Over the risky cliff

Dar Artist, Being largely self-employed, we artists don’t have the problems of group stubbornness or committee incompetence. In gratitude and joy we make our private mistakes in an atmosphere of personal reflection, even in the face of self-doubt. Artists are pretty well masters of their own rise or demise. For artists, all attempts to improve standards are of interest. For those among us who might be thinking of New Year’s resolutions, here are a few thoughts: People don’t always do what they tell themselves to do, even when they know it’s best for them. We all have a contrarian within us — like a mole in the lawn. The stubborn little guy gnaws away at the grass from its roots and makes a mess of the place. In other words, keep an eye out for resolutions that your inner mole may thwart. Beware of reaping the opposite of what you intended. Funny thing about human nature, people who set out to get wealthy often find themselves systematically getting poorer. Oddly, others who set their sights on joy can surprise themselves with wealth. Similarly, folks who seek truth can find themselves tangled up in webs of falsehood. Play it as we may, within all of us lies the potential for sloth, ignorance, stupidity, hubris and pride. If you do set goals set short, achievable ones and give yourself a star when you complete. The short-goal habit is key to larger success and is at the root of human greatness. Life is think and do, think and do, think and do. Small steps can be greater than great leaps. Risk-taking for artists is not like skydiving or catapulting over parked cars on a Ducati. Risk in art is experimentation. There is no sorrow in self-driven experimentation. If it doesn’t work, so what? We try again. No matter what your calling, no matter what your profession, the coming year will bring new challenges. While we are in difficult times, change is in the air and green shoots are poking through. As self-governing entities, artists have a profound interest in change. Embracing change, we embrace growth and we embrace our future. We grow into our jobs. The head governs, the heart assists, the body acts. Best regards, Robert PS: “The Lincoln who is a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, isn’t the same Lincoln as the one who addresses Gettysburg.” (Barack Obama) Esoterica: To live, to grow, to take risks, we need to understand ourselves and our spiritual nature. We need to be our own spark and know well of our high calling. As artists, we need to cherish art’s democratic nature and hold dear its nobility for all peoples. If you include music, theatre and literature, art is probably the most civilizing thing we’ll ever do. With an honest prejudice for quality above all, we artists, among others, are going to have to be above ourselves. It’s my sincere wish that your New Year be filled with gratitude and joy.   New Year’s wishes by Niranjan Mhamane, Pune, India  

“A Winter Morning”
acrylic painting
by Niranjan Mhamane

Take a walk from shadow into the sun! May the sun rising on New Year liven up every nook and corner of every mind! I wish you all a very Happy New Year, full of joy and peace! (RG note) Thanks, Niranjan. And thanks to everyone who widened the wishes to everyone in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood, worldwide. This year we figure there were greetings from more than ninety countries. It seems art and the wish for joy and peace are universal sentiments. There are 2 comments for New Year’s wishes by Niranjan Mhamane
From: Patti cliffton — Jan 04, 2013

Very beautiful painting !

From: Eric Cott — Jan 05, 2013

Yes, excellent design and contrast.

  It’s all in the heart by Rob Zeer, BC, Canada  

“Munchen Englisch Garten”
original painting
by Rob Zeer

I agree with this letter except for, “The head governs, the heart assists, the body acts.” THE HEART MUST GOVERN and the HEAD ASSIST! Art and life from the head lacks soul. It has been a long process for me to know and trust my heart. Like our bodies, our heads are just important tools. The trick is first knowing one’s heart and then serving it.         There is 1 comment for It’s all in the heart by Rob Zeer
From: jeannie — Jan 05, 2013

the comment is how I feel about art. HArt from the Heart, sets it apart. The head like the brains ability is the believe left side brain ruling right side is masculine. therefore rightside of brain ruling left is feminine. Just happens I am left handed ha ha. beautiful serene and gentle the english garden by Munchen I am disiphoring myself so may be wrong. Very complex artist(most are) I am assuming again he did The Scream. I have never seen this one before but now I put it in my store jeannie

  Strictures to the self-employed by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA  

“The Covered Bridge”
watercolour painting
by Elle Fagan

Your letters are always such food for thought. I never miss them. More often than not I can agree. Agree and be refreshed and inspired, as here, except on this one point: In actual practice the self-employed have more bosses and committees and regulations, not fewer. If we sell our art to live, there are the same basic controls, structures and mandates – just not on site all the time. But you are right to say that THE meeting is at the easel, between artist and the galaxy of elements of creation. And yes, we do evolve and “grow into” our jobs. May we make every day in our job a light to our lives and those around us.   Value to writers by Kumar Grewal   As a student of journalism in university, I appreciate this wisdom and perspective, and while the letters are directed at visual artists, the material covered also applies to those of us who would become writers. So much is similar — self-employed (often), working alone and in need to regular self-motivation. At the beginning of a literary career (and there are enough going into it these days) everything is speculation and risk. I hope I am up to it. The Painter’s Keys website is posted on our board and several students here have signed up to get the letters.   The art of fugitive gifts by Maggie Van Ostrand, Pine Mountain, CA, USA  

Maggie Van Ostrand

My refrigerator door has more macaroni art than a Sicilian pasta factory. I’ll date each child’s industriously crafted artwork and store it in the attic, hoping mice don’t go for dead noodles. We grownups must make the traditional fuss and enthusiastic acclaim, largely because we don’t want to be riddled with guilt if our kids grow up neurotically starved for appreciation. Still, pasta art favorably compares with what older kids give to their parents. Perhaps this was the origin of the expression “faking it.”       New tax increases could benefit art by Janice Kelly, Sydney, Australia  

Rachel Corbett

While middle- and lower-income Americans were granted permanent tax relief, individuals earning above $400,000 and households earning above $450,000 will see a tax increase of close to 5 percent. Of course, that echelon — and the stratosphere beyond — is the domain of most prominent art collectors. So will the dent in their pocketbooks decrease the likelihood that they will patronize the arts? Nina Ozlu Tunceli, chief counsel of government and public affairs for “Americans for the Arts,” doesn’t think so. “The research shows that the higher the tax rate, the more incentive you have to reduce your tax bill by giving to charity,” she said. “But the best indicator of positive charitable giving is a strong economy. So if this leads to stronger economic growth, then charitable giving will be part of that economic bandwagon.” There are 4 comments for New tax increases could benefit art by Janice Kelly
From: Lynda C. — Jan 04, 2013

What bothers me here is that support of fine art is seen as charity. Why so? Paintings and sculptures are luxury items alike jewelry, fine furniture and such – neither of which is ever associated with charity. Visual artists should reconsider their PR. Are we creators or beggars? How do we value what we do, and how do we communicate that to the world?

From: Judy Roberto — Jan 04, 2013

Most artists are not charity organizations. Art purchased from charity auctions is usually DONATED by the artist. In this scenario the artist is the true philanthropists, with the organization receiving the cash and the patron receiving both the art and the tax write-off.

From: Leonard Naff — Jan 05, 2013

Her point is that wealthy people amass large collections of art and then set up trusts and get them into museums to their own tax advantage. You might call this a charity but it is also a tax dodge.

From: Ib — Jan 05, 2013

Middle income earners got a tax hike as well!

  Changing media by Lucy Barber, Sarasota, FL, USA  

“View of Todi”
oil painting, 8 x 8 inches
by Lucy Barber

I’ve been painting for years and have always used oils. Recently I’ve started using acrylics, my thinking being I’d have to work faster because the paint dries faster, and also the color mixing so far seems brighter (as opposed to my tonal tendencies). What’s happened with me over the years is I’ve slowed down way too much when I paint and I need to get back to laying things down much quicker. Are you using acrylics? I ask because I noticed in one of your videos, that at one point you do a quick bluish glaze over the painting. I thought you could only do that if the under paint had been dry. (RG note) Thanks, Lucy. I switched to mainly acrylics from oils in 1974. For about a year after that I truly hated acrylic. Then the medium began to win me over and then I fell in love with it. There are so many things you can do with acrylic. One of its main beauties is efficiency and consequent speed — hence the recourse to glazing that you noticed. In acrylic, happiness comes a bit faster. There are 2 comments for Changing media by Lucy Barber
From: Don Cadoret — Jan 04, 2013

I too have been using acrylics since the early 1970s and can’t imagine life without them. In that time acrylics have improved dramatically with regard to viscosity, pigment use and lightfastness. So much can be done professionally with acrylics now, especially with glazing and under painting, that I don’t miss the mixing and reworking benefit of oils. Varnishes have also improved so yellowing is no longer a problem.

From: Mishcka — Jan 06, 2013

What an excellent painting!!!

  Assembling Obama by Judy Richer Decker, Lima, OH, USA  

Barack Obama and his cut-out twin

I ordered a full size Obama cardboard cut-out for the local office. I never got him all put together … He is still wrapped in the plastic (he came in three sections). One day, I may assemble him and do what I planned and just set him up in my office. I was going to make a big word bubble to switch out famous quotes. I did save a lot of the same ones you have in the Resource of Art Quotations. One day, I may write to him and tell him why I couldn’t fight as hard for him locally. “You can’t let your failures define you — you have to let your failures teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently the next time.” (Barack Obama — National Address to America’s Schoolchildren) I’m passing my collection of Barack Obama quotes on to you.   The misunderstood mole by Jean Sonmor, Wolseley, SK, Canada  

Eastern mole

Today I write you directly in defense of the poor misunderstood mole. Among the good points in your essay, you presented an analogy in which you stated incorrectly: “…like a mole in the lawn. The stubborn little guy gnaws away at the grass from its roots and makes a mess of the place.” Moles do not, in fact, do this! We named our resident mole Mortimer when s/he arrived a few years ago. The neighbour trotted out an old (probably illegal) spring steel trap, a grisly looking thing … the Saskatchewan farmer’s favourite mole mangling mechanism. My wife recoiled and I shuddered then returned the trap unused. Instead, we did a modicum of research, and guess what? Moles do not eat plant material at all. A mole will starve if kept in a cage no matter how big a variety of garden plants you put in for food. They do however eat cut worms, slugs, and a long list of other protein-rich creepy crawlies … many of which are not good for your plants. Moles are quite territorial and do not infest or overrun small garden spaces. The adults drive their young away at maturity to maintain optimum territorial size. We have seen little evidence of lawn damage as Mort seems to prefer the flower and vegetable areas which he amply cultivates. One of his favourite places is under our rough compost pile and we dig the nicely aerated soil he leaves and use if for soil replenishment. We simply step on Mort’s breathing holes whenever we find them so that the mice/voles cannot easily get below ground. Some may slip by but that is the cost of gardening without harm. We use no poisons, other than bio-degradeable insecticidal soap or plain soap and water. People admire our yard which includes many wild places with indigenous plants and shrubs to make bird and bee and butterfly-friendly spaces. Last summer was great for monarchs and swallowtails. In the past few years we have lost a total of two hostas and a few carrots to undergound damage. This was caused by mice and voles who infiltrate mole tunnels seeking food like plant roots. We lose far more beets to surface attacks by the mice but just cut away the gnawed parts. Moles got a bad rep from royalty and upper class twits, and now yuppy suburbanite perfect lawn freaks … also the proponents of those greenish strip mines called golf courses. I do sympathize with the farmer who might lose valuable livestock to broken legs… if pastures have many mole tunnels. Here in Saskatchewan it is mostly gophers, not moles. The agriculture family must balance nature’s right to live with their right to make a living. Actually, I doubt if there are very many cattle that fall victim to mole holes or gopher holes each year… even in beef country. Cattle walk slowly, head down to feed, so they probably avoid stepping in holes fairly well. Most livestock never get to wander around and eat grass these days, so the real injury numbers would be interesting (and I would bet small enough to be statistically insignificant). (RG note) Thanks, Jean, and thanks to all who let me know that moles are carnivores. There are 2 comments for The misunderstood mole by Jean Sonmor
From: Simon Stones — Jan 05, 2013

Mr Mole still makes a mess of the place whether he eats the grass from the bottom or not. And the Mr Mole who lives within makes an even more problematical mess of the place.

From: Gena — Jan 08, 2013

While you may be correct about moles not eating plant life, they do then, open up a tunnel network throughout the yard for VOLES to run in unincumbered to destroy grass roots, valuable tree roots, exotic plant roots, etc. The mole/vole situation is so overwhelming here in the south that we’ve taken to planting everything in submerged pots! Awful!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Over the risky cliff

From: Cliff Dweller — Jan 01, 2013

“Et tu, Roberto?” Looks like this will be a year of cliffs.

Popped into my head as I looked over the first verbiage of your new calendar, an old Jewish proverb. “If you want to make god laugh, tell him your plans.” And, as for that little miner of the turf, he may affront our security of the perfectly manicured lawn, but his mission in life is but to remove the grubs and other unseen unwanteds that might do far more damage to our concepts of the artistically defined landscape. Give the little guy some credit, and some room. Just hangin over the edge, at the Hermitage. ~DM
From: marjolaine robert — Jan 01, 2013

Dear Mr. Genn, I am very touched and impressed by your words of wisdom and your generosity to share them with us. I live in a remote countryside in province of Québec and your letters keep me from being frivolous with my artwork. Merci! Bonne Année!

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jan 01, 2013

Robert, I cut and pasted your “Esoterica” and attributed it to you on my Facebook page. It is such wonderful advice… and I thank you for all the many years of letters I have been privileged to read twice weekly. Also, making our own mistakes, being the master of our own success, setting achievable goals in small increments… these are the cliffs we set for ourselves to resolve.

Even though I paint often, I have been struggling with painters block, knowing what I know at this point in my art life, and finding out I really know very little. I am setting aside what I know, and going to learn to play more, make those little baby steps you allude to in “set goals set short, achievable ones and give yourself a star when you complete. The short-goal habit is key to larger success and is at the root of human greatness. Life is think and do, think and do, think and do. Small steps can be greater than great leaps.” I am an upbeat person, and know I can do this! Thank you for your advice.
From: Dar Hosta James — Jan 01, 2013

This might be your best post ever. What a perfect collection of thoughts to ring in the new year with an open mind, an open heart and renewed vision. Thank you.

From: Rick Rotante — Jan 02, 2013

It seems “the end” didn’t come to us a second time. The world continues and the democratic system sustains to lumber on. Two cliffs were avoided last year, both of our making. It is ironic in a world that needs cooperation, the government that is suppose to lead us is in disarray here in the US, They seem to be the main factor pulling us apart. In my sixty eight years of life, I have never seen such a situation as we’ve seen these last months. Leadership is not just showing up and collecting a check or painting a painting for that matter. To be a leader demands more of an individual. Art teaches that if we do anything, we need to do it fully and to the best of our ability. Nothing less will do. It is a lesson that isn’t taught anymore with the loss of art in the schools. Winston Churchill was a painter. A good one at that and because of it, I believe a better statesman. Maybe some of us in politics should re-think art in the schools for future politicians.

From: Carolyn Findlay — Jan 02, 2013

I want to tell you how much I enjoy reading your letters. They give me joy, inspiration and motivation.

Because of your efforts & dedication, I want to be a better painter/artist, to be a better teacher and strive to be a better person. Thank you for all you give. All the best in 2013.
From: Shirley Erskine — Jan 02, 2013

We are all risk takers as soon as we pick up a brush. Just don’t be disappointed if the brush does not always want to work the first time. Set a goal and whip the brush in to shape!

From: H Margret — Jan 02, 2013

The head sure doesn’t govern for my art path. I never trust intellect to be creative in art.

Also, Obama sure isn’t the president we all elected in ’08….they just passed a bill for unwarranted wire tapping and email surveillance of all citizens. And Obama gave a raise to Congress & the Senate. Not working for the American people, no matter how he talks.
From: Iola Benton — Jan 02, 2013

All your letters bring some valuable information to me and make my life as a person and as an artist richer. Your words are a source of inspiration and an example of what an artist can do to contribute to the well being of the world!

From: Fernando Tomas Barboni Urraburu — Jan 02, 2013

Estimado Robert, aprecio de sobre manera tus cartas siempre llenas de sabiduría. Un muy feliz 2013!!

From: Clare Thorbes — Jan 02, 2013
From: Jackie Knott — Jan 03, 2013
From: Comments moderator — Jan 03, 2013
From: Judas Javelle — Jan 03, 2013

Big goals need to be broken down into small goals because small goals are easier to get your head around. Planning is important and the big picture needs to be kept in sight. Being an artist is like running a corporation.

From: Carren Gaddisf — Jan 03, 2013

The painting was finished on 1/3/2013.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jan 04, 2013

Well, I must be really thick, because all I could see was what looked like A C A T L under the small bushes on the left, and 13. 0.0.0. 13 under the building on the right!

I guessed the last 13 might refer to 2013, and that Americans write the date back to front, with the month before the day (terribly confusing for the rest of us!), hence the first 13, but there still ain’t no 2! ;-) But then I’ve never been a numbers person…
From: Barbara Traficonte — Jan 04, 2013

I think I see. “10” in the branches of the small single bush to the left of center in the very foreground of your painting. The “10” standing for “2010”.

Nice painting!
From: Frank Sant’Agata — Jan 04, 2013

Hey Robert,

I have seen several versions of this painting you executed in large format as well, so make a bold assumption; “ACTL” has something to do with the totum name or location and this particular painting was your “13”th rendering of the subject. Happy New Year, Frank Sant’Agata
From: vickest — Jan 04, 2013

I am a numbers person and I date and number my thumbnail sketches in my sketchbook. That doesn’t indicate the order of completion though. I see 13 13 in the shadows beneath the building on the right. Could stand for January 3, 13. I also see ACATL in shadows beneath shrubery on the left. Not sure what that could mean.

From: Pamela Sweet — Jan 04, 2013

Robert, I agree a numbering system is a great idea and it looks like you might have painted your 13,000 painting in the year 13. The ACATL might mean Artist’s Chronological Attribution for a Talented Lad. It seems numbered or not you don’t get ‘great’ at painting if you have only painted one painting. Cheers to 2013 and all the paintings to be counted in this new year.

From: Micheline Likas — Jan 04, 2013

Your code ?

From: Kathy Johnson — Jan 04, 2013

Robert: You have mentioned some pretty neat numbering systems before — just can’t remember when. Could you re-post them?

From: Comments moderator — Jan 04, 2013
From: Sandy Tucker — Jan 05, 2013

I magnified your painting on my TV monitor and enjoyed looking at your use of colors – especially red – and brush work. Thanks for the lesson, I’m going to post photos of my paintings, to myself, to better analyze them.

From: Jeannie Foye — Jan 05, 2013

did an enlargement of facing west

on a number look out quest under building on the right 13 is in the second arch came in sight then under the trees further right three zero’s? had fun did not matter wrong or right then further right still is another 13 to see is this correct or is it just me?
From: Cynthia Maclean — Jan 05, 2013

Finding the numbers wasn’t difficult, but figuring out their meaning is a bit harder. 13 0. 0. 0. 13 seems to indicate you haven’t actually painted this one yet! However, the letters ACATL tell me you are using the Aztec calendar, especially since you refer to the Mayans’ disgraced one, so obviously you painted this piece on January 3, 2013. Right? I hope so, as I like feeling like the no. 1 ladies’ detective agent…thanks!

From: M. J. Sarkis — Jan 05, 2013

It’s true that Bob is very sneaky

But his literature is also leaky He gave a hint of when he did it And after that he sort of hid it
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Battery #2

acrylic painting, 11 x 14 inches by Richard Alm, Vancouver, BC, 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 Elihu Edelson of Tyler, TX, USA who wrote, “The operative word beyond quality is integrity.” And also Hermann Lange of ON, Canada who wrote, “When peace prevails, art will rise to take the place of killing and guns, and all humankind will witness our Brotherhood and Sisterhood.