Your primal joys

Dear Artist, As usual, some of my recent tips baffled a few folks. “Listen to the music that has been within you from your youth,” confused Peter Brown of Oakland, CA. “Is this about marching to my inner drummer,” he asked, “or the suggestion that I dust off my old Beatles albums?” Inner drummer, Peter, sorry, not Sgt. Pepper, but it could be. The idea is to tune into and bring to life our earliest interests and passions. “External” and “Internal” are the two main types of creative motivation. External motivation can be market forces or societal, peer or educational demands. As an example of the latter, some art school friends were recently asked by their instructor to dig around and find subject matter that “upsets or angers you.” The result was a classroom full of poverty, privation, humiliation, defeat, famine, war, fanaticism, religious prejudice, gay bashing, familial discord and various other social ills. I’m not saying these are unsuitable subjects for paintings, but they just didn’t fit in with the current thoughts of most of these students. “Life is good and I’m happy to be alive,” said one. “If I was angry I’d spray-can the boxcars. Right now I want to learn how to paint, not how to protest.” Internal motivation, on the other hand, often originates in the purity of our pre-teen youth and is rich with unsullied integrity. An artesian well of surprise and diversity, different folks report the early highs of camping, playing sports, watching wildlife, listening to music, fishing, collecting or even quietly drawing and painting. Evolved artists, in my experience, are able to use these primal joys as guides and triggers for creative direction and satisfaction. In my observation, the results are generally superior to the proscribed demands of others. Internal motivation can be sparked by a few minutes of quiet Zen-like reflection on earlier times and places. Work begins when you answer the question, “What do I want to do today?” The other alternative is to do what other people want. It’s also been my observation that most of us rugged individualists would prefer a root canal to doing other people’s will. Best regards, Robert PS: “Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film.” (Ansel Adams) Esoterica: B.G. (Before Girls) I had an extensive collection of semi-rotten and weathered roots and gnarls from our nearby forests and beaches. Leaning against the side of our home, my museum pieces were wired to several sheets of dad-provided plywood, until mom happened to notice the carpenter ants. Visualizing the ants’ destructive march to our school, hospital and parliament buildings, multiplying like the brooms in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, overwhelming civilization as we knew it, my parents contrived with a local farmer, Albert Eales, to load my museum onto his flat-bed, take it somewhere and burn it. This covert operation hurt my folks as much as it did me, and they apologized forever after. Bugs and all, the objects and their bone-like forms still hang out lovingly in the deep folds of my B.G. soul.   The demystifying instructor by Kim Attwooll, Tryon, NC, USA  

“A great pleasure”
watercolour painting
by Kim Attwooll

Very few of us manage to reach the stage where the more intricate suggestions are meaningful. However, your fairly constant reminder about just having fun and playing with the medium is a message that I strive to get across to my students. Most people have a preconceived notion that they can’t possibly become an artist. It seems to me that my job is to demystify, in my case, watercolor for them. We start with the quick and simple properties and show fun effects like charging color, spraying into paint, salting, and sponging. Once the desire to explore is apparent, practice becomes fun and before you know it “Wow” is appearing on the paper. Then they start doing something that they were told they could never do.   There are 3 comments for The demystifying instructor by Kim Attwooll
From: Brenda W. — May 08, 2012

True, I hear it all the time … but, it’s coming from THEM, not anyone else. They, themselves, sabotage their possibilities!

From: Sarah — May 08, 2012

Your painting is absolutely enchanting!

From: Pat — May 09, 2012

I must add here that another great pleasure in life is having Kim Attwooll to gently inspire and leave you with the quiet belief that you really can create something beautiful with watercolors.

  The negative painting by Rhonda Bobinski, Red Lake, ON, Canada  

original painting
by Rhonda Bobinski

There is something to be said about “the negative painting” that delivers us directly to our youth, in some cases. Art can be a fantastic form of catharsis, of healing, and getting those “demons” out. I can’t help but think of the art of the amazing William Kurelek who blatantly exposed his psychology on canvas. Horrific to view, but mandatory for his mind. Does cathartic art need to be shared? Sometimes it is good enough to have a good crying session in the studio with a palette of acrylic and a canvas. For instance, I am a high school teacher. I had the horrible experience of having to go through the process of assisting others as they dealt with the suicide of a friend and student. It was difficult to be strong, but I could have that release in my studio. I painted away my anger at society, at hate, at loss, and it helped me to heal. And then I turned it around and allowed my students to have a voice. We drew large scale hand portraits, with messages for the rest of the school, communicating our feelings with art and gesture. We were telling everyone who we are and that we are willing to share, to talk, to reach out. It was beautiful. Sometimes the most beautiful bloom emerges from the swampy waters. There is 1 comment for The negative painting by Rhonda Bobinski
From: Anne E. Whiteway — May 15, 2012

As most of us know, expressing oneself via visual art can be cleansing and cathartic. I usually paint happy paintings. However when I paint a darker, starker image, it seems to be an energetic release of the negativity that we all sometimes feel. I don’t always show my darker works, but that doesn’t matter. It is a way to deal with life’s changes, life’s tragedies and disappointments. Afterwards, it feels like a balm for my soul.

  The slow trek to rediscover by Donald Jurney, Boston, MA, USA  

original painting
by Donald Jurney

A propos of this morning’s letter, here’s a resonant Albert Camus quote: “A man’s life is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” Matthew Innis did a post on kindness among artists. I know, after 35 career years, that it is sometimes much too rare. Thanks very much for the great work you do for artists.   Anchoring with trees and plants by Nancy Cook, NC, USA  

“Summer split”
by Nancy Cook

In my case, it’s BB — before boys — loves of my life. As I have lived in new areas around the country, one of my ways of getting anchored in my new home environment is to identify the regional trees and other flora. This goes way back to my mom taking me to the woods on my grandparents’ farm and showing me which trees and plants had edible parts and sharing them with me — chestnuts, fox grapes, fresh pine needles, etc. When I realized how ingrained this love of trees has been, and how they represent life for me, and how often I had turned to this inspiration for my art, my art productivity took off. For the last three years I have focused on the seeds and fruits of trees and shrubs for inspiration. Now it is a simple matter of tuning in to the cycles of life around me, gathering specimens to sketch and study, and make into art. As a result, I have a wealth of imagery for additional work. There are 7 comments for Anchoring with trees and plants by Nancy Cook
From: Suzanne — May 08, 2012

I think this is beautiful — would love to see the whole thing!

From: Odette Venuti — May 08, 2012

Stunning! What a beautiful piece of quilting.

From: suzanne jensen — May 08, 2012

it hits all my buttons .. poetic

From: marie tesch — May 08, 2012

One can eat fresh pine needles?

From: Tatjana — May 08, 2012

What an amazing quilt, I love it!

From: Mikki Root Dillon — May 08, 2012

That is absolutely beautiful. I, too, would love to see the whole quilt!

From: Anonymous — May 08, 2012

I think your words spoke to me more than the quilt, both are really lovely

  It takes work to follow your inner voices by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“Here’s looking at You”
oil painting
by Rick Rotante

A big problem I see today concerns subject matter. I see everyone painting virtually the same painting — meaning the same genre and in the same way. It’s safe there. One can get lost in the crowd and not stand out this way. Very few are challenging themselves to paint something “new,” something that will excite, something to stop you, something others may not warm to. We do this because we think it will get us into the galleries. But here’s a flash — galleries are looking for “the new” also. Whenever I write like this, people always think I mean “controversial subjects.” Painting to your inner drummer is hard. Many don’t listen to their inner voices. That takes work. It takes discovery. You are moving into unchartered territory and it’s scary.   There is 1 comment for It takes work to follow your inner voices by Rick Rotante
From: Sharon Cory — May 08, 2012

Love this portrait, especially the use of yellow along the brow line. What is she thinking?

  The vexing problem with themed art shows by Linda Harbison, Flatwoods, KY, USA  

by Linda Harbison

I have always felt frustrated when entering themed art shows. I find myself trying to force the idea I’m currently focused on into the parameters of the theme. Doing this saps the life out of my work, but I hate to miss out on a show! A while back I found a dream diary I recorded when I was around thirteen. It helped me remember the sheer joy of discovery that happens in childhood. I was inspired to do a series of paintings based on it. The creative juices were flowing. But then I heard about a new art show in town. The theme had to do with water, so I immediately started trying to change my original ideas to make them somehow have something to do with water. Suddenly, it wasn’t fun anymore. It became a chore. Maybe I should just forget about themed shows and do what I want to do. There are 4 comments for The vexing problem with themed art shows by Linda Harbison
From: JR — May 07, 2012

Beautiful sculpture!!

From: Ron Ruble — May 08, 2012

I think you have the answer in your last sentence. Just drop the “maybe”.

From: Suzette Fram — May 08, 2012

I too find that painting for themed shows takes me away from what I’m trying to do with my work. I’m trying to develop a personal style, I’m trying to build a consistent body of work, and every time I take the time to paint something for a themed show, it takes me away from my ‘real’ work and derails my efforts to build that solid body of work. Definitely something to consider when trying to decide whether or not to participate in such shows.

From: Tatjana — May 08, 2012

I think that the need to create and the need to show stem from two entirely separate emotions. The tricky thing is that they help each other – they are symbiotic. I think that’s a good thing, as long as we know when to stop playing them against each other. So entering a show from time to time is ok for me, as long as it is a background activity. Shows bring in connection with other artists, defocus me from taking myself too seriously and invoke humility. But back in the studio, doing my main work, it’s important to remember to “switch off” all those external considerations.

  Art student becomes the model by Linda Roth, West Bloomfield, MI, USA  

watercolour painting
Linda Roth

I was in a portrait painting class years ago. The hired model for the term got sick. They couldn’t find a substitute, so the instructor talked a female student into taking her place. Over the course of that pose, my painting went from very good traditional likeness to some sort of Picasso dissection and I kept getting more and more energized and loose with my approach. I ended with a pretty good abstraction that nobody understood. The instructor naturally inquired what happened. I explained the student substitute was angry and upset and those feelings radiated from her body. I painted what she was feeling. I told him I thought he should let her rejoin the class she had paid to take and hire a new model. What’s interesting about my reaction to this girl is that my painting went from a traditional portrait style to a total abstraction suggesting that different feelings dictate style changes. One artist can paint in a number of styles. In my art, my style has varied my whole life according to what I was painting. There is 1 comment for Art student becomes the model by Linda Roth
From: Jane Brenner — May 09, 2012

Dynamite painting!

  Resistance to external direction by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada  

“Evening on Water”
acrylic painting
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

In my BB years, my every day had a time with a notebook and a 36-color set of felt pens asking me what I wanted to draw today. All those notebooks disappeared into fire although I doubt that there were any insects involved. Last year I bought a set of colored felt pens but for some reason I never felt compelled to play with them. As they say, we can never go back home and that’s probably how it should be, we have to keep reinventing ourselves. In my elementary school I had teachers that gave directional assignments similar to the art class that you described. I recently got a hold of my earliest gouache paintings and found a scene with WWII partisans holding guns and laying on stretchers, many bloody wounds suggesting a field hospital. I remember the assignment was to paint a scene from partisan stories and poems (hundreds of which we were inflicted). Boys loved it and drew many creative kinds of weapons and interesting consequent injuries. I found another painting, apparently of a jungle with lot of animals, greenery and flowers, much more to my liking. I remember loving to paint but even then resenting that I had to paint what I was told. Even now, when someone with best intentions suggests to me what I “should do,” I feel like a nail is being driven into my head. It’s good to remember that because sometimes I “suggest” to myself that I should do something that someone else would like — neat trick, but I suspect it is the cause of the blockage I have been fighting lately. Last weekend I intentionally did studies that I know for sure can only mean something to me, and I had a wonderful time. I guess that my little self-absorbed BB personality has been feeling neglected for a while. There are 3 comments for Resistance to external direction by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
From: Rose — May 08, 2012

Thank you for showing your paintings. I enjoyed everyone of your works I have seen.[in every way…]

From: Tatjana — May 08, 2012

Thanks very much Rose!

From: Mikki Root Dillon — May 08, 2012

Just beautiful symplification of your shapes…I envy your ability to do that! Lovely painting.

  The deep well of youthful loves by DebraAnn Salat, Saratoga County, NY, USA  

by DebraAnn Salat

My art most definitely comes from things I loved in childhood. I am a hand embroidery/fiber artist and I have been working with needles my whole life from the time I was 5 or 6 at my grandmother’s side. They have been a constant in my ever-changing life — although I must admit I was also inclined to work on kits and Afghans when I was younger. About 10 years ago I came to the awakening that people were buying the images that came from my own imagination. And just this past year I came to the realization that I am truly an artist. I hope someone who is younger than I am learns this lesson much earlier than I did. I realized that until I accepted myself as an artist I would never live up to my potential. There is 1 comment for The deep well of youthful loves by DebraAnn Salat
From: Liz Reday — May 13, 2012

Lovely piece, you’re onto something. Working from your imagination is the most creative (and hardest) way to be an artist. Yes, you are. Have you seen RAW magazine?

  Competition and cooperation by Robert Griffin, Aurora, CO, USA   In reading about the external and internal creative motivation, I was going along, mostly agreeing. (I don’t even agree with myself all the time.) Then you said, “most of us rugged individualists would prefer a root canal to doing other people’s will.” I am reminded of the T-shirt I saw earlier in life. It said, “Life is a competition. Don’t whine. Compete.” I don’t like whiners, but I see the same defensive position in your statement regarding how you are/I am to approach life. Some of life is a competition. However, most of it is better when it is cooperative. A few extreme examples should suffice: freeway traffic or driving anywhere others are driving, in spite of what TV portrays today, family life is much better when it isn’t competitive, in the business world (beyond the used car lot) cooperation within a company usually means better business for the company and the patron, and in education I found that much more learning occurred when the students cooperated with each other. Carrying that idea further, and getting back to your root canal preference, I do a lot of things willingly, when it is a family member or friend who wants something done. I am not certain if it is internal or external motivation, but it clearly is not my will in many instances. I would also suggest that the men and women in the military are not doing their will when they go into harm’s way for this country and its citizens. I am not speaking of whether you agree with or disagree with the current or any past war, but of the sacrifice the servicemen and women have made and are continuing to make. To return to the agreeing part, I also see, as members of a society, that we should be allowed to follow our bliss, searching for the muse in us. While I see nothing wrong with doing what others want, doing what others want all the time will kill the beauty and creativity in an artist. Yes, we need to be able to say (and not just with regard to our creative endeavors, whatever they may be) I am going to “do what I want to do today.” Amazingly enough for the rugged individual, nothing is really done in isolation. The Eiffel tower was and is an amazing vision of creativity, yet for its beauty to inspire, there were a lot of mundane workers doing what someone else wanted. Even my pursuit of my limited creative ability rests on the cooperation, input and support of a many others: my parents, uncles, grandparents, instructors in and out of public education — people whose efforts and actions opened doors that would have remained shut. And like my doing things for my wife and daughters, they were doing things for someone else’s will: mine. There is 1 comment for Competition and cooperation by Robert Griffin
From: Anonymous — May 08, 2012

Well of course one can’t say that soldier’s sacrifices are not appreciated, or work for the family. Bur that’s wasn’t the point of Robert’s letter. The point is that one does the most creative and original work relying on one’s own ideas without interference of others.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Your primal joys

From: Dan Young — May 03, 2012

Yes… I almost would rather have a root canal than do someone else’s bidding when it comes to what I paint…. A gallery owner told me he wanted thicker paint…… I almost pulled out of the gallery it made me so mad….. Internal motivation has me painting coconut palm trees and beaches at sunset….. My childhood fantasy was to explore deserted islands ….. I now live in Hawaii and celebrate and paint that dream every day…..

From: Marvin Humphrey — May 03, 2012

My internal motivation hearkens back to when I was 3-4 years old; my mom set up simple still-life objects in the kitchen, having me copy them on my chalkboard easel. Still doin’ it, in oil. My external motivation will continue to exist until I’m 94, when the mortgage is paid off.

From: Ceci Lam — May 04, 2012

Indeed, listening to music from a particularly happy time in my life gets a different kind of creative juice flowing. Have always marched to my own drummer, but sometimes with a bit more dancing than stepping.

From: Cecilia — May 04, 2012

Not to be a “Debbie Downer” or anything but not everyone has “primal joys” from childhood that they can tap into nor do they have memories of their pre-teen youth that are pure and unsullied and full of “integrity.” Lucky for those that do but for many their art does originate from a dark place of fear and anger and sorrow and allowing them to tap into that (rather than dismissing the art school exercise you mention as irrelevant to the students’ lives – doubt it, actually, for many it probably was quite valuable whether they were willing to admit it or not) may ultimately result in richer, deeper, more meaningful art. Life is dark and most of us have experienced that to one degree or another, many experienced it as children. There is a place for this in art, indeed, if it is not allowed most art one produces may end up being nothing more than decoration.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — May 04, 2012

Cecelia, I am glad you wrote what you wrote. It takes light and dark…if all is light, you have Necco wafers, you have a lot of tinted cream cheese. These experiences have to be incorporated, not edited out. I think the trick is sublimation, transformation. These are qualities that get you through life and art.

From: Tinker Bachant — May 04, 2012

Art should be “felt” not examined.Sometimes with a portrait,Pet or person, the “likeness” must be exact, depending on the client. But otherwise, it’s a “go with your gut” !

From: Jackie Knott — May 04, 2012

God bless the student who commented he/she wanted to learn how to paint, not protest. What a wonderful time in life: young, eager, receptive, in art school knowing their life’s work … and having the insight to realize that particular experiment wasn’t useful to them. If we’re not careful we can allow ourselves to be carried off in lofty ideals and ambition when the mechanics and quiet labor that is essential to art is neglected. I never got around to offering my own tip, but it follows this subject: would I want to wake up and see negatives hanging on my wall? Do I want to paint social ills or see something of beauty? Could I live with this painting? Some art is better appreciated in museums rather than private homes. I’m not hunting to paint an iconic work … I want to paint something that pleases a person every time they walk into a room.

From: Chester — May 04, 2012

The teach could have hinted to the students to tap into their deep soul by giving a more sophisticated assignment. Negative emotions may be excellent driver to paint enriching art which doesn’t carry on more negativity into the world. Just painting the negative subject is too simplistic and seems pointless to me. There is lot of crap in the world, but what is our duty as artists? To report or to enrich?

From: Tatjana — May 04, 2012
From: Rodney C. Mackay — May 04, 2012

Have been there for for more than four decades. My wife and I have no liking for direction from above. God bless as Red Skelton used to say.

From: Larry D. Spencer — May 04, 2012

Some of you may get the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly free email letter. Though Genn’s audience is primarily painters, I find a lot of relevance for our work in clay. If you do or don’t get his newsletters, his today’s thoughts are especially relevant to what Lisa’s and Natalie’s MW afternoon Advanced Ceramic Design class has been dealing with this semester. It is certainly a support for our class’ teaching-learning experiences this semester at Brookhaven College. I am especially thankful that a fourth of the way into this semester Lisa assigned me just to play the rest of the semester—do the assignments, but play. She knew that my inner child, who likes to come out to play, needed some exercise to keep my get-it-right inner big guy from interfering with the creativity that comes from the playful kid in me. The results have been finding new freedom and whimsy in working with the clay. And in the process more ease and flow have appeared with my thrown vessels. To each of you I send thanks for your help, your insights, your particular ways of looking at the world and the clay with which you work, your inspiration, your risks, and especially your friendship. Knowing it or not, you have been a part of all those gifts. Thank you. We have a very special group of folks in the Brookhaven School of Arts—especially in the ceramics classes. I am enriched by each of you. Here’s my prayer for you this day: May your clay wedge with ease, May you find a good wheel or clean table to use, May you let the stuff in the clay and in your heart rule, May you let your soul be seen, May you find a few who appreciate your unique you, May you find wonder when it works and when it doesn’t, May you risk a little, learn a little, give a little (each day), And, in it all, may you relish the primal joys!

From: B.J. Adams — May 04, 2012

Regarding your last paragraph in today’s letter……..we may not want to do what other people want but it helps to have parameters. When working on a commission I appreciated having some direction to follow. Knowing the size and maybe some color as well as what the customer appreciated in my former work, helped in my decisions to begin. Sometimes that empty white canvas was harder to fill even though thoughts and ideas abound. Esoterica: That was indeed a sad loss as a child but has left you with memories that may be pulled up and remembered all through your life. What a great home you had to be able to wander the forest. When do we see paintings of weathered roots and gnarls?

From: Claudia Roulier — May 04, 2012

Robert my first thought when you gave the example of the professor looking for something that angers you…..was lazy. Students pay good money to learn skills not to learn how to protest, I think the prof didn’t want to teach.

From: Pat Stanley — May 04, 2012

I have to disagree with you, Robert. I think the art school instructor was asking the students to tap into a raw emotion, one that can drive the most amazing art, not telling them what to do. Waterlilies may be beautiful, but nothing stirs the soul like a Guernica. There is a lot of peaceful art around that may be nostalgic for the past – but that’s not what I want to be doing in my 60’s. I want to be expressing the depths of my feelings about the state of the world, the environment, humanity – feelings of anguish mixed with hope that I have had since I was a child (although I may not have understood them then). And those depths can be pretty dark. Cathartic Art 101 is for me!

From: Helen Opie — May 04, 2012

Too bad your parents didn’t know that a mixture (40-60 or 50-50) of borax and icing sugar would get these ants to poison themselves and their hatching young but nothing else. I mix it with water and squirt it into any holes I find in my driftwood.

From: Maureen Brouillette — May 04, 2012

Painting what other people want, or what you think will sell, is a recipe for disaster. I have seen so many people lose their way in the chase for “success”. Be totally sincere, and stick with your vision. If you can’t do that, than you need to be in another field. Being an artist is to be willing to accept the ups and downs. If you want security…do something else.

From: Anne Nielsen — May 04, 2012
From: Vivian Chamberlin — May 04, 2012

We who live in the most beautiful place in the whole world, and have been painting it endlessly for many years tend to get bored with our trees and flowers and mountains etc. Recently, I was challenged to paint rocks – what fun! They are not boring but I just had never thought to paint them. Maybe we all need to have such challenges!

From: Judy Laliberte — May 04, 2012

Love your letters Robert! Your words of wisdom and helpful hints teach, inspire and motivate!

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — May 04, 2012

Lately I have been in nostalgic mood remembering the simple and uncomplicated life I had with my folks in the Philippines. I thought of my grandmother bowing her head in prayer and following her lead for grace. Around her are my two aunts, two cousins and myself. I imagined how serene she looked, her bowed head and closed eyes in prayer while we children were anxious to satisfy our hungry stomachs, eyes open. Our table was low and we sat on the floor around it and our light is from a petroleum lamp. In the corner of the one room house is the clay stove with a pot on top and and glow from the fire of burning wood. I have been thinking of painting it as I remember it. Another image that I thought of painting is a group of my classmates under the mango tree where we used to sit on concrete semi circular benches before the bell rang for class. Other images are of our our school excursions to scenic places, riding on a bamboo raft or banca (a wooden canoe). These are the images that are inspiring me to paint and I hope one of these days I will.

From: Patty O’Kane — May 04, 2012

Your thoughts on preteen, early art cognition are interesting. Just as you had your museum pieces that came to a tragic demise, I’ll bet we all have such occurrences in our early days of creation that more than likely propelled us to create with a vengeance to prove value in our art. For me, it was the brand-new-fresh-out-of-college-I-have-something-to-prove-teacher- Mike Henley’s English Lit I class, freshman in high school circa 1972 and the portrait of Mark Spitz that he tore up before my very eyes because the person in front of me had turned around to look at it just as the bell rang… Poor old Mike is still on my drive by shooting list and probably will be forever. (no I don’t really do drive by shootings) My joy is that while my art has grown in those 40 years, he is still an embittered control freak. Whew, felt good to purge that one.

From: Lisa Schaus — May 07, 2012

I read, refer, and share your thoughts with those I know will find the same world of delight as I do. “Primal joy” and inspiration are generally our first intimate exchanges with the earth. Weather, soil, rock, water, and sun fire. My metamorphosis at this stage is the return to my marriage with the artist I knew at a very young age. I have been unfaithful to my creative heart in order to survive something that is completely a mystery to me. Until now. All the anger, sadness, and loss have managed me and I let go of the Nirvana of my Primal Joy. Thank you for the reminder that depression comes from the destruction of innocence in many of our lives. Maturity as a painter recalls the “primal joy”. Columbia Falls, MT

From: Geri Adam — May 07, 2012

I really connected with your thoughts about ‘internal” and ‘external’ motivation. I was just in an art show which had a youth category, 17 years and under. Most of the entries were delightful and happy but I noticed as the artists aged into later teens the subjects became more intense and depressing–I guess their take on society. Oh to reconnect with that playful, direct, charming,and exciting interpretation of the creativity and joy of our youth! I don’t thing we really lose it. We just have to step back from all the ‘terribles’ of society and find it again.

From: Marcus Reinkensmeyer — May 07, 2012

An excellent column and so true.

From: Robin Tondra — May 07, 2012

It concerns me today how we encourage people to suppress anger. It is unfashionable to express anger about anything. Those who do are seen as “negative”. It has become a social taboo. This comes at a time when there is plenty to be angry about; however, we are told to “not worry, be happy”. Anger motivates social change much better than sitting back and thinking about how happy one is and then never really doing anything about the problems we face. People who are prosperous are relatively safe and happy. People who are victims of poverty, abuse, discrimination, and other social and personal problems are pressured to shut up and count their blessings. This in itself is a sickness in our society. Of course everyone is happy to be alive. That doesn’t mean we have to like everything. I can’t imagine anyone being happy about killing millions of people. I would at least hope they would be sad. This letter is extremely distressing. It shows how suppressed and repressed out society has become But that is being negative. I can not even talk about feeling distressed. I am a counselor and I know what happens hen individuals and groups are told to be happy. They become depressed. They are stigmatized. I do protest art. I think protesting is what America is about. The right to protest. This art exercise was a way to allow students to recognize that they have anger. It is just very unfortunate that they were to afraid to explore or suppress it. By the way, when I was young I was very angry – I don’t really know that everyone had an idyllic life about which they were happy.

From: Oliver Pratley — May 07, 2012

I really get a great deal from reading these letters and responses. London and Birmingham

From: Susan Holland — May 07, 2012

Re: Protest Art and Robin Tondra’s distress at this article. It may not be surprising that a counselor would see the world as a gathering of unhappy souls, since usually it’s when people are unhappy that they finally seek counselors to help them through it. I don’t find it surprising that a person immersed in the struggle of others going through suffering wants to express anger and sadness, along with those others who need to “get it out.” In my own work, I found, during a particularly dark period of my life, that let loose with a canvas to just paint what I was feeling, the painting sort of painted itself, and usually was quite figurative, with nasty characters doing nasty things and making life miserable. It did help me to do these, but I think it was part of the way to get through, rather than a statement of everyone’s realiity. Fear and anger certainly spawn emotionally charged art, and our museums are full of it. But surprise and joy and hope and mirth and awe and love are also strongly felt emotions and our museums are full of that too, and with reason! May we all enjoy with our paint brushes the extraordinary feelings we have about our lives..positive, negative, or just decorative. It will connect with someone who is traveling the same road, eventually, and if it’s beautifullly done, it may end up in a museum. But I did not find Robert’s article distressing, personally. I’m in a pretty harmonious chunk of my life at present and protest is not foremost, though my self-described “rant” blogs will not make it seem so. I just am happy to be allowed to say stuff, good or bad.

From: Gabriella Morrison — May 07, 2012

I am disappointed with some of the implications of this post of Robert’s. A part of post-secondary learning in any of the arts is learning about context and content of the art form under study, as well as developing techniques in practice of performance. Perhaps if Robert was talking about students of literature and writing in a programme geared to the promulgation and practice of the written arts, he might be bemoaning the fact that “directed” writing themes and forms were utilized in the education of learning writers. Learning just techniques, in and of themselves, is not enough for serious questors for knowledge in any discipline. Post-secondary education in the arts is not intended to be remedial. There is expectation that advanced students have an acceptable level of basic skills upon which to develop further expertise. I for one applaud teaching which stretches the parameters of individual expectations and ideas. To not challenge, on technical, conceptual and aesthelic aspects, is to not educate in a complete sense, and if I were in an art school which emphasized technical learning only, I would feel cheated and short-changed. By the way, what is an “evolved” artist?

From: Carenie little — May 09, 2012

The older I have aged the more important my art has become. I don! T paint portraits,or animals, trees rarely. No landscape for me. But my love is the bush, camping, canoeing, hiking, as I have aged I have had to modify what I am able to do with my abilities. Compromise is my position, this includes my friends and family. I devided my life into three thirds. First third is with your parents, second is husband and children and now the third third is about Me. Learning to be really me centered is a real learning curve. Not easily done when you have given over 2/3 of your life to others.i love what I am doing and argue with myself daily that I am worth the effort. Carenie little When friends come over I cover my work, I don,t want input so I remove the temptation from the studio.

From: Elizabeth Concannon — May 10, 2012

I don’t know whether you and/or any other artists must confront to b e included in local or regional exhibitions — juried or not — but I have become aware of many artist discussions regarding the fact that granting institutions (upon whom the organizations but not the artists depend for financial support) have taken absolute control of the content of the art considered. The granting institutions usually name the exhibit to direct the content first of all — and there are some who think that the judges’ instructions may be at play here too. So I was particularly drawn to the following sentence in your letter: “The other alternative is to do what other people want. It’s also been my observation that most of us rugged individualists would prefer a root canal to doing other people’s will.” I know granting institutions are created to support the arts — but I wonder if they go too far sometimes in the controls, instead of providing leadership.

From: Val I. VanOrden — May 15, 2012

I wonder if my love of house portraits comes from a need to find “home”. I was adopted at 9 months old and do you suppose my drawing beautiful houses is that looking for a perfect home? My grandmother got me started on house portraits.

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Mesquite Flat Dunes

photograph by Marcus W Reinkensmeyer, AZ, 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, 2013. That includes Angie Hill of Calgary, AB, Canada, who sent this quote: “You get the best efforts from others not by lighting a fire underneath them, but by building a fire within.” (Bob Nelson) And also John Mix of Madison, WI, USA, who sent this quote: “The soul would rather fail at his or her own life than succeed at someone else’s.” (David Whyte)    

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