Our learning curve


Dear Artist,

The twice-weekly responses to these letters give a good idea of what’s on the minds of a world of artists. The ultimate in artist statements, they are first-person slices; honest, true to life. They are remarkably free of the artificiality and artspeak that characterize so much of art writing. They tell of fears, problems, triumphs, losses and epiphanies. Some ask genuine questions that demand genuine answers. Some are angry or even mean-spirited, others are as sweet as a bowl of fresh peonies. My inbox sometimes jingles with needs for private response or the retreat to telephone technology. It overflows with friendship. Sometimes two or more artists vibrate on precisely the same frequency and we are able to bring them together. At other times new and as yet unexamined ideas jump from cyberspace into our collective face. Apart from my uncontrollable compulsion to paint every day, clicking “receive” has been one of the main reasons for my current bout of early rising. To those artist-writers who constantly amuse, inform, emote, and confront, we all say “Thank you.” On behalf of the thousands of subscriber-artists who never write, but who read the material as religiously as I do, we also say “Thank you.”

Twice weekly — as you may have noticed — we generally publish about ten responses. Today we’ve decided to publish a “Special Edition.” It’s about three times as many as usual. And, as usual, we have edited quite substantially to get to the nub of what artists are saying. As with all previous responses, this resource will stay on the internet forever. After all, what we do, what we think, what we are — is timeless. This “Special Edition” is what artists are saying about happiness, words, politics, joy. Please take a look by clicking Word training” .

Writing and painting are sister arts. One enhances and builds the other. While some of us may not be proficient in both, it’s still a mighty useful exercise. In these responses, even between the lines, artists are seeing themselves in a marvelous mirror.

Best regards,


PS: “The positive thing about writing is that you connect with yourself in the deepest way, and that’s heaven. You get a chance to know who you are, to know what you think. You begin to have a relationship with yourself.” (Natalie Goldberg)

Esoterica: Writing these twice-weekly letters and digesting the responses has been a tremendous learning curve. In so doing we both have gained a better understanding of ourselves — our goals, joys and self-images. I can’t tell you the excitement I feel when artists write to say they have seen themselves and they are now touching the stars. It’s all so beautiful. As Vincent van Gogh wrote to his supportive brother Theo: “As I’m so busy with myself right now, I want to try to paint my self-portrait in writing.”

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.


Concern for the lives of others
by Mary-Jo Rusu, Windsor, Ontario, Canada

I wish to thank the artist-writer from Iraq in previous responses for sending his own words and feelings our way. I want him to know that many Canadians and Americans also fear and worry about the lives of the Iraq people given the current march towards war. I have read about your suffering and talked to other people from Iraq. I hope there is still a possibility of peace. I hope and pray that you and your loved ones will be safe. Please know that there are many people around the world who care about your situation.

(RG note) Several artists wrote with this message. The letter she mentions is at the bottom of Your thinking words.


The unique Jamaican language
by John Hadley

I appreciate your point about using positive language, and I thought you might enjoy looking at the history of the Jamaican language that grew up under slavery. The slaves in Jamaica, speaking different languages brought from their respective regions, appropriated English, but chose to alter it slightly, perhaps intentionally just enough that the British would have a hard time understanding it, while making it easier for each other to comprehend. They achieved this by changing words that sounded like they went against their own meaning; e.g., because the word “oppression” sounds as if it contains the word “up,” while denoting conditions that are definitely not taking humanity upwards, the word became “downpression.” Conversely, “understanding” became “overstanding.” “I and I” as “I” or “we” connotes the underlying (or should I say overstanding?) unity of our shared human experience and lineage. I personally find this intriguing, causing me to question how we unwittingly catagorize, separate, and stratify each other and our experiences through inherited and acculturated habits of communicating.


Big silk screens
by Moncy Barbour, Lynchburg, Virgina, USA


painting by Moncy Barbour

I have had trouble finding silk screens that are large enough for my projects. Dick Blick Inc. directed me to a gentleman. He will build a screen as large as I want within reason, but I have to pay well for it. This time my screen will be {print area} 3×3 feet — the image is of Andy Warhol with a leather jacket on and his arms folded while laid back in a chair asleep. This gentleman said that the photo I sent him was excellent. So I do not know how many runs that I will make but it will be expensive for the prints will be on painted canvas. The Price of each will be $25,000.00. The online gallery that I am with at this time only insures paintings up to $75,000.00. The only artist on there with a painting for that price {$75.000.00} is Peter Max. I love Peter’s work! Anyway, wish me luck. Sometimes you get what you ask for? About Warhol: at first he had his mother sign his work because her script was so pretty. He was something else.


An American Thanksgiving
by Dick Hoyer, Hawaii, USA

My only formal training was a drawing course or two at a local museum, otherwise I’m self-taught. More than 20 years ago, I apprenticed under the finest stained glass artist in Hawaii — and learned basic design and construction techniques. A few months ago, my wife left me, (I assure you, many great thanks for her actions) and I was released to pursue a vision. I took out my full-size drawings, showed them to the now best stained glass artist in Hawaii, and was immediately offered financial support — he’ll pay for all the materials and split the sale price 50/50 — and, will create a one-man show for me this November. This happened literally within weeks of my divorce notice.

I suppressed my artistic desires during my 20 year marriage, supplanted by a series of management, marketing, sales and customer service jobs. Yet, I continued designing, hiding them in a closet, ” …for someday.” “Someday” arrived just after the American Thanksgiving, only a month after “The Event,” as I call my wife’s divorce decree delivery. Minutes after I showed my stained glass artist/shop owner my designs, he made his offer. We met for the first time in those same minutes. Now that I am fully involved in producing a series of pieces — some 18 are needed to fill the space used (a well-known restaurant in the Honolulu financial district) — I see what he saw: A chance to “shake up” the rather staid, though very active, stained glass industry here. So far as I can tell, no one is producing “erotic” stained glass, at least not here.


Words for the benefit of others
by Jan Heck

I am so encouraged by your letters that many times I forward them to our son. He is in a battle of depression and about to be evicted. He went through a bitter divorce and has never been able to go forward and I pray some of your letters have been an encouragement to him as they have been to me. I sent him some books from your letters on As a Man Thinketh but there has been no response as of yet. I find myself digging deeper inside for the little girl in me that loves art and have had so many distractions the past three years with our son that we had to tell him he has to begin directing his thoughts in a positive direction and the past, especially a past that hurt, behind him and move forward. He loves music, art and poetry writing and that is why I send him your letters.


Words and gender
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA


drawing by Kelly Borsheim

I have a difficult time imagining a world without duality. Often that thought, especially in current world situations, is horrible; but in many other (less-threatening) instances, this duality is rich. In the English language, at least, we do not have an adjective that does not have an opposite. In response to the woman raising her daughter on “she” instead of “he,” I hope that she will be careful with this. Sometimes in an attempt to find our own voices, we put down or distance ourselves from the voices of others. Male domination may be “bad,” but men are not necessarily so. Women have always had a power of their own. Even in a female-dominated society, men would still have their own type of power. This also applies to race, nationality, and any grouping of people. We must raise our children to learn how to see and develop their own strengths and gifts, to appreciate those in others, and to listen to all criticism and then discard that which they believe is inappropriate to their own desired voice, while using that which they choose to keep to better themselves and help others. Incidentally, sailors often refer to their ships as “she.” Perhaps this is because they not only love the life she provides, but they also realize they depend on her for their very survival.


Word lunacy a route to creativity
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, California, USA


Alex Nodopaka photo

I very much appreciated your essay on the success-required vocabulary for the artist. You are absolutely correct that one’s vocabulary is a psychosomatic signal characteristic of either one’s success or failure. The seed of one’s personality resides in one’s manner of thinking and therefore speaking and projecting one’s image if not one’s state of mind. A positive and a clear vocabulary is an important step in one’s self-promotion. With that in mind I follow with some gibberish that defines a particular state of mind. Based on its reading one could judge the writer by his writing and form a definitive opinion.

I am also a word-starved artist because art word definition disorder is something I know of also but my question is also “Are there any words within the writer?” Anyone with an artist in their words triggers me into knowing of your intentioned truths. Yes, I want to know of anyone who will drive me up with words and I’ll connect with them. This person you know will drive me to eradicating any of my interest in communicating with anyone because I can certainly relate to irradiating but not to eradicating.

Word definition disorder is chewing this artist’s inventions and as you say the abuse of words is way ahead of peppermint cucumber sausage-paste-butter! Oh dear! I know also of someone else who is coming very close to winking and yawning at the funny things that are way ahead of my hamming. If anyone has an interest in a pet with ten cats about my intentional lies, let me know. Sing if you dare to sing if you sing with this trick and please let me know if that artist’s trick is trickier than mine! For instance, I do not like pickled hamburger cheese but I do tricks with words and I dare to write to the happiest person with words as I drive you out of your mind with my many words. But if I don’t, then please let me wink and I’ll connect you with ten cats on fifty hippopotamus’ backs! It follows that the lunacy of my integrity is something I do with words and not my mouse.


The pressure for realism
by Sylvia Tucker, Medford, Oregon, USA

There will always be people who prefer realism and who will try to encourage artists to feel guilty for trying any other approach. They don’t want you to do something they don’t understand. And there are plenty of contemporary painters who are scornful of anything realistic. This all has nothing to do with art, only psychology — people consciously or unconsciously trying to control others rather than supporting their creativity in all ways. When push comes to shove, as hard as it is, you have to believe in yourself, you have to follow your heart, and you have to start looking for fellow artists who appreciate what you are trying to do. They are quietly out there. You were very wise to develop the series before you exposed it to people; that helped give it strength. Take time to consider that your realistic friends have every right to believe their ideas, they just happen to be wrong about you. And now that you have your slides, you can send them to other competitions.

(RG note) This is a direct response to a question from Katelyn Alain who asked a question in the previous responses Word training.


Columbia disaster: Last re-entry
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, California, USA

painting by Julie Rodriguez Jones

Yesterday’s disaster deeply effected our nation. I woke up early to see the shuttle fly over the Bay Area. I went outside several minutes early and was disappointed to see the morning fog obscuring my view with only a few pockets of deep, dark sky showing through. I prayed that it would clear in the few remaining minutes before the narrow, two minute window of visibility. I heated some coffee and went back out. In that brief time, the heavens opened up and only a halo of fog surrounded the distant hills. At 5:54 a.m. my son spotted the shuttle, as shown above, emerging from an area of sky above the Golden Gate. It was glorious. Its silent beauty was dazzling. It was the type of image I love most, simple, yet stunning. We looked in awe as it sailed across the sky into the distant, fog-shrouded horizon. Minutes later as I was describing the observation of a lifetime to art colleagues on line, a message arrived from a friend to turn on the news. I was overwhelmed with sadness. My memories took me back first to 1967 as I remembered coming home from school to hear about Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Names forever etched into my memory. I remember Challenger in 1986, 17 years ago almost to the day and now February 1, 2003.

My son has asked why this is so tragic for me personally because I did not know them and many others on Earth will also die today, whose lives are no less valuable.

I thought for a moment and realized that these seven men and women represent the best in us — the right stuff. Passion. Curio sity. Courage. Service.


Reproductions a win/win situation
by Heather Matthews, Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

Boy, I am so confused. Letters to the Painter’s Keys are often referring to the lack of sales of works, therefore lack of money to artists. So many other letters have poo-pooed reproductions as a fraudulent, even underhanded, method of distribution. I don’t get it. My reasons for painting are pretty simple; I love it, I can do it, and I want to share that with an audience. I paint happy pieces that make people smile, and in turn that makes me happy. However, I can only paint so many, and marketing, sales, inspiration, houses, husbands, day jobs, children, naps, and lunches out all take time. I don’t think that the only reason anyone does creative work is to make money — in fact I’m quite sure that many artists have little or no interest in the dollars and do the work for the sheer joy of it. That’s wonderful. However I’m not one of those. I love the fact that with new technologies getting reproductions of my work is easy and affordable, both for me and my clients. At a show last fall I had an original (16×24) on display that had been sold for $300. I also had smaller repros of three similar works (11×14) I happily explained to interested parties that the repros were just that; that they wouldn’t last forever as an original would, etc. etc…I only had 4 or 5 serious inquiries about the original, even though it seemed to be admired by most. But the repros sold like hotcakes. The fact that someone can own and enjoy an image of mine for $20, or whatever, thrills me to bits!!! Does that make me less than a “serious artist”? Maybe. Does that make me a good business person? Perhaps. Does it fulfill my personal mission — to create a happier and prettier world? You bet. Selling art, like selling cars or cruises, is pretty easy — offer the buying public something new that they love at prices they can afford and add great value. Abracadabra!! Magical sales, and win-win relationships.


The artistic journey
by Monika El-Seroui, Graz, Austria

I would like to thank you for all your efforts to keep us together, enabling us to share our thoughts, feelings and experiences! I think (everywhere and from time to time) our stand as an individual, an artist believing in him/herself is many times difficult, even to the extent of being not sure of him/herself, especially concerning in the pursuits for the freedom of expressing our feelings in form and/or color. Our times are fast, forgetting the yesterday in many ways, and here to have the possibility to share, to ask, or read opinions and experiences what other artists or sometimes gallery-owners or teachers have “collected” through their artistic journey of life is just wonderful.


Best thing for artists on the web
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada


painting by Mary Jean Mailloux

I’ve been internet connected for about 4 years. I’ve looked around cyberspace for like minded, like interest groups, and the Painter’s Keys site is the best. The letter, the comment, the inspiration exchange. It’s well moderated, well maintained, and it serves the arts community very well by showing what the rest of the world is doing in art, how art is affecting the rest of the world (or not) and by providing a space where artists can express their opinions and have them read by people who will understand and appreciate the content.




by Karen Phinney, Halifax, Canada

I began to think, as I read so many letters, that there is certainly a growing awareness of our connectedness, and our evolving consciousness in this world. I see it everywhere, now, and it blows my mind! We are evolving as a species, into one that is aware that we are all joined, and that to reach out and connect is one of the most powerful acts there is. The world at large will be healed, when we recognize that beyond our self-interest, we are one. And healing the world depends on each and every one of us feeling that way. You are providing a valuable and wonderful service with your letter, and I ask myself: “how does he do it?” “How does he find the time for all of this, so much caring attention to this, and still find time to create art?” But, bless you that you do, for we are all richer for it.


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, 2003.

That includes Susannah Wagner Merritt who wrote, “Did you know that watercolors were one of the experiments the astronauts were conducting before they died in the space shuttle? Some school children thought of the process and sent along a paintbox. We lost some painting buddies today.”


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