The art of negative thinking

Dear Artist, Recently, I had the opportunity to look over the shoulders of two painters who were giving demonstrations on the same day. The first was almost deliriously positive and bubbly about his work, his wonderful life as an artist and his prior successes. Enthusiastic throughout, he shouted epiphanies and dispensed “empowerment” like rose petals at a wedding. The second demonstrator spoke less and, when he did, it was mostly about problems he was having with the work — and other more worrisome ones that lay ahead. A couple of times he got himself into trouble — but he scratched his brain and was able to recover. Guess what — the gloomy malcontent did the better painting. We all applauded when he held it up. There were whistles. He didn’t even smile. This understanding has now been backed up in a new book by former Indiana and Texas Tech college basketball coach Bob Knight, aided by Bob Hammel: The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results. “Superiority and success doesn’t favor good effort or self-esteem,” says Knight, “and it definitely doesn’t hand out trophies for participation. The mentally precise and physically fit win, while the mediocre and obtuse take solace in hopeful cliches.” Bob and Bob have come to the conclusion that if you’re perennially upbeat you’re just setting yourself up for defeat. The positive thinker, they think, has a chronic “no danger ahead” disorder. He’s so busy believing in himself that he’s blindsided by oncoming problems and his own shortcomings. Success, it seems, favours rigorous self-criticism. Here are some other interesting items I gleaned from the book: Never gloat. Don’t talk too much. Don’t seek praise. Failure is endemic. Success is being hard to please. Be intolerant of failure. The easiest person to fool is yourself. Know your weaknesses. Be tough. Never let scanty positives override glaring negatives. Don’t be a good loser. Don’t satisfy yourself by just knowing you can do it. Do it. And by the way, keep God out of your equations: “So when I hear a guy after a game — winning home run say or gesture that God was on his side,” says Bob Knight, “I think to myself, ‘He’s saying God screwed the pitcher.'” Best regards, Bob PS: Positive wish: “The sun will come out tomorrow.” Negative reality: “Yeah, and it will flash brand-new daylight on the same old mess unless something is done to clean it up.” (Bob Knight) Esoterica: All my life I’ve noted artists who talk a good job and do a poor one. Perhaps it’s our ego (particularly, but not always, in men) that keeps us on the muddy path to mediocrity. You know the type. They ask for help but what they really want is praise. These folks are stuck with what Bob Knight calls “the optimism bias.” By thinking you are cleverer and more talented than your buddies, many a career has been blotted. My personal bias is that Bobs know better than everyone else. Bob Knight and Bob Hammel have a point. Be negative.   Humility by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“Reaching up”
original drawing
by Rick Rotante

I was talking with a fifteen-year-old high school winner of a local contest who wanted to paint in water color professionally. I told her if this were the case she should concentrate on her drawing abilities. She said “Oh, I’ve already learned how to draw!” Humility! We don’t see much of that lately. It goes hand in hand with being politically correct. Some of the best artists I’ve had the pleasure to come into contact with were humble. They knew the power of being wrong. Art is a discovery. If you think you’ve learned it all, you’re in for mucho trouble and disappointment. While artists need to have belief in themselves, it is better to approach every new work as if it’s the first work you’ve done and worry about how to get it done. There are 3 comments for Humility by Rick Rotante
From: Mike Barr — May 20, 2013

You’ve hit the nail on the head Rick.

From: Jim van Geet — May 20, 2013

I also agree. I had a similar situation recently and the young artist asked me which of my paintings I considered to be the best. I responded with, ” the next one “

From: Michael McDevitt — May 21, 2013
  Negative thinking — a good thing by Joanne Sibley, Cayman Islands  

“Village Life”
original painting
by Joanne Sibley

That is so true and the last paragraph so funny. It makes me feel so good that I can now carry on with my negative thoughts and feel comfortable with them despite the criticism I get for always being just so negative about my work.     There are 3 comments for Negative thinking – a good thing by Joanne Sibley
From: Sabra Kuykendall — May 21, 2013

Maybe so, but I do think that’s some beautiful work!

From: Sarah — May 21, 2013

Love your painting, and agree with your comments.

From: Judy Palermo — May 22, 2013

Being negative is working for you I see- nice painting!

  Mental roller coaster by Loretta West, Spokane,WA, USA  

“Dad’s Garden”
watercolour painting
by Loretta West

What I find is that too much negative self-talk can be the undoing of potential for good art making in some people. Most of my job as an instructor is to give constructive but gentle criticism, and also to be an encouraging coach when the student is stuck and beats themselves about with mental sticks (i.e. this really sucks, I should just quit and I’m not an artist!). However, I think we all do this in every piece of art we make to some degree — a mental pattern which I’ve learned to expect and make friends with, over the years. Seems we are on some sort of mental roller coaster — starting out smooth, taking a dive and then slowly climbing back up. The difference in my mind between success and failure is if artists can talk themselves back to center — as in, “Well, it’s not so bad, I can see the problem and can fix it” or “I’ve learned a lot and will do it differently in the next piece.” It really is all mental in the end, and it’s ALL practice. It seems part of the struggle is to attain the pinnacle within.   Balance is the answer by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

original painting
by Paul deMarrais

Bobby Knight, the guru of gloom, anger and irritability gives his pointers on excellence. I’d like to see his demo, where he starts cussing and throws his easel! As with many issues in life, the answer is balance. Don’t be too negative and don’t be head-in-the-sand positive either. Be ‘realistic’ and see your work as it is. Note the good’s, and the bad’s, and work on improving the areas you feel you are weaker in, while building on your strengths. As far as teaching and demonstrating, these are ‘selling’ activities. You are selling your ideas and showing them in action. You are a salesman. How many negative sales people achieve great fame! Yeah. Zero. Humility is good. Every artist is an art student… for life. Know and believe it. Manage your ego. Strive, but cut yourself a break. Life is hard. Art is hard. Enjoy the challenge and the journey. There are 3 comments for Balance is the answer by Paul deMarrais
From: Diane Artz Furlong — May 21, 2013

I always enjoy your palette of colors.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — May 21, 2013

Paul, you sound like the voice of reason! Thanks for telling it. I especially love the last few lines in your paragraph above… starting with “Humility is good … Enjoy the challenge and the journey.” My favorite saying is always “It’s the journey, not the destination.”

From: Sharon Cory — May 21, 2013

Gee, I wanted to hit my Like button, then remembered I wasn’t on Facebook.

  Negative search = positive reward by Toni Perrin, Carefree, AZ, USA  

“Way Off The Beaten Path”
original painting
by Toni Perrin

My ongoing critical appraisal of my work has shown me areas in which to improve. I’ll study and recheck an image many times to make sure that it says what I meant, with empathy and economy. I expect my works to be successful only after deciding what decisions needed to be improved. My “negative search” has reaped positive rewards.     There is 1 comment for Negative search = positive reward by Toni Perrin
From: Anonymous — May 22, 2013

Nice painting! Lovely Arizona.

  The next learning curve by Gins Doolittle, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

acrylic painting
by Gins Doolittle

Any solution will support new negative situations for your further exploration. Why not try several solutions? — the conservative and the wild, conventional or absurd! Find your mind getting interested in a series of solutions to a problematic theme — experiments tease interests of others, too, who might add their two cents worth. Prepare yourself for many solutions and settle with one correction; give time to swallow the aftermath of what happens with each experiment. Take time to learn, and more will be earned. The improvements happen when the power of negative analysis is undertaken with introspection. Study like a statesman, objectively judging, prior to yours or others’ decision on the best outcome. Engage joyfully in the power of negative thinking — negative analysis has its positive upside. So get out your critical eye, keep keen on spotting the negatives as a key to growth! Your learning will improve and so will results from your work. Keep your eyes prowling around for the next learning curve. There is 1 comment for The next learning curve by Gins Doolittle
From: Liz Reday — May 30, 2013

WOW! Great painting! Good depth. Not sure what I’m looking at and my eye loves the mystery.

  God did it by Kathy Fediw, The Woodlands, TX, USA  

original painting
by Kathy Fediw

I agreed with you and Bob Knight until I got to this: “And by the way, keep God out of your equations.” Respectfully, I strongly disagree. I am quite sure that God is responsible for every “success” I’ve ever had and every good thing that has ever happened to me. I know for certain that there have been many times when I’ve been able to accomplish far more than my skills, talents or intelligence would allow me to do, both in my artwork and in other aspects of my life. Those happy accidents? God did that. That final little touch that makes a painting sing? God is the one who pointed it out. That compulsion to paint a certain person or landscape, the one that won’t leave you alone until it’s done? God, again. And, by the way, saying that God is responsible for your success does not mean he screwed the other guy, just that this time he blessed you so you could bless others. There are 8 comments for God did it by Kathy Fediw
From: Anonymous — May 20, 2013

It’s amazing how many mundane, insignificant successes, particularly in sport, show business and art are attributed to God. Actually it belittles the greater power of the creator. Happy accidents on paintings and any success to do with painting are more to do with the skill and persistence of the artist and not part of some vast eternal plan. There are no miracles in art – just hard work and many brush-hours that can make a work breathtaking.

From: Jeanette Rybinsky — May 21, 2013

Kathy, I agree with you wholeheartedly! Once I was giving a demonstration at the local art institute, and a woman asked me if I ever feel like God is painting with me. I said “Yes! Sometimes my hand will jerk involuntarily, and the result is better than anything I had planned. That’s when I know that God is painting with me.”

From: Sherry Purvis — May 21, 2013

For those of us who know God and choose to do so, know that God is in everything we do. We have no power to relegate his presence from one thing in our life to another. It is so refreshing to see someone believe that “we didn’t get where we are without him”. I say, give credit, where credit it due.

From: suzanne jensen — May 21, 2013

thanks for speaking up Mike.

From: Ross Lynem — May 21, 2013
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 21, 2013

Spirit may in fact be part of everything- but it is still us dumb-*ssed mortals who do the work. In my case I’m sure the DEVIL made me do it.

From: Kathryn — May 21, 2013

Giving credit to an outside source is disrespectful to the efforts, years of practice and expert knowledge and skills of the person doing the excellent work. It is also naive and lacks knowledge of the effort and skill necessary for its accomplishment. Give credit where credit is due. I totally agree with Anonymous. If someone crash lands an airplane on water, the credit should be given to the person who has decades of experience landing airplanes on water. If someone survives a disease, thank the doctors who studied hard in high school. Gave up parties to study even more and worked sleepless nights during their internships so that they could help someone when needed. For every miracle, act of excellence, or step of progress their are other people who have lended you a helping hand. People who have spent time teaching or encouraging you. The Olympic athlete usually starts their career early in life. They stumble, falter, fall, endure emotional hardships trying to overcome their sense of doubt and limitation. They strive onward to pursue excellent. They strain ankles and maybe even break a bone. They give up time elsewhere to spend it trying to perfect their craft. Then the cameras shine on them and they do their routine. We see the perfect score. We are amazed. Some claim God was guiding them. But we do not see all the pain and sacrifice that went into their efforts. They collected themselves, centered their thoughts, visualized their routine in the head, calmed themselves down. “I can do this. I have done this a million times in practice.” This is the mastery of the human experience.

From: Jim Tait — Jun 08, 2013

For those of you who feel god is helping you, which god are you referring to? Is he the same god who is telling people to blow up other people of the same religion but of a different sect?

  The downside to negativity by Nicky Muizelaar, High Wycome, Buckinghamshire, UK  

“Kalahari Sunset Storm”
watercolour painting
by Nicky Muizelaar

Unfortunately there is a rather large downside to negative thinking without balance. In my case it was an unhealthy dose of depression. I had become so convinced that it was safer to be highly critical and expect the worse that it paralyzed me with fear and resulted in a complete loss of hope. From what I have learnt through this tough episode of my life is that it isn’t any more realistic, safer, call it what you like, to be negative vs. positive. Additionally, other people take you for your word. If you are confident and positive, it attracts positive and happy exchange whereas negativity is rather unappealing and ‘needy’ — it drains everyone’s energy instead of boosting it. From your example of the two artists I think the ‘fly in the ointment’ for the enthusiastic demonstrator was arrogance and superficiality. Negativity can produce good effort but will never develop healthy self-esteem, a quality so lacking in today’s societies as attested to in crime and wars. So I would have to argue for a more balanced approach — work with confidence tempered with humbleness, think positively (if you are pleased with a work say so, if not pleased say why but don’t make it about yourself as a person), accept failure for what it teaches us (this doesn’t mean you have to like it, but beating yourself up about it isn’t conducive to growth and better work), be genuinely enthusiastic not superficially gushing. There are 2 comments for The downside to negativity by Nicky Muizelaar
From: Marsha Hamby Savage — May 21, 2013

Nicky, thanks for your perspective on the negative / positive aspect of what we do. I believe in working with confidence, even through those paintings that are not working. I don’t “grump”, but I do discuss what might be several ways to approach a resolution. I have had students tell me that a demo that did not work was the best one … because they were allowed to watch me and listen to me work through alternatives. They learned not every painting works! But I was always positive about ways to work through.

From: Nicky Muizelaar — May 22, 2013

Thanks Marsha, Your approach shows in your lovely work which positively (if you will pardon the pun) exudes enthusiasm for your subjects in your colours and composition.

  Positive outlook preferred by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA  

acrylic painting
by Theresa Bayer

I strongly disagree with your latest letter on the “art of being negative.” Here’s why I prefer being positive: 1. I love having a clear, open, spacious, peaceful mind, in which I can focus on present moment awareness. It feels great. 2. Positive mind gives me more energy, and I can get more things done. 3. Positive mind gives me good health. I sleep better, and have fewer illnesses and ailments. 4. I love being “in the Zone” when I paint, and a positive mind gives me that. 5. When I’m in a positive, happy frame of mind I get along great with everyone. 6. When I’m in a positive, happy frame of mind it’s easy to spot opportunities I would have missed had I been feeling negative. 7. I’ve tried it both ways. Compared with positivity, negativity just doesn’t stack up. I’ve been a curmudgeon, and I’ve been a Pollyanna, and being a Pollyanna is better. Does this mean I still cannot be critical of my work? Does it mean I cannot seek constant improvement? Of course not! That’s just plain absurd. I can be happy and optimistic, and still be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses in my artwork. I can think positively, and still discriminate as to what needs to be done to improve my sales. If Mr. Knight and Mr. Hammel want to throw their positive, good feeling baby out with the bathwater, that’s their red wagon. As for me, I’m keeping that smiling little cherub! Mixed metaphors aside, I love living in the best of both worlds. There are 5 comments for Positive outlook preferred by Theresa Bayer
From: Sabra Kuykendall — May 21, 2013

I agree. Letting that curmudgeon go has made all the difference in the world for me. Recognizing where you can improve is still positive. Being positive does not have to mean being egotistical. We’re probably all talking about the same thing. Don’t beat yourself up for being negative. Maybe be positive about your negativity.

From: Libby Dodd — May 21, 2013

Thank you

From: Michael McDevitt — May 21, 2013

Mixing metaphors comes easily to people with smiling cherubs in the bathwater. Curmudgeons lean toward disagreeable similes. Also, what a fun image, Miss Polly!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 21, 2013

And I have a few other comments- Pollyanna also got screwed by God. And all the bad-*ssed coach was doing is calling a bunch of self-important spoiled-rotten prima-donna game-playing divas on their immature sh*t. Funny- huh! And to Ib… I’m a Leo- I’m SUPPOSED to be an arrogant prick- so be careful- or I may just decide to be one ALL OVER YOU. Thanks- Jen-

From: Terri — May 27, 2013

I enjoy your newsletters and often find them thought provoking and insightful. By quoting Bob Knight’s comment about leaving God out of the equation, you are in fact, bringing God into it. Hard work, study, dedication, skill are critical in producing excellence in art…but have you never had that ‘magic’ moment? That sudden impulse to go a different direction? That sudden insight? That urge to create was given to us by the greatest ‘artist’ of all and bringing Him into the equation can only elevate our results. Just because a person feels God was with him at that moment does not mean God screwed someone else. Only God knows what is in heart of each of us at any given time. Bob – I hope a miracle touches your life so you will know the difference.

  Boundary by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA  

Terrie’s tip for protecting watercolour paintings

I figured out that it was inappropriate for me to try to respond to the questions on the most recent clickback like I was trying to do. When I first tried to respond on the instant reply and it did not appear, at first, I thought that it was not working, but later figured out that I overstepped a boundary. My apologies. Later, I did also figure out that I could click on Valerie’s name and send her the information she requested on framing. I did do that and we had a nice exchange. What your site has inspired me to do is learn more about how websites work and set up one of my own. An artist friend has offered to teach me more and I hope to use it for a good purpose to inspire others. I do not intend to have it be interactive as yours is with comments, but to connect art to recovery and lifelong learning. A few people may find their way to it. Last year when Minnesota Artists Association got a new webmaster, it took me awhile to even agree to have my email address in the member’s gallery. It has worked out fine.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The art of negative thinking

From: Kaitha Het Heru — May 17, 2013
From: Anne O’Hara — May 17, 2013

Very interesting, however I would differentiate between negative thinking and critical thinking, analysing one’s work in a critical but constructive way (because I find I can be so negative about my work it can really hamper continuing anything I start)

From: Sheron Smith — May 17, 2013

I agree one hundred percent there is benefit in negavtive thinking. I worked on one painting for almost a year. I suffered with it, corrected it, dreaded it, and was very critical of myself. However, I completed it almost to my personal satisfaction. It is – without question- the best work I have ever done. I get comments like “I couldn’t do that in a million years”. I will never sell it for any price.

From: Robert Sesco — May 17, 2013

Unfortunately, Bob Knight is known for temper tantrums, which are indicative of immaturity, lack of self-control, and inharmony. I do not want to live my life like this even at the expense of great achievement. The late John Wooden, legendary Hall-Of-Fame coach with UCLA, won games and championships as readily as Bob Knight and rarely, if ever, threw a temper tantrum, pushed a player physically, or expressed inharmony either emotionally or outwardly. I submit that there are an infinite number of ways to ‘live a life’, that what works for one does not reduce to a platitude that will work for everyone. I, for one, would want to learn what brings me contentment in life, PERIOD. Were I smart enough to learn this on my own I would pursue this course with attention, focus, and discipline. Were I too exhausted to learn this on my own, I would want to learn it from someone whose actions and statements appealed to me as having learned how to live contentedly. This is all we are all after, contentment. If you think that winning at all costs, or having lots of money, or being a successful artist, is going to bring you contentment, then you are not paying attention to the many who have gone before you and left a written record of what they have learned. Each of us must incisively pay attention to the activities that unerringly bring us contentment, then pursue these things and add to them until your entire life is filled with the things and activities that bring you contentment. Then how could you not die satisfied that you have lived a good life? Make no mistake, I am not talking about lying on the beach 24/7. Mother Theresa works pretty hard at an advanced age, but she has identified that this work brings her contentment. I have never forgotten one of the remarks made by one of the artists in this forum directing us to pay no attention to the judgments made about our art. Allow the critics to do what they do, it makes no difference to you if what you love doing is to paint. Ignore positive and negative judgments, simply go on to the next painting because THAT is what brings you contentment.

From: Maryann Nomann — May 17, 2013

Lights just went on when I read the latter part of todays message. The President of the Artists society that I am a member of( newer ) member does just that with any new Artist that is juried into the group. AT some point during the year they get a call from him telling them that he’s in such a down spirit questioning his work etc etc really “poor me poor me” will you come over and look at my work and tell me if you think it looks like”paint by number” work etc etc. This man is now in his 70’s and his entire life has been in the Art field as illustration and architectural and then watercolors. Hew paints BEAUTIFULLY but you’re so right, he is seeking accolades from the newbies so they gush about his work. He never seeks out the Artists that were founding members like him, just the new ones. Then when another new one joins he no longer has anything to do with you basically, sad,sad, sad. Anyway it just hit the nail on the head, my husband had actually mentioned something to that effect some time back but I dismissed it but he was right. I am thankful to be a part of your email family and learn SO MUCH about Art and myself and others, thank you so very much Robert for this priviledge:)

From: Dwight — May 17, 2013

I think Anne O’Hara (above) has the right answer. Bobby Knight was certainly no model of self-control. Robert Sesco (also above) who brings up John Wooden makes a terrific counter-point.

From: Jean Burman — May 17, 2013
From: Christine Holzschuh — May 17, 2013

mmm…I don’t know….it seems like Winnie the Pooh was a bigger success than Eyeore…certainly more fun!

From: Marvin Humphrey — May 17, 2013

“Negative thinking” is not pessimism. It takes courage to face the negative aspects of one’s work/habits/life. It’s easier to be in denial and give too much importance to egotistical self-esteem. Most of us, most of the time, will choose the more comfortable Pollyanna outlook of making ourselves feel good, distracting us from focusing on excellence in our work.

From: Kathy Fediw — May 17, 2013

Hi, Robert, thank you for your newsletter, I enjoy reading it and get a lot out of it. I agreed with you and Bob Knight in your last post “The art of negative thinking” until I got to this: “And by the way, keep God out of your equations.” Respectfully, I strongly disagree. I am quite sure that God is responsible for every “success” I’ve ever had and every good thing that has ever happened to me. I know for certain that there have been many times when I’ve been able to accomplish far more than my skills, talents or intelligence would allow me to do, both in my artwork and in other aspects of my life. Those happy accidents? God did that. That final little touch that makes a painting sing? God is the one who pointed it out. That compulsion to paint a certain person or landscape, the one that won’t leave you alone until it’s done? God, again. I use the symbol of the Christian fish in my signature for all my art and every transaction as a reminder to myself, and to others, that this was possible because of God. And by the way, saying that God is responsible for your success does not mean he screwed the other guy, just that this time he blessed you so you could bless others. In my humble opinion, artists, and those like me who are striving to be artists, are simply trying to copy and interpret the artwork that God has already created. I’m quite happy to give Him the credit that is due. Respectfully yours, Kathy Fediw Part-time artist, full-time believer

From: Chris V. — May 17, 2013

Interesting philosophy. If being hard on oneself worked for everyone, I would be rich and famous. No, I am neither, but that is ok. Thanks for taking G-d out of it. I am heartily weary of people who use G-d to justify just about anything.

From: Dan Y. — May 17, 2013

Failures can devastate you if you don’t believe you can achieve. And I feel you should allow yourself to say. “That painting is pretty good” and know that ones in the future will be better. It is most important to be able to say. “I learned something” even if the painting itself was a failure. I REALLY hate when people throw tantrums if things don’t go well. Throwing brushes, canvases, easels OR golf clubs is juvenile.

From: Diane Stewart — May 17, 2013

I am of the opinion that a lot of negative thinking can so cloud the room that there is no space for creativity. I work best from a clear canvas, embracing the joy and infinite possibilities from a positive perspective. Clear focus should not be considered in the negative column nor the positive for that matter but how we attain, maintain that focus is an inside job left unexpressed outloud.

From: Glen — May 17, 2013

You’ve just described the essential difference between Americans and Canadians! Loved it!

From: Kathryn Pigg — May 17, 2013

You made some good points with a poor source. People who know Bobby Knight would not read his book. He is not respected as a human being. He uses his negativity in harmful ways. His anger management is very low.

From: Karla Uphoff — May 17, 2013

have a somewhat melancholic personality. When I saw the title of today’s letter I thought “Oh great, another slam against the non-bubbly personality” but was pleasantly surprised by what I read. Maybe there is hope for me and my art!! Ha!

From: Carole — May 17, 2013

Lately, I have been reading a book on shamans and much of their philosophy comes through on your emails. Be still and concentrate on the nature you see, lie on the earth and feel connected.It also says that if their is more than 3 coincidences their is something weird going on and take heed. I was also so intrigued with the art of being negative. being an amateur I have always been critical of my work and hardly like to show it to people as it is so private to me. I also know that this positive thinking thing can be a huge trap which I have fallen into with dire circumstances. I also get so fed up with sportsmen thanking god for their success. What a time the poor man must have trying to decide which side to support

From: Geary Wootten — May 17, 2013

Bob Knight is an ass. But, of course, he would like that.

From: Julie Eliason — May 17, 2013

I am a realist. Reality is sometimes positive and sometimes negative or both.

From: Melinda Campbell — May 17, 2013

It’s called being humble. Humility is good. Be humble, be humbled. Nobody likes a bragger. Not even a bragger.

From: Anon — May 17, 2013

This book sounds very shallow to me – sensationalistic approach by making an unusual argument and defending it with weak examples. I had family members who have embarked on many short-lived projects to “change our lives and prosper”. Every single one ended after a brief impatient attempt and conclusion that “the world was against them”. They look at my art as just another such project, although they can’t explain how come I am sticking with it for all those years and how I managed to “cheat the world” into believing that I am an artist. The first thing they always ask is if I sold anything recently. If I didn’t, they can’t hide satisfaction that they were indeed right that successes are impossible for “people like us”. Failure feels comfortable to them. If my answer is that I did sell something, they get suspicious and try to “get into my scam”. Interestingly they never ask about any other form of success – e.g. peer recognition, personal satisfaction etc. I was only able to lead a good life after I left my family and went through lot of learning from healthy successful people. So negativity does not breed success. Learning from positive examples and role models can help get you out from the influence of negativity. This is a meaningful process. I am sure that nobody believes in being successful or a failure just by being negative or bubbly. I wouldn’t favor either way – different strokes work for different folks and different circumstances.

From: Magalie Boutin — May 17, 2013
From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — May 17, 2013

Balance is the Key, be neither too positive about yourself or too negative. Be real, make mistakes in front of your students then show them how to fix them and above all don’t take yourself too seriously

From: Ann — May 17, 2013

Hmmmm….weeellll, It sounds like a title to sell the book. It’s kinda in your face silly. I did laugh when I saw the title. Hopefully the book says how negative you should be for effecting a change in each endeavor of your life…I mean…Knight-Negative or Hitler-negative???? hmmmm and he was a painter:))

From: Jackie Knott — May 17, 2013

We Texans had a love/hate regard for Bobby Knight long before the time he coached Texas Tech. I was firmly in the hate column, mostly due to his uncontrollable temper. Theatrics like his has no place in college athletics. I refused to believe any coach or associated instructor at the college level deserved the praise he garnered. I considered him a negative influence that surely couldn’t help a young person. Neither would I have sent my daughters to the same university that hired him. However … one needs to evaluate him within the generation that he coached. Knight schooled gifted athletes who were praised from kindergarten how wonderful they were, how talented they were, and everything they did was positive. Life isn’t like that …. Knight told these athletes the truth: you’re not wonderful, you’re above average but if you’ll listen I hope to make you better. Life isn’t easy, it’s full of disappointments, and you will fail at some point in your life … but there is the next game, and that is what I’m preparing you for. He also said, (Charlie Rose interview) “No is the most positive thing you can tell someone. No to praise when it isn’t justified. No to mediocrity when it isn’t good enough. No to complacency.” He said another thing in that interview that convinced me to buy his book. Knight told parents, “Your son may not win the NCAA Championship. But I promise he will get a college education.” That is the deal breaker – the whole purpose for the NCAA, and hopefully after Bobby Knight’s negative tutoring these young men left with the mindset, “Nothing is easy. I have to earn my way.” That is a life lesson that needs to be repeated.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — May 18, 2013

Excellent analysis, but as advice it doesn’t do much. I don’t know anyone who took advice to be more clever and less dumb. We are what we are. This analysis explains why more intelligent people are more successful. I think that calling it negativity doesn’t fool anyone. Actually, I understand the God thing in the case that they describe – sometimes a lousy shot gives you a win that you know you didn’t deserve and feel the urge to thank someone for that gift. Your Bob and Bob seem to be missing some obvious stuff, perhaps they lacked resources in the empathy department?

From: Bonnie — May 18, 2013

Thanks. I needed that. You are definitely my kind of person. The only way I got past hiding my work was to realize that no one is ever happy with what they’ve done. Oh, yea, they can pass it off as good enough but certainly not something to sing about. They have to learn to just accept it and know they will do better, in my opinion. And, the whole God thing seems to say, I’m the one he favors. I am the holiest. I am better than you in ways other than painting or singing, or playing ball. It has a way of leaving you with the kind of feeling you get when you’ve just stepped in a little dog shit. You smell it when you move a certain way but it is hard to identify just what it is that is bothering you.

From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — May 18, 2013
From: Elle Fagan — May 18, 2013

This is fun and with a lot of truth in it, since the best results come from NOT clouding the issues, in either positive or negative directions. I was just laughing – image how your second-to-last paragraph look done up on ONE embroidered sampler to hang on a wall, just like grandma’s Golden Rule.

From: Janet Darlington — May 18, 2013
From: Carolina Medina — May 18, 2013
From: Luís Guillermo Leigh — May 18, 2013
From: Toni Perrin — May 18, 2013

My ongoing critical appraisal of my work has shown me areas in which to improve. I’ll study and recheck an image many times to make sure that it says what I meant, with empathy and economy. I expect my works to be successful only after deciding what decisions needed to be improved. My “negative search” has reaped positive rewards.

From: Daphne Butler Irving — May 18, 2013
From: Dar Hosta James — May 19, 2013

There are too many studies, real scientific studies that include measuring the levels of “anger hormones, comprehensive brain scans and longevity that are associated with the benefits of positivity, optimism and a happy, satisfied disposition to make me give this load of piss and vinegar another thought. Sounds like it occurred to a grumpy, negative person that they could make their fortune selling the benefits of negative thinking. Humility, which some others have already mentioned here, is something much different than negative thinking or pessimism and most artists I know have it in spades. I always taught my children that no one likes to be around a gloater who is constantly puffing up their chest. This doesn’t mean you have to be negative or not have pride in your work. Negative thinking. Bah. No thanks.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 19, 2013

“My personal bias is that Bobs know better than everyone else. Bob Knight and Bob Hammel have a point. Be negative.” Then why is my name Bruce? In my REALITY Bruce’s know better! I also saw this (gentle)man interviewed by Charlie Rose. I laughed and laughed and laughed! I’ve read ‘all of the above’… God is everything- NOT Him- but Him Her AND It. Both positive AND negative- good AND bad- male AND female- right AND wrong- arrogant AND humble- successful AND a failure- nice AND not/nice- effective AND ineffective- Light AND Dark- and as evidenced by the human species- both smart and stupid. The one thing God is NOT- is mediocre- and boring. Those are human traits. But guess what!? It is ‘I’ who is in the middle of doing a 4-day gallery installation- and God ain’t doing the work- ‘I’ am. ‘I’ also made the work. When I didn’t have enough money to pay my rent and eat. Ooops- no God around paying my rent and buying my food. But my homeless friend did provide some peanut-butter sandwiches left over from the homeless shelter. Hmmm… Contentment- how about Contempt-ment… I’m content! I’m working. Good enough? Published- with awards? Absolutely. A positive thinker? And a negative one too!!! Tolerant of bullsh*t. Not any more. Sorry. Insidious- relentless? You bet. Don’t waste my time. And the whole temper tantrum thing… People don’t like it when their emotional bodies get disrupted. We’ve all been fed a lot of crap around the free expression of all of our emotions- but guess what? If you judge against that free expression- YOU are the WALKING DEAD. Thank you Jackie Knott! Just because some of us ‘appear’ to not be empathetic to your bullsh*t- doesn’t mean we have no empathy. It just means we’re not pathological about it. In order to survive and then succeed at your art-making- you have to gain some recognition- and that requires both being good at what you do (because you actually worked at it for however long it took) and having big enough balls to actually go out and market it to others. Wimpy-ness will not get you anywhere. Getting a trophy for just existing will not get you there. I did the work. I came to know myself decades ago. I’m a brat. A fire-breathing dragon. A skin-shedding snake. A poisonous spider. A relentless badger. A gentle dove. An arrogant prick. A humble ass. I- TOO- am child-of-god… or is it dog? Thanks- Robert- for the really high complement. Disrespectfully and obstreperously yours!!! And I do so hope the pitcher enjoyed getting screwed by God.

From: Sue Lewis — May 20, 2013
From: Elizabeth J. Billups — May 20, 2013

Robert… ONE MAJOR THING YOU DID NOT MENTION, or even REALIZE: the two artists you speak of… THE ONE GUY COULD JUST HAVE BEEN A SUPERIOR ARTIST, Even with a lousy attitude!!! DID YOU EVER think of that!!!

From: Joanne Sibley — May 20, 2013

That is so true and the last paragraph so funny. It makes me feel so good that I can now carry on with my negative thoughts and feel comfortable with them despite the criticism I get for always being just so negative about my work.

From: Irma Backelant — May 20, 2013

I think you confuse your terms. My interpretation is that if one is negative, they don’t even try while one who is positive tries until they get it right no matter the odds against success and that includes self critiques. And yes, the optimist sometimes does jump in where angels fear to tread but they are the doers of the world not the nay sayers. Don’t confuse negativism with humility which many religions teach. One should always be proud of their accomplishments – this does not equate to a better than thou attitude but to self esteem – that which comes from within not from affirmation of others. Give me an optimist any day over a negative, never satisfied or unhappy person or artist.

From: Laura Zerebeski — May 20, 2013

As others have noted, I also think of this half-empty pessimist attitude as “humility” over “negativity.” I was raised in a family that practically lit candles under a Norman Vincent Peale shrine but I always remained firmly on the uh-oh-worry side. Maybe it’s a Slavic thing. Despite any evidence to the contrary, my DNA keeps sending messages that crops are going to fail, it’s going to be a hard winter, and I’m probably going to get invaded by Mongols or Hitler so hunker down and don’t pay attention; keep on farming. “Assume the worst ’cause if it happens you’ll be prepared but if it doesn’t you’ll be extra happy,” seems to be an anthemic thing not limited to my generation. Anyway, this sort of humble realism has given me the ability to stop, drop, and roll when I lose a sale or get ignored or slighted or whatnot, which happens all too frequently as an artist. Weird thing is that my paintings are always seen as joyous and celebratory. Maybe it’s the everyday defiance of the illogical negativity that works best, at least in creation and appreciation. I hold the negative stuff for managing my career.

From: Wes Giesbrecht — May 20, 2013
From: Ib — May 20, 2013

“I did the work. I came to know myself decades ago. I’m a brat. A fire-breathing dragon. A skin-shedding snake. A poisonous spider. A relentless badger. A gentle dove. An arrogant prick. A humble ass.” You are right, you sound like an arrogant prick! Now am I being negative here??

From: jen lacoste — May 21, 2013
From: linda verdery — May 21, 2013

look where Bobby Knight’s negative insights landed him- rage does not inform or protect us from mediocrity- just kind,self-critical reflection.and as far as God goes or whatever you call the source of our creative need- he/she/it is the equation. amen

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — May 21, 2013

My mother used the musical metaphor, “Don’t be sharp, don’t be flat, just be natural.” Personally I don’t like people who have a fixed attitude, just one that is usefully responsive to the issues at hand.

From: Marguerite Christy — May 21, 2013

In reading all the previous comments about various states of minds in approaching our art, I must say that the few pieces of watercolor that I completed from start to finish, including matting and framing, were all done during periods of my life that involved sorrow and loss. One I completed in a hotel bathroom so as to not wake my husband and 15 years later I gave it to a friend. It’s title is Funeral Flowers, and by giving it away, I’ve let loose of feeling the need to study and restudy books and magazines on technique that I damn we’ll have known for over 45 years. Lesson for me — JUST DO IT!!

From: robin christy humelbaugh — May 21, 2013

“Just Do It” is my response also. I find too many people who hold on to their work as absolutely priceless works of art. My best work to show comes from the archives of stuff that flowed at the moment even before I knew entirely what I was doing. I didn’t see it at the time and later could see it for what it was and could see the possible value as insight.

From: Kathryn — May 21, 2013

Hey Robert, I think the term “negative thinking” is an incorrect label for the actual thought processes that are going on. The artist was actually using critical thinking skills, observation, and discernment. One artist was focused on the process of painting while the other was focused on expressing himself as an artist. I’ve mentioned this here before: google Dunning Kruger effect. ” is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.[1] Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. ” We’ve all watched American Idol. You know the ones – they think they are really great when they actually have no talent. The fact is – the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know. Ignorance is bliss, but it ticks the rest of us off.

From: Kathryn — May 21, 2013

A light bulb just went off when I finally read the comments. For some reason, people get confused with critical thinking skills — discernment, dissecting information, critiquing, comparing and contrasting ideas, measuring, analyzing, questioning, revising, correcting… with being negative. Being negative is belittling, getting down on one’s self, complaining without a goal in mind, giving up, taking shortcuts, getting stuck and not try to get out, being inflexible, comparing without the intention of improvement or understanding, becoming jealous, focusing on one’s self rather than the effort/art. One strives for betterment, while the other strives for belittlement.

     Featured Workshop: Sharon Rusch Shaver 052113_robert-genn Sharon Rusch Shaver workshops Artists, Writers, and Explorer Excursions presents 11 days of exploration in Ireland.   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.      woa

Moonlight Pinnacle, Harrys Harbour

palette knife oil painting by Doug Downey, Springdale, Newfoundland, 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 an email from Susan Donnellan of Montvale, NJ, USA, who wrote, “At long last to know I am not unique in harboring thoughts of self-criticism. What a joyous feeling to wake up each morning with an urgent need to meet the daily challenge to finally achieve self-recognition. I ask, ‘Will this be the day when it will happen?’ ” And also Valerie Norberry Vanorden of Kalamazoo, MI, USA, who wrote, “There is a proverb (I know you said to leave God out of it) by King Solomon (not God) that says, ‘Let the words of another praise you and not your own.’ ” (English proverb) And also Julie Eliason of Royal Oak, MI, USA, who wrote, “I am a realist. Reality is sometimes positive and sometimes negative or both.”