The power of one


Dear Artist,

A few minutes ago I was on the telephone with a kid who wanted to know if my daughter Sara and I painted the same things and in the same way. I set him straight. Apart from the golden rule of mutual support, we’re independent.


Sara in her New York studio

Sara, who now lives in New York, was visiting here for a few days last week. Right now she’s doing massive colour-field, equal-intensity dazzlers. Apart from being the inventor of creative forms that I’ve never seen before, she’s the fastest brush on Manhattan. Do I give her tips? Does she ask for crits? “The only crit an artist needs is praise.” (Joe Blodgett)

(Samples of Sara’s recent work are posted below this letter.)

When Sara and I are together we sometimes talk about our individual choices. The placement of paint is a private matter with us. “You can’t imagine Picasso collaborating with, let’s say, N.C. Wyeth,” she says. “Wyeth is from Mercury and Picasso is from Saturn.” I’m thinking that would be a good name for a book. She says, “In our game, the power of one is greater than the power of two.” She was about ten when I stopped telling her that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. We get along beautifully.


Robert and Sara on the Mackenzie River

A few years ago, Sara and I painted the length of the Mackenzie River in northern Canada. Down that massive waterway in our floating studio, we looked at the same sky, the never-ending shoreline, and expressed it differently. The great fun of it all was that while we were both in the same boat, we were paddling our own canoes.

Some other professional creators — architects, advertising and media people, for example — are not always so blessed. Clients, directors and management make monkeys out of perfectly nice folks. Sara and I, smug in our wet and spotted drawers, noted that few others might be so smug. Even the creative Cessna pilot who flew us out of Norman Wells had to follow instructions.


Best regards,


PS: “Individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Esoterica: The power of one is not working in the design of the Freedom Tower — replacement for the fallen twin-towers in New York. Daniel Libeskind won the design contest, but David Childs is the leaseholder’s favourite architect. Through political will and an ongoing clash of egos, the powers-that-be decided to engage both men as co-designers. The result is a compromise mish-mash with an overabundance of motifs. It looks like the Freedom Tower will be less than either architect might have produced on his own.


Sara Genn


Artwork on display


Sara in her Vancouver studio


“true — o” paintings







“shimmy — o” paintings series by Sara Genn


“grace — o” paintings series by Sara Genn


“darling — o” paintings series by Sara Genn







Control and abandon
by Melanie Peter, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Four Sabals”
acrylic/pastel painting
by Melanie Peter

Making art is about transcendence, but I can’t transcend when anchored to intentions. It’s a misfortune to be in complete control and a gift to feel slightly lost. Fear is the enemy of my art. I try to find ways to short-circuit my routines, fastidiousness, self-consciousness, apprehension, and attachment to control. Artists can’t forego disciplined study because that’s the foundation for becoming fearless. It takes a mix of control and a sense of abandon to make art. Plus it’s just plain boring to know the exact outcome.

Writings by artists, mystics, yogis and gurus refer to the phenomenon of letting go being necessary for creating something new. Annie Dillard wrote that art is like an ill-trained Labrador retriever that drags you out into traffic.

“The object which is back of every true work of art is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence.” (Robert Henri)


“Alone” brings out the power of one
by Vicki Easingwood, Duncan, BC, Canada

I am alone almost all of the time, but I am rarely lonely. I enjoy the time I spend with my inner spirit or voice, and rejoice when the artist comes out to play, or when the writer writes. And I do one of these (sometimes both) almost daily. It is those days where I do not paint or write or create something, that I am lonely. And those are the days when I’ve generally been too busy with people of unlike mind and interests, to allow me time to tap into me. The power of one is my strongest blessing. It is a noble number, a noble state of mind. It’s an inspired spot that gives birth to all that is best and brightest in me.


Why are they so famous?
by Jan Verhulst, Antwerp, Belgium


original painting
by Jan Verhulst

I’m a bit confused these days. Two compatriots of mine are very famous in the contemporary art scene: Luc Tuymans (in the Tate Modern these days) and Raoul De Keyser. I have no problem with the success of these guys and I don’t compare myself with them. I’m just trying to learn painting. But I don’t understand why they are so famous. I have the impression that there is no skill involved in their work — only many difficult words to accompany the works. On the other hand I think it must be wonderful to be creative and fussing around without concern about skill. When I see your work, I see that you are skilled, but when I look at the work of your daughter Sara, I don’t see skill at first glance, but I think she is enjoying her art as much as you. I should like to hang a work of Sara in my living room, but can’t bring myself to make such work. Do I miss the freedom to be creative and free from the demands of skill? Or am I wrong about this? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

(RG note) In art, all flags must fly. Partly through our collective inheritance, some artists are challenged by the skills involved. But this doesn’t preclude that pure ideas need not be tried, with or without the traditional skills that some of us treasure so dearly. You’re not wrong, you’re just stating a preference.


Art to cure the hate
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia


In Soviet times an artist’s job was to open the peoples’ minds to deceit. The relation of authority to the artist is a criterion of state authority sincerity. And if somebody is mixing politics to correct sincere art as it was in case with Freedom Tower — it is an evident symptom. Sincere art must rescue our world. Our subscribers must take part by adding input to rescue the world from the hate that is being created. Even after 9/11 there was a financier that gave money for the sad actions in the Russian town of Beslan. Perhaps art could have been able to cure his soul and change his mind from self-deceit or financial profit. If only one artist can influence with his picture a feeling so strong — how great is power of art to have obligation for artist to continue his/her creating work in the studio.


Return to line
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, ON, Canada

There’s nothing like drawing with a permanent ink pen to encourage your “power of one” to flourish. Artists have been doing this for ages — from Leonardo da Vinci (Star of Bethlehem) to Paul Signac (Pink Cloud), who, when he was a disciple of Georges Seurat’s (Models), was a second-rate pointillist like his mentor. When he finally broke loose and took off on his own for the south of France, he developed a unique, powerful line and watercolour technique. This sort of transition got me back to using line again in my own work (something discouraged by a certain school of watercolour). At an exhibition of his work at the Grand Palais in Paris a few years ago I was so impressed that I acquired the book, Signac, aquarelliste, by Marina Ferretti Bocquillon where his line and wash is beautifully illustrated.


drawing by
Leonardo da Vinci


painting by
Paul Signac


painting by
Georges Seurat






For years, I had used Pigma pens to do quick, small “spitbox” 5x7s. The system has taught my students to develop drawing skills. Now I use a Faber Castell PITT felt pen, which gives greater freedom — then I add the colour. From small to big, and a more powerful “one.”


Use of a good critique
by John Ford

I’m not in total agreement with the Joe Blodgett quote: “The only critique an artist needs is praise.” A fellow artist and dear friend of mine trades critiques with me almost on a weekly basis. While both of us may have some canvases that hold their own, there are others that can be improved. Another artist is a useful tool when one is too close to one’s easel. Just stepping back and looking at it from another angle may not be the answer to what the work might be lacking. Another pair of eyes and another mind stepping forward to the easel is more likely to produce a very good solution to the problem. Or maybe an idea from another artist that might add a dimension to your work can be brought out with a critique that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

I have found that even the seasoned artist can find so much use in a good critique as this tool will stimulate the mind. You don’t have to agree with the critique, but if it sets the creative juices flowing then this important part of being an artist is welcomed.


Students blossom this way
by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada


“Golden Poppies”
watercolour painting
by Marney Ward

So many instructors simply demonstrate and have their students copy what they are doing. While this may be a legitimate method of teaching techniques, it tends to produce clones — nothing but a poor imitation of the teacher’s work. It’s far better to demonstrate certain techniques or compositions and let the students create their own painting in their own way, with the teacher offering possible solutions to the problems they encounter along the way. Of course this involves a lot of one-on-one assistance, but as a teacher I am rewarded every day by seeing students blossom into their own styles and their own artistic identity, not merely reflecting mine. We all enjoy the added benefit of a rich diversity of paintings in the classroom, as we learn from, encourage, and are inspired by one another. They love it when I ask how they would solve a situation in one of my demo paintings, and feel liberated when they realize there are many possible solutions, and the ones they choose will help define their identity as an artist.


Sometimes wise not to digitalize
by Mary Madsen, Las Vegas, NV, USA

You are, indeed, a wise man if you chose not to digitalize your 160,000 slides. As a photographer I constantly scan slides with my Nikon CoolScan 4000, but processing just a few hundred is enough to drive me around the bend.

Regarding the increasing problems of finding projector bulbs and lamps and other parts — you should be aware of B&H Photography in New York. Their website covers just a tiny bit of their stock. Their print catalog rivals the phone book of any megalopolis in the world, and can provide parts for just about any dinosaur left on earth.


Ex-teacher moves to power of one
by Virginia Wieringa, Grand Rapids, MI, USA


“Tree by the River”
original painting
by Virginia Wieringa

The power of one is something I’m celebrating as a newly retired art teacher. No more meetings or assignments to teach and grade! However, beyond the interaction of paint and canvas and out of the studio, going further into the business of art, there’s the power of the gallery, the power of the customer and that can be daunting especially if the response to your “power of one” is less than praise. It can make you doubt the power you have. It’s an interesting business!



Not contaminated by knowledge
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther of FL, USA

I’m not sure if it’s because of my lack of art history and or knowledge of the art world, but this is yet another reason I’m grateful that I’m not influenced by it. I’ve always felt that if it’s a god-given talent it will come out as it should without the aid of the knowledge of what others have done. I feel that I’m not contaminated by its power of influence — making me one and one alone. I do regret the lack of knowledge though when talking to other artists and buyers who try to compare my style with others. I just don’t have a clue of what they are talking about. So I spend a lot of my time at shows standing alone and scratching my head.


They liked my work
by Elle Fagan, Rockville, CT, USA


watercolour painting
by Elle Fagan

Art Exchange told me that they sell art and they liked mine. I had been searching for something like Art Exchange, and I had been disappointed in several attempts, but when they found me I think we’re going to do very well together. Their clients include the gamut, and I’m quite honored. The artworks sell from 50 dollars to 50 thousand, from a range of arts people, some of whom have done some very important work.



Questions on Florence Biennale
by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, AB, Canada


“April Showers, Millardville”
original painting
by Lorna Dockstader

Could you please tell me if you have ever heard of an art exhibition in Florence, Italy, called the Biennale Internationale Del’arte Contemporanea? I have been invited to participate and have recently received the registration forms in the mail. The fee for the wall space is Euro 2100. Before sending in my cheque etc. could you please tell if yourself or other artists on your site have ever been part of this show?

(RG note) There are two previous references to the Florence Biennale in our search facility. They are: Opportunities for exhibiting art? by Barbara Mercer and Galleries as mentors? by Janet M. Trahan If you’re responding to Lorna please copy to Thanks for your friendship and all the connections.







Baloon battle

Corel Painter painting
by Ryan Church, CA, USA


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, 2004.

That includes Florence Stroup who wrote, “I buy a lot of “how to” books. I’ve noticed that they are not as good if there is more than one author. I never buy them now if there is.”

And also Tony Last of Toronto, Canada who wrote, “I was commissioned to sculpt a camel in wood. This was to be a Bactrian camel (two humps) kneeling on its forelegs. After a photo-shoot at our zoo I saw the wisdom of your statement and came to the realization that the committee wasn’t too bright! The commission, however, was well received.”

And also Orythia Johnston who wrote, “Mutual support exists apart from talent, or ability, but is just as valuable. With mutual support we can get to our own talent and uniqueness.”

And also Kathleen Arnason of Willow Island, Canada who wrote, “Like a snowflake we are the beauty of one.”




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