Keep moving


Dear Artist,

When I was a teenager I read a book by a hugely successful baseball player. He hadn’t always been successful, though. Early in his career, reporters referred to him as “poky” and “slow off the mark.” While he was talented and capable, he was on his way to the bush leagues when he saw the light. He got the idea that if he just started jumping around and looking active, he might build enthusiasm and proficiency. Reporters started saying he had “ants in his pants,” calling him “Fireball,” etc. Fact is, his game improved when he started jumping around.

Rouge Triomphant (Triumphant Red), 1959-1965 Sheet metal, rod, and paint 110 × 230 × 180 inches by Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Rouge Triomphant (Triumphant Red), 1959-1965
Sheet metal, rod, and paint
110 × 230 × 180 inches
by Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Recent research at the University of Central Florida in Orlando indicates that children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) may appear to be distracted by all that jumping and wiggling, but it’s really an effective method of keeping themselves focused. Teachers are now being advised to let the ADHD kids fiddle. While only about 3 to 5 percent of kids have ADHD, lots of others have it to a mild degree and many creative adults have it in spades.

While I’m a guy who mostly sits at an easel, I’ve always recognized the value of standing. Standing gives a painter more kinetic opportunity. Body movement and physical action become part of the creative act. At the same time, even an easily-propelled rolling chair can add to the art energy.

The Big Ear, 1943 Sheet metal, bolts, and paint 133 × 72 × 59 inches by Alexander Calder

The Big Ear, 1943
Sheet metal, bolts, and paint
133 × 72 × 59 inches
by Alexander Calder

Artists’ studios may be sanctuaries of soft music and prevailing peace, but artists themselves need to be whirling dervishes within them. A little calmness is a dangerous thing. Elbows out and flailing, back and forth, here and there, the active artist keeps the adrenalin flowing, the ideas evolving and the work falling from the easel. Curiously, the artist who jumps around is less likely to fiddle with his work.

Teddy Roosevelt, late of the Rough Riders, advocated “the active life.” He had the idea that mankind needed sheer movement to thrive and evolve. Not just a matter of jumping on the horse and riding off in all directions; human action also needed self direction and self management.

In their observation of remote cultures, anthropologists often find wild action and compulsive movement to be the precursors of skills and proficiency. It stands to reason this might work in our relatively sedentary culture. We may get better at what we do when we keep moving.

Five White Against Five White, 1973 Painted metal and wire standing mobile 41 × 48 × 29 inches by Alexander Calder

Five White Against Five White, 1973
Painted metal and wire standing mobile
41 × 48 × 29 inches
by Alexander Calder

Best regards,


PS: “Everything is in motion. Everything flows. Everything is vibrating.” (Dr. Wayne Dyer) “Learning is movement from moment to moment.” (Jiddu Krishnamurti) “It is difficult to steer a parked car, so get moving.” (Henrietta Mears)

Esoterica: The physicality of plein-air work is a good example. Getting the equipment out of the car, dragging it to the location, setting up and fighting the elements are all part of the action. In a way, every new set-up is out of the comfort zone. I’ve found that simply moving around magnifies the sense of event and stimulates quicker thinking. Last summer in the Rockies, we spied a young woman who was jogging in a tight circle around her easel. “It clears the brain,” she told us later by the fire. “We have to keep moving. Otherwise we’re slugs.”

This letter was originally published as “Keep moving” on April 21, 2009.

Alexander Calder by Agnes VardaScanned 12/12/2001 LandsHave you considered a Premium Artist Listing?  With each letter, an artist is featured at the bottom of this page. The Premium Artist Listings are a means of connecting artist subscribers through their work and cost $100 per year. Proceeds from each listing contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

I wish each and every one of you well during this global health crisis and encourage you to flatten the curve by staying at home with your creative materials. I hope our Painter’s Keys community can be a source of friendship and creative inspiration during this time and always.
In friendship, Sara 

“It whirls, it whirls.” (Alexander Calder)



  1. “Keep Moving” one of my favorite mantras….staring into a computer screen is its antithesis….so to everyone out there in this limbo land….get off your….and just do something! Don’t plan it….let the activity itself carry you away. I bet some great work will result from this time of uncertainty….unified diversity….diligent re-direction….perfect time to try something completely new!

  2. Cheryl Moore on

    YES Oh YES!! Thank you for this letter, it has allowed me to give myself permission to continue in my frenetic fashion.
    I find it impossible to stay on a painting for more than a day. It’s almost as though I have to get my thought down and completed in one session before it evaporates.
    I chided myself constantly for this lack of what I thought to be discipline. No more thanks to your letter!
    I am so relieved!!!
    Thank you thank you thank you!

  3. I think there is something in Painter’s Keys that has a mind (or mood) reader because frequently I find exactly the proper idea or perspective for what I need. This time that is true in spades! Thanks for your work and for Robert’s perpetual wisdom. Several times, in the past, I responded to his articles. I needed to learn that he is just as present in his wisdom today as at any time in the past. Once again, thank you, particularly in this time of enforced physical immobility that should lead us to greater understanding and practicing of intellectual, artistic, and spiritual action!

  4. Great advice coming from this post. Let’s all get going, especially now! A brisk walk outdoors is exhilarating and one can definitely keep their distance from one another doing this activity. Or, as is suggested in this article, go out and do some plein air painting. Thank you, Sara, for reposting it.

  5. Yes – that’s amazing – so true! I get bored very easily so if I painted the same thing and/or in the same style all the time it would get dull. It’s my flower/meadow paintings – oh and the hare ones – that sell consistently, but I do love painting them – but now and then I like the challenge of another subject, so I have a go (badly sometimes but that keeps me humble!!).
    A good tip – and joyous – is to put some music on – and dance. I often leave the painting and dance round the room and come back to the painting again still dancing in my head and somehow the paint is energised too!

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

Boldy Abstract 1 in Santa Fe, New Mexico with Cat Tesla and Julie Schumer
August 14, 2020 to August 16, 2020

Boldly Abstract 1

A 3 day Non-Objective Painting Workshop with Cat Tesla and Julie Schumer

in Santa Fe, New Mexico

21430382_10155774324159874_6088497063790208678_nExplore and develop your personal voice in the inspirational environment of Santa Fe.   We will explore composition, color, value and how to work on multiples at the same time.  Find your own signature with different mark making tools and learn how your marks enliven your paintings.   Learn how to harmonize any palette, move from analysis paralysis to painting success and to trust your artistic choices. This intensive 3 day workshop is perfect for the beginning artist who has some experience using acrylic paint.

August 14, 15, and 16

9 am to 4:30 pm

$950  Bring a friend and save $50 each Gulf Islands Afternoon 48 x 36 inch oil on canvas by Terrill Welch

Featured Artist

I am a landscape painter exposing the mystery in an ordinary day.


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.