Dear Artist,

Renaissance means “rebirth.” It’s a term that refers to the intellectual and artistic movement that began in Italy in the 14th century, culminated with Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael in the 16th, and has influenced thinking and creating ever since. The art historian Ian Chilvers has characterized it as “the time when Medieval turns into Modern and the religion-dominated world of the Middle Ages gives way to a culture more responsive to the individual.” It has come to mean openness to change, to rethinking, and to the examination and often reinvention of more classical forms. These days, it seems we are living through a renaissance of realism in a world traditionally dominated by abstract expressionism. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, for example.


Leonardo da Vinci painted by Paul Delaroche

More than anything, renaissance is an attitude that transcends times and places. For creative people, a minor renaissance happens every day as we reassess yesterday’s work and adjust our thinking to both its needs and our personal inclinations.

Would-be “renaissance artists” try to range widely in their interests, understanding, and capability. They do many things, know how to quickly research the information they need, do not necessarily follow the recipes of others, and are rather in love with the business of finding out for themselves. They both respect the past and contrive to discover the future. And just like Giotto, Pisano and Donatello, as well as the three guys mentioned above, “renaissance thinking” is learned.


Michelangelo painted by Paul Delaroche

The way I look at it, the idea of renaissance has eight great principles that just might be worth thinking about:

Curiosity as a way of thinking

Suspicion of authority and conventional wisdom

Respect for intelligently filtered history

Aspiration to higher levels of achievement


Raphael painted by
Horace Vernet

Vision for renewed potential in all things

Tendency to invent private systems

Reinvention and perfection of former skills

Accepting the challenge of the difficult


by Lucian Freud

Best regards,


PS: “Francis Bacon would say that he felt he was giving art what he thought it previously lacked. With me, it’s what Yeats called the fascination with what’s difficult. I’m only trying to do what I can’t do.” (Lucian Freud)

Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from the shade of massive plane trees on the ramparts of a defensive wall that surrounds Lucca, Italy. Cooling breezes flow in from the Ligurian Sea and the air is filled with ancient wonder and present curiosity. This is Giacomo Puccini’s town, and tonight there will be a concert in one of the cathedrals now converted to a music venue. My daughter, Sara, is living here in a 13th century stone building where she is painting a new series.


A renaissance woman
by Lyn Cherry, Maryville, TN, USA


“Teton View”
watercolour painting
by Lyn Cherry

When I was lucky enough to visit Italy in 1980, I experienced a life changing event. I was “turned on” to the Renaissance artists, particularly the sculpture of Michelangelo. The unfinished sculpture known as St. Matthew in particular grabbed my attention. I saw his Pieta, his Moses, his absolutely fantastic David, but the body of St. Matthew writhing from the marble was just overwhelming. I admired the versatility of the Renaissance artists; they not only left us a legacy of wonderful visual arts, but many wrote poetry and prose and, as we know, da Vinci left many plans for inventions. In my own humble way, I have tried to be a Renaissance woman; I keep striving to paint, to write poetry, to read, to research subjects that interest me and to continue learning something new each and every day. After the visit to Italy, I went to college and graduated at age 51, a grandmother of three at that time. I am experiencing a kind of Renaissance in my artistic life right now; I’m trying to stretch my boundaries and paint some work I would not have even tackled a year ago.


As nature intended
by Edna Hildebrandt, Toronto, ON, Canada

There is a need for a certain renaissance in art today. In viewing some of the developments today I’d like to be able to see people in some compositions where they are recognizable as people or persons rather than some grotesque figure of dissected limbs and disfigured faces. I’d like to admire the beauty of man, woman or child as nature intended to be revealing their character, suffering or exultations and overcoming odds. Whether young or old, wrinkled or smooth skin as a child. They seem to be lacking those in some abstract art.


Unknown requirements
by Angel F. Matamoros, WA, USA


“Aguas Bravas”
acrylic painting, 48 x 60 inches
by Angel F. Matamoros

Your eight principles making up the idea of renaissance should be cut out and hung on the studio wall. It will be in mine. I’d like to think many of today’s artists harbor that same attitude, not only of transcending times and places but also broadening their interests and talents. Though many of us aren’t artists, sculptors, architects, scientists and poets all-in-one, a great number are artists, creators of strong families, sometimes bread-earners in another profession as well as self-promoters, learning the skills of trades we never thought we’d need to apply.


Theatre artists
by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA


“Dragon’s Bishop”
original painting
by Pepper Hume

Your description of renaissance artists who do many things, know how to research, and find their own way is a good description of theatre artists. Those are the exact requirements for people who design and build sets and costumes. Every show is a new challenge requiring new solutions. Of course, we laugh that once we find a new solution, master a new technique, that’s one we will never need again. But those challenges and learning those new things keep us open and alive as artists.





Competition in the Maritimes
by Karen R. Phinney, Halifax, NS, Canada


“Dragon Memories”
acrylic painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Karen R. Phinney

I got to thinking about your previous letter, about the gallery owners/managers and artists. Upon reading the clickbacks on this topic, it sounds as though your gallery experience is of a higher order to many out there! I get the feeling, reading of these poor souls’ bitter experiences, that the owners are like the MBA’s of today. They want to make money and they can’t really do anything else. In other words, most aren’t artists themselves and are dependent on the creativity of others, but tend sometimes to be brutally efficient at cutting out some and perhaps nurturing others, as long as it suits them. We are living in a world run by this type of, often short-term, thinking. We don’t nurture… you must produce or else! It is interesting to get the other side of the gallery scene. I live in Halifax where there is a lot of talent, artistically speaking, and we have the well known Art College, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. So we have a high percentage of artists per square foot here. I am now in a co-op gallery and we are building slowly, awareness and clientele. It is really, really hard to get into a regular gallery here. You pretty much need a BFA to be even considered (never mind that some of us have been painting since we could hold a brush, and have taken courses all along the way!). Anyway, I am not sure we are all better off for this ruthlessly productive new world we are in, designed by the profit-minded, solely.


The artistic journey
by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA


watercolour painting
by Terrie Christian

I started out my life drawing at Atelier Lack in Minneapolis, and did portraits for years after. Around the same time, I joined a local watercolor society. In about 2001, I decided that I wasn’t having enough fun doing the realism, and began my journey into abstraction. I also became experimental and use of acrylic, inks, collage and even glitter and metallic pens were incorporated. I began having a lot more fun. Over those years, the watercolor society got more rigid in their rules, and last year after 17 years as a member, I had to leave there, but had found 2 other artist groups that I felt fully supported my journey. My renaissance has gone from realism to abstract to something in between. And a big surprise to me, this year for the first time ever, I am also beginning to do landscapes. Who knew? I am having a time of big fun!


Dealing with criticism
by Louwtjie Kotze, Randburg, South Africa

I was just wondering what your views are on criticism. I have a friend whose wife is also an artist. He criticizes her paintings, mine and anybody else’s without invitation and is very vocal and very detailed about it, even if it is only on display in our own homes. I have found myself second-guessing the beauty or quality of my work. Even the works that I felt I did well and which I really loved creating, have now become mediocre in my own eyes. I know one should be thick-skinned about criticism, but I just wondered how you and other artists experience the unasked for criticism. Maybe thick skins are cultivated with experience? I have only been painting for 3 years and do appreciate good criticism which would help me to improve my work. I also realize that if you put your art out there, for instance at an exhibition, you are asking for criticism, and that I can handle, because I believe that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Any thoughts or opinions about this?

(RG note) Thanks, Louwtjie. I’ve noticed that uninvited non-artists who are compulsively critical can practically never be pleased with anything. While it may seem a thick skin is necessary in dealing with them, their opinions can be more a source of amusement and curiosity as to where the critic is coming from. The knowledge they give can be compartmentalized and even be useful. After the uninvited critic has dumped on you, ask him to elaborate. Seek to understand and do not take things personally.

There are two further antidotes. The first is to get a second opinion from a respected someone who is in a position of authority. The second, and by far the most valuable, is to teach yourself to be your own best critic. This requires creative mileage, a ranging renaissance mind, and the tendency toward curiosity rather than definitive opinions. Thus are thick skins developed. Thus are unwanted critics neutralized. Thus is true progress made.


Security of home
by Martha Faires, Charlotte, NC, USA


“Sailing Again”
pastel painting, 24 x 18 inches
by Martha Faires

When I read the list of Renaissance principles, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of G.K. Chesterton’s introduction to Orthodoxy. He said, “I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again?” I think we need, as Chesterton says, “romance” which he defines as “the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.” We strive for the new, the curious, the innovative, but we need the stability and security of what is proven to be the good, the beautiful, and the true.


by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA


“Out of darkness”
original painting
by Rick Rotante

Speaking only for myself I find I’m always suspicious of any work I complete. I’m curious to see that I accomplished my goal, which I established for myself at the outset. I check my memory to see if I painted a completely new image and not copied one from my past. I look to see if I pushed myself or was I cruising on my experience and ability. Did I push the envelope, even a little? Some works come easily some are like childbirth.

When I finish a piece, I leave the studio for the day and return the next to get a fresh view. This time is critical for me for I will then decide if the piece is a keeper or not.

Throughout history to present day artists have tried to find a distinct voice. In the end when all the methods and techniques are learned you are left with yourself. If you lack enthusiasm, curiosity, suspicion, aspiration, invention and a willingness to tackle the difficult you will be missing the greatest part of this process.


by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany


original painting
by Faith Puleston

Fascinating that in music, composers never felt the need to go back to composing like their ancestors or indulge in copycatting. In retrospect, there were, of course, distinct eras in music, but each new one drew on the best of the previous one and carried on from there. Whereas you can see continuity in the development of (Western) music, the evolution of art seems to have been a very bumpy road, strewn with hazards and throughout history dependent on agents, sponsors and experts. Classical music was also dependent on the patronage of the great and “good.”

I don’t think that list of Renaissance aspirations is unique to any era. The quest for self-improvement and thirst for knowledge, not forgetting jealousy, greed, hatred, aggression and a few other rather more negative attributes, are what brought humanity to where it is now. Maybe we’ll all be drowned in that final pot of boiling oil, aspirations, monuments and all, but we should remember to plant a tree first, of course.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Renaissance



From: Tinker Bachant — Jul 18, 2008

Curiosity as a way of thinking
Suspicion of authority and conventional wisdom
Respect for intelligently filtered history
Aspiration to higher levels of achievement
Vision for renewed potential in all things
Tendency to invent private systems
Reinvention and perfection of former skills
Accepting the challenge of the difficult.

This is pretty much the way I’ve come around in my own art and even life experience. We, who have “come of age,” hopefully realize these are words to live by.

From: Gary — Jul 18, 2008

Respect for intelligently filtered history.????

Who does the filtering . . . .Impressionists, realists, sculptors, glass blowers, cement masons, preachers, school teachers . . . ? I don’t understand how anyone could have real ‘Renaissance’ without unfiltered history. The danger here would be being reborn right back into the same set of faulty scenarios that brought us to the first Renaissance, and not knowing why. Sorry, I just don’t see how this could possibly be a good principle to bring about a renaissance in any avenue of life.

From: RobynFrance — Jul 20, 2008

Isn’t Lucca a wonderful town–and a perfect spot to paint and relax–we have enjoyed two trips to the small city and each time was very special. Enjoy yourself–there are some great semi-private gardens with statues available for artists.

From: L Forgano — Jul 20, 2008

Lucca has an amazing selection of disused churches, many of them constructed from marble when the Roman Amphithetre was dismantled. It is the architecture and its accoutrements that remain of a culture, and it is what travelers go to see. In marvelous places such as this we can get a glimpse of how lives must have been lived–great inspiration and material for persons of all artistic persuasions.

From: Peter — Jul 20, 2008

Hey Gary, don’t you get it, you have to filter history in order to see progress. Henry Ford notably said, “History is bunk,” but he was wrong. He should have said, “Some of history is bunk.” Properly understood history, without the myth, superstition and ignorance, is the basis for a decent future for mankind.

From: Jason — Jul 20, 2008

I think “respect for intelligently filtered history” is where it’s at, man, otherwise we’d still be living on a world that’s flat. Or are we?

From: Fabrizio Ferruzzi — Jul 21, 2008

While you are here Roberto you mays well come down to Pisa for soma good Chianti and veal snouts.

From: Bob Posliff — Jul 21, 2008

“You must do that thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

From: Sandie — Jul 22, 2008

Robert if you get the chance you should visit Tellaro, the Bay of Poets where poets such as Byron, Shelley and Keats visited. It is part of the Cinque Terre, five villages of tall, narrow, medieval houses coloured pink, ox-blood, ochre and blue, cling improbably to the cliffs. It is a fantastic location for painting, the coastline is amazing with many good viewpoints.

From: Mary Wiley — Jul 22, 2008

On criticism – One of my early instructors told me to consider the person who was making the criticism, if he was more knowledgeable about art than I, give it some consideration. If not, forget it.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jul 22, 2008

When I run into someone who offers unsolicited useless critiques, I usually ask how often that person purchases original art. That tends to be the end of conversation. I don’t think that purchasing is the only indicator of art appreciation, but helps in this type of situations.

From: Andreas Prinz — Jul 23, 2008

The bloom is off the rose as far as scrubby abstract expressionism is concerned. Those artists like Bacon and Freud who are “trying to do difficult things” and show some mastery at it are the ones in ascendancy right now. For too long the general public has looked at a lot of art and said “I could do that.” This is a legitimate criticism, for humans love to see acts of skill and daring that the average among us can only marvel at.

From: Margaret Milne — Jul 23, 2008

But a lot of art is just being happy. Who cares if someone likes it or not. I don’t want anyone to buy my art, I couldn’t sell it, it’s not good enough and it’s just for me. Me, me, me! Get it?

From: K. C. Hennessey — Jul 23, 2008

There are some among us who are trying to get better, Margaret. You are welcome to stay stuck in your little meeing around, but I for one believe in creative progress as one of the keys to being truly happy. Robert may not know all the answers, but he is certainly the most consistent and enlightening advocate of creative growth that I know of. This path of curiosity and improvement is worth looking into.

From: Ralph Stein — Jul 25, 2008

God only asks that every man does the filtering for himself.

From: Lois Jackson — Jul 25, 2008

For my first few years of painting, I, like Margaret, painted only for me. I couldn’t imagine parting with any of my work. “It would be like selling my children” but more the fear of not being able to repeat what I considered the miracle of having something come out the way I wanted it to. Now not even 10 years out, I have realized that it is not a miracle, or a happy accident that I will never be able to repeat. As I have become more confident, I appreciate the comments and criticism more. I learn from every one.

From: Susan Levenson — Aug 09, 2008

Tony Van Hasselt once gave me a copy of a poem about a wife abandoning household duties because she became addicted to painting and ended with the maid taking up painting also. I have to address a group of women and would like to use the poem in my talk. If anyone out there could supply me with a copy of this poem, I would be most obliged.






Alberta Bound

acrylic painting, 24 x 36 inches
by Alice S. Helwig, AB, 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 Rand Teed of Craven, SK, Canada who wrote: “I like principle 2, it has served me well for years! My current renaissance is teaching kids about Drugs and Alcohol. I taught art for 25 years and that evolved into this:”

And also Annette Reynolds of Birmingham, AL, USA who wrote, “Oh my! Our beloved, inspiring Italy. How lovely! Thanks for sharing the light and breeze with me in Alabama.”

And also JoRene Newton of TX, USA who wrote, “I have not been so fortunate to visit Italy but those of you who have give us others a wonderful picture of the source of the Creativity of those Renaissance Artists!”

And also Nancy Vandenberg who wrote, “Lucky you!!! Opera in Lucca!!! I was there on a tour in May. Our local guide said the water is so good that you can fill your water bottles at the public faucet in the square. We all did and it was delicious. Seems that test it every two hours. Be sure to go the Puccini villa out at the lake. Not in Lucca but not far away.”




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