The limitations game


Dear Artist,

“I am good at only two things,” said Claude Monet, “and those are gardening and painting.” The son of a grocer, Monet knew he wanted to be an artist at age five. At forty-three he relocated to Giverny to build his garden. The cataracts Monet developed as he aged limited his colour vision at the warm end of the spectrum. In 1923 he underwent surgery to remove the cloudy lens of his right eye, leaving him aphakic — a condition that allows a person to see normally blocked ultraviolet wavelengths. With his new eye Monet mixed electrifying, revelatory blues.

“The Nympheas”
Monet’s series of water-lillies has sometimes been called ‘The Sixtine Chapel of Impressionism.’

I’m not recommending the removal of eye parts, but it’s worth exploring a limitation in search of its hidden edge. I remember plopping into an alpine meadow once while Dad set up a video camera nearby. He sat in his homemade easel and slipped into a familiar zone. I was noodling a few tuber-shaped glaciers onto the side of a battleship mountain in too many strokes. In the cabin that evening we reviewed the tape.

“Would you look at those tight moves?” Dad mused. What I saw were his relaxed, zen-like drags and dobs — a floating meditation. Over at the edge of the scene my elbow fluttered up and down like a one-armed weaver at a loom. I cringed. He said, “I could use your dash and vigor — And you should consider this: Look three times, think twice, paint once.”

“Soulmate, Bugaboos”
Sara Genn 2013 acrylic sketch 12 x 16 inches

“Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours,” wrote Richard Bach. We returned to the meadow the following day and swapped techniques. “Easy does it,” I whispered, loading the brush, letting the mountain offer her strokes and digging into a zone of special care. That evening Dad and I hung the day’s efforts and climbed under the covers of our single beds for a cabin crit. Thrillingly my potatoes had become recognizable patterns  of nature. Dad praised the progress and I puffed like a lovebird, but then he motioned toward the paintings on his side of the room. There dazzled light and speedy poems — and the magical hand of abstraction.

“Hike pause, Oesa”
acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by Robert Genn



PS: “The vistas of possibility are only limited by the shortness of life.” (Winston Churchill)

Esoterica: Consider this: Limitations are an access point for focus, discipline, resourcefulness and the development of voice. They’re clues to uniqueness and form-style and point of view — requirements of all works of art to communicate and connect. “In abandoning the vagueness of the sketch,” wrote Eugene Delacroix, “the artist shows more of his personality by revealing the range but also the limitations of his talent.” We fear our limitations will define us, yet they’re the hurdles necessary for refinement and courage. They’re the builders of character, and paintings need character. “The greatest progress in life,” said Yogi Bhajan, “is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.”

In the spirit of poems — the musical kind — I’m performing a solo set of songs on piano this Thursday, January 29 at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. It would be wonderful to see you.


[fbcomments url=””]



Featured Workshop: Jeannie Breeding
Jeannie Breeding workshops The next workshop is being held in Croatia, Island of Korcula from September 13th to September 22nd, 2015.
Jeannie Breeding workshops
The next workshop is being held in Croatia, Island of Korcula from September 13th to September 22nd, 2015.
The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.






Madras by Iskra Johnson, Seattle, WA, USA


printing ink on paper 9 x 11 inches
Iskra Johnson, Seattle, WA, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.



1 Comment

Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.