Dear Artist,

After a one-person show a kind of post-partum psychosis sets in, which generally lasts for a day or so, then, for some reason, there’s a need to go back to work. Looking for the secret at the easel, I remembered: “It’s a matter of thinking one thing while you’re thinking of other things.” A modest understanding, but it’s useful. Often we merely push on — leaving the work to evolve in the hands of the gods — very much as a potter surrenders his clay to the “Kiln God.” Sure, there’s a place for intuition and just letting flow — but there’s also a need to bring in all of the strategy we can muster. I call it triple-think. Here are some examples:


In the Conservatory
oil painting, 1878, by Edouard Manet

Keep the subject in focus while dealing with mother-colour, overall composition, or happenstance.

Render the design while being aware of opportunities for condition — weather, light, or feelings.

Get the figure anatomically correct while watching for possible elements of psychological depth or obscure or secondary meanings.

Work on ideas and emotions while keeping in mind stylistic tendencies and the potential of end-play.

Accept complexity and layering while taking pains to make it look deceptively simple.


Berthe Morisot With a Bouquet of Violets
oil painting, 1872, by Edouard Manet

Each artist’s uniqueness and individualism brings endless variations. This dynamism invites the “Keeping-in-Mind-God” to play a part in the work’s evolution, enriching the process. The job becomes an intellectual as well as a technical and emotional exercise. The idea is to stretch your brain so your act of art is your very own.

Best regards,


PS: “All you need to do to receive guidance is to ask for it and then listen.” (Sanaya Roman)

Esoterica: Begin at the beginning. Open the gates to downstream possibilities. Go with the flow and pay attention to fortuitous tributaries. “The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

This letter was originally published as “Triple think” on March 23, 2001.



  1. “The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

    In order to become successful at anything- you have to learn to complete. In our ‘instant gratification’ society- many never learn to complete- always off to the next thing before the current thing has been fully explored and experienced. I have a one-man show coming up in January- so I’m in full-on completion mode- which is a very satisfying place to be. Yet I know exactly what I’ll feel like- both on the day after hanging- and the day after take-down. And I’ll likely be burnt out… and at this stage of my career- even that’s an ok place to be for a while.
    Going with the flow is a magical place to be- a place of self-mastery. Yet there’s a clock in my brain/heart counting down the seconds till the moment I walk in to hang. And that’s my ‘normal’. 2015- when you add up the numbers- is an 8 year- and 8 is the number of Balance. 2016? It’s a 9 year- and 9 is the number of Completion. Perfect.

  2. And so Robert. You continue to speak to me. I literally just finished a solo show on the weekend and went through everything you mentioned. I am also stepping back to my canvas, to continue on a commissioned piece. And yes, it involves a figure. I began at the beginning and the floodgates have opened. I asked, and now I am listening… Thank you.

  3. Just got back from a week’s trip to Paris. I saw so much that it motivates me to COMPLETE. I used to be a starter, not a completer. At 64 after an inspirational trip I’ve decided to COMPLETE.

    • jamuna snitkin on

      Thank you for another letter full of ideas to consider.I am getting ready for a three-friends show in Dec. and have many unshown pieces to choose from. Just wanting to create something really fresh for this opportunity and so your ideas are very helpful.Looking at so much finished work sometimes is intimidating. I need to get back to beginners mind.

  4. Ah, I know that old post-artum letdown all too well. It has complicated ingredients of course, but it can visit us in times like having shows, completing a demo workshop, having delivered a lecture, publishing something, finishing a performance and so on. In a way, no matter how successful the event in question has turned out to be, it can still feel like a kind of “loss”: we had something to look forward to, to be jazzed about, and now it’s history. i have even noticed small twinges of “loss” while making a piece of art. When I begin the process, the possibilities seem infinite, with no obstruction of the flow—but as progress proceeds toward the objective, such possibilities get fewer and fewer; the work seems to demand that certain increasingly specific things be done to it. It seems possible that a subconscious intuition about this dynamic may at times stand in the way of completion. Hoping to postpone the “loss?” Perhaps. However, clinging to preconceptions about what it should be can itself, cause “suffering.” Better to finish it! ;-)

  5. Working on a copy of “Apollo” by Dosso Dossi. Challenging and facinating. Thanks for the good solid advice.

  6. Pingback: Kim Manley Ort |Topics |Welcome the Unexpected

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