Fun with kids


Dear Artist,

Yesterday I went to a local elementary school — grades one to seven. I set up in the library, and two classes at a time came in to watch me paint and hear what I had to say. The school was in a new suburban neighborhood. Dorothy came too, but she was swarmed and had to leave. I asked if anyone was willing to take her for a walk and 45 hands went up. A teacher took her. I squeezed out and told the kids that in situations like this I try to visualize nice places I’d been. I told them I sometimes started with the foreground and worked toward the back. Some kids were raring to ask questions. Sometimes five hands were in the air at the same time. I had to keep my answers terse.


Before the fun began..

“What is that you are painting?” (A mountain and a lake.) “Are those supposed to be clouds?” (No, it’s the snow on the mountains.) “You put in the snow before the mountains?” (Sometimes.) “Why are you using that colour?” (It seems right.) “Do you paint other things besides this one?” (Yes.) “Can you paint people?” (I try.) “Were you always a good drawer?” (Yes, pretty good.) By now I was painting with my other mind. One class left and another arrived.


Lake of the Woods Remembered at Bothwell Elementary — acrylic painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn

Some kids were interested in the concept of failing. “Have you made many bad paintings?” (Yes.) “How many?” (Thousands.) “What do you do with them?” (Most I throw out; some I hope to fix one day.) “Could you give me one of them?” (I’ll consider it.) “Why do you bother with the bad ones when you already know how to paint?” (I don’t know.) “Is this one of them?” (Could be.)

“Have you always done this?” (Yes.) “How long have you been painting?” (All my life.) “How old are you now?” (71.) “Do you think you have more time left?” (Yes.) “Are there some paintings you will never be able to sell?” (Yes.) “Which ones?” (The personal, family ones, and the bad ones.)


Lake O’Hara Remembered at Bothwell Elementary — acrylic painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn

One class seemed remarkably concerned with economics. “How much did you get for the first one you sold?” ($15.) “How much do you get for them now?” ($2000 to $50,000.) “What’s the most you ever got for one?” ($100,000.) “How much do you make, anyway?” (Quite a bit.) “Are you rich?” (Fairly.) “How many cars do you have?” (17.) “Do you have a Lamborghini?” (No.) At this point a teacher interjected that they should stick to questions about art. And so it went. Eventually the final buzzer sounded. I was exhausted. I went home. I had to have a drink.



Students from Grade Six. These kids were primed to ask penetrating questions.

Best regards,


PS: “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet tired of the man.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

Esoterica: Nothing like a day with the kids to cut to the chase. I was just able to bring a couple of paintings home and fix them up this morning. “The unconscious mind is decidedly simple, unaffected, straightforward and honest,” said family psychologist and cultural theorist Milton Erikson. “It hasn’t got all of this facade, this veneer of what we call adult culture. It’s rather simple, rather childish. It’s direct and it’s free.”


Volunteer program rounds out curriculum
by Dallyn Zundel, Orem, UT, USA


“Early Morning Light”
oil painting
by Dallyn Zundel

This one of the funniest letters I have read. I did the same thing last year at my kid’s elementary school. Same types of questions came up. I was really astounded as to how they are so concerned with money. I did my thing at the school because the school lost some of their funding so they had to get rid of all of their arts programs, art, music, drama etc. My wife and one second grade teacher started an art program for the entire school (over 600 students) where they brought in guest artists of all types (illustrators, photographers, painters, musicians, dancers, actors etc.) for demonstrations and shows. Then lessons were provided based on the theme of the guest artist. They did this for the entire year on less than $2500 that bought supplies and paid for a couple of groups’ travel fees. It was so successful that the program has received recognition from the governor’s education director (Utah). It’s really sad that the first things cut, when it comes to children’s education, always seem to be the arts.


Kids more informed now
by Sue Corbin, Westerville, OH, USA

Kids are so bright today and they certainly have their eye on the career and money aspect. I am raising my 7 year old granddaughter Leilani since birth and I have to say, she is very bright. Although I do give credit to her innate intelligence, I also include myself and the elementary school that she attends in the mix. A lot of the information that she receives in first grade, I learned in the fifth to ninth grade. Albeit, it was five decades ago but I am still amazed at what is taught and how much she can grasp. The more exposure the brain gets the sharper the child… oops, let me not forget the adults… and older adults.


Kids say the funniest things
by Marian O’Shaughnessy, Charlotte, NC, USA


watercolour painting, 11 x 14 inches
by Marian O’Shaughnessy

This was so funny!! It reminds me of a few years ago when I was at IBM as a female engineer visiting schools. My favorite was a kid who was so proud of his Daddy because he got $1/hour (stated as if that were $1000) for just wearing a pager. The class was amazed — and I knew that the $1 for the hassle and interruption to your personal life was SO not worth it. I had a hard time not laughing out loud on that one. They also asked me which computer was better — Apple or IBM (because his friend thought his Apple was better). When I paint plein-air I get a lot of these types of questions from kids and their parents. It is pretty hard to answer their questions and paint at the same time. I think you have to be painting something that requires not much concentration in the classroom situation. Interestingly enough, when I paint in other countries, people don’t bother me as much. They might stop and look but they don’t ask many questions. I think they are more polite.


Kids have no filters
by Lori Levin, Pennsville, NJ, USA


graphite drawing
by Lori Levin

I almost wet my pants laughing at the child asking you if this was one of your bad paintings! I truly believe children ask the very things most adults want to ask. Adults are afraid to look unknowledgeable about art so they try to ask more lofty questions. However, eventually they get down to their real curiosity which usually is how long does a painting take to do and how much money you make. Kids have no filters, you got to love them! I think after that day two drinks might have been in order. I need one just for reading about your day.




Discovering the ‘Art Department’
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“Fallen Angel IV”
acrylic painting, 30 x 36 inches
by John Ferrie

By doing this you have changed the trajectory of any number of these kids just from leading by example. When I was growing up and in elementary school, I was sent to remedial reading when all the other kids went to arts and crafts. I was horribly dyslexic, still am and way back then, it was deemed a learning disability. I failed grade 3. But in grade 7, I saw something called the “Art Department” and my life forever changed. It helped me overcome a lot. I think that one of the best things an artist can do is give back to the community. They can do this by donating to charities, do interviews or teach seminars to young and inspiring minds. I love doing stuff like that and anything done with enthusiasm is a good thing. Whenever I meet with kids, I always tell them, pick one thing they really love and become really good at it. The rest will come.


Memories of an art teacher
by Lauri Svedberg, Minneapolis, MN, USA


oil painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Lauri Svedberg

For 30 glorious, hectic, uplifting, frustrating years I taught high school studio art. Now that I am alone in my studio I marvel at how I was able to keep up with the pace of a teen-packed classroom, manage all the supplies, do all the bureaucratic paperwork nonsense, be a surrogate parent /counselor /confidante, mount exhibits, supervise the halls and cafeteria, stay awake through tedious faculty meetings… I think you have an idea. I am thrilled to have time for my own work at last — and yet, your school visit description made me nostalgic for my amazing students. My garage wall is covered with their senior photos and farewell messages. Some still visit and write me with tales of their adult lives. A number are making their livings in the art world and many have become teachers themselves — which warms my heart. As you might have discovered on your school visit, teaching is one of the most important (yet sadly underpaid /underrated) vocations in our world. Kudos to the teacher(s) who went the extra mile to arrange your visit.


Art education civilizes kids
by Bernard Victor, London, UK


“Moroccan still-life”
original painting
by Bernard Victor

It is amazing the way Art can connect with children. Our local Dulwich Art Gallery is always hosting groups of young children. My son-in-law is a primary school teacher, and a time ago he was working in a local school with a class of very deprived children, a large proportion of whom did not have English as their primary language. He found them very difficult to control, but he took them to the gallery and said he was amazed at how these usually unruly classmates were so quiet and got so wrapped up in having the paintings explained to them. Our grandson, when 8, was taken there by his school. He really enjoyed it and insisted taking us round afterwards to tell us all he had learned. The works in the gallery are all Old Masters, whilst we have found that when taken to a gallery our grandchildren prefer abstract paintings to figurative works, so it says a lot for the teaching staff that they can keep quite young children interested in traditional paintings.


Letting kids crit your work
by Dorenda Crager Watson, Columbus, OH, USA


original painting
by Dorenda Crager Watson

I have found my second-grade students to be the absolute BEST reviewers of my art abilities. Often I will bring my “finished” paintings in for my students to take a look at and to offer their opinions of my endeavors… after all, I grade them on their work as well… fair is fair! I cannot tell you the number of times they will catch something (out of pure innocence) that needs correction or refinement… and I LISTEN. They are never cruel or malicious in their critiques… merely honest and fresh in their ability to SEE. (It’s SO much better than listening to a group of adults touting art words and “profound” statements that in the end tell you nothing.) The kids often give me SO much information that I often have to take a nap (to ponder) when I get home! Once I brought in a portrait I had been struggling with for my kids to discuss/critique. One quiet 7-year-old child raised her hand and said, “Mrs. Watson, why do you spend time doing things you don’t love?” (“Out of the mouths of babes” and my new philosophy of life from then on.)


An understanding heart
by Ann Weaver, Kenly, NC, USA

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read about your experience at the school. I am an elementary visual art teacher who attempts to teach 670 kids per week on a schedule of 7-8 classes per day. By the end of the day I’m exhausted and ready to bang my head against the door. I know what I am supposed to do as far as working with kids, but I’ve learned to do the best that I can with the situation in which I’ve been placed. It’s too many kids and too many classes and not enough time. “An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling.” (Carl Jung)



Never know who you might influence
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA


“Mountain View”
watercolour painting
by Jan Ross

I participated in a similar program at my children’s school, where February is ‘Dedicated to the Arts Month.’ Artists are invited to spend the day demonstrating and discussing their areas of interest. One class of eager first graders came by, and as I showed them some samples of my watercolors, one painting of our daughter’s white pony, Loop de Lou, captured the interest of a blue-eyed, dark-haired boy. He offered to pay me all the money he had on him, which was $1.65. I told him how the painting was promised to my daughter, but encouraged him to try painting one for himself. A couple of weeks later, a newsletter came home from the school, announcing the untimely death of this same little boy… the same virus attacked his heart that took Jim Henson, of the Muppets. The obituary in the local paper had a brief history for the boy and said, “He loved to draw and paint. His last painting, of a white pony, still hangs on his bedroom wall.” Chills ran up my spine, and I was moved to tears knowing I’d influenced this young person so deeply!


Painting with kids
by Anna Hayes, Edmonton, AB, Canada

Instead of painting FOR kids, try painting WITH kids. I teach art to 520 elementary students here in Edmonton. One of my favorite lessons is discovering painting with the grade ones. We learn how to mix colours right on our paper and how to use our brush. The class is usually fairly quiet except for the exclamations of the students when they discover that they mixed a new colour and their neighbors trot over to see. There is much discussion about how the artist made that particular colour and then they trot back to try it on their own paper. It is exhausting but also exhilarating to feel their excitement… I usually HAVE to paint at home that night… and I just play and explore with paint. Painting with kids is very freeing and I recommend it to all!


Response from Bothwell Elementary
by Dianne Harding and Bothwell Elementary School Staff, Surrey, BC, Canada


In their musings, following the event, my students’ enjoyment of you and your art came through loud and clear. They enjoyed making art afterward too, but almost all of them focused on the session with you. (Dorothy was also a big hit.) They loved being able to ask questions about what you were doing, while you were doing it. Every single one of them was in awe that you could talk and paint so beautifully at the same time! They talked about your methods and how the picture looked like a blob at first, then turned into a wonderful cloud or mountain. Many also enjoyed hearing about your youth and various exposures to famous artists. I expect that, one day, they will be telling their own children about having met you! Some students and teachers said that they could have sat there, watching and listening to you all morning. Funny, they never beg me to go on with my math lesson! I heard similar comments about your session from the other teachers. Later, children, even little ones, were creating pictures using guidelines from you. One teacher overheard a kid talking to himself about the “layers” as he painted. You made a deep impression! And they all want to look at the book Love Letters to Art. What a wonderful gift… not just the book, but the whole visit.

The whole experience, especially your visit, has helped to stimulate a lifelong interest in making art and viewing art in many of these children. In a world where parents pay hundreds of dollars to take their children to one hockey / basketball game, we need to create at least an equal interest in patronizing art exhibitions and the theatre. Can we raise a generation that has a desire (and the financial commitment) to surround themselves with beautiful, original art? The “starving artist” is such a cliche, but an unfortunate reality. In contrast, there are a lot of millionaire athletes. To create a society where there is a more balanced appreciation of culture and sports, we need to address this at the elementary school level. Thanks, Robert, for helping us get a start on it.

(RG note) Thanks, Dianne, and all the other teachers who brought their kids around. It was totally my joy and pleasure. There were so many penetrating questions that my twice-weekly letter could have been much longer. As it is, my head is still spinning with wonderment.


Among the truly deprived
by Hanna MacNaughtan, Kemptville, ON, Canada


under the giving tree

I took part in a recent mission trip to El Salvador. I travelled with the local Rotary Club for a 12 day mission in which we delivered much needed medical supplies, clothing and personal hygiene items to the poorest of the poor. We also worked hard in the 40 degree heat helping to build houses in a remote village and even painted a couple murals. One at the remote village on their water tank and the other at a small overlooked orphanage where 13 pre-teen children lived in horrible conditions. As a Registered Nurse I felt saddened by all the hardships of the people there. Many living in shacks of sticks, mud and cardboard. No bathrooms, no kitchen sinks, no pretty pictures on the walls, no nice furniture. The living conditions of the children are like nothing I had ever seen. The smiles and hugs from the children (you wished you could bring home to Canada with you) just melted your heart. As an artist my senses were truly awakened. I felt the spirit of Vincent inside of me! Being with the poor, seeing how they live gives one a whole new awaking in life. I had brought along a small watercolour paint set and some 300 lb arches cut in small pieces hoping to have the opportunity to paint. Reality was that we were on the run so much I was lucky to be able to stop long enough to take a snapshot. A million paintings went rushing through my head everywhere we went. One day while working at the remote village I took a rest under what the locals call the “Giving Tree.” I always brought my little paint set in my back pack hoping for a moment to arise when I could paint. Finally, I had the chance.


“Door of love”
painted mural

For the first time I attempted to paint some portraits from life. I was surprised to see how the very young children would sit and pose for me for a good 15-20 minutes while I drew and painted them. And I was further delighted to see how appreciative they were to receive the paintings. I realized at that moment that they didn’t even have any photos let alone paintings of themselves in their little homes. I could see the gratitude in the mothers faces as the children ran to show what I had given them. What greater pleasure could an artist have in this life? I was in heaven at that moment. This was my first mission and I know it won’t be my last. “To save a life is a real and beautiful thing. To make a home for the homeless, yes, it is a thing that must be good; whatever the world may say, it cannot be wrong.” (Vincent Van Gogh)

I encourage other artists to reach out beyond their comfort zone and arouse their senses.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Fun with kids



From: Leza Macdonald — Apr 29, 2008

I laughed through your letter this a.m., it makes me want to teach the little ones. To watch them grow as artists and hopefully have one maybe even two do so much better than I in this world of art! P.S. Had to find the letter in the clickbacks.

From: Helen Zapata — Apr 29, 2008

Leza, I had to go looking for this letter in the clickbacks too! I didn’t want to wait for Friday to respond. Robert, you had me rolling on floor laughing as I read your letter this morning. Kids can be ruthless! And sometimes I think they are quicker than us grownups. Loved when one asked if you’d give them one of the bad ones. haha! Or, why you bother with the bad ones! oh my.. you have me in stitches. You’re a brave man, Robert!

From: Peter Lloyd — Apr 29, 2008

Yes, Robert, I had a good laugh as well. I have occasionally been roped in to be quizzed by littlies, not because I have any wisdom to impart (I wish!) but just because I have been around too long, during some historic moments and in some interesting places. They certainly come right out of left field:

“Were you scared” (re WW2 air raids)

“Yes, very”

“Why didn’t you go home, then?”

“Did you meet Hitler?”

“Did you have to polish your armour every morning?”

“Do you have any medals?” (Complete loss of street cred.)

“Have you got a mom?”

From: Vivian Durant Smith — Apr 29, 2008


I don’t know how to write poetry.

I couldn’t teach you to do it.

So where do my poems come from?

They must be from my intuit!

So what am I trying to say here?

Let no one tell you, you can’t,

For I am the living proof of

a mind that is open to rant.

I’ve been published in major anthologies.

Why, I haven’t a clue.

They must like the mad, sad and glad stuff

I intuit from you, you and you.

From: Fay Fairbairn — May 01, 2008

How appropriate for me – I have been asked to teach a class of kids in a Woman’s shelter and I would like to do that but I didn’t know where to start – so I bought a book authored by Mona Brookes of California – called Drawing with Children – I hope to start this fall. I’m sure I’ll need a glass or two of wine when I’m finished too.

From: Joyce Keltie — May 01, 2008

I taught 9 and 10 year olds for 26 years. I always went home
exhausted and had a glass of wine. But I wouldn’t have missed those years. The kids always want to know how old you are.

From: Janie Seal — May 01, 2008

I very much enjoyed your story of spending the day at an elementary school, & answering all of those questions. I teach Art at a local primary school, grades K, 1, and 2. I have 650 students & see 6 classes a day, for 40 minutes each, once every 6 days. Yes, my days fly by! The kids love coming to our Art Studio, as I call my classroom. They learn about artists, world cultures, illustrators, etc.. We paint, draw, do clay with glazes, and much more. During our study of Monet this year, I took my plein air easel, palette, paints, & brushes in to school & demonstrated how the easel unfolds, the whole set-up. They were enthralled. I took each class outside on campus to do some plein air drawing with chalk pastels. My students love to learn & create, and I love being the one enabling that, and watching what happens!! As I tell my students, the more you look, the more you see!

From: Nora Myres — May 01, 2008

Been there, did that for 26 years, drink lots of wine and reflect on how much I miss all those kiddos, their wonderful minds and their love of learning about their world!

From: Teri Peterson — May 01, 2008

Yesterday a woman came into my gallery. She was seeking a drawing class for her home-schooled, 10 year old daughter. I sensed the inquiry was directed for me to respond, “I can do that!”. But in effort to not commit myself, I quickly flipped through the invisible Rolodex contained in my mind. She appeared to not notice my subtle efforts of avoidance and made it clear she had chosen me.
After reading your account I can say, I will have fun with this kid!

From: Harry Robbins — May 01, 2008

The joy of working with kids is, for me, that moment when they realize that they don’t have to be a technician to be an artist. Technique is developed, but the creative urge, the desire to find personal expression is in each of us. It needs to be discovered and nurtured. That is the job of the teacher, any teacher in any subject. After almost 25 years of teaching art to 12 to 19 years-old youths, most of whom were court adjudicated to attend the school, it is still a joy to have kids see possibilities for growth in their lives that were hidden or crushed by the circumstances of their childhood.

From: Laurel McBrine — May 01, 2008

Thanks for the most amusing report on your visit — you had me laughing out loud! If you want an honest critique, just ask a child.

From: Michelle Madalena — May 01, 2008

I loved your account of your experience and your answers to the children’s questions! It has given me hope that I may be able to stand in front of a class and answer questions about painting or other aspects of the world according to an artist.
This letter was just a joy to read and it brought a wonderful happy smile to my face and made me realize that there is no need to panic.

From: Dar Hosta — May 01, 2008

A while back I remember you asking your readers for their opinions of your column. You wanted to know what we liked and didn’t like. I, like others, was a bit put off by all the chronicling of your jet-setting and some of the esoteric name dropping you frequently practiced and wanted more on the philosophy and business of art. There was a marked change in the vibe after you received our feedback and I have truly enjoyed the more humble version of Robert Genn. I think I speak for many of us when I say I am always aware of your obvious business success, but it has been nice to not feel talked down to or patronized by an artist who enjoys the plentiful fruits of his labor as well as freely gives out knowledge and advice without bragging or acting superior. I read your column, not only because I learn from you, but also because I see myself in you.

As someone who nearly always responds to your articles that tie into my own interests in education, I was smiling and chuckling through most of today’s column. But, when you decided to reveal your

economics to us, I literally winced. Envy? Jealousy? Maybe. I mean, who doesn’t wish they made a lot of money from their art? But more than anything, I wondered why you felt you needed us to know those numbers? Children ask these things, yes, but like the adults who interjected that day, we grownups know that money is not only an extremely sensitive topic, but that it is something that divides us, whether we like it or not. So, today I really felt like I did not see myself in you because, frankly, I don’t make that kind of a living off my art. But I would also never tell thousands of other artists, many struggling to get by in one of the worst markets for art and freelancing and getting by, that I was fairly rich and had 17 cars. When you tell a child this sort of thing, I guess they think you are cool. When you tell another grownup, they think you are arrogant.

“To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.” -Benjamin Franklin

From: James Lindquist — May 01, 2008

Hey Dar, get a life. Robert is twice as old as you and he’s got a right to have gathered a few dimes. There’s no place for envy or jealousy in Robert’s world. He does his best twice a week to help people like you know it’s possible to be what you want. And he charges you nada. And as for all those cars–he collects ’em. He likes beautiful things.

From: Kate Dardine — May 01, 2008

Once again – twice in a row, really – you’ve written something that truly strikes a chord with me. Last week I painted in front of two classes of 2nd graders and they were fascinated – and fascinating. Rapid-fire questions ranging from “How do you know what you are going to paint?” to “Will you trade your painting for one of mine?” At one time I had so many children crowded in and around me that I could hardly move. I was not ungrateful when the teacher suggested I might need some air! But their enthusiasm was contagious and I soon found myself painting intuitively while answering all their questions. And the painting turned out okay. Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but bold, loose and very colorful! I ended up donating the piece to the school. When I got back home, a glass of wine and a Loreena McKennitt CD re-established my normal heart rate!

From: Jenny Collins, New Zealand — May 01, 2008

I was in my late 50’s when I held my first solo exhibition in a tiny gallery above a framing business. I had a visit from two delightful children who had got bored in the school holidays helping their Mum in her nearby lunch bar. The children knew the framers well, but this day was the first time they’d been allowed to come upstairs to the gallery which was not usually “manned”. The little boy had just turned 5 and would start school shortly. His sister was eight. Their first question was “Where’s the exhibition?” (“This is it. An exhibition means pictures hanging up for people to look at. We don’t touch, we just look and enjoy.”) After a short time the boy, having given the pictures a cursory glance, chose to turn somersaults…..and run downstairs to pester the framers. His sister, though, told me all about art at school, and asked lots of searching questions about my work. Finally as she sat beside me on a bench looking at the biggest piece on show, she said in a collegial tone, “You know you painted that one really well. You painted it in 2002, so you must have been quite little when you did it”

From: Brigitte Nowak — May 01, 2008

In response to Dar Hosta’s criticism of Robert’s success – I am thrilled when any artist, especially a living, Canadian one, achieves that kind of financial success: it simply proves that with hard work, skill, technical ability, marketing savvy and no doubt some luck, it is possible to reach financial independence in the art world – way to go, Robert!!!

From: Brad Greek — May 02, 2008

I’ve always believed that art has more meanings than to just create and sell. This shows that.

From: Mary Wood — May 02, 2008

My grandson, Jonathan, has painted with me since he was 2. I just gave him his own cabinet and acrylic paints and let him discover what the paints did <em>”Look, Gwamma, the bwue is stwonger than the wed”</em>, and similar comments came as we painted, each on our own side of the studio. Over time he became one of my greatest critics. At six he exclaimed on one visit, “Oh grandma, I really like that new painting,” and as his eye fell on another new piece, “but that’s a piece of crap!” Bang on! On another occasion, he looked over a painting I was struggling with and commented, “Grandma, that painting has too many rectangles and no place to look.” (Seven years old at the time.)
He had absorbed so much in seven years of painting, observing and chatting that his innate sense of composition was honed finer than some of the adult students I teach in workshops. As a sidenote, Jony will be coming with me to Alan Soffer’s workshop in Jamaica next January.

From: Dottie Dracos — May 02, 2008

I volunteer as a teacher of ceramic arts (hand-building and underglaze-painting — I do the rest) to people at the opposite extremes of life: residents of a senior assisted-living facility. As many of you with experience teaching art to young people have said, it is a most exhausting — and rewarding — experience. These people, when they start the class with me, have what appear to be insurmountable emotional walls built up. After being in the group for a couple of hours, they’re happily engrossed in their individual art projects; and by the end of the sessions, many are speaking freely of themselves, their oftentimes very interesting lives, the art projects we’re doing, and how much they love and look forward to the classes. One lady even said at the end of one session that it was the best thing that she had experienced (was this a compliment?) at this facility! Each session, I see bricks falling from those emotional walls they’ve built, and we’re all happier for it. It is one of the most rewarding — and exhausting — experiences of my life.
And a personal “thank you” to you, Robert, for sharing your artist’s life with all of us. I so very much appreciate it. Your letters help me stay focused on my desire to be the best artist I can be.

From: Liz — May 02, 2008

Living a long, full life, staying creative, giving back to children and a sizable chunk of artists who read these letters – isn’t that what we all want as artists? Making a decent living as an artist is a good thing and it’s nice to know that it is possible. I appreciate that Robert shares with us some of the keys to his success. And he never stops learning, travelling and trying new things!

From: Debbie Wilson — May 02, 2008

I really enjoyed this letter. Being a school bus driver I have several days I could use a drink or two but I come home to my art instead.

From: Dar Hosta — May 02, 2008

For those who read my response and came to the conclusion that I somehow begrudge Robert his success, you completely missed the point. I love success, for myself, for my friends and for anyone in the arts, for that matter. Success is a good and well-deserved thing. My response was specifically about the decorum of success and about having the awareness of others around oneself. The “kids say the darndest things” slant of that letter would have been equally effective without the financial report. No one on this list is naive enough to think Genn isn’t wealthy anyway.

From: Cassandra James — May 02, 2008

I so admire a child’s innocent approach to artmaking. I have felt so long that that was the intent of my instructors in college so long ago – now 40 years – to get back to the innocence of a childlike approach to artmaking, by teaching us so little of the process of getting there. In order to tap into the richer content of one’s subconscious mind, but I must say knowing the process – or more specifically my process of art making – makes it more likely that I can tap into the subconscious mind while giving it a go. This larger irony is interesting but frustrating. One must understand process to make an interesting product, but must be able to put it all aside or out of mind to be able to go beyond technique, as a child does, without thinking about it.

From: Cassandra James — May 02, 2008

I forgot to mention how important it is for children to see adults being creative. This is our only antidote to the destruction in the world today. Please don’t stop what you’re doing and appreciate that it is not a luxury.

From: Anonymous — May 02, 2008

I loved the column about the kids and have had similar experiences with kindergartners also. Not only are they refreshing, their honesty is inspiring. I do agree with Dar Hosta though in that including a reference to exact financial numbers smacks of arrogance only meant to put distance between Robert and the rest of his digital world of artists. I’ve been painting for over 30 years now and would love to make more money, if only for the benefit of my children. Exact financial figures are between me, the gallery, my clients and the tax man. In the end, I make a decent living, one that allows me to continue a lifestyle many are unable to achieve. Enough said.

From: Simone — May 02, 2008

To Dar Hosta and Anonymous: Robert’s price list for his paintings is posted on his website – public knowledge. Having 17 cars means he loves cars – we all prioritize for our loves. Making “quite a bit” and being “fairly” rich are relative and not a revelation.

From: Anonymous — May 02, 2008

Money is not a dirty thing and kids should know that being an artist doesn’t mean you will be a bum (as my parents used to think). If you are offended by someone telling how much they make, the problem is in you.

From: Peter Brown — May 02, 2008

People are always talking about “The Three R’s.” In truth there is the Fourth R which is art. I have been a full time art teacher in Oakland, California for 15 years. It saddens me to read about schools without a full time art teacher. Art is the absolute “best” means for teaching many subjects. All elementary school teachers should know the basics of drawing and the ways one can use art to teach basic skills. Art is fundamental in the education of children. I am trying to make this happen in the state of California.

From: Antoinette C. Ledzian — May 02, 2008

BRAVO to YOU, Dianne Harding, the Bothwell Elementary School Staff and precious children. Dianne’s response brought cheers and tears!

From: Agnes Tucker — May 02, 2008
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 03, 2008

Poor Dar Hosta. You poor female. Truly, Robert has no reason to be humble just because it upsets your poor female perception of reality. As a male who is expected to succeed at his chosen profession from the day he is born – primarily so he can support a wife and family – never once have I felt talked down to or patronized by Robert. Never have I felt he was bragging or acting superior. So it really must be you. You winced? You poor thing. If anything, Robert needs to talk more about money – more about what it is in him that has allowed money to flow to him – not less. So money’s a sensitive subject? Then let’s talk about it MORE – NOT LESS. So a discussion about money divides us? Then let’s talk about it MORE – NOT LESS. Life as an artist is difficult financially – so we should be talking about it MORE – NOT LESS!!! You think he is arrogant just for mentioning it. It is your own arrogance being reflected back at you. You should really watch Suzi Ormand’s recent PBS special on women and money. Women in our culture are so completely screwed up around money that even Suzi Ormand was dumbfounded when she realized just how large the problem is. Your comments are disgusting. So you didn’t see yourself in Robert, today? Too bad. He’s a male, and you’re not. While all the perceived gender differences among humans annoy me completely – primarily because of how women’s perceptions of themselves, their work, and their worth have impacted my work and my worth – your typically female response just pisses me off. People – especially children – need to know from successful artists that it is in fact possible to do just that – succeed financially. You don’t like it? Tough. So sorry – but don’t lump me into YOUR “grownup” group. You DO NOT speak for me. And how arrogant of you to think you do.

From: Tinker Bachant — May 04, 2008

I thought the letter was a hoot and read it to my husband who laughed as I did. Robert you give us much, including an income to aspire to. We appreciate your auto collecting as well !

From: Becky O’Bryan — May 05, 2008

I do an art demo-lecture for each of my elementary Grandchildren and Great-grandchildren each year. -It is exhausting and exhilarating. The children are always so interested. They want me to add a deep sea diver, a mermaid, more fish, etc. I try to teach them about “happy accidents” using whatever happens. Only once was a teacher unenthusiastic. Polite, but barely. After I had been painting 5 min she was dragging people in from the hall, “Look, She started with a blank canvas.” “I didn’t know we were having a real artist.” She invited me to come back any time, “Just walk in we’ll stop and watch.” I love doing the demonstrations and trying to answer those questions, even “What do you do if somebody doesn’t like your painting?”

From: Don Cadoret — May 06, 2008

What a boorish boob J. Bruce Wilcox is…….easier to attack than to truly understand what it is that irks artists. Has nothing to do with male or female…..get a life!
Artists have a long, long history of financial hardships put upon them by cheap patrons, staid museums, and it’s usually reinforced by mediocre talent getting overpaid by equally mediocre collectors… let history decide how valuable Robert Genn’s work really is, rather than his own self-pronounced value to school children. Me thinks it’s Robert that has a self-esteem issue…

From: Valerie Norberry — May 06, 2008

Dear Bob: You and Jay Leno keep the mechanics (grease monkeys) in the wads of cash. I was sorry to hear that Jay had to sell a few of his cars. I know of a wealthy Amishman who had to sell some of his workhorses. I guess it happens to the best of us. Fortunately, neither one of them had to take the bus!!!(smile). I just want to relate an experience a few years ago where I was invited to a lunch at a sister church member’s house to see some art. I had this really disappointed feeling when I viewed all of the stuff, really overpriced, and of course you could obtain a discount if you had a party at your house selling the “art”. Anyway, I realized what I had learned at my mother’s knee really ran through my veins and I could not accept the pre-fab art (Home Interiors) as “art”, however, for a person with very little to no exposure to art, I suppose it beats pics of relatives on the walls that you paid 100’s for.
What always kills me is when you do a commissioned piece and the frame costs more than you charged for the commissioned piece, and I chastise myself for not getting a piece of that action.

I hope to make money off of weddings someday, somehow, there will always be weddings. But the local Bridal dress shop (David’s Bridal) charges 200/mo. to list you on their website. And calligraphy of addresses to me is too much like medical records — tedious and booooorrrring.

From: Joanna — May 14, 2008

About your visit to the classroom. Aren’t they absolutely brilliant and EXHAUSTING! I love them. Had forgotten as mine are past that. You made my day today as I don’t think I have laughed so hard in such a long time.

From: Karen R. Phinney — May 14, 2008

That was a fun image of you, surrounded by the questioning kids. It is interesting how different they all are, and how they think. Some are concerned with the technical stuff, some with the idea of failure, possibly because it is an issue they have to deal with at home, and with excessively anxious parents. And then there are those that care about the money and the chance perhaps for wealth and fame. Definitely products of this culture we live in, where we see all around us, it isn’t just about the joy in doing something you love and being reasonably successful/happy in that, but the material rewards. The “American/Canadian Idols”, if you will. I have always thought that the best-lived life is the one that is lived doing something you enjoy and that you have mastery of. You can feel confident in it and enjoy the process. And that isn’t always just “making money”! Anyway, I enjoyed the images and the story. Hope some of those kids went away thinking they’d do some more drawing and maybe someday be an artist. They can see how it is a possibility and that you don’t have to be poor, either, when you are. So that’s the flip side of that coin!

From: Todd Bonita — May 14, 2008

“Look at life and art through the eyes of a child”. I can’t remember who said it but they tapped into something profound, simple and honest. When the canvas or life gets too complicated, I try to remember this quote. It prompts me to reel it in, relax and breathe before taking another approach to problem solving. Often it’s a simple exercise to knock the hemispheres of my brain around.
I used to teach art to children and one such exercise involved asking the students to write the name of an animal, an activity and a location on separate pieces of paper and put them in three different hats. Each student would randomly choose from the hats and come up with the visual challenge of drawing whatever they pulled; “A Raccoon eating hot dogs on the Moon” for example. It was fun, simple and wonderfully unsophisticated. The kids loved it. I gave the same exercise to my adult art students and most of them became kids before my very eyes. Their brains were knocked and momentarily tapped into the simple and honest world of children.

Roger Van Oech’s book, “A whack on the Side of the Head” has a number of exercises designed to help you look at life and art more creatively.

From: Rosemary Cotnoir — May 14, 2008

My problem is my resume. I have been out of the art community for about 10 years focusing on other creative outlets . While living in California I was very active and showed frequently. Now I live in Connecticut and started painting again. In the next two weeks I’ll have my work included in a new gallery in town. I need to write a resume and, other than education, have no idea what to include. I know I can’t list any of the Calif. shows because it was so long ago, but I would like to be able to let people know that I am not a “new” artist. Do you have any suggestions?

From: Evelyn Dunphy — May 14, 2008

Enjoyed your account of your visit to the schoolroom; I have enjoyed a similar experience here in Maine. All Maine schoolchildren studied Frederick Church last year in their art class, and specifically, his painting of Katahdin from Millinocket Lake which resides in the Portland Museum of Art. I was invited to come to two schools, wearing my outdoor painting gear, backpack, easel etc. and be the “live” artist who paints Katahdin. (I guess they meant as opposed to Church!) It was so much fun. I set up my easel and painted and I was so taken with the questions that these 3rd and 4th graders asked – very thoughtful and insightful as well as amusing. Many of them mentioned in their follow-up letters that they hoped to be artists when they grow up. One group had done value studies and then color studies, and then complete paintings of the mountain. There was space under each painting for the student to answer a few questions about their “process” and then “what would you change about your painting”. One little boy wrote “Nothing”. I love it!

From: Martha — May 14, 2008

Oh, how rich and well-told-to-bring-smiles the story of your school art demo is! Thank you.

From: Doug Mays — May 14, 2008

Coincidentally I went to my granddaughter’s school 4 weeks ago and did an hour long watercolour demonstration for about 20 six year olds.
I now realize why most of the primary grade teachers are so young; they need to be to keep up with the little darlin’s. Anyway I should have remembered how exhausting it would be because I did the same thing almost 25 years earlier for my daughter’s school class. In any event at the end of this day the kids got to see how a blank piece of paper was transformed into a portrait of a golden retriever; the school received some new artwork for their walls and one young lad, obviously impressed, kindly suggested that I may be Canada’s new Art Idol. That comment made the day priceless — move over Simon Cowell.

From: Donna Franks — May 14, 2008

….I read all of your letters and enjoy most and some of a bit over my head (like a lot of things). Anyway, I especially liked that you visited with the school children. They are so honest that I can see why Dorothy went for a walk and you went home for a drink. I worked with children (babies) for a hospital….But, once I had to take over a class of four year olds and almost lost it. I did lose control and could hardly wait until their regular teacher arrived from the errand she had run.
…..I am thinking that by being with all those kids, you may have made a huge impression on many of them to take up art….and that, in itself, is encouraging and a great gift to leave with them.. You paint so beautifully.

From: Tatjana M-P — May 14, 2008

Hi Rosemary, a great way to fill in a resume is to list “bodies of art” rather than events. That way you focus the reader on your strength – the paintings that you have created.
Best of luck!

From: Jan Tindall — May 14, 2008

Every issue of the newsletter is a joy and so informative, but I must say I thoroughly enjoyed today’s…reading about the children and Dorothy and the fact that in the midst of all these “thought provoking” questions you were actually trying to paint! Beautiful shot of Dorothy. I can just imagine how the children wanted to be her “bestest friend” that day!

From: John Dobrowolski — May 14, 2008

Re: Dar Hosta…
Your criticisms completely and absolutely missed the mark on Roberts’ recent column. He did not set out to hurt You. Really. That said, his writing HAS brought you an unexpected service. It helped underscore your very own insecurities re. Your Inherent Value, your money, ego, envy, anger, and your assumed “right” to speak for other artists. This “state of mind” can be an ugly barrier. Can you imagine the “inner victim” helping or hindering artistic creativity? Please, don’t casually assume to represent other subscribers, like me, as our “unelected spokesman”. As an artist, I am DELIGHTED by success stories exactly like this one, on many levels, and would like to see this “condition” multiplied 1000 fold! Mentioning Money is neither a sin nor a perversion. I welcome it. If 17 cars, jet-setting, – extreme success – diminish or sicken you… regrettably… YOU have a problem – which you might work on. But you will not infect my spirit.

From: Anonymous — May 16, 2008

Oh, J. Bruce, you poor downtrodden male . . . . (sigh) . . . . For someone who rants on and on about your version of spirituality, you seem woefully cynical and depressed. If you were really, truly, passionate about the art you create, I don’t see how you could be this bitter . . . .

From: Mary — May 16, 2008


From: Vicki Berchtold — May 16, 2008

Several weeks ago, I was one of five artists that did an art fair at a Morton School in Illinois. Five different groups of kids came into the class room, throughout the morning. They were well behaved, energetic, and had lots of questions. I took 9 paintings and a relief painting for them to look at, I talked about them and they asked questions. My answers were different than yours, I have been painting seriously for just a couple of years. I will have a booth at a local art fair in July and hope to sell my paintings. Up to this point, relatives grabbed them up, until I started saying no. I am glad to hear that you took time to go to a school, that is so needed. Many schools do not have art programs, because of cut backs. Well, have a good day.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 16, 2008

Dear Anonymous – obviously afraid to use your actual name – as I am not. But afraid of what – exactly? Your feelings being hurt? Yes – I am a male – and I’m also a faggot – and in this country I’m still a second-class citizen. I was 50 years old when the United States Supreme Court finally decided my sexuality was no longer a criminal act – ONE OF THE MOST BASIC FACTS ABOUT WHAT MAKES US WHO WE ARE – CRIMINAL. So screw you. Cynical? Bitter? I just like shoving certain facts into certain people’s faces – like yours! But I am not downtrodden. Been there – done that – and I evolved. I just got home from 9 hours in my studio – and I put in 7 to 11 hours virtually every day – with an occasional afternoon off. So believe me – I am not cynical or bitter about MY CREATION EXPERIENCE. But I had to drop out of all the fiber groups of dysfunctional women – because they were very depressing. So you must think that your definition of your spiritual experience and mine are the same – but really – why would they be? So – just because I continue to challenge dysfunctional belief structures being held by people – you distinctly should NOT think I’m not having the direct spiritual experience that I am having – every single moment of every single day. You wouldn’t KNOW IT if it slapped you in the face. Anonymous – my ass. Use your name or don’t waste my time.

From: Anonymous (the same one) — May 17, 2008

Oh, this is waaaaaaayyyyyy too easy . . . . . hehehe. But it’s so easy that it’s really not sporting, and I’ve never been unsportsmanlike before. I’m rather ashamed of myself. So I will stop now.
To the readers of Painters Keys, I apologise for my part in moving these comments so far off-topic.

To J. Bruce, I’m quite pleased to hear that you have evolved. My congratulations. As for “s***w you”, I thank you for your very kind offer. But I think not.








watercolour painting
by Alan Wylie, Fort Langley, BC, 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 Dawn Jacoby of Phoenix, AZ, USA who wrote, “Very amusing! I just realized why I am exhausted each day when I go home and can’t find time of my own. I am an art teacher and every day is filled with much more than art.”

(RG note) Thanks Dawn, and thanks to all the other teachers, art and other, who wrote in sympathy and amusement. I don’t know how you do it. Congratulations.

And also Pauline Lorfano of Vienna, VA, USA who wrote, “It’s called ‘artist in residence’ in my local school. Besides similar questions, that you got, I would always hear ‘My mom (or aunt) paints pictures, too.’ And ‘Can you paint a panda (cat, or other animal)?’ Many times the children didn’t want to leave and the teacher had a problem. I know you enjoyed the experience as I do. But it is exhausting!”

And also Rod Morgan of Edmonton, AB, Canada who wrote, “I have taken my Powerpoint presentations to elementary grade schools to get kids interested in light, colour, and the physics of vision. They are a better audience than adults.”

And also Moncy Barbour Moncy Barbour of Lynchburg, VA, USA who wrote, “At age 55 I am trying my best to be a child again. I have been a grown up and developed the mechanics of art. Now I am getting to the heart of the idea.”




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