One long quiet period


Dear Artist,

When my husband, Peter, attended his first Genn family gathering, he was delighted to find that after the meal everyone scattered to their respective rooms for what our family fondly and only half-jokingly calls, “quiet period.” No communal digestion, no idle chatter, no one’s company sought. Within minutes, everyone was under the covers in their own bed with a book or writing tool. Quiet period is when you get to go to your room to work on that thing you’re quietly working on.

Quiet Morning, 1994 34 x 30 inches acrylic on canvas by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

Quiet Morning, 1994
34 x 30 inches
acrylic on canvas
by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

“Alone, and without any reference to his neighbours, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing;” wrote Oscar Wilde. “If he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.” The habit of solitude begins in childhood, when the parent is secure enough to leave the child alone with his imagination and problem solving. Growing up, we had little choice, because after a few minutes in our dad’s studio, he would gently shoo us out the door and we would head to our own rooms, our arms full with a consolation of paper and felt tips.

I remember him welcoming people into his studio, but visiting was always a privilege. Think of the sacredness not as a rebuff, but as a reverence and permission to take it also for your own. “In solitude, we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us,” wrote Virginia Woolf. Art requires us to quiet our social personas and our giving selves in order to be alone with our dreams. “If you are alone,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci, “you belong entirely to yourself.”

The Tumult of Thy Mighty Harmonies, 2007 36 x 40 inches acrylic on canvas by Robert Genn

The Tumult of Thy Mighty Harmonies, 2007
36 x 40 inches
acrylic on canvas
by Robert Genn



PS: “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” (Henri Nouwen)

Esoterica: Now that Peter and I have moved to a small town, a wonderful thing has happened in my own studio. I’ve noticed that people who are interested in art have found out where I live and put out gentle feelers for visits. In my twenties, visiting friends stepped over my paintings to get to the fridge, or rested their drinks on my stacked canvases. When in my thirties, the easel was but a curiosity to visitors — the same as the piano and the rusting claw-foot, West Village tub. Perhaps I’d grown so accustomed to New York’s nonchalance that I’d forgotten what a studio visit can be, and while it’s still a bit unnerving to metaphorically pull down your pants in front of friends and strangers, there’s also a magic that can happen when the stars align and the vibe is right. In that moment, I’m not alone.

The Ghost Above The Midden, 2005 36 x 40 inches acrylic on canvas by Robert Genn

The Ghost Above The Midden, 2005
36 x 40 inches
acrylic on canvas
by Robert Genn

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.” (John Updike)








  1. An essay I will print out for my permanent files. I love the Oscar Wilde quote ( as validation for what I am up to). The ability to enjoy “alone” time is a gift. Thank you!

  2. Perfect. A grace note I need to hear as I head into new territory in my work— work that is personal, necessary and quite possibly completely unmarketable. Ten years ago, before my art had become a way of making a living, I asked my new critique group if they would continue making work if it wasn’t shown or sold. Most of them were ambivalent, but I was noble (and naive) and held out for the resolute answer: “of course, it would make no difference at all because I do the work for its own sake.”

    As audience grows however so does attachment to audience, and the association of ones’ personal value with what an audience will buy. I will use this wonderful image of the whole house being quiet and at purpose to reset my values compass for a time of private exploration.

  3. I often say I need to ‘go to my room’, remembering ready those words in letters from your dad. I enjoyed reading your take on this subject Sara particularly the last sentence. Love it!

  4. What a beautiful post Sara! I have become accustomed to my alone time so much that it is I am afraid a necessity for my wellbeing. I definitely had those parents who were happy to let me be on my own – as long as I left a note on the table to say where I had gone and what time I thought I might be back. With this one safety rule the woods for miles around were open for exploring with no people, just wild animals and the forest and a few roughed out trails. Love these paintings by Robert as well. They have that quiet inner stillness to them that we so often crave.

    All the best of Friday and the weekend to you and everyone who drops by this post.

  5. To be alone does not mean to be lonely. You can be lonely in a crowd. Solitude is a welcoming friend. A lot of good can happen when you’re alone with your thoughts.
    Nice letter, Sara.

  6. Lovely piece and oh soooo true.! Creativity needs quiet and openness to what comes or does not. At least we get to visit ourselves.

  7. I grew up in a family with eleven siblings in a tiny house. I still found alone time in the basement reading Shakespeare out loud, singing out loud with Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte, and reading whatever I could find. It was harder to do painting or drawing art because my sibs were curious and fascinated. I do believe alone time is essential for the creative spirit to thrive, and doing art for the pleasure it brings to oneself is the ultimate joy.

  8. How wonderful to welcome the “Quiet Periods”. I also understand this not as running away, but ”running to” solitude where the digestion of creative juices nourish not only the person but the greater good.
    As someone privileged to have visited your dad’s studio on a number of occasions I appreciated being welcomed into the sacred place and saw how an artist would simply need to be alone in it to make magic happen, as fun as it may be to have people visit from time to time.
    Thank you for this lovely reminder and beautiful paintings in this letter, Sara.

  9. What a beautiful letter and it is so true. My best work happens when I am alone in my studio with Mozart accompanying my journey. In moments like these, I feel truly blessed and free.

  10. I only remember looking up through my tears at the bare bulb hanging in the cold dark cellar where my father sent me alone as a child, because I could not learn like other children. Before early diagnosis and drugs for children for those things they now call dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, my left handedness left me unable to write well, reading was almost impossible, and my thoughts wandered endlessly. As an adult I have blocked out most of my thoughts of what came before the root cellar where he put me. I walked through this life not knowing why I am so afraid of the dark. I run from darkened rooms to this day and I am 67 years old. He doesn’t remember doing it to me anymore. The grounding from things like the telephone and from visiting with friends only sent me deeper into myself. Some ramifications are good, but most I have had to overcome the best I can. Communication can be difficult for me at times. It takes all that I have to concentrate and not hear the negative back-talk. I was cut off and called stupid more than once when I was a child. How cruel my father could be. I forgive him now. I am an artist and a writer probably because of him. I will always look to the light and listen carefully to the leadings of truth. Great letter Sarah. You helped me wake up to this today and allowed me to share it.

    • So much damage has been done to those who learn differently and are misunderstood. I am happy for you that you found a path through your creativity to heal your wounds although the scars remain.

      • Thank you Linda Jolly. Children should only be loved and gently allowed to learn at their own pace, without judgment and ridicule if they are somehow different. Isolation was an experiment that my young father tried on his first born to make me into someone I was not. I survived, but yes, scars do remain. I try not to identify with them very often. Somehow, I think they have made me much stronger and I have such compassion for others who have grown up with fear as young children.

    • Your comment has so touched my heart,I am sorry for your pain. I am thankful that you have been able to forgive and in forgiving have found the freedom to become the person God would have you to be. Your paintings are beautiful. Hope to read your writings. God bless, Susan

    • Sharon, this has brought tears to my eyes. You have overcome great obstacles. You certainly can communicate now. Your artwork says it all in such a magnificent way-beautiful!

  11. A very beautiful post- thank you! And I particularly love these paintings that you used to accompany it. I’ve been following Robert for years, and seen so many of his paintings, but these have such a striking spiritual property! He would’ve loved what you wrote and showed.

  12. This one is a masterpiece!…I think it should be framed for the studio wall….and thank you for including Henry Nouwen quote!

  13. Thanks Sara for your wise and poetic words, you are continuing your dad’s tradition wonderfully!

    I too had the privilege of visiting your dad in his studio, a magical ( and to me a “sacred”) place.

    I would love to connect with you in your studio space in your new “small town” at some point

    With gratitude and warm regards


  14. I’ve taken to hanging paintings and drawings I’ve done over the years on the largest wall in my “art room.” They are rarely seen by anyone else, but when I step in to work on something new, they say, “This is where you’ve been. Keep going.” There is something very comforting about having the past become a foundation for the future, and the time alone to contemplate the significance of each new work.

    • Your message has resonated with me to a great extent. I also have hung my paintings in my small studio on its walls and on other walls throughout our home and they speak to me also letting me know how fortunate I am for having the ability to create art and what a wonderful unending amount of satisfaction I have received spending alone time at my easel.

  15. Ronaldo Norden on

    This subject touched my heart greatly, in particular two areas;
    I , like Sharon Shaver, was brought up to be in fear and shame of my gift of creating art. The scars that l carry still, even after many hours of councelling assistance remain embedded , l still lock the door to my studio.
    And the other issue is that having a private studio is a tremendous privilege not to be ignored. I know many practicing artists whose studio is a corner of a cabin.
    Thank you for this wonderfully revealing web site,,,,, Ronaldo

  16. so beautiful, sara. i love that you named quiet time and gave it weight. i am taking it now and making even more space around it in our house. thanks for the reminder, about the quiet time and the magic and connection that a true studio visit can be. xo

  17. Soo..Robert gave up multiple hours of quiet over the years, to let me hang out in his studio as he painted…or yack with him on the phone. He gave up more time and quiet to visit me at my studio in Ladner and when I moved to the arctic he arranged his schedule to spend a couple of days with me at my home on the shores of Great Slave Lake NWT.
    When I moved back to Parksville on the Island he turned up one day in a monster motor home for yet another visit.
    He took time to speak with me even in the latter days of his illness.

    I am forever grateful to God He brought Robert into my life,
    Robert’s willing sacrifice of precious silence and apart time for me, went a long way in enabling the career I have had as an artist.
    Yes, Robert labored in pigments, design and subjects pursuing the beautiful on canvas, but to me that pursuit was more perfectly realized in other medium. The medium of His time and person applied with effortless grace to far more precious canvases.
    Others lives.
    No word or words or any expression could explain the thanks and gratitude that lingers in my heart .
    I miss my friend.

    • I admire your loving message that you have so artfully articulated in response to Sara’s letter. You were truly fortunate to have known Robert Genn on a personal basis. He is someone that I would have given anything to spend time with to soak in his extraordinary knowledge, wisdom and civility. Thank you Graeme Shaw for sharing your thoughts.

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

Up to the Mark: 2.5 Day Abstract Intensive with Emphasis on Mark Making in Santa Fe, NM with Julie Schumer and James Koskinas
May 1, 2020 to May 3, 2020


Experience beautiful early spring in Santa Fe, NM.  Develop your own unique marks and painting vocabulary in this 2 1/2 day abstract acrylic workshop.


We will work on paper, and for those who like, unstretched canvas, using conventional and unconventional mark making tools and drawing media.  Via guided exercises you will practice a variety of marks and learn how to create a work rich with history and depth through the process of layering these marks with acrylic paint.


This class is suitable for beginning and intermediate painters.  Cost is $595.00  Materials list provided one month prior to the workshop or can be provided at an additional cost of $100.00 Joy
11 x 14

Featured Artist

I am a self taught artist, I work in oil, Acrylic and watercolour also in Pastels. Started painting In Ashcroft with Mr. Campbell. I taught my self how to paint by studying professional artists’ work through reading, TV programs, educational DVD and work shops.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.