Time for pride


Dear Artist,

“Pride,” said Alexander Pope, “is the never-failing vice of fools.” This certainly applies when we kid ourselves that something we’ve done poorly is somehow worthy. Fact is, pride’s always suspect, even dangerous. Religions warn against it. Along with envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.


“Tentacles of Memory” 1946
oil painting by
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

But I’m calling it “true pride” here, and I think it’s good stuff. A sense of pride is one of the finer arts that we need to learn. We need shots of pride when we enter our work place, when we handle our tools, as we proceed in our processes and when our projects are drawing to a close. Here are a few ideas for the care and maintenance of pride:

Develop professional, workmanlike habits.

Build joy into your working hours.


“White Center” (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) 1950
oil painting by Mark Rothko

Take care, be patient, raise standards.

Organize for efficiency and creative flow.

Know that unrest is part of the program.

Gain power from learning and knowledge.

Demand artistic truth and integrity.

Be in love with your own intuition.

In humility, find your divinity within.

Sign with eternity in mind.

Every creator, to a varying degree, has what I call an “intrinsic passion.” It’s an exhilarating state that can easily be deflected by obligation, expectation, guilt and other factors. Unless one’s passion is somewhat followed, no number of mechanical motivators will work very well — and scant satisfaction will occur. But satisfaction is not the same as pride. It’s actually dissatisfaction that leads to higher accomplishments and true pride. Here, I’m talking about the well-being of the living, breathing artist.

Feeling he lacked integrity is what propelled Mark Rothko into his last miserable years of depression, drink and suicide. Appalled by the high prices his work was achieving and by the seeming simplicity and repetition of his dealer-motivated style, he angrily fussed over minor measurements and innocent slights — masking his lack of pride and diminishing self-esteem. The same could be said of Vincent, who put all of his prideful optimism into anticipation and had the additional burden of perceived personal failure.


“Four Darks in Red” 1958
oil on canvas
by Mark Rothko

Best regards,


PS: “No artist is pleased. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” (Martha Graham)

Esoterica: If you ever doubted the grace of pride, you should see a movie called Born into Brothels. It’s a tribute to the resiliency of childhood and the restorative power of art — a portrait of several unforgettable children who live in the red-light district of Calcutta, where their mothers work as prostitutes. Zana Briski, a New-York-based photographer, gives each of the children a camera and teaches them to look at the world with new eyes. The children get to enlarge, frame, compare, sign and exhibit their photos. The show travels to other lands and the kids go with it, filled with pride.

This letter was originally published as “Time for pride” on January 3, 2006.


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“The picture must be… a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.” (Mark Rothko)



  1. Jealousy is fear of lack.
    “Long held erroneous beliefs, keeping spirits growth harbored, can allow fear of anything to dominate. Creative thinking of unique possibilities that only you are capable of, and acting upon those highest thoughts, nurtures a brand new reality. Remnants of past ‘failures’ suddenly lose their hold when momentarily the mind is given the energy to create freely by exploring inward. With glistening new ideas forming, strengthened by continual renewed thought effort, with allegiance and dedication the spirit of that initial idea can begin to manifest quickly as clearly perceived possibilities begin to take form. Always first in mind, and then shining outward so brightly. When ancient long forgotten truths are dusted off and rediscovered in this, a brand new year. Dream as big as you possibly can, listen carefully to the whispers of encouragement , then dance, giving thanks to the power you have been given. Sharon Rusch Shaver

  2. Steve Clement on

    On the whole, this is an excellent way to begin 2018. I seek to live by most of the ideas Robert presented here, and I am thankful to you, Sara, for re-publishing this fine essay. I have known two artists who lost their integrity in their work, like Robert writes of Mark Rothko. I did not know this about Mark. Tragic indeed. I wonder if this contributed to the deaths of the two artists I knew…not suicides, but far earlier than normal. They had been good artists earlier in their careers and abandoned all that in search of notoriety and money.

    There is one point Robert made that I am not quite sure how to take: “In humility, find your divinity within.” Since It is followed by “Sign with eternity in mind,” perhaps his meaning is something with which I can agree, i.e., the idea that what we are creating will indeed outlast us and thus has some aspects of eternity attached to it. But I would suggest to all that if you don’t find the Divine One outside of yourself, the One who made all that inspires us as artists and provides the materials we need for our own lower-level creative endeavors, you will certainly never find any meaningful divinity within. That is not where God is to be found.

  3. Always love your letters to invoke thought and discussion. May I add my 2 cents, and say that to me “In humility, find your divinity within” is like saying you can still be humble while allowing yourself to take pride in your work. Every piece of art is unique and up to interpretation ‘to the eye of the beholder’. Once you’ve finished your piece I like to think it has a life of it’s own, so move on. And to quote Salvador Dali ‘you don’t need to worry about perfection because you’ll never achieve it’.

  4. Gordon Bartrem on

    I just create, if people like what I’ve made I think that’s great. If they don’t, then that’s ok too.

  5. French distinguishes between pride (orguei) and pride (fierté), the first one being the troublemaker. I have trouble taking pride in my work for fear of conceit, a lesson taught long ago. One that needs burying. So, like Gordon said, just create and let it take care of itself.

    • Every creative work leaves a bit of the creator within it. As created beings we hold within us that essence if we seek it. Perhaps we hold eternity within us.

  6. An honest artist is one who knows his artistic limitations but never fails to push into the unknown rather than stick with what works. If you want to become dry keep doing essentially the same thing expecting different results! It’s not the tiny steps but the big steps that brings inner confidence that will satisfy your appetite. Pride in my dictionary means nothing for the inner soul of the real artist wanting satisfaction from his endeavour. All of the rest is frosting. The best reaction I have ever received is from that which I cherished the least.

  7. Thanks for the memories and reminders there is true pride , a virtue, and then false pride , another issue and character defect

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June 4, 2018 to June 10, 2018

2017-darla-hikeGhost RanchNew Mexico, Darla Bostick, (June and October) workshops


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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/mary-denning-art-sunrise2_big-wpcf_300x250.jpgSunrise Over the Farm #2
original pastel 15 x 15 inches

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Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.


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