Survival of the fittest

Dear Artist, “Darwin was an idiot,” wrote subscriber Daniel Ashbeck. “All of his ideas have been completely discredited.” This was in response to the term “Creative Darwinism,” which I had so casually tossed into the rich ooze of our subscriber list. Not being able to get Charles Darwin over for dinner, I was rereading him. It was no great leap of faith to think he had something to say about creative evolution. Before someone discloses my monkey ancestors, I’d better explain. You and your art need to combine into a distinct species — a different bird than all the others. This unique creature will be a product of nature and nurture both. Nature in the sense that the artist has some degree of innate talent — as well as a focused mind, curiosity and half-decent health. Nurture in the sense that the artist has gathered a range of techniques, processes, work habits, strategies and skills. This new hybrid may just be fit for the job and have a fighting chance of survival. In our case it begins at the easel. Further, survival doesn’t waste time. To survive in your work you must go hard to work and aim to thrive in it. In the natural world, survival of the fittest has two main principles: One is natural selection, the other artificial selection. The first is where change happens more or less automatically by fortuitous accident, the second is where change is calculated and induced. In creative survival, the artist has to continually look around in his work for evidence of effective mutation. Mutants are those things we do in our work that defy the ordinary patterns of “ho hum” and “same old same old.” They are often anti-academic. Divergence in style is easy to spot because it’s different than everything else in the jungle. This divergent stuff tends to thrive in what biologists call an “ecological niche.” Sound familiar? We all have the raw materials at hand. Not all of us are able to see how elements need to be assembled. Needed is an evolved understanding that is a step further than just making art. This epiphany is the very key to artistic survival. Best regards, Robert PS: “A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.” (Charles Darwin) Esoterica: The jungle paths are miraculous and often difficult to follow. On some occasions new paths are gladly cut. Here’s a five part survival guide that would certainly appeal to Charles, and perhaps even Daniel: Keep gathering. Go to your room. Produce a lot of work. Fall in love with your processes. Keep a keen eye open for something different, and then go, if only for a while, in that direction. Don’t be afraid of change or surprise. “Surviving,” said Erica Jong, “means being born over and over again.” “God,” said Franz Kafka, “gives us the nuts, but he does not crack them.”   I did my best by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

“At the Beach”
oil painting, 20 x 16 inches
by Rick Rotante

Were I as wise as Erica Jong or Franz Kafka! Not to mention Darwin. Natural selection is a given for me. A “bird of a different feather” to quote natural selection, is another matter. To those who scoff Darwin and his theories, let’s see you come up with a better plan! I believe that we have a certain amount of control over our destiny. After all, we have opposable thumbs, and brains that can reason and raise us to higher ideals. We can sit on our duff and bemoan our fate or we can get up and attempt to change it. You may not be born a genius but you can acquire sufficient skills to accomplish a great deal. History has shown us examples of this. I only hope that I can be content with the level of expertise I achieve over my life even if what I do doesn’t move mountains or make news or get recorded in significant journals. Being able to say, at the end of the day, I did my best, is okay with me. As for natural selection, I guess I just made my selection. There are 3 comments for I did my best by Rick Rotante
From: Edna Waller — Nov 19, 2010

Wow, Rick!You still are pretty good at hitting the nail on the head!I wish I had said that. Since I didn’t, I will just second it.

From: Anonymous — Nov 20, 2010

Hi, Rick—you just made my day (although it’s dark out at 1:27 a.m. where I am).I was bemoaning the fact that I retired to write and paint and haven’t made much progress in either. Realizing I have less time left to “catch up”, I was feeling sorry for wasted years and empty moments past. Then I read your note and suddenly I realized, I don’t have to be so good, no matter how much or how little time is left. So long as I enjoy it and feel I paint something lovely that I love doing. Thank you for helping me find my own “natural selection”—Therese

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 06, 2010

Therese- We can’t help but get caught up in the public rhetoric on how and why and when.. There is no better time than right now. Someone wiser than I said, “no one promises us a tomorrow”

  Intelligent design? by Donald Cavin, Sutton, ON, Canada  

“Barn near Newboro”
original painting
by Donald Cavin

I must ask Mr. Ashbeck if “Intelligent Design” is responsible instead. If it is, then I fear I could go on almost indefinitely but intelligently. I trust, about how my experience and “evolution” as a painter have given me the tools to design what others have told me is a unique and powerful way of making art.     There are 2 comments for Intelligent design? by Donald Cavin
From: Rose — Nov 19, 2010

Nice picture…

From: Michael — Nov 19, 2010

I agree. Nothing slicky or tricky about this painting, just nice clean unfussy execution. And great colours — no good painting without good colours.

  Survival by paper cutting by Ursula Kirchner, Stuttgart, Germany  

mixed media
by Ursula Kirchner

I am now 80 years old and, being a German, you can imagine that we had a hard time during and after the war. I was glad to be allowed to finish school. After that I went to England (1950) to work as a maid in a London hospital, which was the best thing I could do. After that I had good friends in England. They even invited us to spend our holidays there with our three boys. I didn’t have the opportunity to study fine arts, which I would have loved to do. Our house was bombed and I was the eldest of four children. There was no money. I have now been married for 57 years. But the first time of our married life was hard. We suffered from TBC. And we had a very small apartment and little room for the children. We had a family table on which everything took place. Dinner, my husband’s studies and the homework of the children. I just had a chair for my work, which I could do without a table — paper cutting with a scissors. I had done this as a child, and I did it all my life. Of course, later on I also painted, which was fun. However I was average. But I am a successful paper cutter. At first, I used black paper. But now I am using all sorts of paper, photographs from newspapers or magazines, handwritten copybooks, flyers etc. I see images in these pictures and make cutouts. I also like to make paper from remnants of mats (passé-partout), which my husband cuts for me. I can use this for my newspaper cutouts. I put them on the wet tissue and press the water out between newspapers; this is something I taught children to do. They love it. It is my principle to use things I find. Thus I am quite successful. We have founded a guild of paper cutters in Stuttgart 15 years ago. We have about 350 members in Germany and other countries (USA, England, Netherlands, Russia, Poland, Switzerland, Italy). I am keeping contact with all of them, preferably with the American Guild of Paper-cutters. We were invited to take part in a collection in Asilomar, CA. They are wonderful friends now and I enjoy taking part in a monthly paper cutter’s trade. We also like to have guests in our home in Stuttgart. Until last Sunday we had a very interesting Russian guest. I enjoy meeting people. We have an archive with heaps of books of paper cutters, and we have a good collection of old and new paper cuts. (Goethe used to say, “Collectors are happy people.”) There are 7 comments for Survival by paper cutting by Ursula Kirchner
From: Dottie Dracos — Nov 19, 2010

Very interesting story; thank you for sharing it. Really like your artwork, too.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Nov 19, 2010

It is an interesting story, and one of overcoming obstacles, and prevailing! I would love to see the sort of paper art you do with the newspapers, etc. All the best with your creations!

From: Sharon Cory — Nov 19, 2010

I just came back from Germany (Leipsig) and was delighted again to see the architecture, fine arts and crafts of your country. People were wonderful everywhere. Thank you for the story. Sharon Cory

From: Verlie Murphy — Nov 19, 2010

Wonderful story ursula and I know you from the Papercutters Guild! Love your work!

From: Dorene Rhoads — Nov 20, 2010

We love the mother and baby giraffe you created with newspaper! You are the Picasso of papercutters. We wish you and your husband much joy. The Guild of American Papercutters continues.

From: Joy Corcoran — Dec 13, 2010

I love that you end your story with the quote “Collectors are happy people.” Surviving and thriving are two different things. Thriving take a bit more than natural selection, but adaptation to your circumstances and a willingness to create with what you have. Your paper cuts and stories are truly fine art — thanks for sharing.

From: jodi O — Jan 01, 2011

Thank you for sharing. I, too, would like to know more about the newspaper art.

  Blind faith by Ron Stacy, Victoria, BC, Canada  

“I shall take these stones”
original painting
by Ron Stacy

The first thing that hit me when I opened your latest letter was Daniel Ashbeck calling Darwin an idiot, and asserting that all his ideas have been completely discredited. I was amazed at seeing this, and I wonder where he gets his information and why you give him credibility by giving him space in your letter. That’s like giving Glen Beck a platform. (Notice that I didn’t call Beck an idiot or assert that he’s insane?) As Darwin himself said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge,” and he wasn’t completely certain that his ideas were the final word on the subject. I think the only people that completely discredit Darwin are those who have blind faith in Creationism, which has even less evidence to show validity. As Darwin also said, “We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.” There are 7 comments for Blind faith by Ron Stacy
From: Kat — Nov 18, 2010

“Even less”? Evolution is a fact supported by mountains of evidence. In fact, all the evidence of life itself. All of biology and medicine is based on Darwin’s great Theory of Evolution and anyone who goes to a doctor is tacitly admitting it. There has not been a single bit of real evidence that disproves evolution, not a whit. Thus, a hypothesis is elevated to a theory. In science, a theory is an overarching understanding that explains the observed facts on the ground with the ability to make accurate predictions e.g., the germ theory, electromagnetic theory, etc. Darwin was the most brilliant scientist ever to have lived. Physics is still waiting for its Darwin.

From: Bill Hibberd — Nov 18, 2010

Truth is, both creationists and evolutionists have something in common, faith in the unproven. Whichever side of the fence you live on you gotta appreciate the amazing design in our macro/micro world.

From: Tim Scott — Nov 19, 2010

Evolution is not self-evident. It fails the scientific method requiring observation and repetition. Believing that random mutations produced everything in the universe over millions of years (or is it billions?) demands unusual faith. If we are the result of the accidental movement of atoms and chaotic matter, how can our opinions have any reason, purpose, and meaning? The evolution argument is philosophical.

From: Sarah — Nov 20, 2010

Thank you Mr. Hibberd and Mr. Scott for clearly demonstrating Darwin’s observation that “Ignorance more clearly begets confidence than does knowledge”.

From: Brian, Upstate NY — Nov 20, 2010

The only issue with the theory of evolution is the lack of ability to monitor it in a controlled environment, not when the theory is based upon adapting to a variety of variables within the environment over long stretches of time and generations. To say that it fails the scientific method is overly broad as the scientific method would need to account for a multi-generational, multi-century experiment without deviation from the set parameters. Much like the concept of creationism, also called intelligent design. The theory of evolution is quite improbable to prove beyond a shadow of doubt. It is however based in reality and observation which is obviously a few steps ahead of creationism/intelligent design which is based off of a fictional book. (I say fictional as the bible is technically a collection of stories from 2nd,3rd,4th etc person viewpoints, was edited and laid out by men (council of Nicea) and really ultimately lacks anything more than a consensual “truth” among its adherents)

From: jcb — Nov 21, 2010

Is Glen Beck a creationist, Mr. Stacy, or are you dragging his name into this clickback because you don’t like his politics?

From: Brian, Upstate NY — Nov 23, 2010

Maybe they tagged G. Becks name as a ploy to drive him up in the rankings!!!

  Artists need marketing skills to survive by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Long Distance”
pastel painting, 30 x 24 inches
by Paul deMarrais

While natural selection is simple and straightforward, marketing is not. Your technique might evolve into a unique style, but then this style must be sent into the marketing blender for analysis. There, it will be examined against a host of other factors which will determine its commercial potential. Artists used to avoid this perplexing field but now are wading in to attack this inexact science. We can no longer avoid marketing, no matter how well we have mastered the skills of painting. We can no longer simply pass on marketing concerns to a gallery, while we live in peace in our happy studios. This is inherent conflict in worrying about both painting and marketing. You can’t remain a virgin while visiting the brothel. Survival stretches you in many ways. It’s a good thing for artists. Survival induces greater production, guards you against narcissism and egomania, connects you to other humans and increases your skills in many unseen ways. One of the hardest things about being an artist is that you have to face criticism on a daily basis. Self-doubt is the far more dangerous adversary than the words of others. How well you manage your reactions to your own criticism and the critiques of other people will affect your ability to survive in the long run. We must become tough and sensitive, malleable yet principled, stubborn yet yielding. We must be able to accept these dueling parts of our nature, enjoy the ride, and reflect on the absurdities with humor and wisdom. There are no guarantees and most ideas found in systems like Darwin’s are found to be at least partially flawed. Artists are like other people in that we seek perfection and so are doomed to failure. We must redefine success so we can achieve it! (RG note) Thanks, Paul. Many of the “artist survival guides” that are out there, and there are lots of them, deal with survival through marketing. I was trying to point out that in my view, genuine and permanent survival starts somewhere else. At the easel. There are 3 comments for Artists need marketing skills to survive by Paul deMarrais
From: Liz Reday — Nov 18, 2010

I hope Bob is right. Marketing saps my energy and does not prime the pump of creativity and compelling brushwork. It’s a necessary evil that must be done, but i resent the time it takes away from painting.

From: Tatjana — Nov 19, 2010

I did my best effort in educating myself in marketing, but eventually had to admit that I dislike it and will never be good at it. There are people who choose that as their profession and are good at it, so I prefer to put my energy into finding those people and partnering up with them (i.e. galleries). It is very difficult to find good partners, but for me, so is marketing. I suppose it’s really up to the personal preference — or which “species” one belongs to. My reasoning is that I could put lot of energy into marketing and do a poor job, or into finding partnerships and hopefully finding a few great ones. For those who can excel in marketing, it makes a lot of sense to invest in doing it themselves.

From: Paul deMarrais — Nov 21, 2010

hi Robert- I must chide you a bit about your response to my marketing rant on creative Darwinism. You can’t be that naive. While success might begin at the easel , it certainly doesn’t end there. You are a highly successful artist. You have an army of galleries selling your work at good prices. You have attained the dream. I admire and congratulate you! You attained the dream through marketing. You have to at least admit to entertaining this obvious notion. You have a recognizeable style. This, in marketing speak, has become the Robert Genn brand. In marketing, branding is the key concept and all is done to further the ‘brand’. The Painter’s Keys adds to your brand’ as well. If you suddenly painted totally abstract work in the manner of say, Willem DeKooning, this would weaken the Robert Genn brand and confuse the galleries and collectors of your work. The artist Liz Reday who commented on my post is a great example of lack of ‘branding’. I checked out her site. Her subject matter and style of painting is all over the park from plein air to totally abstract etc. It would confuse me if I am a gallery owner. Galleries like to have an image of what a ‘typical’ Paul deMarrais painting might look like or a ‘typical’ Robert Genn painting. This is the way they think. It might not be good for us to think this way. We must have a totally different outlook. We have to feel free to do some exploration and to seek a look that satisfies our needs as painters. There is inherent conflict here much as it was in Rembrandt’s day. He painted the Night Watch to his own specs, the commissioners of the painting had other ideas and even cut it up to fit in a different space. Thomas Eakins often offended his clients and some even cut up his paintings after paying for them. The artists needs and the markets needs will always be in conflict. An artist, however, can never ignore the market if he hopes to prosper. We must both paint for us and for ‘them’! We have to build our ‘brand’. I think Monet is one of the first to really use modern marketing strategies. He did the haystack paintings in a conscious effort to tap into French nationalism that was a trend at the time. He thought that the haystacks were ‘typical ‘ of France so he painted them. He traveled around the country to do other ‘typical’ French subjects. He kept a big volume of every critic’s words on his paintings. He consciously built the Monet brand. Like many marketing efforts, it took time but lucky for him he was able to cash in handsomely in the end. The same could be said for Degas whose ‘brand’ became associated with ballerinas. I’m sorry to say. It’s all about the brand

  Dwindling confidence by Lillian Tetreau, Pender Island, BC, Canada   I’ve taken a two year hiatus from painting due to my mother’s and my own poor health, as well as the arrival of my first grandchild. After participating in about 5 art shows a year, and immersing myself in producing and sharing art experiences as a member of several art clubs, I put away my brushes and shut the business. Occasional yearning to paint and pangs of guilt were ignored partly through necessity and frequently due to inconvenience. These past few months, I’ve reorganized my priorities renewing my commitment to art. Sales (never a good indicator of quality) have resumed, thankfully, but recapturing the ease and joy at the easel is painfully slow returning. The confidence I once had has dwindled and almost completely disappeared. My range of techniques, strategies, skills and work habits need to be deliberately rebuilt. How frustrating! Studying, viewing and producing art had been a joyful adventure since the age of 7 and continued throughout childrearing, my teaching career and supporting my family after a divorce. Perhaps the only positive way to view this setback is as an opportunity. Your videos are most encouraging. The struggle is humbling; instilling a greater empathy toward newcomers and crumbling the last shreds of arrogance regarding my innate talent. I trust the confidence will return. This time it will be hard earned and not taken for granted. In the meantime, I work, and enjoy the evolving magic and beauty of art in the making watching you at work. There is 1 comment for Dwindling confidence by Lillian Tetreau
From: Jackie Knott — Nov 19, 2010

How wonderful to be someone who can be called upon, and to such a life altering level. What if you had said “no?” See your confidence as a worthy individual. It was deflected to others, now you get to reclaim it. Be proud of yourself. Your self-confidence will return.

  Destructive comment? by Neil Taylor  

“Ocean Stonehenge”
acrylic painting, 60 x 84 inches
by Neil Taylor

Daniel Ashbeck’s comments are pure hit-and-run Troll. Toss a piece of destructive comment with no backup and run away from the consequences. Even a vague familiarity with the facts will show that Darwin was far from an “idiot” and that his conclusions from pure scientific process have a rational inevitability that can only be shaken by the blindness of faith. Personally I prefer my observed reality to form my faith rather than vice-versa — that’s what being a landscape painter does for you. (RG note) Thanks, Neil. I have to say contentious input like Daniel’s can be valuable. It gives us a chance to get into the mindset of others and is often a springboard for further thinking. FYI, here is Daniel’s letter in its entirety: Daniel Ashbeck ( Robert-Uhh, huh? “Like it or not, we are all small actors on the great stage of Creative Darwinism.” Uhhhh, huh? What is that? Creative Darwinism? Capital C & D even? What is this, a new religion? Darwin was an idiot, and all of his ideas have been completely discredited with the invention of the electron microscope and DNA. Get with it man! Creative Darwinism? Creative Ignorance? Darwin was just a bit actor on the stage of life that’s been overshadowed by modern inventions — why do people still cling to him? There is 1 comment for Destructive comment? by Neil Taylor
From: Bev Peden, Pender Island, BC — Nov 19, 2010

Because in Darwin’s age of relative ignorance, he was creative enough to think outside the box, and to publish his thoughts in an environment which was not necessarily accepting. Do you think we would have reached the DNA stage in science without creative thinkers like Darwin?

  Be ready to soar by Ayanna U’Dongo, Oakland, CA, USA   You paint with pigment, I paint with electronic signals. As a struggling video artist who has been “dwelling-challenged” for the last three and a half years and unemployed for the last year, I have been living the law of fitness to survive. I’ve lost everything I acquired and had to learn start over from a place of appreciation and not anxiety. I’ve learned how to reach out and ask for help in many forms — friends, family, governmental and social community groups. For an independent, strong-willed woman this has been a tremendous feat. There were days I was ready to throw in the towel, give up art and just hang on and survive life. It has been 10 years since I’ve been able to make serious video art, but I never stopped calling myself a video artist. Recently, the universe gave me a gift and I knew that I couldn’t give up. I was able to acquire a video camera (8mm), tripod and high quality headphones from the same Goodwill store within a ten day period, all for under $30.00 (thirty dollars)! The creative flow has returned and I am making some amazing imagery with this quirky little camera. I’m happy again. I’m just saying this to thank you and to keep others uplifted, encouraged and in survival mode; and most of all to tell anyone aspiring toward a dream to never, never, never give up. It will come in its time and in the most unexpected ways. Be patient, keep creating and be ready to soar. There are 2 comments for Be ready to soar by Ayanna U’Dongo
From: Julia Miller — Nov 18, 2010

Your story has touched my heart and given inspiration. I hope your rewards will be many.

From: Rick Rotante — Nov 21, 2010

You cannot deny your artistry. It’s within you. Yes you can turn a blind eye, but never completely abandon your true self.

  Jiffy trouble by Colin Bell, Calgary, AB, Canada  

“Fall Sunshine, Bow River”
acrylic painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Colin Bell

Yesterday, I sketched in a composition on the canvas with a felt pen. Lovely gestural stuff. Today, when the acrylic was drying, I noticed my felt pen lines coming through the paint. I realized I should have used some sort of clear sealer on the sketch prior to painting. Is there a sealer I can apply at this stage, or should I abandon ship? (RG note) Thanks, Colin. First, I don’t trust any of those Sharpies, Jiffy-markers or other felt pens on the front side of my work. Second, I don’t know any guaranteed sealer. Stuff happens. This is one of the most frequently asked questions. There’s hardly a painter I know who hasn’t played with laying down a drawing with a felt pen, and I agree, it feels lovely. But two coats of acrylic medium will not prevent it from creeping. Further, while it creeps at the beginning, give it a little time and some sunshine, and it will disappear. “Permanent markers” are notably not permanent, and in my experience, even water-based felt pen inks can be fugitive. On a few misguided occasions I’ve hurriedly signed a going-out-the-door painting with a felt pen, only to have it come back a few years later with no signature. Bad. That’s just between you and me, okay? Best to lay in your drawing with the same media you are going to end up with. An oil or acrylic drawing on canvas to start with can be pretty nice. A big sumi brush fully loaded can get you some great gestural thick-and-thins. Ordinary brights or flats make excellent sketchers as well. That being said, there’s always charcoal or other dry media. For certain types of work a dry line can be attractive. Norman Rockwell used a Conte crayon or Conte pencil, which left a nice granulated edge. He held with varnish and finished in oils. Nowadays, spray cans are handy, but often toxic. There is 1 comment for Jiffy trouble by Colin Bell
From: Brian Buckrell — Nov 19, 2010

Regarding the use of a felt tipped marker for first drawing under acrylics. I have been working with them for seven years — initially doing some trial and error — playing with brands, colours, surfaces and coverage — applies. I feel as confident as one can after seven years of using and rechecking earlier paintings that they can be used under certain conditions: 1. I have found that of the economical pens only the BLACK Sharpie can be covered. Most Sharpie colours and many other brands will “bleed” — not sure if it is really bleeding but at least are not covered. 2. The surface seems to matter. I use unbleached linen with a clear gesso finish ( Opus). It is already a value of about 5. I have more coverage problems when I use white canvas. 3. After the initial sketch — generally I just do perspective, topo lines and a rough outline for placement of large shapes — I glaze with a good quality gloss medium and TRANSPARENT dark colour — usually Golden liquid transparents. I then use a rubber scraper to “shape” my values — generally can do three values. Once dried I will often apply another coat of TRASPARENT and medium — often a complimentary or different temperature from the first. 4. By now the lines are almost non distinct but are still apparent enough to begin to shape using opaques. 5. I paint by layering — not blending. I consciously target where the Sharpie lines were making sure they get adequate coverage. The secret for me is using the right pens then adequate coverage with high pigment dark TRANSPARENTS in good medium. I have absolutely no indication of any “bleeding” or show-through after many years of holding some of the paintings. When I think of how acrylics have used in collages etc to cover inkjet photos, newspapers ink etc without apparent difficulty for many years I think (hope) my approach will hold the test of time. It does NOT work with oil paint no matter how many layers.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Survival of the fittest

From: Darla — Nov 16, 2010

Actually, you can have natural evolution: survival of the fittest, social Darwinism: survival of the richest, and creative Darwinism: survival of the serendipitous.

From: Ron Unruh — Nov 16, 2010

Darwinian theory was a useful teaching image. A reader’s view of the origin of life and species notwithstanding, the unique result of an artist’s evolving imagination, style, use of tools and appetite for work is a useful incentive to an emerging artist like me – still uncertain what I may yet become.

From: Dwight Williams — Nov 16, 2010

From one who has several graduate degrees in theology, philosophy and psychology, I cannot allow the “idiot” remark to go unanswered. I know this is an art forum,but some things need answering. Darwin was NOT an idiot, and if he was, what does that say about Daniel, or the rest of us for that matter. Keep evolving, we’ll all be better for it!

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Nov 16, 2010

Oh dear, the Holy Inquisition is knocking on your door!

From: Keith — Nov 16, 2010

My humble favors to you on what I feel is a most thoughtful, and heartfelt post. Its says a great deal in a simple, effective way which I would say you would find as a definition for some as really great Art.

From: Karin-Lynn Cumming — Nov 16, 2010

I have only been a subscriber for a short time but it seems your post always strikes a chord. I picked up my first paint brush to attempt to make art two years ago and I have fallen deeply and truly “in love.” Your words inspire me to work hard (how hard is it when you love the process?) and try to get better. I see the progress in the two years and HOPE to (and will) make progress at getting better.

From: Carol — Nov 16, 2010

Many years ago, an excellent and dedicated college art instructor of mine who believed a professional artist must always exhibit work once said to some of the whining artists in the class, “If you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen.”

From: Paula Cravens — Nov 16, 2010

Hurrah! This missive about “creative survival” and “ecological niche” are like a pat on the back for me. The more I ignore the well-meaning souls who would like me to paint more “traditionally” and follow my own path, the more satisfied I am as an artist. I am constantly trying new ideas and marketing like heck. I may not be evolving into an eagle but I am certainly becoming a happy little bat!

From: Cindy Michaud — Nov 16, 2010

As an emerging artist I am trying to cultivate good business habits before I need them. Right now my biggest problem is tracking inventory. I have paintings in closets, paintings in public rotations, paintings on the internet, paintings at a hair salon….and for the life of me I cannot come up with a system that satisfies my need to know where everything is and what prices, sizes etc are involved. I am looking for the ideal software: that would mean it is affordable, intuitive, flexible and will call up a variety of fields. If I could get this into my computer and weekly business routine I know it would save a lot of time doubling back thru files and lists to recheck details. Do you or your readers have any suggestions? enjoy my art at:

From: Oliver — Nov 16, 2010

Shakespeare had something right when he said something like ‘me thinks thou dost protest too much’ and I suspect Daniel Ashbeck has fallen into this category for the moment. The best I can tell Darwin has not been completely discredited and there is still a great deal of utility in understanding his THEORIES. There have been critiques and there are problematic issues in the fossil record, and along with Mendel and genetics has provided the basis for much science that has greatly furthered our ability to feed, shelter, provide clothing, and treat the ill. I marvel at the people who reject Darwin, Mendel, but like and enjoy the benefits these theories have provided. Many foods (plants and animals) and medicines are based on these theories, why do you think your doctor asks about family history of cancer, heart disease etc. Many medicines are based on this. As controversial as medical experimentation on animals is, it has proven predictive, and seems to be true because of a partially shared biology. Absolutely there are problems in the evolutionary theory, there are still gaps in the fossil record, some reject the notion of incremental change as fostering survival, some animals have changed very little in millions of years (ex bats) and numerous other criticisms. That said there is much utility derived from work based on these theories. The analogy to art development or progress may also work in the sense art has both incremental changes and sudden massive mutations but you can usually see the roots of the previous in the new. One does hope however that art critics and the public provide a good basis for culling what should survive. There are many examples where it seems questionable. JS Bach was considered second rate in his time, Van Gogh never sold much and was largely ignored until after his death and we all can name a few more. On the other hand we all know of faddish junk that is succeeding or succeeded for a time. The real question for an artist evaluating Robert’s thesis is did it help you understand your work, others’ work, did it challenge, did it inspire – even with a violent reaction against.

From: Duncan Long — Nov 16, 2010

Though once a rabid evolutionist, I’ve come to see that the complexity of cells (seen as mere blobs of jelly during Darwin’s time) as well as complex structures like the eye (which Darwin admitted were very hard to explain in evolutionary terms) make Darwin’s theory impossible to embrace. BUT… This doesn’t mean that the theory can’t be employed for creative purposes. In fact, if you look at most creative endeavors by mankind, there is a gradual refinement and evolutionary movement from one line of cars to the next, in industrial processes, or in the techniques used in the arts. So from that standpoint, evolution not only works but is a very useful tool to have in the artist’s bag of tricks.

From: Rhiah Clachir — Nov 16, 2010

There is no better way to weed out the watery, the unsubstantial and the pretenders. Mostly the economic climate is contrived and how much better for people to begin to really do their creative work, so we can live in environments full of lovingly made, purposeful things has done their best month of sales in YEARS! Perhaps the old ways of thinking about art are gone, but a more current, ancient, art- embedded -into- the- fabric- of- life approach is more able to be creatively seeded. Art is evolving into collaboration, community art, ways of addressing social concerns the playing field is wide open! The Art of today addresses the artist in each one of us, the muse, the dreamer — all singing parts of one amazing song.

From: Barbara Savage — Nov 16, 2010

I loved your article about Creative Darwinism. And great job on the follow-up/response! It all really resonates with what goes on when a sudden change in an artist’s direction hits! (happening here) Thank you for your thoughtful articles. ALL of them!

From: David W Zuck — Nov 16, 2010

You still seem to be missing the point. Please answer this question: Is the written code at the very center of every cell in your body written by the hand of God or the vagaries of chance. If your surviving art is the result of your best efforts with the gifting of your inner code, and the amazing scientific advances of our age be the result of man’s most earnest application of their coded intelligence shouldn’t we honor the one in whose image we are created? Dominion is not accidental in my sincere opinion.

From: Jim Cowan — Nov 16, 2010

Ashbeck is an idiot,” wrote subscriber Jim Cowan. “All of his ideas on Darwin have been completely discredited.” I must admire Robert Genn for his ability to allow drivel without resorting to impassioned response. I do not have that gift.

From: Tiit Raid — Nov 16, 2010

Mr. Daniel Ashbeck’s calling Charles Darwin an idiot because his ideas have been disproved is in itself idiotic. With Dan’s logic, most of our greatest scientific minds must also have been idiots, since most every revolutionary scientific idea has also been disproved. And, most probably, so will many of today’s.

From: Julia Miller — Nov 16, 2010

“Darwin was an idiot,” wrote subscriber Daniel Ashbeck. “All of his ideas have been completely discredited.” This would be really big news if it were true. Maybe Newton’s ideas about gravity will be debunked next.

From: Joe Bergeron — Nov 16, 2010

I’ll assume Ashbeck’s rejection of Darwin’s ideas is founded on religion. Speaking of idiots…

From: Thierry Talon — Nov 16, 2010

How to turn someone’s foolish comments into good painting advice.

From: Gavin Logan — Nov 16, 2010

Nevertheless, Robert’s metaphor was indeed brilliant. If we’re not evolving, we’re in serious trouble.

From: Helen Pew — Nov 16, 2010

This is the best art forum on the net — best informed writers-in most of the time, even if it does raise hackles from time to time. That’s good isn’t it? I just love it.

From: Tinker — Nov 16, 2010

Fall in love with the process and AND EXPERIMENT! Don’t wallow in the shallows.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Nov 16, 2010

I love being a mutant! Anything else is boring!

From: Don — Nov 16, 2010

That’ll teach you too use Darwin theory to make your point :-) The point becomes completely missed. It’s like using a moment from the life of Bush or Clinton to make a point. All people see is Bush or Clinton and then get their panties in a wad. Point missed. :-) Live and learn friend.

From: Noo Yawker — Nov 16, 2010

Fortunately many people read it and got it. But please don’t mention those guys again, particularly Bush! :)

From: Chris Everest — Nov 17, 2010

Suspicions regarding Ashbeck and Creationism are beginning to simmer in the primordial soup. God help us all !

From: Christopher B. — Nov 17, 2010

If Darwin was an idiot, then I must be a Monkey’s Uncle — idiots don’t have State Funerals — Darwin an idiot? I think not. Rather he opened up a world to discovery and paid dearly for his work, which was successful in the pulling certain Heads out of the sands of time. We think creatively and ask the questions; what can be and what is. Possibly Daniel Ashbeck feels a strong sense that people have gone to hell for Darwin’s theory and morally he had to speak up. He’s passionate for his beliefs. In playing the devils advocate, it took an awesome amount of intelligence to design the universe and the physical body. Possibly the nature of intelligence is not purely physical, possibly its more akin to Spirit, lacking a better word. The word Spirit is itself universal, uplifting — all knowing and yes, appreciative of a kind soul and moved by itself within each one — not withholding. A gentleman always finds his words before he speaks them, or in this case, writes them.

From: Alex Nodopaka — Nov 18, 2010

Thanks for teasing my grey smatter. I appreciated your intellectual approach to the subject of evolution. I have a less erudite explanation but still like to explain it, if to no one but myself. It is that when man creates anything, be it of positive or negative consequence, i.e. be it for instance nuclear fission or genetically enhanced food chain, we subsequently pay the price whether it enhances or destroys life and my point is that both events are a “natural” part of evolution since nothing devolves into nothing. Why do we separate man-made from nature-made? We are both one and the same.

From: Dr. Leonard Bystrom — Nov 18, 2010

Darwin’s theory is well argued and because my faith is not threatened I feel comfortable accepting those points that make sense and, for the moment, question those points which do not. But he exhibited great courage knowing what he would face. And if he is an idiot then so too is Newton, Einstein, and Hawking all of whom have theories that have either been partially dissproven or are unprovable. They are theories and therefore are meant to be studied and either proven or disproven but I believe that God (or whatever you want to call our maker) gave us brains to think and question and possibly even go against popular convention.

From: Bobbo Goldberg — Nov 18, 2010

There is a term, “begging the question,” that has been much abused of late, esp, by journalists who should know better saying, “Which begs the question…” (meaning it poses the question). We who have evolved from single-cell to multi-cellular creatures to upright omnivores with a prefrontal cortex look back and say, “How could this have happened by chance?” Had we come to be in a totally different form, say intelligent gas or mobile carrots, they’d be asking the same thing. Ultimately, the existence or nonexistence of God and “intelligent design” (seems rather brutal to me, actually) are matters of faith and belief, not knowledge. And vast indeed is the difference between belief (which is unsubstantiated opinion, however deeply held or widely shared) and knowledge (which come from data, observation, repeatability and sharable experience. No, Darwin was not an idiot. But looking at some opinions that travel far and wide these days, there are moments when I wonder if evolution is still operating.

From: Katie — Nov 19, 2010

I must put in my opinion since the comments seem a bit one-sided. I’ll point out that the concept of evolution does ask you to view the world with one eye shut; it is only half the picture. Viewing the world around us, it’s true that the Imperfect is constantly tranforming into the Perfect: the egg becomes a bird; a tiny acorn becomes a tree; a baby becomes a adult human. But what evolutionists miss is that the Imperfect is always the product of the Perfect: the egg stems from a full grown bird, the acorn drops from a mature tree, the baby comes from a perfectly formed adult human body. Art itself is created by the intelligent mind of a human — it does not evolve from nothing, though the artist progresses by experience, and trial and error. There is nothing on earth today that we have witnessed evolve from first nothing — then a simplistic form — and progress from there. What we do see is that the imperfect always stems from the perfect. I for one cannot convince myself to logically accept, contrary to the pattern we witness on earth today, that the imperfect can come into being from nothing, and raise itself to perfection without any intelligent Being to instill in it what the idea of perfection even is. Evolutionists can go on trying to survive. I prefer to thrive. Thank you Robert for bringing up such an interesting topic!

From: Darwin — Nov 19, 2010

Daniel Ashbeck is an idiot.

From: Leah — Nov 19, 2010

Evolution has nothing to do with perfect coming from imperfect or vice versa. It doesn’t even mention “perfect” but “fittest”. For example, in some environments dumb can be fitter than smart. The main point is that the fit survives and unfit doesn’t. Before commenting on something, you have to have at least minimally educated yourself about it objectively, don’t just listen to the words of mouths that are closest to you.

From: Deidre — Nov 19, 2010

Darwin’s theory of evolution is not about change occurring in a single organism in its growth from egg to bird, etc. It refers to change in inherited traits over succeeding generations. Maybe this misunderstanding is one reason why some people have trouble accepting it. While I enjoyed the spirit of the original post and what it had to say about growth and survival, perhaps Darwin’s theory of evolution is not the best analogy for growth in an artist.

From: D. W. Grewal — Nov 20, 2010

Thinking people need to be concerned with the current dumbing down of our societies. In democratic lands we allow the opinions of people like the Sarah loving, Beck hugging Daniel Ashbeck, and indeed they may inspire more noble minds to contribute by intelligent rebuttal. But when too many turn to limited ways of thinking, society is in jeopardy, and decline may even be hastened. Artists, particularly, need to rise above all this and be clear, creative, inquisitive, inventive and beautiful.

From: jcb — Nov 22, 2010

I agree with most of what you say, D.W. Grewal, but I’m curious. What is your basis for saying that Ashbeck is “Sarah loving, Beck hugging”.

From: Daniela Andersen — Nov 26, 2010

Survival of the Fittest is just about my favourite article that you have written. There is something that never gets covered that I consider important to art, for me, and for others, and that is the reason a person initially turns to art. Nowadays ‘Art Therapists’ are turning up all over the place. Well, it turns out I was my own art therapist all along……that deep emotional churning that takes place when you feel powerless to change some things in your life, and you pick up a brush or a pencil and the focus transcends like a meditation……and, as in most fairy tales, you have escaped to somewhere where it all feels and looks differently, and you can come back to life issues transported from their immediacy…. All of my best work has come about from this deep need to feel differently as soon as possible, without medication, without a holiday trip…… For me it started as a child migrant living in a bleak ‘out the back’ apartment (behind a landlord) that had been a milk depot, grey sleat like stone entrance and nowhere to play and, my mother brought home a little packet of assorted brightly colored paper. She cut some petal shapes and things for me (age 3) to arrange, and lit up my life.

From: Melanie Castelanova — Dec 03, 2010

Darwin began a process of investigating speciation that continues today, when theories (not guesses, but theory in the scientific sense) are being continuously refined, turned about, and augmented. Darwin’s ideas might have been “completely discredited” by some with an a priori religious notion, but far from being an idiot he is widely revered as a pioneer in a difficult and complex scientific journey.

From: Kurt Becker — Jan 14, 2011

Darwin started: I have reason to assume — he never invented Darwinism, “Darwinism” came to him, so calling him idiot is calling someone else idiot — maybe GOD? your creationists’ GOD?

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oil painting, 11 x 14 inches by Becky Joy, Phoenix, AZ, USA

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