The monastic artist

Dear Artist, I’ve never stayed in a monastery, but I’ve visited some, both East and West, and I’ve certainly bumped into a few monks. I’ve also known a few nuns, but not intimately. I was once offered a job as a missionary, but I didn’t like the position. But as for the painter, I like a monastic life. Mine’s not as rigid as the pros’. I rise early, paint before breakfast, correspond, paint, break briefly for a simple lunch, perhaps a brisk walk in the forest, maybe a snooze, then back to the studio. Dinner is at home with friends or family. I work each day until tired, read a bit, sleep well, and do it again the next day. Several days can pass without moving the car. It’s productive — the monastic life gets results. As Picasso said, “I like to live like a poor man with lots of money.” It’s all about the renewal and rebirth of life through creativity. Similar to the nuns who tend the fields, or the monks who labour in the hothouses, there’s satisfaction in growth, change, green shoots, raking up old leaves. Art reaffirms life and is in harmony with many universal principles. Perhaps the studio is even greater than the nunnery or the monastery. In the humble studio one hears the constant plop, plop, plop of product. Product that honours our land, our people, our earth. To be in touch with creativity on a daily, even hourly, basis may just happen to edge yourself closer to divinity. If our universe is indeed a creation, (an idea that competes with the idea that our universe is an idea) then perhaps we need to be on that wavelength. Pushing paint is a high calling. To do it well you need humility. You need to walk the walk. You need a well-regulated, simple life so that you might become both servant and student. And there’s another thing. It’s the fellowship of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood. They are all with us — the good and bad artists in the dusty books of history, in the galleries, in the promise of tomorrow’s children, or right here now as you meet them on this remarkable medium that befriends us all — even though we don’t really know each other. Art can take flight in an odd but active monastery. Best regards, Robert PS: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” (Matthew 6:28) Esoterica: Like Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline of the ancient Roman Catholic liturgy, or the five daily pauses of Islamic prayer, an artist can create defined spaces for reflection and contemplation. The creative monk recharges and begins again. Each pause may be heralded with a new squeeze of paint or a sharpening of tools. Thankfulness infuses every breath. Every new passage is a fresh test of studenthood, patience, applied joy and creative love.   Taking back the Artist’s world by Sandra Bos, Cookeville, TN, USA  

“Michael I”
original painting
by Sandra Bos

I love your ‘play on words’… it was good to have a giggle this morning. I also love your letter because it reminds me of those days when I spent quiet, contemplating, humble days, as a student. It was so wonderful and I miss those times. Your letter reminded me to take inventory of my world as an Artist. I spend way too much time thinking, and worrying about “stuff.” I’ve been wondering why my creativity and passion have been missing. I am going to work at ‘taking back my Artist world.’ I realize now that I need more quiet and alone time to fall head over heels, again, with painting, which of course is the love of my life.   There are 2 comments for Taking back the Artist’s world by Sandra Bos
From: Christiane Tsouo-Harvey — Sep 23, 2011

Thank you Sandra for this comment reminding us that we sometimes have empty spots without creating and the Painter’s Key is there to kindly nurture our artist journey and bring us gently to our passion to create

From: Jim Oberst — Sep 23, 2011

Great painting!

  No more traffic stress by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

“Consider the Lilies of the Field”
oil painting, 12 x 6 inches
by Diane Overmyer

I loved reading about your quiet lifestyle! Even though mine is not quite where yours is, I am heading in that direction! Since deciding to paint full time, my life contains much less stress! Today I had to run some errands in the city north of my home. As I was sitting in traffic waiting to get through a construction zone, I realized that the stress I was feeling was something rather foreign to me, since I don’t have to drive in heavy traffic very often anymore. And even though it can be stressful not having a standard source of income, such as one gets from a job, I will take that kind of stress anytime over all of the other types of stress I had with my previous jobs. I still don’t seem to have enough hours in the day to get everything done I would like to be able to do. But I am much less frustrated because I am able to put 100% of my energy into something I am really passionate about!!   What about time for Life? by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA  

“The View From Ginny’s Barn”
free-motion machine embroidery, applique, and quilting
by B.J. Adams

Your described monastic life sounds ideal. I’m glad you added, “correspondence.” That seems to be taking up more and more time in our lives, although it can still be a silent, lonely addition. However, you left out “Life.” By that I mean staying guests, cooking (creative at times), laundry, the breaking down in everything and anything in a house, or appointments. I love it when something is canceled and I have a wonderful full ‘found’ day, alone in the studio. My car can stay in the garage for several days, also, but now I must drive to my photographer’s… that, too, is the business of art.   There are 4 comments for What about time for Life? by B.J. Adams
From: Anonymous woman — Sep 23, 2011

Exactly so; if an artist had the luxury of a personal assistant to do all of those “life things” for them we all could enjoy a monastic life. Oh, wait, most men have wives. :-)

From: Lauren vonVesterfield — Sep 23, 2011

yes, I got that one too,,,dinner with friends and family means I am ‘in the kitchen’ making it all happen. That is why my balance is studio and the humble art of bringing friends and family together over a finely prepared meal.

From: Pamela Simpson Lussier — Sep 23, 2011

This is why I am selling the house and getting my husband and I a 1400 sq ft studio with those lofty ceilings for lofty thoughts Robert is always talking about. We will live in a smaller place with smaller housework load, no yard work. When I am at the studio I will be painting or doing business of art only. I will send my laundry out, no folding or matching socks.

From: Cyndie Katz — Sep 23, 2011

That’s why my studio is in my kitchen. Works great. I cook and paint pretty much simultaneously.

  Continuing joy and amazement by Stede Barber, Los Alamos, NM, USA  

“Mesa evening”
original painting
by Stede Barber

This is a most beautiful writings about art and the artist’s journey, perfect for me in so many ways. As inspiration to continue to do my art in the way that seems best for me. A reminder that I don’t have to define my work as “good” or “great,” or “in style” etc… I just need to continue in the joy and amazement of unfolding, learning, and the deeply patient exuberance of it all. It’s OK to feel — and enjoy feeling — like there is so very much more to learn. I am working on a thesis that art is an expression and experience of the Soul, and you have written so beautifully about just that.   There are 2 comments for Continuing joy and amazement by Stede Barber
From: Brenda W. — Sep 23, 2011

I would add ‘art is an expression and experience of the ‘Spirit’ (heart)….

From: Jo Bain — Sep 24, 2011

As I descend to my walk-out studio, I’m thrilled that an unfinished painting is waiting to communicate how it wants to be completed! We’re almost there! “Ghost Of An Albino Rhino”, inks and acrylics on 300 lb. Arches. Robert’s twice weekly letters continue to challenge. Thanks

  Peace descends in the studio by Julianne Biehl, Dallas, TX, USA  

“Patterns of the past”
watercolour painting, 28 x 17 inches
by Julianne Biehl

The simple joy of the daily creative life: no frills necessary, just fulfilling one’s mission here on earth. As I enter the quiet of my studio it becomes a holy place. I forget the rest of the world and my undone tasks and enter into a relationship with my art which is a form of meditation. I have often marveled at the peace that descends on my soul as soon as I cross the threshold. It is a gift given to the artist that is difficult to explain. It is a connection to the source of our creation for which I give an unspoken prayer of thanks.       Allow a painting routine by Jeanean Martin, Boyds, MD, USA  

“Sandia Mountain Valley”
oil painting, 24 x 36 inches
by Jeanean Martin

Although I have never felt quite like a monk in a quiet monastic environment due to a large bustling household, I have felt the need for a sense of isolation and actually am acutely aware that my best work is done in privacy. “Walking the walk instead of talking the talk” is probably the closest thing to the secret of making art. It is one of the most simple, yet profound statements. Simply talking about something will never get it done. I have surrendered to the idea of being a “famous” artist and have embraced the idea of being simply a “working artist.” I am a humble artist who is well aware of those painters of the past who have walked before me and have so much respect for their contributions. I like the idea Robert proposes: “You need a well-regulated, simple life so that you might become both servant and student.” Make the time and keep life as simple as possible so that the working day painting routine can happen. Through the work the creative process can take hold. Without the work there is no growth and the creative spark will die.   Women and the monastic life by Anne Shingleton, Tuscany, Italy  

“Model of the male brain”
bronze sculpture
by Anne Shingleton

I read and enjoy your letters, but on this occasion, with the greatest respect, I would like to point out a fundamental practical fact missing from your letter on the monastic painter’s life. Monks live collectively because the household work is divided between them all, within a strict routine, which enables some monks, not all, to have more free time in which to worship and do whatever monks do. For an artist without such a support system and having a small income, there would be little time to live the monastic life. Who cleans the house, pray? Who prepares the meals, does the shopping, and sorts out the bills and other daily problems? Who cares for the old folk, the children? The reality is a less romantic picture than you painted and must include all the household members. Being in touch with one’s paints on a daily, even hourly basis is wonderful, but for most women it is a rare luxury to find the time to do so. This simple fact partly explains why in our society there are more professional artist men than women. There are 8 comments for Women and the monastic life by Anne Shingleton
From: Victoria on Okinawa — Sep 22, 2011

Totally agree!!! Well stated!!!

From: Jeanne Marklin — Sep 22, 2011

And why is it that women artists give their precious time to managing a house and family life, even though they’d rather be making art? There is something wrong in a culture that makes the assumption that women will take care of the responsibilities of a family, while subjugating the joy that can be experienced through making art. It is so much the common way of life that questioining it is revolutionary. Although the questioning has been done for years!

From: Robyn Rinehart — Sep 22, 2011
From: Ruth Spooner — Sep 22, 2011
From: Jackie Knott — Sep 23, 2011

Yes, yes, and yes again, for all history and to the future. A monastic life has to be a selfish life, at least for the artist. Ladies, we can spew about this until we’re hoarse but most men don’t get it, nor will they ever. It is what it is.

From: Phil — Sep 23, 2011

I don’t necessarily disagree with the above comments. I would add, however, that the majority of students in the classes I take are women as well as in workshops I have attended. As a male and father of two children now grown, I never had time for anything other than sports or outings with them when they were younger. I don’t regret that, but we all make choices that sometimes preclude other activities in our lives. Many painters have avoided the having of children in order to devote their lives to their work. We are richer for that in many cases, but are they? Perhaps.

From: Cyndie Katz — Sep 23, 2011
From: Lori — Sep 24, 2011

I agree that this hard to achieve in some sense, but easy to aim for over time. This is a marathon, at least that’s how I’ve come to see it. My house doesn’t bustle, as I live alone, but I have to do everything myself, even mend fences etc. I have as much quiet as I like, but no one else to rely on. But I can make choices over time to achieve an end. My recent choice was give up TV entirely. And if I do X amount of paintings in a given time frame, I get a maid. A successful business person should perfect a task and give it over to someone else as much as possible to get to the things only they can do. I take that to mean in my life, get rid of any task whatsoever that can be done by someone else. Hard to do as it requires management of some sort, or a release of control. And for some tasks, my recent illness made it impossible to do some tasks, so they just got left. It makes you rethink which ones are important, and which are habit, whch can be combined,or assigned, which can be ignored. A process indeed.

  Getting other monks to help by Bela Fidel, Scottsdale, AZ, USA  

“Lightness of being”
oil painting, 48 x 36 inches
by Bela Fidel

Such beautifully written and felt text reminded me of an article I’ve just read in ArtNews. This article was about the current collaboration between artists and artisans. Turns out that many of the successful artists collaborate heavily with artisans. To the point where they provide the idea and the rest is done by the artisans. They mention a recently published book about the subject, written by Michael Petry, The Art of Not Making: The New Artist/Artisan Relationship. “Petry cites Marcel Duchamp and Jean Arp as modernist forerunners of using skilled technicians to craft artworks, but contemporary artists take hands-off creation to new levels.” To make a long story short, let me quote Jorge Pardo (I assume he is a known or successful artist — why else would they quote him?): “I don’t think that art gets made with your hands.” Once I read this article I remembered your letter in praise of taking workshops, honing our skills, etc. I have been painting for over 35 years and I am still learning, still realizing how much I don’t know (Gee, every day!); toying with the idea of going back to painting grapes and faces, which I did 30 years ago (I now paint abstract, mostly) but would probably have to get a teacher to help me brush up on it, etc., etc. Reading Maurizio Cattelan‘s statement in this same article, “I don’t design. I don’t paint. I absolutely never touch my works,” just makes me feel old fashioned, antiquated, and makes me wonder if I am not as successful as I would wish because I still do art with my hands! There are 2 comments for Getting other monks to help by Bela Fidel
From: Ronald L. Ruble — Sep 25, 2011

Do what you may, as it is all O.K.

From: liz Reday — Sep 26, 2011

It would be like conducting a symphony orchestra without knowing the joy of playing a single instrument. Maybe I am old fashioned, but the joy of making things with my hands is too great. I like some conceptual art a lot, but the visceral feel of paint is far more attractive.

  Laughing alone in the studio by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA  

original painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Dorenda Watson

The life of an artist is usually not the norm… at least by current society standards. In this day of “rush, rush, rush,” and “do, do, do,” the idea and process of making art is almost archaic. I think it takes a brave soul to buckle down and make art and an even braver soul to attempt to make a living at it. In order to do this (and do it well) you must be extremely comfortable with your own company. You must be able to make yourself work, because there may or may not be a paycheck at the end of the day. You must consider yourself a capable student of the arts and this means having the ability to learn and change according to the path you follow. You will make good art, and you will make bad art, and both are indicators of growth. You must be willing to sacrifice to make time to do this gift you have been given. Whether it is 10 minutes a day or 8 hours a day, this time must be dedicated to the talent you possess. No interference should be allowed during this sacred time. It is your time to be and do what most can only dream of. You were chosen to develop a most wonderful gift… how can you not? And most importantly, you must be amused by the whole process and your part in the play. You must laugh at the absurdity and the loveliness of this calling. You may be laughing alone in your studio, but what better company than a joyful artist pursuing the role of a lifetime! There are 2 comments for Laughing alone in the studio by Dorenda Watson
From: Kris — Sep 23, 2011

Wow! Well said! I’m lovin’ it… especially the “laughter, absurdity and the loveliness if the artist’s calling”.

From: doris — Sep 23, 2011

the self deprication is the part that is real, Don’t let it pass unnoticed. we are all subjected to the truly gifted artists. Learn thru your we all do

  The monastic wife by Jeanne Gillis, Lethbridge, AB, Canada  

original painting
by Jeanne Gillis

I have to chuckle at some of your comments in this particular letter; especially about the bit with the nuns tending the fields. I like your lifestyle and wish I, too, could do as much painting as you. Do you cook your own breakfasts, lunches and dinners, do the shopping, errands, do the banking etc.? If not, yes you do have a great life (which I envy). However, as a married woman painter with her own downtown studio, no kids, it is still a struggle to paint as much as I would like to. I get frustrated at times because of lack of time in the day because mundane chores get in the way of the creative process. What’s the answer for serious women artists? (RG note) Thanks, Jeanne. I just came in from going to the bank, but that was unusual as I thought I needed a break from the monastic life. I make my own breakfast, but Carol makes our lunches and dinners. She loves cooking and is good at it. To be fair, my assistant Sarah Garland looks after most everything in the studio. (She put this clickback together and said I ought to respond to this one.) There are 2 comments for The monastic wife by Jeanne Gillis
From: Victoria on Okinawa — Sep 22, 2011

Jeanne, here I totally agree too. Well stated and good response Robert.

From: Hil FAISON — Sep 26, 2011

Great observation from the female artists above. While I do not reject their view point that male artists wallow in paint all day, the truth in my part of the world is different. Male artists all have a second job that provides daily bread, and most are single parents. I keep a day job in the ministry of culture from 7:00am to 3:30pm, lecture at the university from 4:00pm to 6:30pm, and take up painting from 7:30pm till 11:30pm every day. How do I go about it? My supports: canvases, papers & panels, themes, colour mixtures, are most often prepared before time. This approach makes propper use of time.

  The power of focus by Ignacio Rosenberg, Chicago, IL, USA   Seeing how I follow all my endeavors pretty much completely opposite to the way you describe here (I have many different things going at once, I do a bit of each and sometimes nothing at all, I travel a lot for work), do you consider that in order to be truly successful one has to be a slave of his craft? I don’t mean it in an offensive capacity, but I’m wondering if being a master of something one is passionate about comes hand in hand with dedicating oneself to nothing but that craft? (RG note) Thanks, Ignacio. When I’m painting, I’m painting — constantly baffled at the combination of joy and struggle. Other interests include philately, birding, boating, socializing, and old-car-itis. In my case I don’t think I’m totally monk-like.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The monastic artist

From: Tommy Hunt — Sep 19, 2011

I wouldn’t use the Islamic prayer as an example. It condemns people like us.

From: Daniela — Sep 19, 2011

Robert, Thank you for this post, profound yet witty, and full of wisdom.

From: njdarling — Sep 20, 2011

I just love this and would love another post with more details about an artist’s monastic schedule. Thanks.

From: Jeanean Songco Martin — Sep 20, 2011

Walking the walk instead of talking the talk is probably the closest thing to the “secret” of making art. It is one of the most simple yet profound statements. Simply talking about something will never get it done. I have surrendered to the idea of being a “famous” artist and have embraced the idea of being simply a “working artist”. I am a humble artist who is well aware of those painters of the past who have walked before me and have so much respect for their contributions. I like the idea Robert proposes “You need a well-regulated, simple life so that you might become both servant and student”. Make the time and keep life as simple as possible so that the working day painting routine can happen. Through the work the creative process can take hold. Without the work there is no growth and the creative spark will die.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Sep 20, 2011

I look forward to days like these when I can paint like a cloistered nun and think of nothing else. The reality of my life is though, someone has to clean the bathrooms, go for groceries, cook the meals, spend time with my aging husband, arrange for home repairs and the list goes on. Maybe the the Flower Children of the ’60s had it right when they formed communes and assigned duties to people according to their abilities. I need a flower child to come manage my home so I can paint!

From: Marilynn Brandenburger — Sep 20, 2011

Robert, thank you for these beautiful thoughts. You have stated what I’m sure many of us know deep down, but can’t seem to put into practice as often as we’d like. Nina Freeman is right: the business of running a house is a major hurdle for women who would choose the monastic life if they could. The other impediment, I think, is what modern society says we should be doing: keeping in touch thru email, Facebook, LinkedIn, e.g., all the social media; maintaining websites and blogs; tuning in to art career Webinars; volunteering with art organizations; teaching (which I dearly love and won’t give up), etc. etc. None of them bad ideas; they just steal away time and concentration. We can’t have it both ways, can we? Thank you for giving me permission to say “no” to many of these and reclaim the monastic life I led before the internet.

From: Zoey — Sep 20, 2011

Robert, your monastic life sounds like something we all grope for. But, tell me, who shops for food and prepares your lunch and dinner, who does your laundry, cleans your house and attends to its repairs and maintenance and garden? The live-in housekeeper? The other monks?

From: Brigitte Nowak — Sep 20, 2011

A message for Nina Allen Freeman (and everyone else living in the real world): Nina, I share your pain. We all have the responsibilities of daily life to cope with, which always seem to take precedence over the activities we would like to do. However, the trick to fitting one’s passion and creative life into one’s day isn’t to find the time, it is to make the time. Speaking from experience, I worked a stressful fulltime job for many years, while also taking the time to raise two kids (both in competitive sport, requiring driving to the gym four days a week) and looking after two dogs and the house. I painted from about 9 p.m. till midnight or 1 a.m., after dinner, after homework and putting the kids to bed, then got up at 6 or so to do chores and go to work. I painted, entered shows, won prizes, had several solo shows (since I work fairly realistically, sleep was truncated even more when i was preparing for shows). It was what I wanted to do, and so I made the time. The schedule made me focus my energies: my time was limited and precious, and I had to make it count. Now that I am retired, I’m not spending that many more hours a day painting than I did before. You don’t need a flower child to manage your home, you need to want to paint enough to make the time to do so. Whining uses time and energy that could be spent painting. Just do it.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Sep 20, 2011

Starts funny, ends nice. One of the nicest memories of being a military brat was a summer spent learning French in a convent day school in Nancy, France. The generic religion served up in the military did not prepare me for the world I found there. The peaceful space in a beautiful sunlit garden with gravel paths, the hard benches of the school room, the grubby fingernails of Sister Marie de Misericorde contrasted with the perfect ivory linens and dark beads of her habit. I treasure the blue textbook we used, with its charming illustrations and the hard facts of declentions and verb tenses. It was the first such peaceful yet demanding place I had ever experienced and I think I still try to recreate it in my mental studio.

From: Carol — Sep 20, 2011

Lovely commentary. It is a good reminder, come January hibernation time, to remain “in harmony with universal principles” and stay clear of those ambitious ones who heed not the calling of the quiet stillness and push for gatherings, showings, meetings, etc. It always amazes me that an ‘artist’ would be immune to this. It is a daily challenge to stay true, with the business of the world constantly buzzing around us all. January is the best reason to say ‘no’ and attempt some monastic time, even if only temporary.

From: Maria Luisa — Sep 20, 2011

Deep words,human feelings,fresh air to our ears and hearts.A sense of universal mood warmly embracing the world.A word can often take our breath away .Humility and mercy are gifts .We have to walk our walk .We always find on our path somebody else on our same wavelenght .Thank you for beeing a good companion of our walks.

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Sep 20, 2011

As you have alluded previously, the creative act is a form of active meditation, a spiritual endeavor. Seclusion, with the condition of knowing that we will not be disrupted, sets the desired ambience. As opposed to the monks, however, we have the freedom to set up our own rituals.

From: Noni Wells — Sep 20, 2011

It’s okay to be intimate with nuns provided you don’t get into the habit.

From: Shelley Rothenburger — Sep 20, 2011

Ohhh to live the life of a Picasso “poor but rich” artist. Unfortunately most of us have to scratch out what few hours we can a week in the studio and somehow balance that with the 2 and 3 jobs we must do just to afford the rent for the studio. Most of us simply don’t have the luxury of the monks life in art-making I’m afraid. The fact that I accomplish the bodies of work that I do is a downright miracle! Hmmm maybe there is some divinity in there somewhere…

From: Liz Au — Sep 20, 2011

In a sense I think of myself as being very rich, but living as a poor man. I am richer because of having met you! The spirit of the monastic life is wonderful: I start my day with prayer in bed, sit in my art corner at the laptop and write my devotion for my Bible group, think about what to do with the painting I’m working on, look for your letter and my day has started with your inspirations!

From: Tracey — Sep 20, 2011

I often am sure I belong on some other planet with some robed solitary souls listening to calming harmonic and melodic yet often dissonant chords in a meditative flow of ” show me, God, what it is you would have me create” ………………… Then there is the worldly me who is not so good at the day to life who needs the reminder below that it is OKAY to be me …………… even if I am most likely off the chart right brain and probably ADD plus ………….. such that dealing with life on life’s terms is much less fun than dealing in the world of design and create . . . in effect I figure my life to be somewhat an “odd but active monastery”.

From: June Kellogg — Sep 20, 2011

Thanks for this one! With the days getting cooler in Maine and the tourists thinning out to a trickle, I’m feeling the beginning of the quiet winter monastic life once again. The daily routine that you describe rings true with me. It’s only broken up once a week when I go to teach Drawing or Painting at the local University Center. That day energizes me and then I return again to my studio monastery. Being creative as an artist is a gift that I try to be thankful for everyday and I’m glad to part of the monastic brother/sisterhood.

From: Frances Nutter-Upham — Sep 20, 2011

I usually enjoy reading your letter but the first paragraph of the “Monastic life” was offensive and disrespectful with out I might add, being at all clever or funny. Say you’re sorry and say six hail Marys.

From: Patsy Heller — Sep 20, 2011

I read your latest letter and found that my first thought was- I don’t think a woman with any loved ones that she cares for would be able to create the life you describe. Even a lover requires attention and friends are like gardens that also need to be nurtured. As an artist, a mother, lover, friend, and of course, a job….my artistic life is squeezed in between the needs of these other people, these other things. It’s better than it used to be but I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to do what you do- live a monastic life. Most women can’t. That’s probably a cop-out, but it is also very real. Love your letters.

From: Kathy Hirsh — Sep 20, 2011

I had a rather monastic summer this year. I was lucky enough to paint in Telluride, Colorado this summer for two months. Didn’t know a lot of people so I had plenty of time to paint-morning, noon and night. I also taught a couple of classes so that kind of took care of my social needs. That and painting on Main Street. Telluride is a tiny town in the southwest corner of Colorado and Main Street is the social artery. Telluride also has a festival almost every weekend all summer: Jazz, Blues, Mushrooms, Bluegrass, Film. Sometimes I would set up near the free concerts in town and paint to fabulous music. I guess I’m lucky that I like to paint in public and even enjoy interruptions-as long as the light isn’t changing too quickly. When the summer ended and I went to a friend’s house I realized I was out in nature every day for two months and had developed quite an addiction to fresh but thin air, 9000 feet up.

From: Nisla — Sep 20, 2011

This is probably one of the most beautifully written letters I’ve seen in a long, long time. As someone who has flirted with the monastic artistic life (sometimes in, sometimes wishing I was in) I could not agree with you more. Thanks for putting into words a feeling that I’ve carried around in my heart.

From: Dennis McMahon — Sep 20, 2011

Very well written. My thoughts exactly. But you know how to put them on paper. I’ve been reading your mail for many years now.

From: Anatholie Alain — Sep 20, 2011
From: Mary Saucier — Sep 20, 2011

Thank you for this gorgeous letter! and the many others you send to us. My comment: simplicity seems complicated! Ordinary human obligations seem to come first so often – including caring for my home, family, friends and neighbours – and my own health: exercise etc. But still, I so appreciate your putting before us the goal of a daily life devoted to a simple, creative, contemplative lifestyle.

From: DaNu — Sep 20, 2011

This is one of your best letters ever, Robert! It reasoned with me so much, so completely, that I share it on my Facebook profile (no big deal, of course, but I do not do it so often…) I feel it so true that probably I will read it quite often to remind me about it… I do live a bit like that and, oh, man, I teach nuns to paint almost for a decade now… It really clicked with me. Thank you, elder Brother!

From: Robina Nicol — Sep 20, 2011

Your letter has touched the very core of my creative nature, how I now trust to express my impression, experience of the Universe around me and plop it onto a support. I am excited to gain incite into our expanding Universe, more so since watching (TVO) the opening of the Stephen Hawking wing at the Perimeter Institute at Waterloo, On. last Sunday night. Physics, science, mathematics, nature, beauty, love…. How can anyone ignore this amazing life we come to experience when so much is going on around us? How can I express this journey of the soul? That’s my challenge.

From: Ginger Whellock — Sep 20, 2011

Thank you! Your words say it all and then some. What more can an artist say?

From: Maggie — Sep 20, 2011

Thank you for helping me understand more about why I paint…lately I’ve been struggling with the question of “why am I desiring the solitude of my passion?” “why is it I don’t I feel the same around non-artists as I do around artist friends”….I get so excited when I speak with another creative person….the creative people I have in my life now make me happy….I want to sink into a soft cushy chair and share conversation about what I feel when I paint and where I want to go with my art…less and less I want to entertain and sit around the table with my other acquaintances and friends who never even think about creativity or having that sort of conversation…I have been so bored with that for such a long time and I didn’t recognize that I’ve changed and I desire a different life then what I’ve been living… I started oil painting only seven years ago….much has changed in my thinking since then….I am happy…

From: Jacklyn William — Sep 20, 2011

I loved today’s letter both for its analogies to monks and artists, and your wicked sense of humour! I rarely laugh so much before finishing my first coffee. Thank you for that. Keep those letter’s coming.

From: Susan Marx — Sep 20, 2011

Doesn’t the artist need constant contact with the world around him, not shut off from it in a monastery? To be relevant for people in the real world, the artist needs to experience the real world. Disciplined in working habits, of course, and thinking of the studio as a “holy place” for creation, of course. But the artist needs to interact with the amazing world around him..

From: Jo Siedlecka — Sep 20, 2011

I know several monks and nuns who either paint, draw or sculpt or write in addition to following a life of prayer. In fact St Benedict, the founder of monasticism taught that work is prayer. Through creativity one is participating in God’s creation.

From: Paula Timpson — Sep 20, 2011

Creativity Is… Creativity is in the pure silence a monastery, yes~ a community of wildflowers, butterflies, skies, children’s laughter~ Everything is a poem and a painting~ Freedom lives in the heart, the greatest monastery of all!~

From: Ken Chambers — Sep 20, 2011

I wanted to tell you as a subscriber to your letters that they have become invaluable at this time in my life. I am moving to a more peaceful place on the south shore of Nova Scotia where I can be more inspired, learn more and spend more time with my dog and family, painting and walking on the beach. I will continue to look forward to the letters.

From: Sheila Rowe — Sep 20, 2011

Thank-you once again, Robert for elevating my idea of what this way of life is all about. It took me about 50 years of life to give myself full permission to pursue painting as a valid activity. So, I appreciate your encouragement and the experience of a ‘veteran’.

From: Alpha Shanahan — Sep 20, 2011

This particular letter resonates with what is in my heart. I have tasted the monastic rhythm and now longs for it as i pass by my work space many times throughout the day as i get engaged with so many chores. Inashmuch as i wish to follow my work schedule in the studio, there are many “little” chores which just could not be put aside and done after my painting time. I guess, this is just the reality especially when one has small children in the home.

From: Bev Morgan — Sep 20, 2011

Written so beautifully, this speaks to me more than anything I have read for a very long time. Thank you for putting into such exquisite words feelings I have held but never took the time to express openly.

From: Karen Gillis Taylor — Sep 20, 2011

There is much to be said for developing a creative life’s routine, stopping short of what some might even call “religious.” Dancer Twyla Tharp helpfully speaks of turning certain daily activities into a ritual. You are then free from pestering yourself with, “should I really do this today, although I know I should…” kinds of self-torture talk. All of us in the creative fields need our share of “practice” and it’s sometimes hard to fulfill if the mood doesn’t match the goal. Still, I like the idea of painting being more than a daily habit. That’s where the brush with the spiritual comes in. The Christian story speaks of rebirth, and we can likewise see our painting process as one, not only of creation, but opportunity for constant renewal. When I make a painting and move on to the next one, I get to start over again, wipe out bad mistakes and learn from the good experiences. Forgiving myself for not being a perfect painter, I am free to plunge back in and begin again with new hope, the way a child would do. Now that is real freedom, what better environment in which to work?

From: Alison L. Webb — Sep 20, 2011

I believe that to be creative, one cannot be busy, but I find each day a challenge — to clear the slates, take care of what has to be taken care of, honor friendships, have time for reflection, and prepare for my future, do laundry, etc. etc. As a single working artist, doing all the chores, dog care, finances, food, etc. etc. is a daily struggle. Your life sounds perfect, but the realities of life intervene, and mine is more complicated. Asheville, NC

From: Peggy Odgers — Sep 20, 2011

You must have other people to manage your life! I would love to live a modified monastic life painting. (Yes, I have visited monasteries.) But the rest of life gets in the way. Husband, children, grandchildren, mother, sisters etc. Friends, of course. To say nothing of entering shows and attending classes and workshops occasionally. I know you travel and you certainly write. Filling your website is no small job. So, I wonder if the life you describe as your own is regular, infrequent, periodic stretches of time, or in your dreams! If it is real, tell me how to achieve it even a little bit! Your letters are a respite.

From: Claire E. Riepe — Sep 20, 2011

Robert, Your words, and those of our brothers and sisters in the divine world of Art, remind me how fortunate we are to follow this calling. How sad for the rest of humanity who miss out on the profoundness of the creative experience. I have long aimed to be monastic in my artistic pursuits, and it is encouraging to see that I’m not alone. I have worked to keep my life and spirit simple, uncluttered and ever open to the beauty in the natural world. The challenge is to keep the flame of creativity burning through all our daily endeavors, much as monks strive to pray always. We are artists at the very core of our existence, not just when we’re in our studios. Thank you for sharing your letters and inspiration.

From: Jill Flinn — Sep 20, 2011

You have such a wonderful command of literal and literary pigments! Always delightful and insightful, thanks for doing what you do!

From: Linda La Barge — Sep 20, 2011

I receive something from each of your letters and this may be the one I have received the most from. All I want to do is paint, coming to it so late in life. I did have lessons at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art with Arthur Lismer walking through the room occasionally with us all in awe. I must have been ten or eleven and am now seventy-four and have been painting for less than two years. Life must no longer get in the way of painting. Prescott, AZ

From: Lina Daukas — Sep 20, 2011

One of the greatest pleasures of painting and creating art, is that the process is largely contemplative. When I paint, my mind is cleared of everything but the process. No matter how tired I may have been when I began, I “come out” of this contemplative time filled with more energy. This is similar to how I emerge from contemplative (or centering) prayer. Art, like all my activities and interactions, can be a prayer. Thank you for your fascinating missives about art! Even though I am not a professional artist, I find them helpful and insightful. ps. When I was in college in Winnipeg, I considered entering the religious life. During a religious retreat, I learned this was not for me. Long Beach, California

From: Maryna — Sep 21, 2011

I LOVE this page – I am not an artist but beleives that the love for ART. . .comes from an artistic eye.

From: John W. Barnes — Sep 21, 2011

Mountain top experiences are whipped together with harmonious hoops of grace, transporting brilliance by showing creativity and simplicity. Filled with marvellously rich couture skies of indigo and pastel — the rising rivers which once overflowed, settle down into babbling brooks which are now bejewelled with speckled ginger and white flowers — the forget-me-nots’ steps into a field of honey and wheat. There, we find the cavern door opening, the clouds part, the light shines directly into our well being. We find ourselves face to face with humility, a perspective taking, multi-dimensional, self-understanding, human being which is really what we are all about. “It’s all about the renewal and rebirth of life through creativity.” R. Genn

From: Serg — Sep 21, 2011

“We must know that we are such excellent and exalted creatures that there is no limit to our importance, befitting the Artisan who made us.” -Rav Berg

From: Raymond Pares — Sep 22, 2011

What a life! You have hit the nail on the head, and though I am just starting my journey in art school, I know this is the path I will follow.

From: Nancy Daniel — Sep 22, 2011

This letter is, as your letters often are, very relevant to my life situation. I haven’t had the heart to paint since my beloved husband Graeme died last December. Our art was an interest we both shared and he was so creative with so many ideas for future works. So my studio has been gathering dust all year and I have been trying to find peace and acceptance through reading books on mindfulness and meditation while struggling to cope with the grief and all the other things you have to do when you lose a partner. I am thinking now that maybe I can find that peace next year by spending time in my studio again – I think it is probably what Graeme would want me to do. Thank you Robert.

From: Liz Reday — Sep 22, 2011

The artists life should be simple in order to focus on whatever idea is bubbling away on the back burner. Perhaps the meditative state is optimum for snagging the wisp of a whim as it drifts in and out of conscious thought. The pattern of waking and walking (biking/laundry/working out) followed by a hot shower and full studio immersion by 10 AM seems to work for me. Time must be set aside for gallery business, art related errands, packing and shlepping paintings and ordering art supplies, but only after a long uninterrupted stretch of painting: minimum six hours a day over at least three days, otherwise precious studio time is frittered away on stuff that can always be done when the muse departs. Prepping canvas for painting usually gets me going; figuring sizes and degrees of sanding gesso sets me up for the series to come. After prolonged painting for several months,travel is a welcome blessing. On my return I have plenty more ideas along with sketches and photos, not to mention all the inspiration from museums visited. It is a monastic existence, (with flat screen TVs, good movies and music, the internet, a selection of art books, art magazines and occasional foreign travel). We serve the muse better when body and soul are fed. South Pasadena, CA

From: S.K.Sahni (from India) — Sep 22, 2011

My respect for you have grown many folds after knowing your life. I too some time feel the same and like to live a very very simple life without any wants but desire to do my creative works. Truly doing creative work is our prayer to God. Your letter is very inspiring.

From: Anawanitia — Sep 22, 2011

Some artists thrive at painting for audiences. The more people around, the better. My artist friends and I participate in painting parties- a gathering of artists who entertain non-artsy friends, and usually accompanied by musicians. Even local restaurants and pubs hold events for these types of artists to come and create for people. It is always a blast and productive.

From: Joyce Callaghan, Artist/Instructor — Sep 22, 2011

I just want to say I love your philosophy about life and art. You must be one exceptional person. Please keep your remarks coming. I know your postings are just as important to other artists as to me. I wish I lived closer to you so I could meet you in person and talk with you.

From: Thérèse — Sep 22, 2011

I relaxed and felt “in tune” as I read it.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Sep 22, 2011

All facets of my creation experience are my spiritual experience. No religion is necessary because my studio is my church and my heaven. Being in the creative flow is being the ONE creating. There is no other. Folks trapped in their mundane world experience which includes lovers/families/children, one which they have somehow chosen, rarely understand me. Frankly, I don’t care. But I do my own laundry and dishes, I wash my own clothers and take care of all mundane things, and I’m still a more than fulltime working artist. You choose what you want to do with your life. I chose ART.

From: Julie Weigand — Sep 22, 2011

ahh loved the sound of this letter robert !!!—-rings so true for me—-i’m a painter—-plein air —studio—-landscapes—still life—figure—- —i’ve lived in a one room limestone schoolhouse on 15 acres in rural missouri —— built in 1868—for about three years now—-with my husband tommy and my faithful dog emma—— —it is about 65 miles from st louis (not remote—-but definitely rural) my days are filled with yoga/meditation/walking/piano/painting/reveling in the nature surrounding me from lizards to passing clouds —–it’s glorious and peaceful—and my car does not move for days—-my city visits are based in love and connections to family and friends —–after 24+ hours though i long to return home —–my creative juice flows here—i am grateful.

From: Hershey Thornton — Sep 22, 2011
From: Rick Rotante — Sep 22, 2011

If anything can be applied to being an artist monasticism is an apt phrase. Art is a religious experience when learning it, performing it and hopefully viewing it. My routine for the day is fairly predictable, even with the a non-ascetic discipline. If one is to succeed at making art worthy of notice, a large amount of self denial is necessary. This holds true for any vocation where one wishes to be successful. I had more friends when I started as a painter than I do now. Those I know today are other painters, gallery owners and artists in general. Actually, as selfish as it seems, I don’t have time for much of anything else; much to the chagrin of my wife. My entire world is about art; making it, viewing it, reading about it or going to see it. When in my down time from new work, I pull out old work that didn’t make the grade and see how I can improve it. See if it can be salvaged and made new again -this has been my latest goal. I am reworking pieces I painted five, six years ago that was never exhibited for one reason or another. I don’t consider myself religious in any traditional way, but surely I work, religiously, at the work I do.

From: Peta Zeller — Sep 22, 2011

Your letter Robert seemed so appropriate to my life experience at present. My nephew after two years of serious contemplation last week resigned from his job (in IT), gave away all his worldly possessions, said goodbye to whom we thought would be his future wife and has begun his journey to becoming a Franciscan Monk, living a life of prayer. The way your letter was written has helped me understand his commitment better. It is impossible for me to contemplate being that devoted to my art and saying goodbye to a loving husband and three beautiful daughters to lead a monastic (nun’s) life but every day and every hour I spend with a brush in my hand is pure joy and the peace that comes with it is a worthy reward.

From: Cindy Betka — Sep 23, 2011

My husband and I live at 7500 ft. in Montana. We are off the grid generating our own power with wind and solar. So, similar to your life we seldom come into town especially in the winter months which around here is 9 months of the year. Even with the internet to stay connected and reach out, there are times when we must get out physically to interact with other humans. Other than those times we are fortunate to have the beautiful God given surroundings to capture the ever changing moods of nature.

From: Susan Winslow — Sep 23, 2011

Speaking of monasteries, I leave Wednesday for a two week motor trip in France. We’re starting in Marseille and driving up through Provence and then over to the Toulouse region and meander up to the Loire valley and then Paris. It’s going to be a wonderful trip, but I’m already looking forward to my monastic life back here in Capo Beach come late October.

From: Susan Winslow — Sep 23, 2011
From: Karen Dawson — Sep 24, 2011

My house is a mess and I still don’t paint enough. I have stopped using the excuse of too many things to do as reason for not painting. Why aren’t I painting right now? It’s a psychological resistance to doing what is most risky, what is most important.

From: Sangeeta Ghose — Sep 26, 2011

I have been made to feel socially inadequate by people around me. I did not realize what makes me just live & enjoy my work simply, in my own world of limited resources. My needs and wants have lessened over the years, not by sacrifice or control, I just outgrew those frills and drama. Thank you for this warm text, and encouragement to live a monastic life – easy and meaningful.

From: Gail Sawatzky — Sep 28, 2011

Thank you Robert for sharing your wisdom. I enjoy your newsletters and look forward to them. Fluidity…I’m constantly studying other artists work and wondering what makes their work successful and what I can do to improve mine. I found my answer – fluidity! Thanks!

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mixed media, 30 x 30 inches by Vae Hamilton, Conover, ON, Canada

  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, 2013. That includes Darren Adams who wrote, “They say everything in business is position, position, position.” And also Jane Sanford Harrison of Eugene, OR, USA, who wrote, “My friend Lynn and I are at a watercolor workshop in Tuscany. Last night she read to me from Roger Housden’s book Seven Sins of a Life Worth Living. This morning I read her your letter, which corresponds to Roger’s thinking and our own conversation late into the night. Today we go to St Antimo’s Abbey spiritually fit. Thanks for your contribution!”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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