Serious artist


Dear Artist,

In the jargon of the critic or art historian “serious artist” is often equated with “important.” I’ve always taken it to mean something else — someone who takes his or her work seriously.

If you accept this latter definition then the idea of quality is left out. An artist may struggle for a lifetime of seriousness in a morass of inadequacy. Top notch work is illusive, even for us geniuses. This thought is so depressing that it has been known to drive some people into chartered accountancy.

Blessed are those who live in the minutiae of obsession, pressing passion, standing somewhere on the high moral ground of creativity, going about their business. When you add the expectation of quality the game takes on an even richer dimension: inventing, undoing, redoing — demanding and serious work for anyone. It’s so rewarding I’m sure if it were easy everyone would be doing it.

If there is one creative device that this sort of life requires, it’s the space and time to be alone with your mind. We need a private space of retreat where we can be one with our self-directed progress. This is an earned privilege — as much a state of mind as a place of being — a place to be serious.

Louise Nevelson_Night-Flight #1

“Night Flight #1” 1973
by Louise Nevelson

Best regards,


PS: “I believe in my work and the joy of it. You have to be with the work and the work has to be with you. It absorbs you totally and you absorb it totally. Everything must fall by the wayside by comparison.” (Louise Nevelson) “You need a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” (Annie Dillard)

Esoterica: Serious: Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), one of the celebrated founders of Dada, contributed “ready-made art” such as a bottle rack and a urinal. The latter was exhibited in 1917 under the title of “Fountain” and signed R. Mutt. The last forty years of Duchamp’s life were largely devoted to chess.

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


Laughing matter
by Lik Kim, Korea

“Serious artist” is a state of mind. It requires a well-butressed ego, a high degree of self-directed, intuition based, forward vision and a willingness to persevere. It has nothing to do with commercial considerations or how an artist is perceived. A serious artist can laugh at creative setbacks and outrageous fortune, both good and bad, because he or she knows it’s part of the process.


Not idle in Idyllwild
by Darcy Gerdes “Art is a pigment of your imagination”

I finally got my place to be serious. It’s a little cabin in the woods near Idyllwild, California. Since moving here my creativity has hyber-spaced to a new level.


A lifetime of challenges
by L Vi Vona, Long Island, New York, USA

You’ve taken yesterday’s conversation right out of my mouth! Speaking with a collagist friend of mine on Sunday, I recanted my visit to an exhibition opening on Saturday. I was delighted with the way my work was hung; the gallery and owner are totally professional. The artists, however, are more interested in showing than in doing. (with the exception of one other) My course has been one of a rollercoaster with more downs than ups — but the creating sustains me even when I’m rejected by another gallery/exhibition. Forty years is a lifetime of challenges both in subject and media. Now instead of a studio I have a corner for my body and mind. I too choose work that allows me solitude even in a busy household. Work grows with the challenges.


The place
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA

If we do enough work, one or two pieces will usually sing, but if we don’t know how we got there, it’s unlikely we can pull it off with any consistency, certainly not under pressure. An inordinate preoccupation with the final product lends too much weight to the commercial market.

If, on the other hand, we’re thoughtfully engaged in the process of artmaking, a high quality product is almost always a naturally recurring afterthought of this engagement. By process I mean mastering technique, identifying certain environmental/psychological issues (i.e., one’s own room, quiet time), recognizing sources (art historical and otherwise) and establishing clear goals (short and long-term).

Once Process is nailed down, then we can, more often than not, move beyond technique and tap into that place where the best work comes from more often.


Through the door
by Helene McIntosh, Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

Your letter hit home… I consider myself a “serious artist” even though I have only had the opportunity to indulge in this fantasy since I retired about four years ago. I had always visualized my goal of becoming an artist and held that vision wherever I went, however personal circumstances prevented me from making that dream a reality until I was free of other responsibilities. I have found many artists in this community who have been most encouraging and supportive, opening doors through which I walk with tremendous pride and enthusiasm. I might not feel totally comfortable when I first enter, but within a short period of time and after much hard work, discipline and dedication, I feel more and more at home. It is vital to realize how much that sharing of experiences means to someone with a dream and that without the support and encouragement, the struggle would virtually end in defeat.


Lasering into work
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut, USA

Although trained to exhibit exquisite poise charm and focus at the easel, this week has found me lasering into the work, bulldozing into the work, seducing the work, praying through the work, and once, well, nevermind — Louise Nevelson and Bea Wood were vital if offbeat mommies… we can do it! Thanks for the support in the funny unsolitude of my onegirlcyberoffice.


Takes courage
by Judy Lalingo, Ontario, Canada

Humans are innately creative beings. However, in order to be a “serious artist”, one has to accept a lifetime of devotion and commitment. Painting is a wonderful therapeutic hobby for many… but in order to be a serious artist, you have to be willing to sacrifice, be a little insane, masochistic and idealistic. It takes courage to follow your heart, and take the path of truth, honesty and integrity in the face of a sometimes unappreciative society.


How to dump your lover
by Erika Hansen, Denmark

For periods of time, a good measure of how “serious” you are is how many of your friends think you are being selfish and a stick in the mud. I once had a boyfriend watch me play the piano and tell me he was bored. He’s not my boyfriend anymore, but my piano and I are still in love.


Not a bad painter
by Denis Richardson, UK

I dare you to print this Robert. It’s a note on behalf of your email friends. Your writing is truly classic. This sort of quality is seldom seen on the internet. Every letter is a faceted gem of information and ideas. It never fails to make me think—and frequently gives me a better working day. I am sure your many subscribers will join with me in thanking you for producing this resource. You’re not a bad painter either.


You may be interested to know that artists from 67 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.

That includes an artist who lives on the island of Mauritius. Hi!



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