Know your value


Dear Artist,

When I was a student at Art Center School in Los Angeles, California, I used to lift the odd glass at a certain suburban bar. One evening I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman who looked vaguely familiar. When he said something to the bartender I knew immediately it was Stan Laurel. Stan, if you remember, was part of the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. We struck up a conversation. Stan told me that Oliver Hardy, the round one, had died some years before. He also told me that he was now living in reduced circumstances, having, he said, “sold my rights to the films for a low price.”


“The Muse” 1935 
oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm
by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

I told Stan Laurel that I thought his films were classics. He informed me that they were all dated anyway: “In black and white, you know, people want color now. Some of them don’t even have sound. I doubt they’ll go anywhere.” He also told me, “We put a lot of care into those old movies, and if we didn’t get it right, Hal Roach would let us shoot the scene again in the morning.” Poverty stricken though I was, I bought Stan Laurel a gin and tonic.




“Cage with Owl” 1947
oil painting by Pablo Picasso

At the easel it’s a good idea to pay attention to the possibilities. Everything made with love and craft has the potential to become classic. In a way, we fine artists have it the best of all because we have control. We are writer, director, cameraman, actor and editor. Things can get messed up if we get lazy, sloppy, thoughtless, impatient, or, like Ollie in his movies, stupid. That’s why it’s all so very important that we bring to each work our personal best. That’s just one of the reasons to sit back every so often and take a look at where this thing is leading. Trust your own value. Look into the future. This stuff has legs. You will hear yourself saying, “It’s worth the effort.” Sometimes you might even have to shoot it again in the morning.


“The Breakfast” 1953
oil on canvas, 130 x 98 cm
by Pablo Picasso

Best regards,


“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win.” (William Shakespeare) “What a fine mess you’ve got us in now Ollie.” (Stan Laurel)

Esoterica: Stan Laurel died soon after I met him. His films live again through a medium he could not have foreseen in the ’20s and ’30s. They have been restored, revived and put into cans for an eternity of laughs. “Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short.” (Seneca)

This letter was originally published as “Know your value” on April 23, 2002.


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

John Ruskin: “The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?” Whistler: “No. I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.” (James Abbott McNeill Whistler)



    • I like Laurel and Hardy and gin and tonic. Here’s a great title, “I bought Stan Laurel a gin and tonic”. Now someone put a painting to it. I have a vision of a painting….

    • And I love that Robert bought ME a gin and tonic!! But in 2012, when he was not poverty stricken. Now how cool is that to be distanced from Stan Laurel not by 6 degrees of separation, but by 2. At least, I think that is how the Theory of Six Degrees of Separation works.

      “The theory says that each of us is just 6 introductions away from any other person on the planet. Any two strangers are on an average distanced by precisely 6.6 degrees of separation. You are one degree away from everyone you know, two degrees away from everyone they know and so on so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of 6.6 steps. After checking 30 billion electronic messages among 180 million people in various countries, Microsoft researchers say the theory stands up in a world of 7 billion people.”



  1. As an artist in training, I am really beginning to appreciate what it takes to get it right. This post is a simple letter with lots of impact. Lots to like about the presentation, also. I especially like the Picasso paintings used to drive home the point. I’m not necessarily a fan of Picasso, but these paintings …. my gosh what brilliant compositions. The Whistler quote at the end is also fitting.

  2. Thank you kindly once again… I’m “stuck” indoors (BC wildfire smoke) and also, I have broken my toe/foot…needless to say there’s still many a moment savoured where I can create “something” and forget, momentarily, the pain… sometimes I don’t get round to reading the newsletters , but when I do, I enjoy them immensely; they are precious to me… like a fine meal shared with friends ! <3

  3. Love this letter , so much wisdom and life lessons in a short piece , showing we are beings, and our work items, to be truly valued – well done
    looking forward to your next letter

    mary of

  4. I loved this letter. Imagine meeting up like that. How priceless. Stan didn’t realize he is an icon and their films are ageless.
    Never doubt yourself just keep on plugging.

  5. Great quote from Whistler! I am basically a self taught painter and for years I struggled with my lack of formal education thinking that my work was less than those who held art degrees. When I turned 60 that struggle began to lessen. Now that I am 70 when asked, “Where did you learn to paint?” I answer confidently, “In my garage.” . And when asked, “How long did it take you to paint this?” I again confidently answer, “Over50 years.”

    • I too, love this letter, but, then, I loved all of Roberts letters. I was a loyal reader. I really identify with this letter. Years ago, before I had a wonderful teacher, I was a ‘closet painter. I was afraid that the work was stupid , so, I would hide them in the closet. . Looking back now, even though I was painting from “the seat of my pants”, I did a pretty good job. I still have that phobia and I am now a professional Artist. I heard one time that “those who think they can, can’t, those who think they can’t, can.” So maybe I’m in good company?
      Thank you Robert where ever you are!!

  6. I always used to think that once an actor or actress had appeared in movies, they were set for life financially. Or even if a famous rock musician — same. I’ve learned since that often people who appear successful can make bad choices for themselves, or be led astray but unethical managers, agents, etc. And that underneath it all, most of those high profile folks are just folks after all. Very sweet that Robert was able to buy this man a drink — G & T, very civilized.

    • Stan and Ollie were the first of the best comics… Eric and Ernie based there humour on them. Stan came from Ulverston in the Lake district. There used to be a centre there were you could see there old films…. there best was WAY OUT WEST… they did a little dance as they walked up the hotel steps … A CLASSIC……. ERIC HE RED

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I’m a contemporary painter who loves to travel the world over finding pictures to paint, and capture on photo…check out my website and travel with me on my blog “The Traveling Artist Blog.”


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