Portrait of an artist at 50


Dear Artist,

My twin, James, and I hugged the winding road into Topanga Canyon and hit the trailhead with a couple of film friends. In the snug of the montane chaparral – today a June gloom cloud forest – we tumbled through a steady thread of favourite documentaries, what to do with turmeric, the mating habits of rattlesnakes, how to save a good idea, Nova Scotia, and what defines a cult. Biz talk, real estate, people, and the other go-to topics of contemporary life just never came up. At the summit, Los Angeles miraged out there, beyond the smog. I squinted to picture only the perfect whitecaps at Santa Monica Beach and the coastal sage scrub at my feet. What must that have felt like for pre-industrial summitters?

Summer Days, 1936 Oil on canvas 36 1/8 × 30 1/8 inches by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

Summer Days, 1936
Oil on canvas
36 1/8 × 30 1/8 inches
by Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

At 50, Joni Mitchell was writing her 15th studio album, Turbulent Indigo, and Georgia O’Keeffe was painting at Ghost Ranch but had not yet found what would become her permanent home and studio nearby in Abiquiú. She was only just beginning to float animal skulls in the sky above the Cerro Pedernal. Claude Monet finally bought the house he’d been renting in Giverny, and was drawing up plans for a greenhouse and second studio. Margaret Atwood had finished her novel about a painter, Cat’s Eye – her follow up to The Handmaid’s Tale, with two dozen novels, short stories and poetry collections still inside of her. Bruce Springsteen, a veteran in youth-hot Rock ‘n’ Roll, was inducted into the Hall of Fame at 50, — and would shortly embark on his creative second act with eight more albums of original material and counting. Dorothea Lange, who’d defined photojournalism for the Great Depression, was teaching photography at what would become the San Francisco Art Institute. She was yet to co-found Aperture Magazine. Carmen Herrera, living on East 19th Street in New York City on her husband’s teacher’s salary, was still creating for love, only; painting in obscurity, like a million other artists. She would not show publicly for another 39 years. At 50, my Dad, a husband, and father of three teenagers, was still ramping up to an ever-fresher embodiment of his devotion to the Canadian landscape. He was traveling, he was honing his own techniques in acrylic, he was quietly redesigning the world. He was yet to start writing these letters.

Ram's Head, White Hollyhock-Hills (Ram's Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico), 1935 Oil on canvas 30 x 36 inches by Georgia O'Keeffe

Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock-Hills (Ram’s Head and White Hollyhock, New Mexico), 1935
Oil on canvas
30 x 36 inches
by Georgia O’Keeffe

In this morning’s dispatch from Arthur C. Brookes’ How to Build a Life for the Atlantic, he describes the fork in the road that is midlife, and how not to peter out, creatively – what Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques identified in 1965 in his paper on the working patterns of 30 year-old creative geniuses he cheerfully titled, Death and Mid-life Crisis. Because artists are already in the practice of mobilizing creative evolution, it seems to me the pump for what developmental psychologist Erik Erikson called generativity, rather than stagnation, is already primed. The secret is to keep going. Maybe with more calm — and with all the new skills of mid-life: a bit of mastery, some perspective, less emotional desperation, perhaps, and all that hard-earned crystallized intelligence. According to Brookes, we have a chance here at designing what he’s re-named, “midlife transcendence.”

Deer's Skull with Pedernal Georgia O'Keeffe, 1936 Oil on canvas 36 x 30 1/8 inches by GEorgia O'Keeffe

Deer’s Skull with Pedernal
Georgia O’Keeffe, 1936
Oil on canvas
36 x 30 1/8 inches
by GEorgia O’Keeffe

“You’ve had success, lots of fancy friends. You’ve tasted the good life, you thought it would never end,” sang Joni in her James Brown cover of How Do You Stop, on Turbulent Indigo. “One day you’re too young, then you’re in your prime. Then you’re looking back at the hands of time.”



PS: “As we grow older, we realize just how limiting were our earlier conceptions. Art is something else. Art is fluid, transmutable, open-ended, never complete, and never perfect. Art is an event.” (Robert Genn)

Esoterica: Today is, with my twin, James, our 50th birthday. Without much to go on but our own journeys of simultaneous good fortune and hardscrabble, it feels like it might be some kind of primetime. Is this the prime? For both of us, our days are filled with work we love. There is the intensity of some pressure. There is plenty of creative striving. There is gratitude and aspiration. We will mark it in the physical absence of our parents, but on their shoulders. “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,” wrote Joni, at the wise old age of 25. “From up and down and still somehow it’s clouds’ illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.” She recorded it for a second time, for her 17th studio album, Both Sides Now, at age 57.

From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937 Oil on canvas 36 × 40 1/8 inches by Georgia O'Keeffe

From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937
Oil on canvas
36 × 40 1/8 inches
by Georgia O’Keeffe

“Keep busy while you are waiting for something to happen.” (Robert Genn)

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“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living.” (Gail Sheehy, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life)




  1. Please find my press release below that I sent out to my followers today to mark this special occasion.

    Subject: A Celebration of Life
    Release Date: May 27, 2022

    This special release is dedicated to the memory and legacy of Mr. Robert Genn. Eight years ago today, Mr. Robert Genn passed on. He was a most insightful and caring man who sought to better the arts through educating and sharing his (and many others’) knowledge, in the hope of a betterment for all.

    Mr. Robert Genn was a Canadian artist, who gained recognition for his style, which is in the tradition of Canadian landscape painting. He ran a painter’s website, which sends out twice weekly newsletters to 135,000 artists.

    Robert Genn was an early supporter of my pledge to humanity by allowing many of my insights, writings, and quotes on his website. I was always very moved by this as I had the utmost respect for his writings and the passion that he lived by.

    This special release is also dedicated to this daughter, Sara, who turns 50 years young today.

    You can imagine the enormous number of emotions felt each year sharing your birthday with the passing of someone like in the case of Sara’s father. The two of them were so lucky to share a very special bond. I find it most appropriate that her dear dad departed on Sara’s birthday (and James, Sara’s twin brother).

    Death is just a cycle of life and Mr. Genn had an unbelievable life. On this day Sara is so lucky to reflect not only on the beautiful life she has carved out for herself, but as well, reflect on all her time with her dad.

    I wrote a one-minute poem titled: “What Love Is” with not only their union in mind but also the union we have with someone we love who has departed.

    “Death may be the greatest of all human blessings,” wrote Socrates. “How people die remains in the memory of those who live on,” said Dame Cicely Saunders. “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them,” stated George Eliot. And Francis Bacon wrote: “It is natural to die as to be born.”

    To read “What Love Is” please copy & paste the link below:

    R.I.P. (Rest In Painting) Robert Genn

    As always, love is the way,

    Miles Patrick Yohnke

    Please feel free to share this with your friends and colleagues and to post it on any social media that you use. Thanks for caring, sharing, and reading.

    • Your poem and press release brought tears to my eyes. We are friends of the Genn family and treasure our memories of Robert and Carol, as we treasure our friendship with their children.

    • Wonderful tribute, Miles. A very Happy Birthday to you, Sara. If 70 is the new 50, then 50 must be the new 30. Party on……..

      I have left a personal response to you, Miles, on the website you provided. I am always astonished at the connections in this life we have to one another.

      • Dear Elaine, Susan, Verna,

        I am so very grateful that you took the time to read the release and the poem. Elaine, I’m grateful that you felt something from it. Susan, I’m deeply touched that I could move you. I say this Susan, Elaine, as I have a severe case of dyslexia and as a child my teachers saw no hope in me. I was casted away for a good period of my life. It took a long time to even learn to read & write. I’m still in complete shock when people read my writings and I hear from people like yourself that it did something to you. So, thank you! Verna, that is another kind of shock. I have left you a response at my website.
        Susan, the Genn family mean so much to my life. We honour them by being our very best! By pouring our hearts into all those we encounter. I am so thankful to write this response to you each. I am so thankful for you!
        With much love,

    • Deborah Jodoin on

      I , like so many others have been having a hard time in a life long struggle with anxiety . I call myself a news junkie. I now find that the news is not healthy for me and I want to change some habits and remember that there is truth and beauty and love. I have been getting the painters key now for several years and often ( most of the time, in fact) I don’t read it. This morning I did and not only did I learn something, my heart was filled. Thank you

      • WOW! Deborah, I am so profoundly touched by your words! I cannot thank you enough for reading and sharing your heart. If we all do this we truly can create World Peace. World Peace is attainable. Often when I speak of this people roll their eyes and think I’m crazy. A freak. To me killing people is crazy. How many live is crazy. We see cannabis shops & liquor stores on every block Now every second commercial is a gambling one. People are hurting. They are crying out for help.
        We must voice our sorrow. Our loneliness. As well, our joys. We have to union. Union as one people. We must stop this: It is ‘private”. Keeping our secrets. Dying with our secrets. Letting our secrets fester away at our very soul. We must learn to let go. Be open. Show our heart. Share our heart, like you have done, Deborah Jodoin. Let this be your new normal. Let this be our new normal.
        I certainly understand with news. If you don’t mind, a little over a decade ago, I wrote an article on the subject titled: Mission: Possible. You’ll also find responds to it that are interesting and reading them I think you’ll see yourself.
        Please just copy & paste this URL:
        Earlier today, I was talking with others about mental illness. I’d like to share this very powerful story from someone I have mentored for 17 years. Her story is so raw & emotional. We all can relate to what she is saying. We must speak like her. Share our heart like her. Again, we all must come together before it is the end of us. We must learn to live in love, peace & harmony. Thank you, Thank you, thank you .
        Please just copy & paste this URL: salmonstudio.wixsite.com/yohnke/post/pottery

  2. Oh, Sara and your twin and Robert….here I am at 75, and it feels as though I am beginning in painting, in writing poetry, in life itself. This piece, Sara, fired imagination and incredible creative energy seems whirling deep inside. It isn’t explosive or manic, just gathering….

    At 24 I thought life was over, nothing worthwhile to live and laugh about. At 29 our daughter was born, I began a 34-year career as a journalist, and eventually found the Love of my Life at 34 and lived the Good Life…or so I thought. Happy 50th in San Francisco, a favorite place on earth, and still the artist did not emerge. Then the 60s and painting, calligraphy, paying attention to detail brought me here, to today, 75, and loving life as a creative being, breathing deeper, and celebrating each day, not just a birthday.

    Celebrate yourselves and we will celebrate all of us on this latest path, a trail meandering to our deepest roots, and to the stars. Happy Birthday!

    • I’m always grateful for Robert and Sara’s letters. And, today , I found myself wondering…”what about 60?” Your words are like rain on parched earth…whispering promise of what can lie ahead if I allow it. Thank you for your comment, Mary! And, Sara, for continuing with this inspiring work!

      • Karen, It has always felt hard for me to seek joy in life; full of fear, guilt and worry. Lately, the fears and the guilt and the worries are becoming like mist, and our dear daughter and I have even begun to work together to release much of this emotional baggage.

        Art saves and salves the soul’s wounds, and more recently I play Native American flutes and even drums. When I asked why fearing making noise, the answer was: “Because you have been shushed all your life.” No more!

  3. Life does indeed begin at 50. I quit doing a lot of things that were good but getting stale, and the world opened up. Now at 71, it’s still doing so, perhaps a bit more slowly, but with great joy most days.

  4. Thank you Sara, and Happy Birthday to you both! Your letters are always so beautifully worded, very reminiscent of your dear dad’s eloquence. As for artists and aging, I personally think the 70s is a time to grow and flourish!

  5. Shushana Caplan on

    You are so right, Doria. I have been an artist all my life, experimenting, trying new media, new techniques, honing my skills. It was not till my seventies that it all fell together somehow and I produced my first real series, collage/paintings based on my family history as Holocaust survivors who were deported to Siberia during the second world war. At seventy-three I was offered a show at a museum in Florida and then many more in different venues. I am now eighty-two and still growing, still changing. Art is a process, not a product.

  6. Margot Boland on

    Dear Sara,

    What a wonderful tribute!

    My husband, Barnaby Guthrie was a fast friend of your father.’s I have heard many stories of their boyhood in Victoria, (and mischief!)
    We attended the memorial, in Surrey and I met you and your family.

    I am grateful for the close relationship you had (have) with your father. We all benefit, through your letters.

    Happy Birthday to you and James!


    Margot Boland

  7. I enjoyed tumbling up the hill with you in this letter, Sara, and to take on a new view of turning 50 and consider “midlife transcendence”!
    Happy Birthday, Sara and James, and thank you for sharing the touches of the heart that your dad continues to be part of.

  8. Sara – I wish you (& James) joy and happiness on this milestone birthday. Look forward to what you will accomplish in the upcoming years, now that you have all that experience under your belts, so to speak!

  9. Congratulations! Wow! the big 50 and now your life will really begin. There are lots of opportunities to make major creative changes, for the better, as we age. Circumstances bring about many changes, turning 50, loss of a loved one, divorce, moving and creating a new lifestyle. All of these are opportunities to move on to bigger and better things.
    A major change in my life was created by the advent of the “virus.” I taught for 28 years and suddenly teaching in a classroom situation was not a responsible thing to do. I chose to take new directions and I am finding every minute filled with wonderful things. I paint A LOT more as I have more time to do that. I have taken on new hobbies, I go camping more because I do not have to be in class every week. I miss the socialization I had with students, but we still see one another for lunches and painting out, but this new direction, brought on by something unexpected, has truly enriched my life!

  10. Happy birthday Sara and James! You have written a wonderful post today, and I have enjoyed reading all the meeages left in response to it. Thinking about your Dad today too—I was a teen growing up on Salt Spring when he was exhibiting in a gallery there. My Mum and I would go in regularly to look at his new paintings. Happy memories all the way. Artwork, in one medium or another, has always been a part of my life. But it has only been in the past six years that I have been able to dedicate time to it, concentrate on building my skills, and it’s paying off. Love your fifties (and your sixties! ) And as all the others above have written, your seventies and eighties…creativity has no age limit. Happy painting/creating everyone.

  11. Susan S Perez on

    Have a great 50th year, you and James. I have been a follower of your dad long before he passed (thanks Miles, for the lovely post) . And I am now grateful, Sara, that you are carrying on with his letters. With heartfelt thanks.

  12. In our youth-obsessed culture, is such a beautiful and refreshing reminder that the best things are yet to come. Happy birthday to you and your womb-mate :)

  13. This track is so beautiful, love this remarkable song written and sung by Joni. There isn’t a day go by I don’t mentally go to song lyrics that help ease some moments of angst. Life is odd in so many ways. I remember having a facial done on my 30th birthday. I remember feeling my skin was showing age through those surfacing “crow’s feet ” being pointed out to me. I remember the esthetician saying I had millions of blackheads. The comments, the ego, the trials of getting older. Now, I know so well how none of those things mattered at all. I don’t know why I thought they did. You and James spent your birthday that marks 50 years on this earth in the best way. Happy Birthday to both of you, and as always, thank you for the gifts you share with us.

  14. Happy birthday to you, Sara, and to your brother James. Isabel Allende says, “After 50, most of the bullsh*t is gone.” May it be true for you both and may the sweet memories of your beloved, talented dad bring you both so much warmth, comfort and peace. He’d be so proud of your lovely writing here in this space. I’m so grateful.

  15. Happy Birthday Sara and James! Aren’t we all the lucky – and blessed – bunch to choose to ‘live the artist’s life’! Those of us age 50+ surely feel like we are looking from the summit at the breathtaking view unfolding around us.

    • Katarina Vlasic on

      Happy Birthday Sara and James!!!
      Your sweet Dad is smiling with you today and celebrating the beautiful souls he helped create!!! Lots of joy and happiness to you both.

  16. Janice Vogel on

    Dear Sara,

    Happiest of birthdays to you and your brother James! May your next chapters be filled with love, inspiration and connectedness. Speaking of which, I hadn’t realized that your dad passed on your birthday. I suppose one can view it as a circle of life, and I am so grateful that you continue to carry the Genn torch, so beautifully brightening our lives. We take great pleasure every day in looking at our wall of your dad’s paintings and remembering when and where we bought them. They are a great source of joy.

    I love how you highlight the milestones in the lives of the well-known artists above and remind us of how much was still to come. A dear friend of mine picked up a paintbrush just shy of 70, after a successful 40-year career as a boutique owner. She is happier than ever, creating and selling her work. I am so excited for her (donnaandersonstudio.com). She is proof that it is never to late to follow your passions.

    Finally, thank you Miles for your beautiful tribute, which also brought tears to my eyes, and for the lovely poem on your website.

    Warmest regards,

  17. Deborah Jodoin on

    I , like so many others have been having a hard time in a life long struggle with anxiety . I call myself a news junkie. I now find that the news is not healthy for me and I want to change some habits and remember that there is truth and beauty and love. I have been getting the painters key now for several years and often ( most of the time, in fact) I don’t read it. This morning I did and not only did I learn something, my heart was filled. Thank you

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Featured Workshop

Uncorking Your Creative Core: Paint, Write & Walk in Mexico
October 17, 2022 to October 23, 2022

CDLN 6Uncorking Your Creative Core: Paint, Write & Walk in Mexico

October 17 – 23, 2022

San Miguel de Allende

Painting Mentor – Amit Janco: Artist, Author, Labyrinth Designer, Founder of Heartshops and Retreat on Your Feet (Creativity and Walking Retreats)

Join this 7-day journey through self-expression to unleash your bottled-up creativity, with a brush in hand – and openness in your heart. Calling non-artists too! Each day, you’ll stand up to paint; yes, you’ll be painting on your feet, and moving about – thereby activating the brain, the body and ALL senses. No need to come with a plan; watch the colors and brushstrokes come alive; and see the magic and mysteries unfold, as you greet your square of paper anew, every day. Our accommodations and studio are in an enchanting former bordello, just a stone’s throw away from San Miguel’s historic center, with its gardens, cobblestoned alleys and marvelous colonial architecture. Inspiration abounds!

Details at https://amitjanco.com/uncorking-your-creative-core-paint-walk-write-in-mexico/

https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Cow-Mountain-View-30-x-40-wpcf_300x221.jpgCow Mountain View
30 x 40 inches

Featured Artist

The move to Northern California spurred my desire to paint the landscape – motivated in part by the fear that I would wake up one day and it would all be gone! I had some kind of doomsday concern, tantamount to extreme climate change or bombs going off like Hiroshima —something drastic.

The Wildfires of 2017 were traumatic, we experienced three on our land that year.

In processing the fire experiences and living with the constant awareness that what happened then can happen again.  I produced  a short film entitled:: From the Ashes – Fire, Survival. and Renewal, about how our community responded to the Redwood Complex Fire 2017.The is film available for free screenings to community fire councils and art institutions.  I am working on part two.

In 2020, largely due to the ensuing California wildfires, we chose to sell our 195 acre place and move back to the East Coast, where our families live and we are creating a new life and farm.

I am still witnessing and interpreting the landscape.

Jaye Alison Moscariello


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