Passing the light

Dear Artist, Returning from a workshop a few years ago, I dropped in on a fellow painter whose name I’ll not mention. “You know, Robert,” he said, “Every time you do a workshop and show people how you do things, it gets tougher and more competitive for both you and me.” Even though my friend was remarkably religious, he didn’t seem to have been in class the day they covered the Golden Rule. I told him I wasn’t aware that sharing diminished my work or my business, and besides, I felt I had an obligation to those who might be craving info and know-how. When I told him it gave me joy to proselytize whatever I knew, he frowned as if I was on the slippery slope to a life of sin. Then there was the time a fellow phoned and asked if he could hang out in my studio for a day. A perfect gentleman, he brought his own lunch, hardly said a word, took notes, and left. A week or so later a friend phoned to say that I had a disciple — my work was in a certain gallery with this guy’s name on it. Did I forgive him? Yep. While a few bad eggs turn up in every egg-processing plant, what’s amazing is that the vast majority are Grade A. Most artists want to be original. They grasp the principle of rugged individualism. They don’t want to make someone else’s work under their own name. But they do have a right to get info from someone who has some sort of a track record. In my experience, no instructor claims the Holy Grail. As Stephen Quiller says, “The one common element that I’ve discovered when studying master painters is that they were all students.” Painting is tougher than the accurate drilling of root canals. Painter wannabees need all the help they can get. Composition, colour mixing, and the professional touch, to name just a few, can be troublesome minefields. The better mentors give options. Choose your mentors carefully. In my experience, some of the best love it so much they do it for a song. In some cases you might have to bring your own lunch. Best regards, Robert PS: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without diminishing mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” (Thomas Jefferson)

Esoterica: When I was about 8 years old my dad took me to watch a pro. Among other magical visions, I saw him spread a wash of Ultramarine blue and Burnt Sienna across a slightly tilted sheet of rough Whatman. When my dad sprung for my own watercolour block, my folks endured a few days with a whirling dervish at their kitchen table. These sorts of pro-side conversions, I came to find out, are quite common. Our own Workshop Calendar is one of the most highly visited pages on our site. It’s just now starting to fill with some magical learning opportunities coming up in 2011.   Pass on your experience by Cathy Johnson, MO, USA  

“Andy’s Fawn”
original painting
by Cathy Johnson

When I was a very young artist, just out of school and trying desperately to find a job, a pro took me briefly under his wing. I couldn’t get a job without experience, and I couldn’t get experience without a job — you know that old story. He didn’t have a job for me, but showed me the ropes and told me “Now, you have experience.” When I asked what I could do in return, he simply told me to pass it on. That’s what I’ve tried to do, for 40 years. I haven’t found it’s diminished me in the least.   Enlighten another’s path by Phil Carroll, USA  

“Snow covered Delaware”
oil painting
by Phiul Carroll

I have always felt as an artist I have an obligation to give back to others through my teaching. At present, I have a younger student who has grasped my techniques to a “T” and it does not bother me for an instant. Rather it teaches me that perhaps my methods of passing on knowledge are working and truly have value for others. When we enlighten another’s path it must be selfless and will come back to us in ways that we could never have imagined.   Seeing the bigger picture by Andrew Sookrah, Toronto, ON, Canada  

“Heat Rising in a Cold Place”
watercolour painting
by Andrew Sookrah

It’s been a few years now since I have been privileged to receive your Painter’s Keys, and I was struck early on with the easy way you share that which some others, equally blessed, feel they should guard as their own. Thank you. I am reminded of a dear friend of mine, Richard Cote RGD, who works in the graphic design field in Toronto. Years ago when computers came on the graphics scene, Richard worked for us as a freelancer. Much like you, he did not guard his knowledge as his own, even though he worked hard to get it. He was always prepared to share even though it meant that the people he was sharing with were going to be competing with him for work. It’s all about being able to see the bigger picture. There is 1 comment for Seeing the bigger picture by Andrew Sookrah
From: Michael McDevitt — Feb 08, 2011

Your balance of wc freshness with sufficient detail for a quick read is terrific. Your comment about freely sharing is great, too. A guy’s gotta be able to amke a buck, nothwithstanding.

  Dumbing down of the audience? by Joseph Jahn, Nibe, Denmark  

“Abstract 243”
original painting
by Joseph Jahn

I never have a qualm when I see a better painter than myself. However, what I do not agree with is the influx of amateur painters in the exhibition pool. They do nothing other than create a public which cannot distinguish levels of excellence. Presenting bad art and pretending it is art has the effect of creating a public with little to no idea how to “see” art. Two week courses in painting, furniture store mass produced oils, and cheap canvas/paint in abundance, eats into the public psyche creating a public with little or no baseline for appreciating art created with mastery. The audience for real painting is probably the same size as it has always been, but the sad part is the audience could have been broadened with a little more care. However the commercial pursuit of making money from amateurs has co-opted the education of the general public and deadened their “eye for art.” So, Robert, in one way I do agree with your friend. I do not grudge you the training of real talent in the least, but how many of those have you seen in your many years? And how many little dogs and flowers in a pot does it take to kill an eye? There are 9 comments for Dumbing down of the audience? by Joseph Jahn
From: Stella Reinwald — Feb 07, 2011

This is very arrogant and completely wrong-headed. Everyone likes to think of his/her taste as being the ultimate benchmark by which art should be judged worthy or trite, and as such we would all be wrong. I confess I too inwardly sneer at art that is just too “cute”, or gimmicky, or trite, etc. But then, some of the very worst of these are currently hanging in famous museums done by ostensibly ‘edgy’ artists who make millions and are taken seriously by educated “art critics” because they are just soooo ironic? So who is the arbiter of what is worth a small fortune and lots of fame or worthy only of the trash heap? You? The curators of the Tate or the Met? Do you make the same distinctions as to the merits of bad music? junk food? stupid clothing? There is room and necessity for all of it even when it offends our senses. You have to remember that inevitably someone, somewhere thinks what you do is derivative, trite, passé, and/or meaningless and lowers the bar for all abstract art.

From: Georgia Mason — Feb 08, 2011

Thank you Stella, I agree.

From: Joseph Jahn — Feb 08, 2011

“I too inwardly sneer at art that is just too “cute” So say it out loud. Art demands a response, don’t you think ? Or is it just decoration ? My personality does not lend itself to subterfuge. “arrogant and completely wrong-headed”. Don’t you think you’d better leave that judgment to the curators of the Tate ? hahahahah Anyway thanks for the thoughts and comment.

From: Sue Johnson — Feb 08, 2011

Joseph, I expect that some of your initial painting efforts were not necessarily spectacular either. Maybe you were lucky and they just didn’t sell. Everyone starts somewhere. Overtime as we learn more what we see and how we express it becomes more complex. As artists, I think that we all know that it takes miles of canvas to make this journey and that the journey is never over. I would also suggest that you trust that viewing audience a lttle more. It’s bigger than you think and more discerning than you give it credit for being.

From: Joseph Jahn — Feb 08, 2011

Thanks, and yes about the early paintings, however I was kind enough not to inflict them on the public. I studied and painted for 10 years before I considered my painting mature enough to have my first gallery exhibition. The old paintings are archived or destroyed. And I am not saying that all art has to be censored. I fact I am against censored exhibitions on principle. I am simply asking the fledgling artist to realize and cultivate a form of self censorship for the good of the public and the craft. Judgment in art is harder than most in other areas in life, but some think it’s *something my kid could do*. Aw, well I wont change the Zeitgeist with my small protest. Funny that the building/super markets don’t sell surgical equipment for the weekend surgeons out there, but then I guess anyone can be and will be an artist.

From: Suzette Fram — Feb 08, 2011

Let’s try to remember that it’s all completely SUBJECTIVE. What one thinks is trite and meaningless, or just simply ‘bad art’, someone else will think is genius. One man’s garbage is another’s treasure. There’s room for everyone and we all start somewhere.

From: Liz Schamehorn — Feb 09, 2011

I agree with you Joseph. I don’t say that amateur artists shouldn’t make art, but I too get very tired of little dogs and flowers (Here in Ontario I call them “barns and geraniums”). We can all appreciate amateur musicians who are learning, or just playing for friends and family, but that doesn’t mean they should all perform for the public and expect standing ovations. And Suzette, quality in art is not completely subjective. There are ways of judging.

From: Joseph Jahn — Feb 09, 2011

Thanks Liz, Well I knew my comment was on the hard side and I’m happy that Robert and team choose to present my slightly hardcore view of the state of today’s spreading of the egalitarianism of a craft that I view as difficult, demanding and lifelong. I’m glad for the comments and know that it’s always difficult to express why and what feelings come to the fore when sensitive painters are confronted with the dilemma of the amateur deluge of today’s world. Sure to sound arrogant, but it’s not, it’s more like a scream or howl. “Don’t mess with my love affair, Please….” or at least have some idea of what it is, and where it’s been, and what it can be. Apologies to those that take painting lightly. I’d drop it in a moment if I thought it was a trivial as it’s made out to be sometimes. One of the positive notes is that others sharing *our passion* can always spot the fellow traveler in every exhibition. Anyway I go on painting and looking for and at others might know how powerful and meaningful this craft can be. I juicy paint stroke from a good painter can make my day, week, month.

From: Joseph Jahn — Feb 09, 2011

Sorry that’s “One juicy paint stroke from a good painter can make my day, week, month.” :-) Sometime you have to go back to 1890 to find some of those :-)

  Open studio system of teaching by Marsha Hamby Savage, Smyrna, GA, USA  

“Dogwood Pasture”
oil painting, 8 x 16 inches
by Marsha Savage

Recently, I decided to change my teaching format to an “open studio” type of class in my home. Discussions will happen during painting time, painting will happen also. I posted my schedule and the price of $25 for the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or any amount of time during those hours. Pressure is taken off the student to feel the money is justified — they know it is well worth the $25. They also get to “just show up.” They do not have to let me know unless they want something special — framing, marketing, critique, raising their level, or special info and discussion on any aspect of painting. The description I send out to potential students talks about a “mentoring” attitude rather than a structured class. When several students have said “Are you sure this is enough?” and I answer “yes,” they look a little bewildered! I explain, “I want to spend time in my studio with like-minded students that truly appreciate working. And, I want students to come. In this economy it is more difficult to structure a six-week class for more money. Invariably, a student says I can’t come on this date so I won’t sign up for the six weeks. Now, they can see my schedule of “studio days” and plan accordingly! There is 1 comment for Open studio system of teaching by Marsha Hamby Savage
From: Susan Holland — Feb 07, 2011

Marsha, I just celebrate this idea! I did very much the same thing in my studio-sharing years. The friends I made, and the art connections I still have from those years are the backbone of my “art family”. What I did not anticipate was the loyalty of those artists being so strong! Like shipmates, fellow artists gathered together to focus on work become bonded. And there is nothing like the spirit in a room when all are working earnestly. It’s the power of numbers in a quiet sort of way.

  Far better to share by Bonny Current, Wolcott, CT, USA  

watercolour painting
by Bonny Current

In my experience it is far better to share knowledge than keep it a secret. Most workshop people seem to be of two types — those who are artists trying to become more skilled with the goal of becoming more marketable — and those who are trying to become more skilled and are simply in it for the joy for themselves with no desire to go any further. If you are a real artist I believe you are always learning and getting inspiration from everywhere. Most of the people in a workshop will never be a threat to me or my work. Our styles will always be different as will our view on the world. If someone is attracted to my view of the world and desire to own my work, there is a good chance that they will not connect in the same way with the other artists who are exhibiting with me. Where might we be as artists if others hadn’t mentored and encouraged us? I always marvel in a class or workshop at the variety of interpretations the class comes up with when all viewing the same setup. Our styles are as personal as our signatures. Even if I come away working a bit like my instructor — my style soon takes over and emerges in my new work — but I have been enriched by the experience of watching and working with other artists.   No direct competition by Skip Rohde, Asheville, NC, USA  

oil painting
by Skip Rohde

Your artist friend seems to think that artists are in direct competition with each other. That’s not the case. There are five painters in my building, with literally several dozen more within a block, and none of us are in competition with each other. All of us do different things. When people come in my studio, they respond to my work, or to my studio partner’s work, or to neither. Even if I were the only painter in the building, I would not sell one more piece. Teaching painting workshops does not make things harder for painters any more than teaching people how to read and write makes things harder for authors. It’s much better to share our knowledge and help others find their own voice.     There is 1 comment for No direct competition by Skip Rohde
From: Sarah — Feb 10, 2011

Well Said!

  Fear or faith? by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Touch of Green”
pastel painting
by Paul DeMarrais

If I was an enthused beginner, how would I want to be treated by someone who had more experience and knowledge than I had? At the root of the Golden Rule and religion in general is the concept of imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes; that all people are connected by our common humanity. Good instructors know that making art is a struggle. There are no guarantees or perfect ways of doing a painting. All I can do is help a student fight the same battle I fight in front of an empty sheet of paper. If I am able to help, it is a wonderful feeling. I have no fears of imitators or of helping out the competition. I don’t see legions of people wanting to sign up for the typical artist lifestyle. Being miserly with my knowledge diminishes me. I want to expand out into the world, not shrink into a corner. I find this to be a universal conflict for everyone. Do we risk making ourselves bigger in life and attitude or do we bunker down to create a false sense of safety and security? The most common impulse is hole up, to hoard our little stash whether it be cash or knowledge, to fear our neighbor might seek to exploit us. In the end it becomes either fear or faith. There is 1 comment for Fear or faith? by Paul deMarrais
From: Anonymous — Feb 09, 2011

Nicely stated, Paul. :-)

  Grateful to the givers of light by Lorraine Khachatourians, Saskatoon, SK, Canada  

“Cranberry leaf”
watercolour painting
by Lorraine Khachatourians

If it weren’t for those generous givers of light, painters who share their knowledge, I wonder if I would have been able to paint. When I first thought I would like to see what painting was like, I went to a workshop, and was totally turned on. After the workshop, I worked away, but didn’t progress much. I tried reading books, watched DVD’s, read magazines by the pile. But I just didn’t get very far, so I got discouraged and didn’t paint much. About three years later I had to opportunity to attend a three week workshop with an artist I knew about, Kiff Holland, in France. That was what I needed. I discovered that I learn by seeing what is being done, by listening to the person with the knowledge talk about the process as he/she does it. From then on I have painted steadily and have tried to go to a workshop once a year with someone I know I will learn from and move to another level. I am so grateful to those generous painters who have given their time and their wealth of knowledge and skills. Without them I would have struggled alone, maybe getting there eventually. Instead the journey has been full of fun and joy, mixed with the usual frustrations of learning new things, but having somewhere and someone to go to for help. Thanks to them all! There are 2 comments for Grateful to the givers of light by Lorraine Khachatourians
From: Darrell Baschak — Feb 08, 2011

Lorraine, your comments strike a chord with me. For years my artistic friends and I have been gathering together at least twice a year in art retreat settings to create, laugh and generally share each others life experiences in a non-threatening environment. Much learning has gone on.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Feb 09, 2011

This is such a beautiful painting — that shadow is delightful!

  Impressed by the willingness by Dr. Hal Martin, San Antonio, TX, USA  

original painting
by Hal Martin

Eleven years ago I chose to retire from my practice of interventional cardiology to pursue other interests, predominantly my lifelong fascination with art. The quest to improve my painting and drawing skills included many workshops with very accomplished artists. I have repeatedly been very impressed by the willingness of these lifelong practicing artists to share their knowledge and technical skills with others, particularly individuals such as myself who come into art later in life from other successful career fields. Intuitively, I would think that there would be some level of resentment to this circumstance, particularly since, as everyone is well aware, anyone can purchase supplies, paint a few pictures, throw up a website and promote themselves as an “artist” to a public which has very minimal understanding of art. As mentioned, I greatly appreciate this willingness to share and, with regard to your friend’s concerns, don’t think I’ll ever be taking the bread off any of these nationally known artist/instructor’s tables.   Giving credit where it’s due by Janice Vogel, Senden-Bösensell, Germany   “Passing the light” reminds me very much of the words spoken by my brother during his part of the eulogy about our father last week. Dad was a teacher for 25 years but always wanted to share his knowledge and lessons right up to his final days. Art was one of his specialties and many people have noted in the online comments about his pottery wheel and the sculptures they made with him in Grade 5. Among many other things, my brother told the congregation: Recently Dad wanted to show me his new style of making omelets because on his recent cruise, he studied the chef making omelets, and passed that knowledge on to me — and anyone else who would listen — maybe even you. Even this last Thanksgiving, he needed to show me one last time how to carve the turkey, a certain way that he learned from observing a surgeon. He knew his lessons would have more credibility if he linked professionals to them. One lesson though that he wanted to transfer recently was about acceptance — referring to accepting [my partner]and [her daughter]into our family. It was a lesson that he learned from a fellow teacher about having a new student come into the school and the core of the lesson is that you don’t want to overcompensate or under compensate your attention to the new student and that they are equal like everyone else. So not only did he and Mom accept [them both]in that manner, but Dad knew that there was a lesson to be passed on — and he also gave credit to the person he had learned it from. Robert, I believe in the old adage, “Give credit where credit is due.” Even though my siblings and I all worked hard creating Dad’s service, it was my brother who took the reins and organized what was, according to countless attendees, the best service they had ever been to. And I don’t tire of giving the credit to him. There is 1 comment for Giving credit where it’s due by Janice Vogel
From: Rene’ Seigh — Feb 09, 2011

Janice, condolences on the loss of your father. He sounds like a remarkable man, a great example of Robert’s point. Blessings to you and your family as you grieve and recover! Namaste


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Passing the light

From: Lynne Schlumpf — Feb 03, 2011

My father always said, “If you’re not teaching enough other people to replace you when you’re gone, you’re not doing your job.” :)

From: Terry Mason — Feb 04, 2011

The first time someone asked me to teach I nearly fell over. What could I possibly know that would be helpful or that I would actually charge money for. Turned out, the person who was just beginning plain air painting…who didn’t know a filbert from a flat….was my audience. I had a natural knack to be patient, to be encouraging, and to help the artist ALLOW themselves to learn at whatever pace of desire to be “good” that they wanted. Turned out I was THAT person. There were, and always are, people in the communtity that can teach the artist the more advanced stuff. I found I was a conduit for many of the artist teachers in my area because I moved the ones that wanted to go further towards their classes and towards the workshops done by wonderful professionals. But I filled a gap. I was the one that would take them from “What exactly IS an easel?” comfortably, at their own pace, to “Wow, I like this stuff…..I want to paint MORE and MORE and MORE. And for those who did not, I was the one that let them be okay with painting once a week and not be competitive….but just paint for the morning outside feeling a little more knowledgeable and comfortable about themselves. I think your daddy was right. If you don’t pass it on, you aren’t doing all you can. I had no idea this was a “market area”. But it was and I can say that I get a lot of joy helping the beginner feel more confident and feel happy about where they are…and maybe where they are happy being. Thanks for this. I feel helpful.

From: Terry Mason — Feb 04, 2011

see above. I don’t have more to say

From: Anne Laidlaw — Feb 04, 2011

Thank you for your thoughts, Terry. I’m also stunned that people ask me to teach. I’m not the brightest hue on the palette, but like you, I enjoy empowering ‘new’ artists with what I’ve learned from more experienced artists than myself. I have lots to learn, and willingly acknowledge my need for improvement by attending workshops and purchasing books and DVDs. I strive to improve my workmanship as much as possible without just ‘duplicating’ someone else. I want to find the balance of gleaning from others’ and staying true to what I want to express. Robert, your generosity of spirit spreads light for those of us who are following your lead and looking for direction, not only in art but in life.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Feb 04, 2011

It is during the process of teaching others that we realize the solutions to the problems we are having with our own paintings.

From: Lori Twiggs — Feb 04, 2011

And, oddly enough, I am on the other end of the spectrum where I am obsessed and excited with learning and gaining information and feel I have so much to share. However, when I had the opportunity, twice, I fumbled as I found I was NOT the teacher I hoped to be and both times my students “quit due to personal obligations”! All is not lost though as I still have my artist friends who enjoy an afternoon of art talk. No money exchanges hands and we all get our “art fix” for the day! And as for me, I take home their comments to stew and consider and perhaps adapt in my next piece.

From: Mary Goforth — Feb 04, 2011

I have been asked to do demos which I find to be a lot of fun. The questions that come up are interesting and diverse. When I return home I find I have learned from the experience as much as my fellow artists have hopefully learned from me. A two way street?? I have a quote from Martha Graham that I always take with me to the demos. It also always hangs by my easel: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will never have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly.” This may not pretain to teaching as such–but I hope it reminds the artists to take from the demo what they can use and encourage their own originality.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Feb 04, 2011

There is nothing new in the world, we all learned from someone and just put our own spin on it. Any one who thinks they are cutting down on the competition by keeping secretive their methods hasn’t realised those people will go elsewhere for information. Why not have them come to you , the Master? Having hundreds maybe thousands of students around talking about how they learned from you is a good thing and can only make your work more valuable. It hasn’t done you any harm and I’m thinking teaching has been a good thing for me. There is also the satisfaction of helping other artists on their journey toward a creative life. Whatever the level, beginner to advanced, I love it when a student does something well and is pleased with herself.

From: sarastar — Feb 04, 2011

I also find that sharing your methods also finds you new clientele. Of course, that isn’t the reason to do it. But sometimes, your students or their friends and family become customers. I think it is rare that someone outright copies you for more than a few paintings, while they learn the method and before long they make it their own.

From: Martha Rhodes — Feb 04, 2011

It has been my experience as a teacher for many years, that students are eager to learn new processes and techniques and most joyfully, take it and apply it to their own ideas for their paintings. I have had instructors who were very reluctant to go beyond a certain point for fear that someone would copy their ideas. To me, that is nonsense. Teaching is such a special experience and sharing of ideas.Thanks for all of your wonderful sharing.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Feb 04, 2011

When I get a comment that my painting reminds them of someone’s, I look forward to the challenge of figuring out why that was and how not to make the next painting ‘reminiscent’ in that way. It’s actually very inspiring because it makes me evolve by trying to find a new path. I can’t imagine settling for painting in someone else’s style. Although a painter in grave need of money who gets hold of a second-hand goose who lays golden eggs probably wouldn’t agree with me. I guess one has to do what one has to do.

From: Ted Lederer — Feb 04, 2011

In every walk of life people learn from those around them. The only choice we have is which mentors to learn from and emulate; those with talent, skill, commitment, life affirming values, or the others. Just look to North America’s inner city streets and see the results when we look to the wrong role models.

From: Kay Christopher — Feb 04, 2011

It is truly your spirit of love, generosity, forgiveness and kindness that flows from you onto the pages of your Letters. I think this is why people are so attracted to them, as well as for the outstanding topical information and reader comments you provide. Thank you for being a bright light to so many. You are an inspiration not just as an artist but as a person.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Feb 04, 2011

It is nice to have competition and exchange ideas. I think that is how new styles and techniques evolve. I think instructors of art are sharing their knowledge to others and we should be grateful that they do. They give of themselves that art will go on in future generations. Great masters were under the tutelage of other masters ;some departed from the styles of their teachers so the art world have evolved further into the modern world. But no matter how other artist try to copy other works they somehow still do approximate the original. I think artist who paint to simulate others and claims it is not good practice. The style will still reflect the original. I admire your attitude of forgiveness.

From: Sonia Gadra — Feb 04, 2011

I am so proud of you for the wonderful attitude you have about sharing your knowledge. I have found that so many artist are so full of themselves that all they can think of is what exorbitant prices they can charge for their work or how much recognition they can receive from the public. It is so refreshing to learn of someone of your talent, knowledge and experience wants to share and help those still struggling. Thank you for being so humble. You are a great role model for all of us artist.

From: Lynn Johnson — Feb 04, 2011

Although I often detect a bit of snide-ness towards those of a ‘religious’ nature (?), I completely agree with you about sharing whatever artistic knowledge each of us may possess! I tried for years to teach myself portraits in oil, but never got past a certain point until I met an up and coming young portrait artist, Neilson Carlin, who emptied himself in spite of his early struggle to develop his own career while supporting his young family. Today I have my own career that directly came from the generous spirit of this (religious) artist!

From: Deb Sims — Feb 04, 2011

Life is quite an amazing adventure. The older I get, the less I know and that is really quite a blessing in disguise. It leaves endless opportunities for discovery and creative growth and I learn something new from every artist I encounter and every art work I view. In my years of taking and giving workshops I have found that it is the artists with generous spirits who share their hard-won techniques and insights who are not only the best teachers but their work glows with a certain light that is missing from the stingy know-it-alls’ work. There really is nothing new in mixing colors and creating art. My chosen medium is art quilting but whether I am choosing fabrics, designing jewelry or playing with my watercolors it is basically the same process that the caveman used–have an idea, choose a color, make a line. What makes it new is the personality and inner light that comes through in the finished work. I’ll bet your “disciple’s” work lacked the inner light and individuality that your work radiates. He is the one diminished, not you. As for me, I think playing by the Golden Rule is still the best plan along with a large serving of humble pie from time to time. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world through your insightful comments and beautiful art.

From: Marion Leyland — Feb 04, 2011

I am a mostly self-taught 76 year old artist who was given an opportunity 8 years ago to join a small group of wannabe painters with a woman who simply gave us a list of materials we would need and led us through making a simple colour chart and then showed us how to try to reproduce one of her own simple winter landscapes. We met weekly for an afternoon, where she would give us her critique of what we were painting, helping us by passing on what she knew. I then began buying books, subscribing to Artist magazines, and websites, devouring information and practicing what I was seeing. My work began to sell from the 3rd piece I did. My medium is oil, my style is realism — even tho I try to loosen up — and have become more ‘painterly’. My husband and I now spend our winters in Mexico. A year ago, during the winter, a new friend asked if I would show her how to paint — which I was delighted to do, and she would come to our casa one afternoon each week and I would pass on my knowledge. This year, 3 other young women with no painting experience but a desire to learn asked if they could join and our ‘paint day’ is now a full day with a pot luck lunch. They are having such a wonderful time and several of them are already displaying a talent they had no idea was in them. My payment is the ability to pass on what I have learned, and watch them become totally immersed in their work, and their delight as a creation of their own making takes shape.

From: Wayne Simon — Feb 04, 2011

I may have missed a few religious classes myself but I do know a few good manners and asking permission is one of them. I am a member of an amateur photography group who meet and discuss new problems and share ideas regularly in class. Many of my fellow classmates have refused to post their work on the class website for fear of plagiarism. Now many of the members are green photographers who could benefit from the experience of others who refuse to share their thoughts and ideas. What could possibly posses someone not to share a visual form of artwork ? Would they rather describe the scenes or the colours of the setting sunset? It boggles the imagination at times.

From: Ruth Rifka — Feb 04, 2011

My idea of a great teacher is the one who helps you to become your truest self. Personally, I find it torture to work against the grain of my own inclinations, so I find it hard to fathom how someone could take pleasure in copying another artist without at least some kind of attribution, or wanting their own personality to emerge from the work.

From: Carole M. Sikes — Feb 04, 2011

It has always been important to have apprentices who can carry on traditions. Several years ago while traveling the high road from Santa Fe to Taos we stopped at a gallery in one of the mountain villages. The artist-owner said he represented other artists (painters, sculptors, and crafts persons) ONLY if they would promise to take on an apprentice. He was interested in having the Native American arts sustained and passed on to the next generations.

From: Jack Bruner — Feb 04, 2011

The comparison is apt. Root Canal drillers can take up to five years in specialized schools with professional surgeons who know what they’re doing. Why should we suppose we can do it in a few days or weeks without help?

From: Susan Marx — Feb 04, 2011

I don’t even understand the problem. Don’t all artists look at artists hanging in museum to learn from them, consciously or subconsciously, even it if is to say “I never want to paint like that”. It is certainly not stealing if someone learns technique from you. Technique doesn’t make the art. It is what that artist says/does using the technique he learned from you that makes it art. I think it is sad that people today think that they cannot/are not allowed to learn from other painters, that if they do, they won’t be original. Didn’t “everyone” learn from Cezanne? Art does not live in a vacuum. It is impossible NOT to learn from a painting you like in a museum. It speaks to you and you are allowed to/supposed to listen. Orange, NJ

From: Carril Karr — Feb 04, 2011

I read this letter with interest because I have recently downloaded a movie I saw on holiday in Australia in January. The movie was a very generous demonstration by the late Australian artist David Gregson of one of his styles of painting. The movie accompanied a traveling retrospective show of some of his works in oil and gouache. The show, A Desire to Relate, was prepared by the Mandaring Art Centre in Western Australia. I really enjoyed the show. I loved the work. And I appreciated the opportunity of seeing how he painted one of the paintings that was on show. Several of us determined to try his ideas when we went home. I could never hope to paint anything as good as David Gregson but he gave me some ideas and techniques to try. I think most artists are looking for ideas that illuminate their own way of making art, not for something to copy.

From: Elizabeth Hyde — Feb 04, 2011

Absolutely beautiful Robert! and giving and spiritual! Besides it seems that we all have our own “signature” in painting if we are honest with our composition, drawing down the bones first… Mixing color is a life long struggle for me, so I try to keep it simple. Copying another artist can be helpful for a study and a stepping stone…but then climb on top of that knowledge and do your own thing. Even copying another artist will not have the original spirit, beauty and illumination and excitement. Thank you for this letter. Your letters are a testimony to helping those of us in need of being on the right path to make inspiring, sincere art. I will go to your workshop calendar!

From: Daniel Ashbeck — Feb 04, 2011

Robert, I thought of two things (well, more, but I’ll just stick with two) when I read this letter. The first is, “A rising tide raises all ships” which means that when we help others to be better artists, then that person and I will both be better. When I help someone else, I’m helped too. I’m a better man for helping another along in their journey. The other thing is that famous quote from the movie ‘Akeela and the Bee’. It was by Maryanne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you to not be?! We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. As we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” I think we all want to be better than we are, and when we find someone who we perceive to be better/more talented/farther along in their journey, we want to learn from them. How blessed we are when they’re generous with their wisdom! A wise person is able to risk their own position in life to lift up another because he or she is secure enough to know that their own place in life is firm. After being approached my some moms, I recently began an art class for home-schooled kids. I put it off for a long time, but finally agreed to it, and it’s going well. I didn’t think that I had anything to offer, but they seem to really be enjoying it and learning a few things too. I’ve heard that the teacher often learns more than the student — and, well, I’m learning a lot! The humble person is amazed that anyone even thinks highly enough of them to ask to share their wisdom. Maybe the stingy one who refuses to help is really insecure.

From: chase bc — Feb 05, 2011

Life’s greatest pleasures are the ones we share with others.

From: Claudia L. Bubeck — Feb 05, 2011

I believe the myth of scarcity is emotionally constipating and a complete lie. Even if I wanted to paint like Cezanne and Jackson Pollock the work would still be ME. And people who come and copy you (this could be a compliment to you) are denying their own talent and own unique vision. Keep sending those kind, realistic letters. Lafayette, California

From: Phillippa K. Lack — Feb 05, 2011

When I teach painting on silk, I tell folks I am not teaching them to paint like me, but to use the techniques and develop their own style. Sadly, there are those who can only copy. Poor things!! So sad not to have original thought. “Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.” — The Dalai Lama

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 05, 2011

This is a pet peeve with me. I’ve taken many classes from some very knowledgeable and gifted artists but only when I started teaching did I realize that they kept certain things back. They never quite gave me the whole truth. I know this because when I’m asked to explain something by students, I realize I have to give them the whole enchalada for them to understand. The trick, if you will, is to explain that there is more to the story but it will follow in time and become more clear when “they are ready to hear it”. I’ve learned to say only what the person asking can absorb. “Too much information can cause more confusion to ears not ready to listen.”

From: Robert Oblon — Feb 05, 2011

I had a great opportunity when I left college. I started a small art foundry set up my studio and fumbled around with it for months. A close friend and artist introduced me to a foundry owner in Los Angeles. Over the next 20 years that individual mentored me on all levels of the process. Early on inviting me into his foundry to hang out, take notes, ask question’s. I did that for a year. One thing he taught me was that there were no secrets just hard work. I owned a very successful art foundry business in Burbank in part due to my mentor, Stan Smith, and part to a lot of hard work and attention to detail in all phases of the process. So for decades when asked for technical information about my work or the process I do, it’s free for the asking. What that other person brings to the world is their own interpretation of a process, if they are good it raises the bar for everyone.

From: JoRene Newton — Feb 07, 2011

I loved your article on “Passing the Light!” As a teacher I feel that seeing evidences of my work showing up in students work is indeed a form of flattery. It shows me that I did a good job in explaining the things I was presenting to them! If I don’t see that they have taken my instruction one step further I feel that I have failed them. I always stress that “my way” is only “one way” and students need to find “their way.”That is the “Passing the Light!”

From: Cindy Revell — Feb 08, 2011

I’m not sure Tatjana meant she does a complete style change when her art reminds a viewer of someone elses. It sounded to me like she works on doing those specific things that she assesses as being too reminiscent in a new way. We all contain a little bit of those artists who came before us and are influenced to some extent by our contemporaries but most of us have our own way of doing art that stems from our own unique experiences and gives our work it’s own particular look. Tatjana’s art reminds me of the Group of Seven, Robert’s work does too, and so do a number of other wonderful Canadian artists yet they each describe the Canadian wilderness in their own way, similarities exist alongside individuality. Tatjana’s own version has a crisp and graphic nature and it’s certainly got her own stamp on it.

From: Ralph Wheaton Lorei — Feb 08, 2011

I didn’t pay much attention to art until I came upon books on impressionism in my Jr High School library, circa 1961. Then I noticed the difference between the real paintings (abysmally amateurish, by friends) on my parents walls, and prints hanging elsewhere. I was fascinated. However, when my parents gave me a paint kit and an instruction manual, I dabbed until my grandfather accidentally destroyed all my paintings but one (which I retain, even today). Twenty years later, my wife purchased me a sketch pad. I think she saw something in the way I dragged her– increasingly willing to go– around regional museums. Twenty years after that I paint in oils and oil pastel at every opportunity. I’ve shown in groups and in a prestigious local gallery. But I’m now the amateur. While my work continues to improve, I retracted from the commercial aspects of the endeavor. That might change if none of my friends and relatives ever ask me for a painting again, and they begin to pile up. I have one of the most prestigious and certainly one of the most extensive showings in the country. I’m in so many homes I probably would fail to list them, and have sold nothing in twenty five years. What’s more, I’m happy with it. I’m having the time of my life, and old geek producing work that people I love want for their living rooms. Glad I got that off my chest.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 10, 2011

There is a constant discourse on what art is and what art should be exhibited and what art is good what art is bad. I don’t believe we will ever come to a unanimous agreement on this issue but it makes for interesting if futile dialogue. What should be important is the principle that there are levels of expertise in creating art that have to be considered. Because of the explosion of instant media devices and the internet those who want to show their work now have the entire world to see it. This exposure has a tendency to blend all levels of art together. The darling painters in the local clubs are entitled to every accolade they get. But their work will suffer in comparison with work of a painter who has more experience, ability and technical facility when compared together. For those who deny this fact, they are deluding themselves. There is this notion that if you paint you deserve to be noticed on a world stage. This is happening with musicians i.e. American idol, athletes, i.e. Television now has little league games televised; skateboarding is an Olympic sport. Dancers, i.e. hip hop is considered a dance form. This is happening in every profession and sport mainly because of the internet. Unfortunately, we are unwilling to be objective when dealing with amateurism vs. professionalism. An artist, singer, musician or athlete isn’t someone who does something once or twice or on weekends or when the moment strikes them. A professional is someone whose entire life is taken up with what they do. And they do it every day and produce work worthy of being called professional. They spend their lives learning, practicing and creating work. Everyone else is an amateur. As for the curators and museum operators, they are thinking only in dollars and spectacle. Not necessarily about quality and professionalism. They are in this only for the money, fame and notoriety. Why do you think a plastic shark in a polyplastic tank sold for $14 million dollars? Don’t put too much stock in what is good enough to be in museums and galleries. This is the commercial side of art not the creative side. There is much ‘novelty’ out there masquerading as art. We have to see it for what it is and put it in its proper place. We have to stare into the mirror and see ourselves as we are in the clear light of day.

From: Sandy Haynes — Feb 13, 2011

Thank you so much for reminding me about the “teacher” in me, and your wonderful thoughts on sharing what you know with others, without being threatened by the fear that they will out “shine” you….. If you give to others what you know, you already ARE a star !!!

From: Anne Kullaf — Mar 04, 2011

As a drawing and painting instructor, I encourage my students to take the concepts and techniques I present and apply and interpret them as they choose to in their own work. I have no interest in churning out students who paint exactly as I do, it would be incredibly boring if everyone painted the same way.

     Featured Workshop: Barry McCuan
020411_robert-genn Barry McCuan Workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Evening at Blackie Spit

acrylic painting by Pauline Ouellet, 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 Melanie Peter of Gainesville, FL, USA, who wrote, “I have a compulsion to share my knowledge. It’s not a conscious act of goodwill as much as an evangelical fervor for painting which gains energy from being shared.” And also Christel Schmidt of Nanaimo, BC, Canada, who wrote, “The only way to truly safeguard any kind of knowledge is by sharing it!” And also Jennifer Foster who wrote, “I’m reminded of a wonderful quote by Woodrow Wilson: ‘You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.’ ”    

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