Things to go and come


Dear Artist,

I don’t think our daily newspapers are going to be with us much longer. Right now we get two of them. They’re delivered a few minutes apart in the early morning by two separate guys in gas guzzlers with challenged mufflers. Every time I step out to get them I think of trees. If I read the trees in bed they make a rustling noise that bothers Carol. The iPad is better. Paper books. Libraries are now places for homeless people to keep warm. The Kindles and other electronic readers will win out. You read what you want when and where you want to; no waiting for Amazon to deliver or the local library to open up. With electronic delivery, authors get paid just the same, perhaps more. Electronic books are easy to hold, and with their uniform, controllable lighting they cause less eyestrain.

Cakes, 1963 Oil on canvas 60 x 72 inches by Wayne Thiebaud (1920 - 2021)

Cakes, 1963
Oil on canvas
60 x 72 inches
by Wayne Thiebaud (1920 – 2021)

Our postman, a really nice guy, is also pretty well toast. As the P.O. goes the way of the Druids — watch it — the institution will get more weird, more expensive and less efficient. When people get used to the various systems of electronic money transfer, cheques in the mail will be dead ducks. Junk mail will be pre-junked. By the way, did you know the frequency of letter writing is way up in the last decade? Who can compete with a legible email that gets to Hackensack right away and it’s free? But look out. Fine art is on the way in.

Triangle Beach, 2003-2005 Oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches by Wayne Thiebaud

Triangle Beach, 2003-2005
Oil on canvas
30 x 40 inches
by Wayne Thiebaud

In our gadgety, thing-happy society where Walmart and creeping meatballism threaten, painting is hot. Old fashioned as the shoeing of horses — about the same methodology for the last six hundred years — art fills a vital human need for life enhancement. Art reboots the cerebral cortex, teaches new skills to underutilized hands, arouses dormant sensitivities and promotes latent passions. If need be, art gives us something to talk about besides the kids, grandkids and celebrities, hence making us more interesting people. And it’s cheap — a month of art supplies for the average Daumier is about the same as a round of golf. They’re now estimating 12 million painters in North America. Our sources figure four percent of Western populations have paint and brushes, up from three percent two decades ago. More painters are painting today than in the whole history of art. Done well, art has lots of ploys, feels good, makes you proud, is so frustratingly difficult it makes grown men cry, and it’s not golf.

River Lake, 2008 Oil on canvas 60 x 60 inches by Wayne Thiebaud

River Lake, 2008
Oil on canvas
60 x 60 inches
by Wayne Thiebaud

Best regards,


PS: “All things you see will be changed, and out of their substance will make other things and again others so the world may be ever new.” (Marcus Aurelius, AD 121-180)

Esoterica: As another year gets chucked into the circular file, we look back on a remarkable decade of change. For many of us it’s meant a greater need for and appreciation of sanctuary. We catch ourselves daily in our work-spaces — whether tiny rooms or lofty studios — often contented, always challenged. These retreats are not soon to be closed. The studio is a place of dreams, and dreams, though always vulnerable, are good for us.

This letter was originally published as “Things to go and come” on December 31, 2010.

Wayne Thiebaud prepares his exhibition at SFMOMA, 2018. Liz Hafalia photo.

Wayne Thiebaud prepares his exhibition at SFMOMA, 2018.
Liz Hafalia photo.

Have you considered a Premium Artist Listing?  With each letter, an artist is featured at the bottom of this page. The Premium Artist Listings are a means of connecting artist subscribers through their work. Proceeds from each listing contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“Art is not delivered like the morning paper; it has to be stolen from Mount Olympus.” (Wayne Thiebaud, 1920-2021)



  1. I clearly remember reading this article when it first came out on December 31st, 2010. It was the only article that I had to disagree with Bob. That the library still has many wonderful purposes. In 2017, I wrote an article titled: “School’s Out?” on the impact that the library system had on me and how they have adjusted and are as vibrant now as they have always been. If you’d like to read it you can use your iPad, iPhone or any device you like. Just click here :

    I wish each & every one of you all the very best in 2022.

    R.I.P. (Rest In Peace) Carol Genn
    R.I.P. (Rest In Peace) Robert Genn

    As always, love is the way,

    Miles Patrick Yohnke

  2. Wayne Thiebaud will be missed. His use of color was extraordinary. Thanks, Robert, for posting this.

    The article is very uplifting and gives me hope! More painters than ever before in history!

  3. Wayne Thiebaud, who just passed at age 101, had a sense of humor. You can see it in his work. I am a person who loves to put lots of color in a painting, but I have never managed to reach the level of color that Thiebaud managed in all his work. How can you look and one of his pieces and not smile? We will miss him, but his work lives on.

  4. Sheri-Lee Langlois on

    I find it funny that everyone who has commented so far has remarked on Wayne Thiebaud’s wonderful paintings and nothing about Robert’s Wise Letter! I agree with Robert’s choices regarding the changes that were up and coming in 2010 and likely to continue impacting us, as they have till now. No Kindle for this reader, I’m afraid. Paper books must reign on!! He was correct on postal workers and horseshoes! I dare say even more paintbrushes can be found in homes this year, which is fantastic. And Marcus Aurelius remains relevant! Happy New Year, Sara and everyone. May it bring all of us closer together in peace.

    • Yes, how wise and prescient Robert’s letter, as were they all. Just today I was sharing with a friend how fantastic Robert’s letter are. So too Sara. Happy New Year to the sisterhood and brotherhood. Stay safe.

    • Barbara Belyea on

      I agree with Sheri-Lee Langlois. We still have choices and with them the obligation to support the media forms we believe in, not to mention enjoy. It’s interesting that Robert makes an exception of material paintings in his virtual future. For the same reason I support paper books; they are the medium I work in, and a Kindle is not anywhere near as subtle an instrument of human thought and experience. What’s more, if we are to look to the future, it’s well to realize that virtual media have a very short shelf life. I was trained as a medievalist and honour the parchment and paper codices that have endured more than 1000 years.
      I also send paper letters and cards — the cards with my own photographs, enclosed in my own envelopes. Little gifts for those who appreciate them. Unfortunately most of the recipients don’t reciprocate; they just send emails; but I live in hope.

  5. Love the tribute to Wayne Thiebaud paintings! The words of wisdom forecasting our future by Robert made me smile a kind of sad smile. Sometimes my husband laughs at me because if a book is very good and useful to me, I have an e-copy of a book on my I-Pad kindle and a hard copy cluttering up the kitchen table. The e-copy is easy to read at night but the hard copy is the one I write in and mark up with notes in my ongoing conversation with the author. I have a horrible time finding anything that I want to reference in an e-copy. Somehow, I need to be able to turn the physical pages and find the remark flagged with a sticky and underlined in pencil in the the whole context of the book. I am sure that those that mostly know electronic books will find different methods for mapping content into their brains… I just haven’t found one that works for me yet. The book sellers still safe with me and bookstores are still sacred places to browse and make discoveries down a row of content that was only taken to reach the checkout.

  6. Marvin Humphrey on

    Yes, “Art reboots the cerebral cortex”. Good art does. Cerebral Cortex: it covers our attention, perception, awareness, thoughts, memory, language, and consciousness. In short, art enhances human lives.

  7. Our post office in South Africa has almost expired. For me as an artist that is a disaster because courier services are around x10 as expensive for the same to door service worldwide. This extra cost cripples my sales as clients recoil in disbelief. Smaller paintings are out priced by their transport. Enjoy your post office while you have one!

  8. What a dire letter! Electronics is a less satisfying way of receiving information not more. And as to more artists than ever…really! The average person has no idea what Art is as it is. They think you are born with it and don’t have to study it. And if you aren’t famous now, you will be when you die. All stereotypes apply!

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

Mexico Art Retreat for Women January 23-30, 2022
January 23, 2022 to January 30, 2022

 DETAILJoin Ellie Harold for “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Paint Expressively,” designed especially for mature women artists of all skill levels who wish to explore this medium for soulful exploration. The retreat provides attractive accommodations (your own room!) along with lightly structured activities for centering, relaxation and low stress art-making. You’ll have plenty of free time to muse, paint, write and reflect while enjoying the colors, textures and flavors of San Miguel. This Retreat has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for further creating. Details at


Featured Artist

Painting is my passion and joy.  My process is intuitive, though informed by good composition and design principles.  I paint what I remember, or think about, or feel, or just what comes off my hands to the brush to the canvas.  Texture and color are of primary importance to me.  I typically choose my support, texture it, select my palette, and go.  There is nothing more satisfying to me than watching paint run and move.  I love the surprises. I experiment and learn constantly.  It is a remarkable journey.  One I am pleased to share with you.


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.