Dear Artist, One of the side benefits of writing these letters is receiving the remarkable volume of confidential, negative and unpublishable emails that show up in this inbox. After my recent paint-out in Argentina there was such a buildup that I detected a trend. Variations on “Why I am not an artist,” giving reasons and details, were endemic. Often in sympathy, I am just now writing back to many of them with an understanding note. The blame goes often to a lack of family support, having a strict father, a managing mother, an uninterested husband/wife, or too many kids. Other would-be artists subtly put it down to a range of societal faults — the educational system, economic pressure, crummy doctors, women taking over, lousy galleries, etc. Some complaints were obviously bizarre and unfounded — one lady said there was too much information being put out by people like me. Scapegoat — A History of Blaming Other People, by Charlie Campbell, pretty well identifies scapegoating as basic to the human psyche. “In the beginning, Adam blamed Eve,” he writes. In this fascinating book Campbell looks at how we demonize bankers, Muslims, politicians, lawyers, priests and especially the French. It’s a hoot. I had to laugh because I know some artists who never blame anyone but themselves, but maybe that’s just my delusion. I couldn’t help thinking once more that the world is made up of two main kinds of people — those who turn lemons into lemonade, and those who do not. So who are we going to blame for our disappointments and our failures? “Overcoming” is also basic to the human psyche, though apparently less frequently applied. I’ve run into quite a few damaged, deafened or distracted artists who have nevertheless made successes of themselves. Crippled, bedridden or battle-scarred does not seem to hold back the tough-minded. Drive, steadfast study and focus add up to character — and, in many cases, character makes success. I hate to drop this little nugget, but a human psyche in possession of even a small amount of personal success is often, but not always, quite deliriously, even delusionally, happy. Best regards, Robert PS: “We prefer to find an explanation for why things are not perfect, and these rarely stand up to close scrutiny.” (Charlie Campbell) Esoterica: Very often artists focus on the psychology when they ought to be into the technology. When you get right into it — get your smock covered in paint and your mind on the perennial studenthood ahead — you tend to let go of the negative stuff. It takes time and application to get that smock messy, b ut when you see self-made quality rising up in front of you — you will wonder what all the defeatist fuss was about. Legions of books have been written about successful and highly-evolved folks who had lousy upbringings, bad health, or all manner of bad luck. Most of these folks would say, “Don’t lay blame; give credit.”   Winners take responsibility by Mark Brennan, Whitehill, Nova Scotia, Canada  

“Sunrise, Kejimkujik Lake, Nova Scotia”
oil painting, 8.5 x 10.5 inches
by Mark Brennan

I see the blame game in all parts of our society. Our culture of entitlement or ‘where’s mine’ goes a long way to explaining where blame comes from. Having spent many years following my soccer playing daughter around and coaching the elite level player, I have come to learn that underneath those who rise to the top has to be a passion for something and then they have to do the work. Taking responsibility is huge in sports and also in a competitive art world, but once you take the focus away from becoming successful and just do the work, good things begin to happen. The development of all of us as artists has hills and valleys. How you react when you’re in a valley tells a lot about what you will become. As I say to my soccer players, quality, quality, quality… and fun!   What a life! by Charlene Potter, Omaha, NE, USA  

“Water Lotus Flower”
porcelain sculpture
by Charlene Potter

I find myself believing that I am a very successful environmental artist who hasn’t made diddlysquat selling art during this recession. I have been an artist all my life working at other jobs. But, I decided after a layoff to go back to school at age 60 to get a degree in art. I graduated in 2009. And yes, my family really did not support me, but I did it anyway. And, I’m just going to keep on working on my art until the day I cannot create art anymore. Success doesn’t necessarily mean money. But, money does pay the bills and puts food on the table, and, my cats like to eat. So I teach art classes, and work at a non-profit after school art program two days per week while I continue to perfect my art. What a life, living, working, breathing the process of art! There are 4 comments for What a life! by Charlene Potter
From: Amanda — Mar 08, 2012

what a lovely story you share. well done.

From: Elizabeth Bertoldi — Mar 09, 2012

Bravo, Charlene! I admire your courage and determination!

From: Jackie Knott — Mar 09, 2012

Just looked at your lovely work on your website. Don’t ever stop. One day your family will introduce you as “…. the porcelain artist” instead of Grandma. Bravo, indeed.

From: Phyllis — Mar 23, 2012

Good for you! The best plan is to not get de-railed by the day-to-day needs of our existence, but to just keep hammering away at our personal goal of creating art. Never give up! And enjoy the process!

  The rise of artistic honesty by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA  

acrylic painting, 24 x 36 inches
by John F. Burk

I am also noticing an uptick in scapegoatism. I am also noticing an alarming degree of immaturity in younger men. They appear to not know how to be men, and they seem to be far inferior to the younger women I see them hoping to relate to. There is also a lot of “me first, you second” thinking going around. I blame a lot of it on the MBA Programs that started up in the eighties and nineties, but that’s me getting dangerously close to scapegoating. Maybe I’m just getting old enough to be crotchety. Happily, I find the artists I associate with usually look to themselves for gratification as well as things that need fixing — in themselves and on their canvases. As a group of people, I’m pleased to be among their number. I think it has to do with the process of creating art, or anything else, for that matter. You spend more time in your own head listening to your own muses, and you tend to be more honest about what you see. There is 1 comment for The rise of artistic honesty by John F. Burk
From: Anonymous — Mar 11, 2012

I wonder if the taffy is as good as your painting.

  Captain of the ship by Stefanie Graves, Paducah, KY, USA  

“Blue Winter”
watercolour painting
by Stefanie Graves

Who else is there to blame but myself? I’m the one who chooses to sit at my drawing/painting table, or not, and goes through the drafting, painting, sweating, process. I’m the one who decides, or not, what I’m going to paint. I’m the one who gets the word out, or not, about what I’ve done. People can help, support, encourage, damn or congratulate me, or remain silent, but it’s up to me — and no one else — to make this life as an artist work. I may not be grandly successful, but it will have been because of whatever effort I have chosen to put into it that makes the difference. I suppose I could blame my deafness (I am really and truly deaf — no euphemism) but that was banished from getting in my way long ago, so I wouldn’t dream of it. There are 7 comments for Captain of the ship by Stefanie Graves
From: Sarah — Mar 09, 2012

Lovely painting, admirable approach to life and your art.

From: Jim Oberst — Mar 09, 2012

Great painting, Stefanie.

From: Suzette Fram — Mar 09, 2012

Love this painting!

From: Tara Richards — Mar 10, 2012

Beatiful composition and painting!

From: sue — Mar 10, 2012

i love your painting. it gives me a feeling of peacefulness; i love the way the light and shadow fall upon the snow. you have perfectly captured the soothing ‘blanket’ silence of snow. thank you & congratulations artist

From: Val — Mar 30, 2012

Let me propose, that perhaps being deaf, is an asset! It enabled you to see more clearly,and in greater detail. You and your inner muse met earlier than most, only to discover you two were the best of all company. Besides, deafness offers less distractions while you create. Attitude is everything!

From: Val — Mar 30, 2012

Let me propose, that perhaps being deaf, is an asset! It enabled you to see more clearly,and in greater detail. You and your inner muse met earlier than most, only to discover you two were the best of all company. Besides, deafness offers less distractions while you create. Attitude is everything!

  Tale of a struggling immigrant by Pat Stamp, Callander, ON, Canada  

clay sculpture
by Pat Stamp

Of all human traits the one I dislike the most is “the blame game,” a characteristic of those who declare that their misfortune lies with others, the fates, the stars, the tarot cards. But never with themselves. Recently a young and recent immigrant from Thailand submitted work to our artist’s collective. It was painted on chipboard, scraps of house siding, aged plywood. Stuff he had scavenged. One piece was framed with two by fours with the stamp of the lumber mill still visible. He made no excuses for the materials used. He did not blame anyone because he could not afford canvas. He is struggling to support himself in a new land and still finding time and the means to make art. Three of the five pieces he submitted were accepted. Where there is a will there is a way. This may sound harsh but my instinct would be to tell the “blame gamers” to quit whining and get to work.   A detour on the path of life by Lynn Ward, Isle of Palms, SC, USA   Yes, people often love to blame other… I know that the reason I haven’t picked up my paintbrush in over a year is my fault and mine only. I am just entering another phase of my life… empty nest… I am living alone for the first time in my life and loving it. Both of my children are out on their own making their way in this crazy world. I decided that I needed to be around people again so I went back to school. I just graduated with honors from Paul Mitchell the School. I am now creating haircuts and color for women (and men) mostly in the above 50 age bracket. I have found that age is very unique in that we have given our lives to taking care of others and have forgotten how to take care of ourselves… that’s where I have stepped in. I feel as though I am creating art. Please don’t think that I have forgotten about painting on canvas… I have not!!! I will pick up that brush again (I even use small brushes to paint highlights in hair, (baliage). My love of capturing the beauty of the marshes as they change with the seasons on canvas will never go away. I just needed to change my canvas for a while. There are 3 comments for A detour on the path of life by Lynn Ward
From: Glenda Carter — Mar 09, 2012

Wow Lynn, your outlook is amazing! What a wonderful way to continue your artwork by changing your canvas. Keep up the great work.

From: Beth Hart — Mar 09, 2012

I too had to adjust,Was working painting murals for 15-20 years,very profitable. Now I am doing work I used to hire people fo(Personal assistant,ect) Its very humbling and I am learningg so much about the way I feel and think.I find I M WORKING(AT MY PAINTING) much slower, more thoughtful now.I am taking some courses soon,BACAA in S.F. CA area. Sometimes I feel theses phases or slow times are deep changes in our beliefs or needed lessons.Wish you lived closer,I miss my last talented stylist(off to Hollywood) she made me feel beautiful!

From: C.N. Sant — Mar 10, 2012

Lynn, a caution: paint while you can – the kids may come back!

  Loving the game by Frederick Winston, Havelock, ON, Canada  

“Bringin’ in da Cane”
acrylic painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Frederick Winston

When the umpire shouts, “Batter Up!” He calls for me to step up to the plate and when I do, it’s my game alone to play. I learn something from every trip to the plate. Sometimes the ball hits the sweet spot and I score a home run. Sometimes I hit the ball and make it to the plate. Sometimes I strike out, and when I do I learn more from the experience than I do on any other trip to the plate. But, you know, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It’s my game to play, and I love it. When I pick up my paint brushes, I see either magic or chaos unfold before my eyes; it’s my song to sing. There are no ghosts standing beside me at the plate. And, this is why I love it the way I do. There are 5 comments for Loving the game by Frederick Winston
From: Pamela H — Mar 09, 2012

Very well said, this describes my efforts so well!

From: Jane Coleman — Mar 09, 2012

The perspective here bothers me. What kind of trees have trunks that tower that high, or is the ocean too high? Or the hill , cart, person and donkey too small?

From: Enid — Mar 10, 2012

I don’t really see the problems that Jane has with the painting. Nothing looks too big or too small, too high or too low. My only problem with the painting is the streamers hanging off the trees. But I put it down to the possibility there is some kind of tree that has streamers.

From: Rose — Mar 10, 2012

What a happy picture,keep playing your game….

From: Rhonda F — Mar 11, 2012

There truly IS moss and parasitic orchid plants that hang like lace from trees. In Florida, Georgia and neighbouring bayou states. It is mysterious; it cloaks the surroundings, and it reminds me of all the handwoven fishermen’s nets I have seen airing in the breeze from tree limbs in every island nation I have ever visited. Beautiful!

  The three phases of life by Catherine Stock, France  

oil painting
by Catherine Stock

When I was about 30, I finally was able to look at the relationship I was in with clear eyes and recognize that I had to let it go. I pined for something like twenty-five years I regret to say, during which I put my nose to the grindstone and worked productively as an art director, designer, illustrator and portraitist. Now I am pushing 60 and in a great relationship and I have become a professional potter, weeding my vegetable patch, walking my dogs, reading by the fire, cooking up savoury meals. My priorities have changed and somehow my focus and ambition has dissipated. Perhaps it will come back, or perhaps I am just living in the moment, which for me doesn’t include creative productivity. Plato said that there were three phases to life: physical, professional/ productive and reflective. I like to think I am cruising in the latter… but perhaps I am just a lazy old piece of rubbish. Water finds its own level eventually. There are 4 comments for The three phases of life by Catherine Stock
From: Anonymous — Mar 09, 2012

I meant potterer, not potter.

From: Jacqueline Satterlee — Mar 09, 2012

I think it is wonderful that you can enjoy the reflective time you now have. After teaching 37 years (French) I thought retirement would offfer the opportunity to finally develop as an artist… But now the passion and energy is gone leaving regret and disappointment. I have to forgive myself for not being the artist I imagined I could be, but still, like you, find pleasure in everyday life.

From: Lila — Mar 09, 2012

I hear you describing a very creative life even if canvases are not being produced! Our lives are our art too!

From: Eleanor Zimmer Reykjalin — Mar 09, 2012
  How cool it is by Patty O’Kane, Princeville, IL, USA  

acrylic painting
by Patty O’Kane

I am thrilled for all the youth who come to lessons in my open studio. Most of them have parents who are totally, completely and 100% supportive of their child’s desire to be an artist. How cool? How cool is it that parents have come around and believe in the value of art. Teachers in the schools are begging for art for their students. How cool that teachers have come out of the dark ages and recognize the crossover skills, the tension relief, and the pure value that art has in enriching lives? Art for art’s sake.     There is 1 comment for How cool it is by Patty O’Kane
From: Anonymous — Mar 09, 2012

YOur pear painting is simple (deceptively) and beautiful!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Scapegoat

From: Daniela — Mar 05, 2012

…oh, you are a man of tact, Robert! I wanted just to write, “HAHAHAHAH!” but let me just add that I am smiling and I love your letters.

From: Dave C. — Mar 05, 2012

With all due respect to baseball, but scapegoating is the true American pastime. Ask one hundred people about the causes of all the trouble in their personal lives and I’m sure you’d be lucky to find 20 that would point a finger at themselves. When someone gets a speeding ticket it has become an accepted excuse that the reason was because the city, county or state is trying to generate revenues. It couldn’t possibly be that they were driving 60-mph in a 45-mph zone. I wonder what the results would be if you ask one hundred artists that can’t seem to sell their work why that is? Substandard work? Lousy economy? Unsophisticated art buying public? I’d be willing to bet that that first answer would be the minority response.

From: Rene W — Mar 06, 2012

When you point your finger at someone or something as the cause of your problems, there are three pointing back at you.

From: Suzanne McDermott — Mar 06, 2012

You’re a sturdy and convenient target for all that venting and it’s kind of you to respond. You might just fire off your closing words, “Don’t lay blame; give credit.” (Though who knows what would fire back.) Coincidentally, my own ezine topic today centered on vanquishing fear and falls neatly into your “overcoming” realm. That’s what creativity requires — overcoming fear, failing and trying again, falling down and getting back up, having faith and working damned hard. Did you ever see the Lindsay Anderson film “O Lucky Man”? Malcolm McDowell’s character careens through fortune and calamity. At the end of the film, depleted and torn, he’s slapped, hard, across the face. His response is a slow to come but genuine smile. It’s a great moment. It’s a pity there is such a lot thwarted creative expression and ill dignified energy. In my Online Basic Drawing and Watercolor Course, we spend considerable time contending with accumulated internal negativity as the foundation lessons and assignments unfold. It’s always a thrill for me to witness the personal breakthroughs and light shining through. March 15 in my next start date Didn’t anybody blame god? Suzanne PS “women taking over…” ha, ha, ha

From: Carole Mayne — Mar 06, 2012

I have a great network of supporters on Fb and Pinterest..My fav this week is: WORRY IS THE DARKROOM WHERE NEGATIVES ARE DEVELOPED! ‘Doubt’ is the greatest tool of delusion, we have the choice where we look, even when it seems hideously hard.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Mar 06, 2012

The original scapegoat was saved from sure death by not being sacrificed, yet sent out into the desert. Not sure where to go from there, just like the original scapegoat, I guess.

From: Jackie Knott — Mar 06, 2012

I predict the greatest collection of whining compiled anywhere, with a few great pearls of personal introspection. Let’s add one more platitude … your work will progress WHEN you stop blaming others and realize the greatest hindrance to success is yourself – more specifically, your attitude. Throw that effort into your work instead.

From: Sharon Guy — Mar 06, 2012

I’m not sure if “Why I am not an artist” refers to people who didn’t succeed at making a living as an artist (or part of their living), or people who stopped doing art completely at a young age. In any event, I think the ones who kept making art even when it was inconvenient while others made excuses are the ones who can proudly say, “I am an artist,” even if they aren’t full-time artists.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Mar 06, 2012

Conditions are never ideal. Just do it.

From: Julie Trail — Mar 06, 2012

Negativity is a quality I work very hard to avoid! When confronted with it, I turn away, sometimes rudely, and search out positive attitudes! Positivity breeds optimism. Success comes from optimism and hard work! I’m optimistic, work hard, and have success! And like the snail I’m very happy! Ignore the complainers. They only drag you down.

From: Ed Hoiles — Mar 06, 2012

In today’s mail I got my semi-annual solicitation from The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists along with a set of their greeting cards. My usual comment is always, “Gee, I wish I could paint like that!” I keep trying, however.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki [Tatjana_Mirkov-Popovicki — Mar 06, 2012

I once realized that I have lost more friends to jealousy than to any other illness. When I get into a defeatist mode I tend to scapegoat myself – I just can’t give another person enough importance. But that isn’t good either. Any which way, the work gets us out to the safe ground, you are so right about that. But people are people and although your message is very much needed, it can’t change the human nature. There is a saying in the old country that nobody gets to drink a cup of honey without seasoning it with a cup of bile.

From: Joe Soulagnet — Mar 06, 2012

I think it is important for artists to read about art. It keeps us all in touch. I agree with most of your insights and psych attached to art. The letters give me pause to really think about what statement you are trying to make.

From: Elizabeth Bazzell, Christiana, TN, USA — Mar 06, 2012

How can an artist be defined more clearly? Is it someone who is an occasional master piece or someone who tried to find beauty in all they see through their creations? Skill is developed over time. I have been what I consider to be an artist most of my 43 years however some times feel as if am undeserving of the title “artist” especially when I see works such as yours as well as others.

From: Ted Lederer — Mar 06, 2012

Robert, LOVED this epistle. Going to send to my accountant friend who believes in more conspiracies that one can count. Balm to my can-do heart.

From: Eleanor Blair Gainesville, Florida — Mar 06, 2012

I can find a million diversions to keep me away from painting, but painting is always at the top of my list. Back when life was complicated, with young children and money troubles and too many overwhelming commitments, when just the smallest windows of empty time opened up, miraculous and unexpected, I grabbed my paints and got to work. True, my style changed, learning to work in short bursts when a free moment presented itself, but that was good. I built some serious art muscles, painting in the kitchen of a house full of people surrounded by distractions. I want and need to be in the middle of a painting. The hardest brush stroke is the first brush stroke.

From: Diane Mortensen, Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada — Mar 06, 2012

People who have a hundred and one reasons why they can’t succeed at painting (or anything else for that matter) would still not be successful even if all the planets were aligned and all the lights green. It is so much easier to blame circumstances for failure than personal weaknesses. Successful artists/craftsmen are self-starters, independent doers. As a teacher of the textile arts, I so often hear students give reasons why they have not progressed in their art. But the real answer comes down to their priority list. If making art is at the bottom of your list (forget anyone else’s list), then it is no wonder other stuff and other people get in the way.

From: Paul Alex Bennett — Mar 06, 2012

Robert, having been in Patagonia I’m just dying to know where you were, what you painted, and did you enjoy the experience. I found it kinda cool (even cold) weather-wise !

From: Douglas Elliot, Ormskirk, UK — Mar 06, 2012

Yes we can blame other people, work, lack of time etc, but if you have an ounce of artistic bent it will eventually show itself. I didn’t take up art until I retired and then I found your newsletter and the wonderful online wetcanvas art forum. I then started to apply myself to watercolours and occasionally I produce something which is noteworthy.

From: Rianne Matz, Lund BC, Canada — Mar 06, 2012

Scapegoat: Made me laugh. We can only do what we can do. Good or bad. It has nothing to do with anyone else, really. Look forward to meeting you one day.

From: Diana Bouchard, Montreal, Quebec, Canada — Mar 06, 2012
From: Shane Conant — Mar 06, 2012

Dear Robert, I have been following you since hearing you on AHA. Was immediately impressed with your practical sensibilities. Your continued prioritizing reality apparently does not impede your popularity and generally gives me hope.

From: Barbara Hawley — Mar 06, 2012

I’m an artist and teacher. I’ve been thinking about having discussion program where everyone who doesn’t do art can tell their story about what or who stopped them from doing art. Was it a comment made by their father or criticism from a teacher? Whatever it was, I’d like them to say it, get it out, (share it for sympathy and understanding,) and move on. I’m thinking a therapist should be at the discussion in case some major trauma comes up that should be dealt with professionally. Your letter this morning prompts me to go ahead and plan an event. Thanks.

From: Judy Grewe — Mar 06, 2012

Bravo! I was just getting ready to blame my new boss, who is OCD and 24 yrs old…. that I wouldn’t have time to submit for our only juried show this Spring, that because of HIM, my creative flow was stymied… blah, blah, blah And I truly feel distracted over it all… .until my 26 yr old, youngest son,pointed out last night… that I spend anywhere from 5 days to 20 minutes on my abstracts as my wheels turn and churn over ideas 24/7…. I too,could be OCD over watercolour medium. So, I will shut up, stop my blame game and start painting! I do have “sick days” I could use… Thanks for the direction!

From: Rosemarie Caffarelli — Mar 06, 2012

Thank you for “Scapegoat.” I was recently in a show where I received no award. My very best friend cleans them all up, every time. We are both pastel artists and I realized I have not been doing this form of art as long as she has. She is my mentor and I have made a lot of progress. It just takes time and patients. I do see the glass half full. I did get into the show after all.

From: Tobe Miur — Mar 06, 2012

I was taught that a fresh perspective on a painting can be gained by turning it upside down or looking at it in a mirror. Maybe this allows the other side of the brain to kick in and offer criticism. Whatever the reason, it seems to help.

From: Jan Werdin — Mar 06, 2012

That’s amazing that you get so much negative mail. I see being and artist as a privilege, successful or not.

From: Susan Bennerstrom — Mar 06, 2012

I’ve been getting your letters for several months now, and you hit my personal nail on the head time after time! I have a special R.Genn file on my computer where I save your special gems so I can refer to them whenever the need arises. Thank you so much for doing this — your letters are always succinct, insightful, smart, and often very funny.

From: Richard H. Gagnon — Mar 06, 2012

You sent out this email when you are burdened down with a ton of email backed up. Bad timing because here goes a long litany to mitigate the scapegoat issue. The French in Quebec blame the English for the conditions in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc. The basic problem was education or lack of it. The expectation at the time was that it was acceptable to be a doctor, lawyer, dentist, notary public or a priest/nun. OK it wasn’t acceptable for a woman to be any of the above except there was an expectation that at least one girl in the family would become a nun. The acceptability of it all was determined by the Church. As the Church lost its grasp on the population and education gained some value the good jobs found their way into the arms of the Francophones but not before the Separatist movement got some headwind. Oddly now that the Francophones rule the Province and have limited the language options to the point that the majority of the population are uni-lingual French, all the good jobs are once again going to the English population who are bilingual. It seems that English is spoken outside of Quebec and you can’t get anywhere without it. So much for history, but not quite. I mentioned expectations a little earlier and in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s the expectations were that you would live the American Dream or at least the Canadian version of it. That meant much the same mix as above but business person would have been exchanged for priest/nun. When my aptitude was tested as an elementary school attendee, it indicated that I should be an artist or a banker. Expectations and social pressure dictated that you would not live the American Dream as an artist. I ended up in business school. I did dally with the concept of becoming a professional artist for a brief period in 1985 and although I managed to sell quite a few paintings the mortgage company and the car leasing company soon showed me the error of my ways. Expectations change. I tell anyone who will listen that if you chose a profession that does not give you joy it is like signing up for a 50 year prison sentence. Be an painter, a dancer, a musician, whatever makes you happy. Business school will wait but you will keep regret with you forever. This year I am eligible to draw my pension and did I learn anything? In theory I know what I should do and have enough business experience to now how to do it. In practice there are too many people depending on me to continue what I am doing. Expectations or fear of a blank canvas? I will be discussing that this evening with Johnny Walker. Thanks for the regular email. They keep me connected with where I would like to be.

From: Michelle Richeson — Mar 06, 2012

I’ve only been getting your letters for the last 3 weeks, and I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write & share them. I’m thoroughly enjoying them.

From: Jan Kirkpatrick — Mar 06, 2012

I love your letters they are a hoot – there is so much to comment on — but I leave the cosmos in the hands of God and get to painting. Hallelujah!

From: Violetta — Mar 06, 2012
From: Annie Cicale — Mar 06, 2012
From: Brooke Pacy — Mar 06, 2012

Exactly!! I’m a so-far-unsuccessful novelist and a fledgling painter, hopeful and absorbed but uncertain–the only thing for it is to get to work. Everyone needs to hear that twice a day.

From: Valerie VanOrden — Mar 06, 2012

Yes, you got me there, Robert. I blamed my hubby for my not going to coffee shops and drawing unobtrusively plein air indoor landscapes. I feel kind of guilty going by myself so I don’t. What to do? I did sketch once and saw another artist in the shop (my hubby spotted him) doing the same thing. I need to return to the scene of the crime. Thanks for your encouragement and admonishment.

From: Dorian Faye — Mar 06, 2012

Not original to me; I don’t have the source handy but wanted to share. “When life throws you lemons, learn to catch.”

From: Jo Nunes — Mar 06, 2012

Thank you. I am one of the lemonade makers in life and though my art is not famous or fantastic, the process of ‘getting my smock messy’ provides much happiness. It’s often a struggle to physically and mentally persevere, but the effort makes it ultimately worthwhile. No excuses! I enjoy your letters, pick up your book for inspiration when I need support and appreciate your wit. Keep up the good work! You provide much more to your readers than ‘art lessons’.

From: Val Manchuk, Alberta, Canada — Mar 06, 2012

I’d like to echo the thoughts from someone who wrote in regarding getting some tips for painting backgrounds; my most challenging struggle! As to “Scapegoat” reasons for not being an artist: “Being Stuck”; those who choose to lay blame elsewhere, rather than take a good look inward, and break the chain of defeatism.

From: Irma Pacheco, Arlington, Texas, USA — Mar 06, 2012

You state that you hate to drop this little nugget but, “the human psyche in possession of even a small amount of personal success is often, but not always, quite deliriously, even delusionally, happy”—I am glad you did because I am going to give you an example of exactly that! I could write a book of excuses as to why I am not an artist but I am quite certain you have read each one of them in those emails. Well perhaps not the one where I lament not having a place to paint comfortably because the room I intend to turn into my space for painting is full of stuff that needs to be either properly stored, given away or thrown away. That is another story! However, we had house guests a few weeks ago. Knowing that they were coming, I framed a watercolor that I had done, I chose a color from that watercolor and repainted the guest bath in that color. I bought matching towels, hung the watercolor and was quite pleased with the result. The deliriously , even delusionally happy came when the female guest asked if the male guest had talked to me about that watercolor. He came in and apologized for asking but explained that every time he went in that bathroom he liked that watercolor more and more and he seriously wanted to purchase it. Yes-I was deliriously happy. I explained that everything in that guest bath revolved around that watercolor so I could not sell it but, I would try to paint another like it and if I was able to do that and prove to myself that I was not a “one trick pony” I would send him that watercolor.

From: Jean Blatner — Mar 06, 2012

What those artists need to remember is that no matter how little support you get from family, friends or “the universe” – having “art buddies” goes a long way in keeping a healthy “art psyche”

From: Ruve Laidlaw, Mudge Island, BC, Canada — Mar 06, 2012

At times I get quite discouraged in my efforts to master watercolours– seem to be getting nowhere, but then, just sometimes, I get a small breakthrough….enough to make me roll up my sleeves again and keep at it……i know, I know, I must “go to my room!” Your advice is so often spot on! Thank you.

From: Zena Weldon — Mar 06, 2012

Here is my story of moving from blaming others to blaming myself to blaming none, all accomplished over time and finding expression in a work of art. I convinced myself that the voices of criticism in my mind belonged to others and as an adult I could banish them if only I could figure out how. A friend suggested that I write the harsh words, rules of should, and memories of negative actions from others down on paper and then burn the paper. I immediately rejected the idea although I didn’t know why at the time. However, part of my friend’s suggestion stuck with me: write it all on paper, all the manure (although that wasn’t the word I used) piled up during childhood and early adulthood. That thought was followed by my memory of a painting by a cancer patient’s wife. She wrote the words of her experience and feelings, then painted ghosts over them in red and white acrylic. I could combine those ideas, and I did. I took a full sheet of cold press watercolor paper and wrote the solitary words, the repeated phrases, and the stories of all the voices my mind would shout. That was the base and when it was finished, I knew the title was “Creation: Fertilizer.” By changing the word “manure” to “fertilizer” all that I wrote took on a more positive, useful note. I realized that burning the paper wouldn’t eradicate the words from my mind, and if it did, there would be gaping holes in my past. That dilemma was solved by deciding to overlay the words with images to which I turned in going beyond survival to find beauty in living. I’ve had a great time using watercolor, ink, pastels, colored pencil to depict nature, animals and symbols of people, all that grew in the “fertilized soil.” There are parts were the colors are “too” brilliant, jarring, and that too is part of my life. Parts where two adjoining images clash. Parts where the words mixed with the pigment. Some words are clearly exposed; some words are hidden. There are still open spaces for two more images, known and not added yet, a work not yet finished. I spent many, many years listening to voices from my past in my mind and blaming others for my childhood trauma and its effects on my adult life. Now, even with the work unfinished, I look at it and see what the process has unveiled. I carried those voices for all those years. I accepted the words as truth without question all those years. So the blaming switched from others to myself. I keep looking at the work. There is connection between the fertilized soil and the beauty that grew from it. There is none to blame. All is me. There would be a fading of the beauty if I erased any of the words. Even with the overlay, the words are there underneath, a wholeness of life. There are two words formed clearly and large at the top left and bottom right: MAGIC is one, GRATITUDE is the other. The magic of growth and the gratitude for all of life, all of me. Thank you for writing about blaming. I know your context was different. Yet, I wonder if it really is.

From: McKenzie Bass — Mar 06, 2012

Well said, Mr. Genn. There is much to be gained from reclaiming our responsibility along with our dignity. I’ve been meditating as I work on a word you used recently – autonomy. A powerful word. A gift for which you have my gratitude.

From: Darla Rae Duffy — Mar 06, 2012

Keep doing what you are doing. It sets my path straight to read your posts.

From: Angie Lenius — Mar 06, 2012

To the lady that said too many people, like u, were sending out too much info, she doesn’t have to read them, does she? unbelievable

From: Joan Burton-Jones, Brisbane, Australia — Mar 06, 2012

Art comes in many forms – my own small talents lie not in painting but as a published writer and illustrator – I find your letters unfailingly interesting and often inspirational – they apply not just to painting but much more broadly and are appreciated. Thank you.

From: Judith Jewer — Mar 06, 2012

Thank you Robert for your insight, we all need to be reminded of this stuff. ‘What can I do with what I got?’ When that is my focus, what I don’t got starts to loose importance. Also, so easy for students to look at a painting in progress they are working on and only see stuff they don’t like. I ask them what they DO like and then work on how to embellish that. lots of life lessons in the art making process. Art making takes a lot of humility. I will never forget a brand new student of mine, she had never painted before. I was delighted with her very first work. She looked at it and lamented… ‘It looks so amateurish!’ I tell my students all the time that we need to look at what we make and celebrate what we are able to do – just like you are your own child who proudly brings a painting to show a parent… you are your own parent and you need loving encouragement – just like a child…I find that since most folks are so very hard on themselves in terms of what they expect of their capabilities, I like to do class admiration’s instead of critiques. Most folks are so good a criticizing themselves, what they really need is encouragement. We have 3 painting terms each year (10 weekly 2 hr classes)… fall, winter, spring. At the end of each session, we put the paintings up and say what we like about each of them. Only after each has been explored for it’s strengths, I will make a little aside about an improvement…. Doing an admiration this Thursday. I gave my class a little pep talk last week about the creative process, about allowing it freedom – not needing anything from it other than to enjoy doing it. Since they are already more beautiful inside than anything they could ever make, they don’t need success as prop to the ego… that is where the freedom comes from. Oddly – that is also where real success comes from too. Keep on sharing Robert, Love reading these little notes.

From: Robin Moulyn — Mar 06, 2012

I totally agree with this article. I do have a question that I had asked a long time ago that I would like to ask again. How do you travel with paint? With the world becoming more paranoid, how do painters travel with 2 or more oz. of “gel”? How do you travel with them and not have everyone think that they are components to a bomb or such. I love to paint and paint in new locations inspired by everything around me. To loose a very expensive tube of much loved and need paint would be quite a loss. Obviously, you do not have them in your carry on luggage. Do officials in the airport bother you? I paint with acrylics and live in Ecuador. I would like to travel with my paint and paint as I go. I bought my acrylic paint in Canada and put them in my suitcase with no problem but that was 4 years ago and times have changed. I also know that the paint here is of a much lower quality so buying here is out of the question. Have you got any advise in this regard. By the way, I am one of those people who find it important to take full responsibility for the art that I create. I do this because I create art from the passion in me, and though outside approval is wonderful, I need to love it and believe in it first.

From: Jacki Prisk — Mar 06, 2012

I’m teaching myself (mostly) to paint with watercolor, and have been for about 10 years. I recently joined a couple of artist organizations in my area, and found to the courage to enter some of my pieces in their shows. One of them won an honorable mention in January, and I’ve been on a high ever since! And the interesting thing is that everything I’ve painted since then has been so much better! You are so right about a little encouragement and the great impact it can have.

From: Cici Porter — Mar 06, 2012

You are keeping my artistic spirit alive. “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

From: Karen Mader — Mar 06, 2012

WOW! Thank you so very much, Robert. I absolutely loved this letter. It applies to everything in life. My husband has been trying to teach me NOT to blame others for anything I do. I have had a bad habit all my life of doing that. I have read positive thinking books off and on throughout my life to try to help me. My Dad gave me one he had read when I was 18. My brother and I have had a few discussions about how negative we both are and have just begun to realize it at this time in our lives (ages 67 and 70 respectively). We both imagine all the things that could go wrong when thinking ahead to whatever we might be planning to do each day. I am glad that a couple of people mentioned the Hand and Foot artists. You are such a positive inspiration. Thank you so very much. I am sorry that you have so many negative complaining letters. It is wonderful that you take the time to send out these wonderful letters twice a week and also that you take the time to read all the letters sent to you.

From: Daniela — Mar 06, 2012
From: Theresa Bayer — Mar 08, 2012
From: Helen Opie — Mar 08, 2012

I was one of those who took time off to raise children, become a better believer in myself, and keep on honing my skills with the little time I could spend on art. Having learnt that some people don’t get to start being artists until they are middle-aged or more, and that art has as much to do with knowing ourselves so we know what we feel and therefore what we want to express, from joy in this world to hatred of this world, I reminded myself when I was too much in the non-art world that everything I experienced in life was making me into whoever I was and that this would all contribute to my art when I could one day focus on it. I still cannot paint full, full time, but I definitely do more and more regularly than before I turned 65. I’ve also found that the necessary other non-art stuff (some of it art business) contributes to my art, either as a sideline or as an enrichment of my life as a whole. If we really want something, usually we can muster the will to get it. It is a lot easier to become an artist through practice, practice, practice than a surgeon. It is much easier to start late with visual art than with ballet, where the body’s suppleness and strength are so important. All that is important in art is our own growth as a person and our willingness to do a lot of bad art on our way to getting there, wherever there may be. VanGogh certainly didn’t get much help becoming an artist – except from his brother Theo, and he did OK even if the fame didn’t come in his lifetime. If it is fame you want, that is a different kettle of fish.

From: Linda Hunt — Mar 08, 2012

Your comment about blaming others is so true.. Our world is full of people who blame others for their own problems and unhappiness. We all have issues and hurts in our lives, but we need to adopt an attitude of forgiveness and move on. And sometimes it is not easy to do especially if the problem is ongoing.However we need to look “within” and change our own attitude and get off the blame wagon.There may be some wonderful artists out there who could bless the world with their art work if they would only leave the past behind and push ahead to fulfill the desires of their heart.Our lives will be full of unhappiness and misery if we continue to blame others for the way we feel. We need to begin to create beauty from ashes! That could be a great title for a painting.

From: Diana Schuppel — Mar 08, 2012

I enjoy your letters, and am so pleased with your final paragraph here…art has been my “soul core” always…I am so grateful for this… It is my friend, my teacher and my wisdom. …AND you, are a wise artist indeed.

From: Leonard Bystrom — Mar 08, 2012

I have been unable to pursue much in the way of artistic endeavors the last 3 years. It would have been so easy (too easy, and if you ask my wife I seldom take the easy way) to blame somebody else. It is my responsibility and lately I have been owning this and doing some more sketching and looking for subjects in preparation for the day when some of my more pressing responsibilities and needs have been met and the road to continue art is not so steep. We don’t need to be a martyr, just get that smock messy. Do it for the joy first.

From: Nan Zimdars — Mar 08, 2012
From: Theresa Bayer — Mar 08, 2012

I used to blame the art school I went to, but now I realize I got myself born into the wrong historical time/place for basic academic realism to be taught. That happened back in the sixties, when my particular art school emphasized creativity, while minimizing discipline and foundation. Realism was out of style, and that was that. They thumbed their collective noses at anyone who dared paint flowers or still life. Eventually I went and acquired my academic realism on my own, over the years, from various places: local art museum school, art groups, ateliers, books, and the good old internet. It’s been a fun journey. Hopefully by now I have something to show for it!

From: Dexter Hardy — Mar 08, 2012

Unbelievably brilliant information in these letters. UK

From: Ros — Mar 09, 2012

These are lovely drawings – and i really like the addition of colour in your work Robert.

From: Glen Knowles — Mar 09, 2012

With a deep bow and flourish of my hat I salute such wonderfully observed, flickering with life drawing. Mr. Lansdowne and Loates are true masters of split second gestural observation. This type of drawing can not be done without deep prior knowledge, which is built over the initial gesture lines! Having taught Zoo drawing for years I have never attempted such high octane line work! Beautiful!

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Mar 09, 2012

for Lynn Ward…You are an artist and everything you do becomes informed by this…I wonder if working in three dimensions will turn your interests to sculpture! Good luck.

From: Aleada Siragusa — Mar 09, 2012

IIf you mention that you have had no support from your parents from an early age, it may not be scapegoating but a response to the often used, “my parents saw what a great artist I was at an early age”. You may be just saying , like I did, “They I made it as an artist in spite of some things that didn’t go my way”. Are we to always just be silenced when we point this out? Should I just leave large gaps in my life if I say things aren’t always rosy? There is a balance here that needs to be struck between biographical information or complaining, and blaming. Hey it’s ok to inform and perhaps encourage others who may be facing illness, or a busy childrearing career coupled with outside work, all sorts of reasons you may not be producing to your fullest potential. When we focus on peoples complaints being scapgoating perhaps we miss the point; we need to encourage by showing them ways to create art in spite of everything. That’s what I try to do, just give people the tools they need to express themselves no matter what. I did it, I was able to get the time but I was also blessed with opportunities along some setbacks; but hey that’s what life’s about.

From: Tinker Bachant — Mar 09, 2012

I’ve read all the posts, I’m an artist, have been and am, quite successful,but to quote Michelangelo, “Ancora Imparo” ! (I am still learning). If you ever think you “know it all”, it’s time to quit, because your work will be yesterday’s news.

From: Deb Schmit — Mar 09, 2012

Your drawings are lovely Glen. Although I don’t usually comment, I also enjoy your insights on art and the (art) world through your weekly newsletter. Thank you for sharing. – Deb

From: Karen Mader — Mar 09, 2012

I am SO excited about your letter regarding drawing because that is what I like doing the most! Thank you for the added info regarding what to do after. I am going to try all of that. I have really enjoyed all the added comments from people since Mar. 06 besides the ones before. I found a poem that my Mom typed out for me many years ago. I don’t know who wrote it. The Grumbler O lucky me! How happy I should be; I have a roof above my head; I have a bed, In which to sleep. And three meals a day to keep My body well and strong – And yet I wail and whimper, when I should sing a song, I have the sun, the trees, and the great blue sky above. I have the smiles, companionship, and love Of friends who would indeed, Help me if I were in need; I have two good eyes to guide me on my way And God above who hears me when I pray. And yet I fuss, and pout, and growl, And just set up an awful howl, When how happy I should really be, O lucky me!

From: Patty Oates — Mar 09, 2012

Robert, I notice you use red “dots” in many of your paintings, which I find fascinating. Would you comment on this? Patty Oates

From: Shakti Sarkin — Mar 09, 2012

I adore the penguins. Really beautifully done!

From: David Fraser — Mar 09, 2012

Love these penguin sketches! Drawing birds in the field is a great challenge, and yes, penguins don’t fly, but they dont stay still either..these do a great job of capturing los pinguinos!

From: Bev Morgan — Mar 10, 2012

Your drawings and subsequent painting of the penguins are so full of life and charm. You have captured their unique character so beautifully and skillfully. Robert, I am in awe. Thanks you for sharing these.

From: Liz Darvill — Mar 11, 2012

Thank you for your hard work creating your newsletter. I love reading it and I’m still only a baby (in experience, not age) artist. Very inspiring. The blame issue is interesting, isn’t it? It’s a tricky one to overcome and when things get tough, people get blaming. It seems to be everything from the weather to natural disaster and all in between. I’m probably a particular fan because you’re from Canada, which I love. I (and several other of your fans) are from Australia and consider Canadians to be our twin-separated-at birth. But Canadians seem a lot politer. How hard is it though being right next to the US? Does it strengthen the Canadian sense of identity? I think New Zealand’s proximity to Australia has that effect on their psyche – their a wonderful, proud and feisty lot. Keep up the good work and thank you again!!

From: Pam Askew — Mar 15, 2012

I think I understand where some of these folks are coming from but I do believe if we keep at it we will become artists. I had parents who supported my early talent by encouraging me to take art classes in high school and college but always reminding me that it should be a hobby not a vocation. And yes, college in the sixties was a bit disappointing for those of us who wanted to paint like the old masters, but I’m sure I learned something! Thanks to the many wonderful contemporary realists like yourself who emerged over the last 20 years to teach weekend seminars, I have been able to continue to learn while working and raising children. Now, at 64, I am making it into juried shows and am represented by a gallery. Tuscaloosa,Alabama

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acrylic painting by Pol Ledent

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