My angle


Dear Artist,

“So what’s your angle?” a subscriber asks. I try to think what he means. Yesterday I protested in my return letter that I don’t have an angle. I’m just a guy who likes to paint. I guess I’m also guilty of trying to empower others. Then again I think it’s a matter of considering how others might empower themselves. I’ve decided that “what’s your angle?” is a valuable question.

Casa Estudio Luis Barragán, 1948 Mexico City by Luis Barragán (1902 - 1988)

Casa Estudio Luis Barragán, 1948
Mexico City
by Luis Barragán (1902 – 1988)

My angle is that generalized lives aren’t too effective. All-encompassing woo-woo fancies and feel-good panaceas are old hat. Collectivization is dangerous but brotherhood and sisterhood aren’t. In addition, academia is suspect and criticism has wandered off to another planet.

My angle is that by following an intensely personalized process you are led to growth, self-esteem, success and a degree of happiness. My angle doesn’t offer to fix everything, but it has the beauty of practicality. It works. My angle is to train yourself to be absorbed in a specialty whether it be bookkeeping, bee-keeping, good-housekeeping, philately, marathoning, inventing the light-bulb or painting watercolors. It has to be something with enough complexity to hold an inquiring mind. My angle is to do the spadework for the growth of passion.

Casa Gilardi, 1976 Mexico City by Luis Barragán

Casa Gilardi, 1976
Mexico City
by Luis Barragán

I’ve found that the greatest joys come from the confluence of brain, heart and hand. I’ve found that the way to self-realization and the serving of society is to just get your nose into a subject. It’s all in the details. I’ve found that work itself is currency and while the world is full of wonder and love and surprise, the greatest world of all is the world of human imagination. That’s my angle.

Best regards,


Casa Gilardi, 1976 Mexico City by Luis Barragán

Casa Gilardi, 1976
Mexico City
by Luis Barragán

PS: “Positive thinking alone does not work.” (Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad)

Esoterica: There’s another popular book going the rounds these days: The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson. It describes a supposed phenomenon whereby a growing number of sensible and sensitive people are currently affecting our world in a positive way. Many artists will fit the profiles that the authors describe.

This letter was originally published as “My angle” on January 4, 2002.

Casa Estudio Luis Barragán, 1948 Mexico City by Luis Barragán

Casa Estudio Luis Barragán, 1948
Mexico City
by Luis Barragán

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“Any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.” (Luis Barragan)




  1. Your father was and is a monumental influence on many struggling artist and successful artist. Many a dark night when I was struggling through a terrible loss I would read through this wonderful collection of letters and for awhile gained peace of mind and solace in knowing that there are many out there who also struggle and overcome even greater adversity of mind and body. I am very happy that you are continuing his legacy and would like to wish you a very successful and healthy New Year 2022. with much gratitude, Jeanean Songco Martin.

  2. Barbara Belyea on

    An inspiring letter, yes. “Empowerment” by example, and only by example, since “academia (formal teaching?) is suspect.” I’d like to have more detail on how others are to be empowered by my example, and how I can be empowered by theirs — in other words, how to find lines of communication in self-propelled activities. Declarations of independence need people to listen to them; Robert Genn’s letter was written in the expectation that people would read it. That balance of speaking/listening, writing/reading isn’t so different from the interaction of teaching/learning. They are all all exercises in communication. So is the balance of painting/viewing. Are you all “just guys who like to paint”? I don’t think so. You want others to see your art, appreciate it, even buy it. You want to communicate something you’ve discovered, something of yourself, to others. You also want to learn from others. You aren’t so different from those suspect academics.

  3. What a lovely reply to a question that seemed a bit uncomfortable to me. Was it a true enquiry or a passive aggressive thing. I love the focus first is to live life fully for each of us. In the middle of a pandemic I thank my lucky stars I am passionate about painting.

    • Gregory Matthews on

      I think I wrote that letter. I am thankful for the reply, however I am quite sure it didn’t use the term “angle”, which implies something sinister, but writer applied editorial license…

      I enjoy the letter but not sure of what service is being offered. To that end I always like to know who people make their money.

      Still not entirely evident.

      • You “think” you wrote that letter? Meanwhile, I think you meant to say that you like to know *how* people make their money.

      • Sometimes people just enjoy expressing themselves through writing and enjoy it further when they are validated through having a readership. Also, sometimes people enjoy carrying on a family tradition.

  4. Anton Nannestad on

    A lovely post and reposted at a perfect time when not only the American dream, but the entirety of the Republic of the Imagination seems in serious risk of being undervalued in favour of other ends. I’m just a guy who likes to write.

  5. Usually, when someone asks you “So, what’s your angle?” it means they suspect you have some hidden agenda or motivation. Either way, it’s a somewhat dated question more commonly heard in movies back in the days of Jimmy Cagney or Edward G. Robinson. These days, it’s more common to hear someone ask “Where are you going with this?” My own experience in such instances is that either they simply aren’t really listening to you or that they just lack much imagination. One dear friend of mine is fond of saying “Stop answering questions I haven’t asked you.” We had some delightful and thought-provoking conversations in the early days of our friendship. Now, for various reasons, we sustain our mutual affection with online correspondence. We write to each other. I recall in one of those early dialogues making a point of saying “There’s something I’ve learned about you. I have to choose my words carefully with you because you know what every one of those words means.” Perhaps asking “So, what’s your angle?” is simply the wrong question…

  6. I do “get” the question. Let’s face it, altruism is often suspect, because people often do have an “angle.” And, it’s easy to become suspicious, and want to know what the “catch” is. So, when some come across a “too good to be true” thing, it can be almost impossible for some people to accept the gift. However, I believe that Robert, and now Sarah, shared and share their gifts out of the goodness of their hearts, and I suspect it fulfills their need to nurture artists and to develop a community of like minded people. I for one, look forward to these letters and read each with an open and willing heart — I almost always find inspiration, instruction and much wisdom. And, if you want to avail yourself of any of their listing or other services, that’s great, and it helps them to continue with these letters, but it’s not required. Thank you, Robert and Sarah.

  7. Reminds me of another male artist who once asked me, out of the blue, in a live painting session, “So what’s your deal?” I inferred hostility from his comment, and don’t think I was wrong. So I just gave him a blank stare and walked away without replying. I’m guessing the same intent was behind the letter to your father, but his response was gracious, beautiful and way better than mine. One of his best letters ever.

  8. Rachel Bushnell on

    Robert’s inspiration:
    “My angle is to train yourself to be absorbed in a specialty whether it be bookkeeping, bee-keeping, good-housekeeping, philately, marathoning, inventing the light-bulb or painting watercolors. It has to be something with enough complexity to hold an inquiring mind.”

    The last few days I have been watching the progress of the James Webb Space telescope on its way the million miles to L2 to explore time and space far beyond the Hubble. My mind has been caught up in the mysteries of the Universe and in awe of the men and women whose imaginations are making even more exploration possible. Yesterday I watched a program produced by Space.Com – a fascinating discussion of the brain and the genius of Albert Einstein. And followed it up in the evening watching an interview with Stephen Hawking. Men and women who dreamed and focused and travelled way out there – somehow call us with Robert to be inspired and find our own focus.

    btw – I love the clarity the light captured in the colours of Luis Barragan.

  9. What a great letter, timeless!
    It reminds me of the oft times repeated phrase from a cynical chimpanzee “is this going somewhere” instead of “What’s your angle?” But it hits the nail on the head, regardless.
    “Spadework for the growth of Passion” Love it!
    Thanks Sara

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