain our rights-of-way. As well as becoming masters, some of us become masters at avoiding the negative. “Don’t, can’t, won’t,” and a pile of others get purged from vocabularies. We retrain ourselves to be positive beings. Pundits like Deepak Chopra and David Simon have written books on this sort of self-management. We artists need to customize this knowledge to suit our profession.


“Self-portrait as Velasquez” 1986
oil on canvas, 218 x 175 cm
by Fernando Botero

Each and every artist is a unique island — living with a unique set of expectations and conditions. Self-management and self-education start with introspection. Quietly and in our own lairs we owe it to ourselves to take a look within — to get an understanding of who we are and why we do the things we do.

Inside, we creators are a pretty interesting bunch. I’ve spent a lifetime observing and trying to fathom the artistic mind. One thing I’m pretty sure about: Leopards can change their spots.



“Untitled” 1963
oil on canvas, 36 x 36 cm
by Fernando Botero

Best regards,


PS: “Use language that is empowering rather than victimizing. When we say, ‘I feel neglected. I feel betrayed. I feel humiliated,’ we are requiring someone else to change their behaviour in order to change our feelings. Rather, describe your internal state using language such as, ‘I feel sad. I feel empty. I feel lonely.’ Taking responsibility for your feelings enables you to make the changes you need to feel better.” (David Simon)

Esoterica: Never underestimate the value of friendship. Clear friendships are made by those who stake their territory and claim their rights-of-way. Friendships are earned. One of the reasons the Painter’s Keys works for artists is that it’s loaded with opportunities for friendship. One way the word gets around is that owners of large and small group-mail lists are including some of these twice-weekly letters as content. If you are thinking there might be value in this idea for your friends, please let us know.

This letter was originally published as “It’s our behaviour” on December 14, 2004.


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.

“The richness of an artist is the fusion of influences that have shaped his life and work.” (Fernando Botero)




  1. I love the quote at the bottom. I wrote the same thing in a paper last week but somehow needed 3 sentences to say it. Thanks for your efforts Sara I do enjoy reading these.

  2. Your dad was so smart, diplomatic, encouraging, and generous. Thanks for keeping his letters going. A lo of Botero’s work is so charming and whimsical. One day I will learn to let go and let my imagination have its way

  3. SERIOUSLY? On the heels of How To Be A Quitter you post It’s OUR Behavior? Cute. Blame thousands of years of outside negativity on US. It’s all OUR fault. WE simply don’t have a positive enough attitude. I’m thinking the mid-2000s was when I first encountered Robert’s Twice-Weekly Letter. But I don’t remember this one.
    I have a painter friend here in Denver who grew up with an aunt who recognized his creativity early and did whatever it took- money- supplies- schooling- so that when he became an adult he simply knew he could go out into the world and create and he’d be just fine. He is the ONLY person I know with that kind of background/upbringing.
    Most of us grow up in environments that are some mix of contempt- disdain- rejection- disbelief- and all around general negativity. And it destroys the creativity in most of us. So for anyone supported early by your (god) parents and your siblings and your teachers- recognize just how good you had it- because most of us are handicapped by the very forces that should have been our support system. And that’s criminal.
    The mundane world fears the creative edge. It mirrors back at it- its own state of lack. So it seeks to make us creators feel less-than- not good enough- to inhibit the creative edge from fully manifesting its potential. And we’re just supposed to fight against that outside negativity- because supposedly- if we make it out alive we will have developed some kind of *character*. Whatever. It’s all a load of bull. So yes- absolutely- no matter the horror you’re experiencing- just be positive! YOU change YOUR attitude. That’ll solve everything.
    It can literally take decades to peel back the layers of self-destructive negativity that are piled on creative children by everyone and everything around them. Anybody who did not experiences some aspect of this truly is lucky. Maybe our culture is changing- but it’s more likely that for all the positive things that may be happening- some are still doubling down on the negativity and dumbing down anyone they can.
    Self-growth is work. However- the deck shouldn’t be stacked against us before we even begin. So yes- take on the work. Do the work. Get out of whatever hell you happen to find yourself in. And never stop creating. But first- take off the black-rose colored glasses you were inhibited with early and often- by HOW our culture views us creatives- and trash them.
    And I responded to all of your comments on the last post…

    • Dear Bruce,
      I read a book entitled Mans Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, a prisoner during the holocaust and a psychiatrist. He said the one thing that helped him survive was he had one freedom left, the freedom to choose his attitude. Once he was no longer a prisoner and free to return to his profession, his practice focused on not what people have experienced, but how to move forward. it’s not an easy road, but if we can surmount the pain and horrors we’ve experienced by looking forward at what we have the power to control and do and become, we can thrive. it’s where we place our attention that defines who we are. Good luck Bruce. it takes character to rise above. David Brook’s book The Road to Character offers guidance on how to become your best self.

      • Hi Nancy. I do not want to negate your commentary here. I’m simply trying to expose the absurdity of thinking that changing one’s attitude will solve the problems of humanity- especially as those problems center on human creativity. So yes- I’m sure Victor Frankl changing his attitude about his experience helped him to move forward- and good for him.
        We exist in a cultural system designed to support (and control and repress) the sheep- not the visionaries. Visionaries exist beyond the ability of sheep to even comprehend. Sorry. So- yes- one has the freedom to choose one’s attitude. But then what?
        I choose to get up almost every day and go to work creating art. And I choose to have a *positive* attitude- based in decades of work- and decades of struggle- and decades of success- and times where I was one step off the street- and times when I had a modicum of assistance- and times where I was making sales- and times where I didn’t even have a bank account- much less have any money in one. Today- after the one check I have out right now clears- I’ll have $5.00 left. And I’m $6,000.00 in debt. But hey! I feel great about that!!! Why? Because TODAY I didn’t kill myself. Yet.
        My character was created through a process of abuse. And then it was honed during a time of massive DEATH swirling around me. A Holocaust. Because I exist in a heterosexist religionist culture that despises my very existence. Hatred. Everywhere. In almost everybody.
        Somehow I miraculously survived. So I have an incredible attitude about being alive- knowing the extraordinary loss I experienced- while never being able to- for even one second- actually get beyond the profound sorrow inherent in that loss. Is it too much for most people to handle? Absolutely. So I rarely even talk about it.
        I developed my character to the point I EVOLVED as a human being. I literally had no choice. And what did that do for me? It pretty much guaranteed I was going to be alone for the rest of my life. So good thing I can immerse myself full-time into my creativity. Right?
        So- again. I’m sorry. We don’t need to change our ATTITUDE. We need to change the system of belief that forces us into situations that were designed to destroy our inner connection to our creativity. And that is a culture-wide change. It is a system-wide change in the Belief Structures being held onto and supported by almost everyone that negate the arts. Why? Because it’s a system that allows Holocausts to happen.
        It’s time for the Human Species to make an evolutionary leap in Consciousness. And the only reason I’m still here is because I know that change is coming even though I know it will likely not happen during my lifetime. I’m a forerunner. And every chance I get I put another nail in the coffin of the system of belief that’s holding this reality together.
        I’m presently reading The Gene Keys (Embracing Your Higher Purpose) by Richard Rudd. It’s confirming (for me) what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years. On page 132 you’ll find this quote: “The Bodhisattva is a being who forgoes his or her highest state of consciousness in order to stay in the world and help others attain that state.”
        If I’d chosen MY highest state- I’d have left 30 years ago. I chose to stay. And now there are 30 more years of my creative expression on this planet.
        And what few realize is that a direct path to that state of consciousness exists- and is accessible through our Creative Expression. So we must destroy the system that believes we have no reason to be here- and that the arts are an afterthought- at best. And not just change our attitude about that system- but change that system itself- at its core.

  4. I walked away from making art as a young adult, influenced by the lack of representation of women artists in history and the world today, and believing I wasn’t good enough. I took it up again in mid-life, and it changed my life. Making art is a privilege. An important one, and one that sometimes generates income and fame. But the #1 reason I make art today is to restore myself to my BEST self. It helpd me be the person I want–and CHOOSE–to be in the world. I would love to make more money, to have a stronger reputation. But I make it for myself first. My next responsibility is to get it out into the world so that others can see it, enjoy it, and perhaps even collect it. And best of all, be inspired to make the same decision for themselves. But after it leaves my hands, I cannot control where it goes, how it’s received, nor what it will do for me. I am grateful I CAN do this, I am grateful it has lifted others, but mostly I’m glad it healed ME. I get as depressed as the next artist at slow sales, harsh comments (or worse, silence!) but when I go to my studio and work, I am at my best. That’s all I ask. And by the way, Sara et al., THANK YOU for the gift of these newsletters, for making them available at no cost (a growing rarity in this world today), and for continuing the precious legacy of your father. I share this resource whenever I can. You are a force for good, and light, in the universe, and I am grateful.

    • As a coordinator for an Art Gallery with a museum, I was appalled by the lack of professionalism of many of the artists that applied for a show with us. Our application process was made as easy as possible for the artists. When inquiries were received, we sent detailed instructions and an application form. A lot of artists seemed unable to follow the instructions and fill out the form. They simply did their own thing. In many cases, their own thing was a sloppy mess. One of these cases that stands out in my mind was a University Art teacher who sent in the worst application I’ve ever seen. I normally didn’t write any comments when we turned someone down but this struck me as ridiculous. Here was a man teaching artists and he couldn’t be bothered to send in a decent application for a show. He didn’t follow one instruction. What he sent was a mess. His art might have had a good chance of receiving approvable by the committee, but if a person can’t follow simple instructions in an application, the chances of following instructions for a show so he wasn’t even considered by the committee. Another artist that stands out was accepted for his sculptures, but when he showed up to install that show, he brought about thirty portraits, all exactly alike except for the subject matter….men and women who could have been anyone. Very boring and he insisted on having them hung in a very boring manner. He obviously never read the instructions or criteria.

      When I was taking art classes, our teacher brought in people to teach us how to photograph our art and how to write a resume and cover letter in a professional manner.

      I had an art history instructor who claimed that artists live in another world and aren’t capable of doing things the way the rest of the world does them. I say if an artist wants to succeed, they better learn how to do these things correctly or have someone do it for them, or they will never succeed in the “real world.”

      If you are an artist and frustrated that you can’t manage to get anyone interested in your art, I suggest you look at how you approach the business of art.

      • It is unfortunate the linear are the judges of the creative. 90% of the population are bean counters. They learn by rote. The remaining 10% are creative. This 10% is broken down into two groups. One group functions on the creative side of the brain and rarely does linear things well. The last group functions in both areas. If they are fortunate they learn to transition from one side to the other.

      • Lori Boyd- I’d love to look at your application. Just to look at it. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be current or real (for me). I’ve had my own run-ins with artists who couldn’t function in the illusionary world we call ordinary reality. It’s discouraging. But the truth is that many applications like yours have gone totally online. There are some things about that I can’t deal with. Like money transactions. If you feel like sharing:

    • Sorry to say, but yes, we are special.
      Just like a football player with extraordinary skills in running and ball handling or the comedian who is able to connect truth with humor touching an audience with deep understanding iin lightness….or that special person who can come along side at a moment of need when someone is grieving…these…are ‘gifts’…
      Not everyone has been allowed to or been taught to or knows how to express them. And there are levels…like it or not. We can all do our best, but our best is not always the same. Some are better.
      But, in all of it, no matter what the level, no matter what the gift or talent, ‘we’ are special. We do see things differently. We were meant to see things differently. Its our job to see from a different perspective. Whether we get paid or not. Or recognized. Humanity needs our ‘specialness’!

  5. I must take exception with both of the letters above. The population breaks down into 90% linear thinkers, ie bankers, accounts, people who count beans and bricks. The second group represents the 4% of the population who are truly creative and rarely do linear things well. The last group are the 6% who function on both sides of the brain. Many rarely recognize this, or if they do, they still struggle. There are a few who do recognize both sides and learn to move from one side to the other utilizing both.

  6. Marcel Kinsbourne has described the brain as a system of opponent processors represented in brain structure by three oppositional pairings. The left right hemispheres, the front and back of the brain and oppotional functions that exisst between the upper and lower regions of the brain. While the myth that creativity is the preserve of the right hemisphere of the brain, Roger Beaty, a post doctoral fellow in psychology at Harvard university, suggests that creativity involves the participation of the entire brain, an unusual thing for the brain to do. As a system of opponent processors, these systems neccessarily inhibit one anotherin order to do the work of their particular mode of operation. Kinsbourne has called this a winner takes all notion of lateral inhibition, meaning, the the network with the greatest degree of activation inhibits surrounding networks and therefore decrees the dominant focus. Beaty’s research examined brain activity while engaged in a creative endeavor with FMRI and EEG scanning and found a specific pattern of connectivity between three distinct brain networks. !. The default mode network, sometimes called the resting state, which is linked to daydreaming, imagining, letting the mind wander. 2. The salience network, responsible for identifying important information, and 3. the executive control network, which directs focus and attention. Beaty said “These networks don’t typically work together. Usually, one is activated and the other deactivates in response to it. And that makes sense because, for example if you are engaged in a task that involves a lot of cognitive effort, then you need to down regulate the default mode network. which involves more self-referential and spontaneous thinking and up regulate your executive control network to help focus. but what we saw in this task that involves “creative thinking” is that more creative responses were correlated with a sync between these three different networks that don’t typically work together.” Interesting stuff is it not. I like to think of the creative brain as optimum brain……
    I have spent the last two years researching creativity because I realized that NOBODY actually knew what it was exactly. Even the so called creativity research community, are directing the focus of their research around a definition of creativity that displays a blatant ignorance of the phenomenon. I have recently written the O(map) theory of creativity which identified creativity as a natural force, a force as yet unrecognized by the scientific community. My findings are as follows. “creativity is the life force of an evolving consciousness in space and time. They exist symbiotically, where creativity drives the expansion of conscious awareness which, simultaneously fuels creativity. It is ignited within the pheonmenological combination of mind (awareness), Matter (making) and time (playfulness) and is energized by the spectrum that arises within the oppositional modes of attention inherent in the structural organization of the human brain. The spectrum of creativity is comprised of spiral creativity at one end, (right hemisphere mode of attention or “O”) which actualizes “what is” and linear creativity at the other end (left hemisphere mode of attention or “>”) which achieves an identified goal.
    Consciousness external to awareness draws and informs spiral creativity. Conscious awareness drives linear creativity.”.
    I undertook this work because I believe, like J. Bruce, that a shift is coming. Because it has to or everything dies. That shift will be made possible by a greater understanding of creativity. We need to bring it out of the persistent rewards of it’s linear incarnations and rebalance by making a greater shift to the spiral. Spiral creativity is at at heart of all creativity, the linear is not possible without it. But spiral creativity is starved and drip fed on life support instead of being central, nurtured and encouraged.
    We are not in the job of making pretty objects. We are in the job of evolution.

    • Spiral creativity? Evolution? Haha, you are the sheep among the wolves hoping they will embrace vegetarianism. We the creatives are used, abused and trashed.

  7. Barbara McDowell on

    Interesting responses all. While it’s true enough that many of us have been more fortunate than other…have been fortunate to have had a good education, a stable life particularly in childhood, never been truly hungry, or had to wonder whether or not we’d have a roof over our heads…been spared great losses early in life and have not experienced the despair that so many people both in the USA and around the world experience.
    And yet…when has allowing oneself to steep in negativity and anger ever brought anything positive from anyone or any circumstance? However pie in the sky it may sound…it remains true that one is far more likely to receive even the warmth of a human smile or a simple touch by offering the same.

  8. I use what most people would consider garbage to create, use donated house paint, repurposed canvases, wood – you name it. Very rarely do I have what is considered artist materials to work with and yet I still make because I have to, want to, need to – it keeps me grounded and away from depression and anxiety. Do I sell? Not much. Do I care? No, not really. I probably couldn’t get a gallery to represent me if I tried. I sell at first Friday and use what little I get from my art to help me buy better art materials or pay the house payment, which ever is more pressing. I love creating. I grew up in crushing poverty, was an abused child and teenager- went through horrible relationships and am still in poverty and suffering bad health but I still make because I can. I think an artist is someone who creates despite what life has handed them. I don’t have an attitude. I feel blessed to wake up, go to my garage and make something. I never thought I would get rich as an artist. When I’m dead, I won’t care what happens to the pile of art stuffed away in my garage. While I breath, I’ll create whatever my hand can find to create.

  9. My mother and I were the poorest family of two in a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada many many many years ago. But there was something in me that always knew there would be enough. And there is and has been!! I also knew that I was the luckiest kid in town because not only did this wonderful mother (and father for a few years) adopt me but she loved me heart and soul. And I her.
    So now, and not with a shred of guilt, I will go forth and continue to live in my naiive awesome gossamer bubble of life. Robert got it right. Attitude!! Care to join us???

    In Light & Love,


    • And love, Verna, you had love! Love gives the confidence to live! Bravo to you and to all the other positive replies – an attitude of gratitude serves up far more of Life than the wingers will ever come to know!

  10. I do know the dark side exists, but it’s our job (or, mine, anyhow) :) to keep it positive! It’s super contagious, what goes round comes ’round, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this post. Merry Christmas, World! Paintings by Julie Northey on Facebook (I am so behind on my website) and (also behind on this, too) SMILE!

  11. Thank you for sharing this letter Sara. You and your Father are brilliant and bring so much food for thought. I do believe that living with gratefulness, positivity and Love creates change for ourselves and all who our lives touch.

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Featured Workshop

Watermedia Workshop in Greece with G. Politis AWS, RI
August 19, 2019 to August 26, 2019


Discover the majestic island of Santorini with George Politis AWS, SDWS, RI. Small and large format, painting in watercolour and other watermedia like watercolour pencils, acrylic inks and collage, learning techniques and how to see and find a subject (often far from the obvious). Boost the creativity by new inspirational ideas, winning techniques for an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Pure watercolour to mixed watermedia, realistic to abstract painting. All inclusive (course, hotel, all 3 meals per day, transportation in Santorini during the workshop).  Up to 12 artists, all levels accepted. series #1
Oil on canvas with pyrite and amethyst
48 x 48"/122x122cm

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Candace studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Angers, France but it is her travels in the deserts of Africa and Oman, Antarctica and the Arctic, and sacred sights of Machu Picchu and Petra that serve as her true place of learning. A desire to combine these experiences with a deeper understanding of her own spirituality has provided the underlying focus and inspiration for her paintings.


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