The permission of Frankie Burns


Dear Artist,

Several years ago, my dad asked me to join him for a workshop at Hollyhock, an island retreat on the West Coast of Canada. After a crisis of confidence, I agreed and we found ourselves a few months later on the beach with a group of keen and diverse painters. We took turns with demos, talks, exercises and crits, working as a gelled but paradoxical unit. Our students seemed to enjoy the yin and yang of our strokes.


Glen Hansard, singer songwriter
photo: Danny Clinch

Near the end of the week, one of the quieter painters sped up to me as I walked through the woods between the garden and one of the meeting huts. “I want to give you some feedback,” she said. “In my other life, I work in psychology. Of the four main teaching styles, your Dad classifies as “authoritative” — that is, he bestows wisdom on his students and warmly makes it clear what is expected. Your style, on the other hand, is what is known as “permissive”: You do your thing, and in doing so grant permission to others to do theirs. Artists can benefit from this kind of consent — this license to investigate their most basic creative yearnings.” I thought of my own permission-givers — including her — and managed to exhale a “thank you” as we climbed the dappled pathway to our next encounter.


Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová from the motion picture “Once”

Last night in New York, I stepped out for a concert after a day of quiet brushwork in my studio. I hadn’t thought of my Hollyhock teacher in some time, until the artist, midway through his set, stepped to the edge of the stage and said, “I’m playing this song with the permission of Frankie Burns.”

As a thirteen-year-old in Dublin in the early 1980s, Glen Hansard was having trouble in school. In detention, he confessed, “I just want to play music.” “I’ll tell you what,” said his principal, “if that’s really what you want to do, I’ll get you out of school.” (The minimum leaving age at the time was fifteen.) “But you have to start at the bottom. Start on the street and work your way up. Learn something. You might even make a bit of money. If, in six months you want to come back, I’ll get you in.” Glen left school and started busking on the streets of Dublin.

Last night, at Carnegie Hall, Glen shimmied between ballads and dirges, the blues and poetry, and in and out of the arrangements of his string trio and the harmonies of his pianist, double bassist and the lap steel. He called up to the rowdies in the fourth balcony, unplugged himself and luxuriated in the dynamics of the hall’s pin-drop acoustics. Glen, in rumpled jeans and whiskers, in his Irish lilt, choked an introduction to his sold-out audience:  “Frankie Burns is sitting in the third row. Without him I wouldn’t be standing here today.”


Glen Hansard in New York



PS: “Our imagination just needs space. It’s all it needs, that moment where you just sort of stare into the distance where your brain gets to sort of somehow rise up.” (Glen Hansard)

Esoterica: When he was seventeen, after four years of busking around Dublin, Glen was signed to Island Records. Around the same time and after a stint at the New York Film Academy, he was cast to play the role of Outspan Foster in the Alan Parker film, The Commitments. Afterwards, Glen gathered together some of his fellow buskers, called them The Frames, and they recorded the first of six albums. In 2006 Glen’s friend and former band mate Jon Carney asked him to write music for a movie he was working on called Busker. Eventually re-titled Once, it told the story of a chance encounter between a street musician (played by Glen) who falls in love with a young single mother (musician Marketa Irglova) and the connection they make through songwriting. In 2008, Glen and Marketa, by then touring as their independent duo The Swell Season won the Academy Award for their song, Falling Slowly. By 2012 Glen was releasing his first solo record and Once, The Musical debuted on Broadway and won eight Tonys. Last night, on tour for his second solo release, Glen Hansard, to a standing ovation, was still an artist seizing upon his gift of permission. “Play your songs, play them well, earn your money, and don’t get in people’s way.” (Glen Hansard)

Falling Slowly — Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the movie Once (2006) soundtrack

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“A song is like a saddle: you ride it for a while, and if it’s the right kind of song you can sing it for the rest of your life.” (Glen Hansard)



    • Thank you Sara,
      You told this big story with such rich human connection, in only a few paragraphs. I am fascinated by the process of getting art out of the studio to share, so this story really resonated.

      Wishing you and all a pleasant Friday & weekend,

    • Ah Sarah, your gift of story are so exemplified in these articles. Thank you for keeping us informed of places and events most of us don’t even hear about let almone attend. And in such an elegant writing style.
      What a package of artistic expression you are. Enjoy the journey.

  1. Life is busy… But I read every well written word. Good for Glen… Good for you Sara… But ev n better for Frankie for thinking outside the box.

  2. Another beautiful letter, Sara! That first Hollyhock workshop that you did with your dad was the turning point in my life. Your two styles of teaching complimented each other so well, and changed my life. Thank you for being there, painting and talking, and just being yourself. It was so inspirational.

  3. My Next Artist Plein AIr workshop to Italy (as featured below) is scheduled for fall of 2017, another to Ireland is being scheduled and will be posted soon. My Mother and Father were both budding artists when I was born, and then they quickly had four more children. They both painted a beautiful orchid from their wedding bouquet. Those beautiful paintings of the same flower show the difference in their personalities. My Father’s oil painting was painted with short, thick, jagged stokes, with perfect attention to composition, detail and color. My Mother’s oil painting was painted with fluid strokes, also with the same perfect attention. Side by side, it is obvious that they are paintings of the same beautiful flower. Neither of them kept painting as the years turned into decades. Life took hold and pushed them into being the people they had to become. I became the painter. Always experimenting to this day, I see both of my parents styles of painting in my work. One painting will include the confident short strokes of my Dad, and another will have the delicate fluid strokes of my Mom. The subject matter can dictate the strokes I use. I hold the brush as far away from the painting end as I can, I use my whole arm to make strokes, I keep the paint concentrated on the tip, scrumble, scrape, wipe away and then try again. Sometimes I use knives. That is when it gets exciting! Join me!

  4. This is a wonderful, powerful story. It immediately made me think of the words of the late John O’Donohue- writer, poet, philosopher, theologian. In his essay, “The Question Holds the Lantern” (Google it!) he wrote of the words of Plato: “one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another.” Thanks, Sara, for telling this story.

  5. Monica Janovitz on

    Thank you Sarah, loved the story!love from Argentina!
    By the way, would you like to come down here to a workshop next year around september?
    If you woul, I would love to organize it for you!
    If you are interested please send me all that you requiere to my email:
    big hugs
    PS: I LOVED your father, didn´t have the pleasure of meeting him personally, but was very happy receiving all his mails, pictures and beautiful stories!

    • I’ve been a professional oil painter for years and lately have been asked to do some teaching. I’m VERY uncomfortable with being a teacher—I understand how easy it is to squash the creative impulse. This must have happened to me as a child, and I don’t want to inflict the same behavior on any budding artists. In spite of my reticence, I’ve started leading several classes. Thanks to this recent blog, I now see that I have a teaching style: “permissive.” What a revelation this is to me!! I feel a weight has been lifted and now I can blossom as a permissive. Thank you!!

  6. Oh! I have never heard of these two styles of teaching. I am so glad that you shared this. I am a permissive teacher, too. It is good to know that about myself!

  7. Wonderful story, Sara! Loved learning about the different teaching styles…each with their own value. Thanks for sharing Glen Hansard’s story too. I remember this feeling I had when I heard “Falling Slowly” years ago…it just resonated with me. I’ve since seen the movie, as well as found Peter Katz, another Canadian musician who was inspired by Hansard. He sung with him on one of his albums I love when creatives spark the fire of other creatives…we need more of that!

  8. I loved the movie “Once”


    That’s how it feels when your plein air painting is as much a performance as it is a painting day. Having hyped my appearance on Facebook, it became an event.

    I had an audience.
    I had applause.
    It was exhilarating.

    I drew the line at the tip-jar; it made me uncomfortable.

  9. Thank you Sara. You helped me realize my teaching style is like tours, permissive, and valid. I’ve gelt very inadequate when asked to teach something as I’m so not authoritative. I’m just so happy to read your comments. Pretty nice to hear about other avenues of creativity out there in the world, too.

  10. I was surfing the net the other day looking for new artists to like to gain inspiration from and possible workshops being given by those artists I admired. I came across a site – I’m not even sure what it was – that featured a 12-minute video of the Hollyhock retreat. I watched and learned about you and your father in this really amazing movie. I am especially interested in Canadian artists (because I’m Canadian) and so I really got entranced by you and your father and the beautiful way you bounced off each other when you teach. It was really lovely to see. I then checked out your art and you father’s art, which is absolutely stunning btw. I was inspired by your free, light, wonderful dreamlike style and it left me with a feeling of “why not!!” Why not put it out there, whatever it is, why not do it. So, then I received your email, the Painter’s Keys, and I read about the Hollyhock retreat and the permission-giver way of teaching. To me, it seemed like the circle of knowledge I gained in that short time from when I first found the Hollyhock video had come full circle. Beautiful!! Also, Sara, we share the same birthday!! Thank you to you for all that you do in being you and being a permission giver in your blog and also in your art!

  11. yes….how exciting – finding the path and Academy Awards and Carnegie Hall are there along the way….neat. I will try to find “Once” – thank you!

    We do a thing at the State Capitol in Connecticut USA called “Envisionfest” – on a Golden Autumn Day – all free and fun, it make a celebration and thank you for summer! Packed with visitors to our art , I did a large cartoon/painting of the exciting scene on Historic Beautiful Bushnell Park with hot air balloons and those twentyfoot tall walking puppets , hald a dozen bands and public displays of things like local spa fitness workouts, and dance and art art art! As visitors streamed along past my easel , some stopped and talked and I’d ask, “Would you like to be in the picture?” and then the fun and laughter with my impromptu charicature….I will post it tomorrow, after I clean it up ….such fun and to include the folk..yes. LIFE. :-)

  12. Hello Sara,
    What a wonderful informed post. Beautifully written, like your dear father wrote too.

    How interesting you would write about Glen Hansard, as just this past week when entertaining a musician from Seattle, we walked Grafton Street Dublin, where Glen busked and I relayed his story to her. On this same street in Dublin every St. Stephen’s Day aka Boxing Day or thereabouts Bono from U-2 will busk on this street.

    Frankie Burns is indeed a wise and inspiring teacher.

    Have a wonderful week Sara.

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