Dear Artist,

My dad, who is now 91 and still painting, used to be in the investment business. He gave me some good advice: “Pay yourself first.” What he meant was to set aside the first part of your income to some sort of savings plan. After a while this habit led to the pleasantness of watching investments compound and grow.

Having this backup results in a reduction of pressure. Similarly, in the painting business I have always preferred to pay myself first-that is do the work that pleases me the most. There’s nothing worse than having to produce what are essentially commissions to someone else’s standards that infringes on our own pure vision. An older artist told me recently that he can’t afford to stop, play or be blocked. That’s what happens.

What I’m hearing from many artists is the satisfaction they receive from following their own true voices. Staying up into the wee hours is no problem when you love what you do. Doing what you love is easier when the pressure is off.

Here’s a pressure idea that comes from within and supercedes the outsiders. It’s worth gold. It’s called “Relaxed Pressure Scheduling.” I call it RPS for short. It’s sort of relaxed, sort of pressure, sort of scheduling. Sounds wishy-washy, but we artists don’t like to be told what to do. It’s also subject to sweet distraction and whim-but it speeds you around your studio as if you were possessed. In the long run it’s a lot more fun — and you might find it more lucrative too.


by Henri Matisse

Best regards,


PS: “I remember going to the Matisse show and seeing how Matisse had taken one of his own paintings, worked from it and transformed it, and that had led on to the next one and the next.” (Anthony Caro)

Esoterica: Never too late: Among other things my Dad makes what he calls “oysterart.” He paints miniature scenes, flowers and faces on the inside of oyster shells, gilds the outside, and mounts them on beach wood.

The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.


by M Mountain

I recently did my first commission. I charged a large sum but in reality it was not. It worked out well, they loved the drawing and took the painting before I had signed it! I had a contract and would not enter into a commission without one. The people I did the work for spent as much for framing. They were great to work with. Not so with everyone though. Please tell artist to make a contract… Do not be too hungry or you will be taken advantage of.


Your Dad
by Barns

Nice reading about your dad again. I remember him very clearly getting me into mutual funds which had just been started around the time that I was starting into my working life.

Glad to hear that he is still actively involved in some form of artwork. Do remember me to him and your mum.


by Warren

Robert, I agree completely with this: “There’s nothing worse than having to produce what are essentially commissions to someone else’s standards that infringes on our own pure vision.”

I gave up commissions a long time ago for this reason. But before we accept the universal truth of the Personal Muse concept we should remember that it’s an idea that began in the West fairly recently, maybe with Chardin. I don’t think we want to say that the sculptures of Phidias or of the Gothic sculptors, or even the formula paintings of the Tibetan Buddhists are inferior because they emerge from a collective rather than a personal vision. Evidently creativity is able to find its way in even the narrowest of corridors.

Concerning your RPS method — that’s the only way I know how to work! Except mine would more accurately be labeled AL FOTTA — Aimless Lurching From One Thing To Another.


Self-Imposed Pressure
by David

Your recent letter on “Pressure” has some very interesting points on self-protection for artists which are extremely commendable. However, stressing these points weakens the importance of the other thrust of your message; that an artist’s self-imposed pressure is compelling and often the birthplace of thrilling new work. There are different types of pressure and we should protect ourselves, yes – but it is by pushing ourselves and responding to creative urges that takes the work on to higher levels.

I believe that truly creative art only comes from working on the edge of one’s sensibilities, whatever that edge may be. Otherwise we are simply practicing well known routines and the work becomes gratuitous. Your quote from Antony Caro supports this.

There is a quote from somewhere, I forget, that “steel is tested in the fire” which I believe applies here. To be an artist is certainly not about being cosy and enjoying a leisurely pastime. The buzz often comes after intense activity, when, emotionally drained, we look back and see in our work something of resonance that perhaps we never saw before.


You may be interested to know that artists from 69 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.

That doesn’t include hundreds with Hotmail accounts who could be at work anywhere. Hi!



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