The genius-mobile


Dear Artist,

In an effort to boost creativity, I’ve begun an experiment in which I expose myself to only genius-level music. For example, in my car, I switched permanently to the Beatles channel. Now, I zip around town in my genius-mobile, immersed and ever-renewed, in awe and inspired by the greatest ideas, compositions, melodies, arrangements, instrumentation, imagination and joy from the most familiar and also constantly expanding musical art of my life. I called my brother Dave, a rock musician and Beatles zealot-in-arms, to give him the news. “Good,” he said. “Dad listened almost exclusively to Baroque music — and the Beatles are our Bach.”

Odds and Ends, 1938-39 Oil on canvas by Emily Carr (1871-1945)

Odds and Ends, 1938-39
Oil on canvas
by Emily Carr (1871-1945)

Recently, Paul McCartney, in an interview, said, “Thank goodness most of our songs were about love.” Now in his late 70s, he seems relieved that his artistic contribution has skewed towards the most positive and productive of human truths. “‘All You Need is Love’, John’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and such…I’m glad our songs weren’t all about the world being a terrible place…or about telling the kids to leave their parents.” I pulled the genius-mobile into the driveway, un-clicked my seatbelt and cranked ‘Let It Be.’ I thought about all the works of art that have remained beloved over the centuries. Have most of them — the ones that have endured — spread a message, essentially, of love?

Sombreness Sunlit, 1939-1940 oil on canvas by Emily Carr

Sombreness Sunlit, 1938-1940
oil on canvas
by Emily Carr

After only a few weeks of genius-mobiling, my experiment has begun to take hold of the rest of my life. Instead of pulling constantly from the gluttonous buffet of information and media available to accompany painting, walking, driving, eating, resting and loving, I’ve reduced my noises to the naturally occurring ones in the garden and, for now, the Beatles. I’m transforming my life into a genius-mobile, in the hope of directing every nook and cranny towards excellence, creativity, ideas, joy, inspiration and love. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I might catch some genius.



PS: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Lennon-McCartney)

A Little Pine, 1931 Oil on canvas by Emily Carr

A Little Pine, 1931
Oil on canvas
by Emily Carr

Esoterica: Perhaps we filter the art we choose to remember and treasure like we do our memories. We’re unconsciously selective — and — possibly, innately, inclined towards love or bitterness, cheerfulness or misery. Why do we hold onto certain works in our hearts over a lifetime and let go of others? I often think that it has something to do with how the art made us feel at the time of its discovery, representing a moment in history for us, personally or beyond. Other art endures simply because it is of such high quality that its value cannot be disputed. And why and how do we make what we make? Perhaps we must all identify the bar of what we believe to be greatness and try to live amongst this greatness in order to attempt to reach our own creative potential. I find myself comparing every work of art to the qualities of ‘Yesterday.’ “Is it ‘Yesterday’?” “One cannot teach writing,” a writing professor once said. “You can only expose students to greatness and hope that it inspires them.”

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“Sadness isn’t sadness, it’s happiness in a black jacket… tears are not tears, they’re balls of laughter dipped in salt.” (Paul McCartney)



    • This is my first day, being part of painterskeys.
      My sister suggested it to me.
      I am more than alittle excited she had.

  1. Nice to see Emily Carr’s work again. I feel the need to vent, just a little bit, that somehow it’s a group of white men who are supposed to inspire me. Once more, they are the only ones worthy of being geniuses? Really? How tedious. I watched a documentary about Nina Simone recently, and I have to say that she has as much right of being called a genius as the Beatles. Maybe her music wasn’t only about love, but it was certainly about being human. That’s something I can connect with. I’m sure there are plenty of geniuses in the music world who can be revered who aren’t white men. If we are ever going to break free of all the isms that divide us, we have to be willing to dig deeper. There’s my 2 cents. Or whatever it’s worth.

    • Why does this have to be about one or the other ? Sara wrote about what ” genius ” spoke to her, as I understood what I read. I’m glad to hear you have your own ” genius “. In my opinion, that is part of what creativity is about, ie. expressing ourselves in ways which may be different from the other. There is room for both. In order to heal humanity we need to take in and allow for the other’s point of view be it black, white, yellow or green , male, female pan gender, queer, homosexual, and heterosexual and acknowledge we are ALL humans with unalienable rights, not just one color or sex, without taking it upon ourselves to decide what is prejudice and what is not in any given situation. This is almost a reverse prejudice. If you want to heal than build bridges not create fires! Two of my favorite movie stars were Sydney Poitier and Cecily Tyson. I am a white Jewish 81 yr. old. Does that make me o.k. ? In the meantime, I have had to be accountable for my own multiple prejudices that stroke and strike close to home. It behooves all of us to be accountable to ourselves and take responsibility for our own beliefs and behavior, rather than point a finger at the other which serves no good. I would ask why does Sara’s comment regarding the Beetles bother you so much. What can you learn about yourself.

      • Karine, I love your ‘Seeing Spots’ series! Gorgeous.
        Hopefully people won’t stop buying our art because of the colour of our skin. I hope they buy my art because it means something to them and because it elevates their lives not because of my outer appearance. I’m guessing most musicians and artists, regardless of their colour or gender, feel the same way.
        There is room for artists and musicians of all stripes in this wonderful world.

      • Louanne Headrick on

        Wonderful plain spoken and honest point of view. Perhaps the gift of one year on top of another brings wisdom. I am 84. I know that my understanding of a joyful life has tripled in the past 25 years. It is my hope that all creative geniuses experience a very long life. Personally I am on a pathway to 100!

    • John Francis on

      Of course the Beatles are not “the only ones worthy of being geniuses” and nowhere in her essay does Sara suggest that. And why do you even feel the need to mention their being…White? In their early years their live sets were full of covers of songs by Black American musicians, despite the fact that their appearance more closely emulated Elvis Presley. Their first album was predominantly covers and they were very vocal in interviews about the origins of their ‘influences’. They introduced a whole generation of young Brits, myself included, to a multitude of contemporary American Black artist’s recordings on labels like Chess and Motown which were not available in record shops or likely to be heard on BBC radio. Incidentally, one of the first major hits for the Animals (another White group of Brit musicians of that era) was a song they first heard recorded by…Nina Simone. P.S. There’s ‘my nickel’, for what it’s worth, as the one-cent coin is out of circulation and has been for some time.

    • She never said that they white men are the only ones worthy of being geniuses. Nor did it say you should be inspired by them. Nor was it mentioned that Nina Simone wasn’t a genius. If we are going to break free of all the isms that divide us… you will need to change too.

    • “Break free of the ‘isms’ which divide us…” said the person complaining about “white” people…

  2. Anita Franklin brought artistry, individuality, and the capacity to continually grow into an increasingly unique vessel for her genius–perhaps genius has the innate ingredient of growing and going…. thank you for this , Sarah–less noise and more quiet behind the easel.


    What a great article for our times. I’m going to take your advice and listen only to music of geniuses. So many to choose from. I’ll start with Mozart and the on to the Beatles.

  4. I agree with the premise here, but I choose Melody Gardot as my contemporary go-to inspiration of genius, and Ella Fitzgerald as the classic version. So in that regard, I guess my actions agree with Karine’s comment. I think those choices lean toward bittersweet, rather than love vs bitterness. I identify with the McCartney quote you’ve chosen about sadness not being sadness -that’s genius! Thanks, Sara

    • I forgot to ask how others handle the sonic assault of the grocery store. I mean if you are trying input only genius, there is precious little of that on that soundtrack they insist on playing. Or is this the reason people (myself included) have to sit in the drive after returning home? To have a sonic bath of genius that washes away the dirt?

  5. I purchased satellite radio solely to listen to classic country on Willie’s Roadhouse while going down the road in my pickup. What does that say about me, I wonder? Nevertheless, I think the most perfect song ever written was Sinatra’s “One for My Baby and One more for the Road” with Nelson Riddle’s orchestral accompaniment.
    Perhaps it’s not about genius but rather connecting with our heart.

    • Thank you Michael. Personally, I love the cowboy music of Ian Tyson’s . Has anyone ever listened to the words? Pure poetry! I think that is genius too. So, you see, everyone has their own musical heroes, and thank God for that!

  6. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Thelonius Monk, Pheobe Snow, Miles Davis, Kieth Richards, Los Lobos, Hank Williams, Blossom Dearie, Oh there are so many more….and let’s not forget “Pops”….Louie Armstrong! A lot of musical “genius” should be credited to the musicians in the band….not the pair of lungs fronting it.
    Love filled?….better run for your life little girl!

  7. I like this idea of “transforming my life into a genius-mobile'” and begs the question what “genius” can we surround ourselves with. When I was trying to get “calm” into my work, I went to the genius of Sara Genn paintings and others that seemed to convey this mysterious entity…and it helped to look for calm in all areas of my life.

    Now as for genius…I think it certainly makes sense to surround ourselves with those that have given us a glimpse of that in various forms. Could genius also be still and found in silence?

    Thank you Sara, for sharing your passion for “directing every nook and cranny towards excellence, creativity, ideas, joy, inspiration and love.” I feel you are sharing a glimpse of Genius in your art, music, writing and life.

    Perhaps Genius is something none of us ever own but happen to share through our best efforts and creative ways we live and share.

  8. Alix Bohlmeyer on

    Interesting comments; we each gravitate to ‘genius’ as it speaks to us. For me, lifelong, it’s been Beethoven, and African music. Lately, blues and Mozart. And Rilke. They are moving me out of a deep place brought on by the developments of the last few years. I rest secure in their eventual success.

    • Interesting that you are the only person to mention the truly greats Beethoven and Mozart. Work that elevates the spirit, purifies the emotions, sends us more deeply into ourselves to the place where the heart speaks.

  9. Years ago my wife and I were looking to buy a home. One evening we toured a very modest Cape Cod. Almost the first thing I noticed were the paintings on the wall. They were original Emily Carr watercolors. I was astounded and mentioned to the owner that I liked her pictures. (I thought I’d keep it low key, because it was obviously not the house for us.) The woman who owned the home said that her grandmother was a personal friend of “the woman painter” and was given the pictures as gifts. It was obvious that the art on her walls was worth several times what she was asking for the home and she didn’t know it. I’ve often thought I should have found out more and given her a clue. But I was young and stupid. I knew art, but not much else. I love the notion of a “genius mobile” but am less inclined toward the Beatles than toward the baroque masters.

  10. Terri Carlson on

    I have recently subscribed to your letters because of a former student of Robert’s, Jed Dorsey, who mentions your dad’s wisdom often and I found this treasure trove of delight! I am only two letters into The archives and yours and your dad’s will be the influences I am looking for. I have sworn off public media and dusted off the wisdom in words well spoken about art and music. The Mistress has brought a longing to my heart to head out to the studio in a renewed commitment of awe and hopefully embrace. Many thanks.

  11. What a brilliant idea!! I’m on it!
    BTW, my own brilliant idea is that Spring begins when you see the first flower. It may not work too well for Northern Saskatchewan but around Puget Sound Spring begins on January 3rd. Changes my whole mood.

  12. Suszanne Bernat Droney on

    Loved this post, Sara. AND the Beatles big time. Went to YouTube and saw and listened to more songs. This has put a smile on my face and joy in my heart.❤️❤️❤️

  13. Diana Childs on

    My two cents:
    I saw the Beatles, twice, in the long distant past in Toronto. Their music is still valid today, and they speak of love in simpler times. ( simple?) it sure wasn’t simple in the 60’s.
    Now I’m an older woman , having lived on the West Coast for 50 or so years and I remember so much about those times, back in the day, haha.
    We, claiming to be artists have a responsibility to put beauty out into the world, and “ all you need is love”.
    My best to you, Sara and family.

  14. The Beatles spoke to those of us their age. They often told us to examine what was wrong through their music. This was the era of Kent State, Vietnam, and integration. Imagine what messages they would send to us now. I think they’d again address love and what is right.

  15. Considering the impact The Beatles music had on the world in their short 8 years together, I’d say the label “genius” is well deserved. I have often wondered why a band from England who didn’t seem that talented ( but were “different” ) made us all go crazy. I can recall my mom laughing to the point of tears watching them on Ed Sullivan, she couldn’t believe it. I remember my siblings and I completely enthralled and glued to that television set in a state of goosebumps. The Beatles music penetrated every corpuscle of our young souls. Did I believe they were musical geniuses then? No, they were just so cool. Only in the latter decades have I truly understood how brilliant the works they gave us are. Music is genius. It is an extra medication for my husband who’s brain struggles with Parkinson’s. It is the motivating force to make me trail off into places of peace and hope. Whoever we choose to listen to, if it works, do it. I’d say The Beatles is a great choice. Thanks for the letter, Sara. … ya ya ya… yaaaaaaa

  16. I LOVE the Beatles!!! I was in 7th grade when they first came to the United States. Several years ago, I was listening to a radio show about them which interspersed interview clips with their songs. As I listened, I thought, “What a privilege to have lived through that era!” I also love the music of Billy Joel , Elton John, and Motown, as well as the classical greats like Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Bartok, Stravinsky.

  17. Yesterday I returned home after an unexpected and dramatic bout in hospital to receive an ‘elder baby bump’ – aka pacemaker. During those few anxiety-filled days, I was compassionately and beautifully served and cared for by every race, colour, and creed of human being – from housekeeping, dietary, doctors, nurses, and all manner of support staff.

    I think it’s about time that we stop beating the drum of divisiveness and separateness and instead, understand what’s important. It is true that All We Need is Love. And although I knew it before my ‘event’, I came out on the other side brimming over with love for all. Try it. You’ll like it.

    May you be well.

  18. Including women creatives and people of color in your genius pool is not “beating the drum of divisiveness”.
    Many folks think genius equals white male. Perhaps just considering Nina Simone, Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley would go a long way to changing this equation?

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No Featured Workshop 23rd Psalm, 2019
30 x 24 inches

Featured Artist

I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and that experience gave me a love of nature and the seasons and a deep belief in personal independence, as well as a love of experimentation. These have been the foundations of my work as a painter. I believe that learning in art or any subject is lifelong, and that the most important lessons we learn are through our personal interests and experimentation. After my husband’s death in 2018, I visited Israel the next year, and was inspired by the amazing landscape colors, and especially the old city of Jerusalem, with its crumbling walls, and its deep religious importance. I found my way out of grief by painting the Eight Gates of the old city.


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