The twenty percent

Dear Artist, A few years ago, Adam Leipzig attended his 25th reunion at Yale University. At Yale, he had been a theatre geek and literature major. Mingling in the party tent that summer evening, Adam listened to complaints about emptiness, wasted years, and general confusion about life’s purpose. He concluded that eighty percent of his former classmates were unhappy with their lives, even though most were now in positions of power, were prosperous, and had ticked many of life’s trophy boxes. In contrast, the twenty percent – the happy Yalies – were arts and history people, and those who had studied subjects for the joy of learning. Adam posited a theory: Happiness is having a purpose. People who are happy, he found, know five things:

“It’s all for you, Baby”

Who they are What they do Who they do it for What those people’s needs are And what they get out of it lists 365,608 book titles about finding life’s purpose. It’s a going concern. But life teaches that if we make others happy, we’re taken care of. Somehow, our most important needs are met on a level that cannot be matched by acquisition or achievement. Focusing outward is the key. Creative people, in particular, often stumble when asked, “What do you do?” Some find the question confronting, or downright troublesome, especially when between projects, or if there’s vagueness about professional status. Many others do something else, something they feel is not the thing that defines them. Still others believe they’re not yet ready to identify with the title “artist.” The word itself is as loaded as a mid-summer’s Ivy League mixer for the middle aged. Adam suggests that you need only answer the last question in his formula: “How are the people you’re doing it for transformed by what you do?” This holiday season, if you happen to be mingling with the other eighty percent, you may find the question “What do you do?” unnecessary. More valuable will be, “How do you do that?” Sincerely, Sara P.S. “We can all agree that the unexamined life is not worth living, but if all you’re doing is examining, you’re not living.” (Adam Leipzig) Esoterica: As Senior Vice-president of Motion Picture Production at Walt Disney Studios, Adam Leipzig supervised films including Dead Poets Society and Good Morning, Vietnam. Later, as president of National Geographic Films, he oversaw the acquisition and distribution of March of the Penguins, The Last Lions, and Arctic Tale. Adam Leipzig has written for American Theatre Magazine and the New York Times, and has recently written a guidebook for independent filmmakers. Among his many hypotheses, Leipzig proposes the theory “Creativity of Value” — his own updated version of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value. Expressed as C x L = V, value is achieved by “creative idea” multiplied by the labour that makes it happen.  

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The twenty percent

From: Susan — Dec 24, 2013

It is of the very night of our remembrance of the child who was born on Christmas Day,who came into this world to show us The way,The truth and The Light and to give meaning to our lives. May will all find this peace.

From: Paul Terry — Dec 24, 2013

On the verge of retiring from the proverbial “day job,” I am struck by how many of the people I have worked with are hunkered down, ignoring the fact that they are merely tolerating what they do for a livelihood is either not fulfilling or actually unpleasant. Most of us seem to be able to partition our lives to permit such activity. Making art in my “spare time” has always been more than an avocation, but never moreso than now. Sometimes my partner will ask, “Why aren’t you in the studio?” (Not so much in accusation as curiosity.) Despite being in a chair on the deck or climbing into the car for a ride, I am still in the studio. One of the ways I solve my painting issues is by not painting for a while, letting my subconscious work on the problems. In fact, I never truly leave the studio. Is it fulfilling? I simply don’t know. However, I’m certainly finding that I’m comforted by the travail, the problems, the issues, and the daunting amount of work ahead of me. I think, in some way, this reveals my vocation.

From: PK Cravens — Dec 24, 2013

Quite often, people tell me that they buy my work because it makes them feel happy. One woman contacted me that she wanted to buy one of my paintings because we had gone on a guided hike together, that shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer and owning that painting helped her remember that beautiful walk and her life pre-cancer. Besides moving me to tears, it let me know my art was doing something good for people.

From: Dwight — Dec 24, 2013

Never shy from the answer “I’m an artist”. Art is truly one of civilization’s main ingredients. Some may think it’s an unnecessary add-on. They are wrong. The earliest civilizations we know about practiced their art to enhance and sustain human life. So it is now. Never forget!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 24, 2013

Sara- if happiness is ‘having a purpose’ and my purpose is to create beauty even while struggling for decades to survive- which has the unfortunate negative consequence of leaving me less than happy- even while continuing to create beauty because that is my purpose- what’s wrong with this picture? I’m an ARTIST. I’ve been an ARTIST since I got here. If you don’t KNOW that you are an ARTIST- then you’re NOT ONE. I should use the word CREATIVE- though- so as to be inclusive of all the arts. If we make others happy- WE are taken care of? Really? Since when? Focusing inward is what’s required to be a good ARTIST. Focusing outward’s required if you think you need approval from everybody else to be happy with your art. Not the other way around. The need for everyone’s approval means you haven’t grown up enough to get beyond the need for everyone’s approval. I’ve stumbled- I’ve fallen- and I can’t get up!

From: Marvin Humphrey — Dec 24, 2013
From: Rosemary — Dec 25, 2013

A very thoughtful post for the holiday. As an artist, I find it only too easy to think only about what I get out of painting. I really have to switch gears to think about what the viewer gets out of my painting. That is one reason I have open studios, so that I can get feedback from the viewers. I think that the happiest people also make a point of associating with the happy, not the bitter.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 25, 2013
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 25, 2013

This is from last Saturday’s Dr Mardy’s Quotes of the Week- Dr Mardy Grothe can be reached at “On December 25th, the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated around the world. No birthdate (or even season of the year) is mentioned in any of the gospels, so the precise date remains a mystery. For many scholars, though, the presence of shepherds and sheep at the scene of Jesus’s birth, along with some other evidence, suggest that he was not born in the winter, but in the fall of the year. It is believed that early Christians selected the date to coincide with two pagan festivals that were celebrated around that time in Ancient Rome. The first was the winter solstice (Dec. 21st), a celebration of “the birthday of the unconquered Sun.” The second was Saturnalia (beginning on Dec. 17th and continuing for almost a week), a carnival-like holiday in which wars were suspended, businesses were closed, gambling was permitted, gifts were given, and masters and slaves even exchanged roles for period of time. The two holidays provided perfect “cover” for early Christians who knew that openly celebrating the anniversary of Christ’s birth risked prosecution by Roman authorities. Things began to change in the early decades of the fourth century, after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. By the end of the fourth century, the norm throughout Europe was to celebrate “Christmas” on Dec. 25th. As more centuries passed, winter traditions from Germanic and Celtic cultures were integrated into the Christian celebration, giving us the festive, gift-giving holiday we know today.” Jesus was NOT born on December 25.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 25, 2013

And here’s the St. Nicholas tie-in info- but please note- this information was compiled by 2 people for a tarot deck- credits below… “Historically, there was a Saint Nicholas, born in Asia Minor. He became known for his holiness, miracles, and zeal. He was also imprisoned for his Christian faith. Part of his life’s purpose was to convert sinners, (Christians certainly believe that I’m a sinner so that would be me) share his wealth with the poor, (I’m a working artist so that would be me) and increase charity among the populace. Eventually, he came down to us as the patron of storm-ravaged sailors, prisoners, and children. Because of his generosity, children began giving gifts at Christmastime, and his name was metamorphosed into Santa Klaes and Santa Claus by the Dutch.” Quoted from the handbook to the Inner Child Tarot regarding the Guide of Crystals- St. Nicholas. – Inner Child Tarot by Isha Lerner and Mark Lerner, illustrated by Christopher Guilfoil, available from Bear & Co Publishing, Santa Fe, New Mexico, copyright 1992… Note there’s an artist involved… Enjoy

From: anon — Dec 25, 2013

The fact that Jesus was NOT born on Dec 25 does not bother me. It’s a good time to celebrate anyway. Jesus was born on Christmas Day whenever that was – we can’t be blamed for not knowing when – they didn’t keep records back then like we do now. Jesus taught good things in his short life and transformed the world. And when a good person has to suffer like he did on the cross, we should feel something. He was crucified because the people loved him, because he taught of a better world, and because of jealousy felt by Authority: “How dare you!” The fight to hold on to power. Jesus did not want power – he wanted to teach about love.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 25, 2013

This is getting fun- by the way… Lots and lots of people were hung on crosses. It’s said there were 2 others hung up right alongside Jesus. Hanging people on crosses was very popular at the time. Getting hung on a cross didn’t make you special… but you’re right- because they didn’t keep records of just how many folks got hung up- either. Also- the #12 major Acarna card in Tarot decks built on a traditional structure is a hanging or hanged man. Yep- you can even find the martyr archetype in a Tarot deck! There are lots of good people out there TODAY suffering. Still. I went out a while ago and saw about a dozen homeless on just my short walk. I guess they’re still waiting for that second coming thing. Anybody got a firm date on that yet? Enquiring minds want to know! Gotta schedule a vacation! And have we arrived at that better world yet- or is our world still filled with bad politics- bad religion- bad weapons made for bad killing and bad wars- and bad art? Not to mention bad (enter swear words here) like me! Challenging- isn’t it… And what about that love thing? You know- love everybody- just not carnally… Love everybody- unless they’re gay- that is. And please don’t get me started on that power-struggle thing. Look around- it hasn’t stopped for a split second. It exists in every single male/female relationship on the planet.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 25, 2013

© 1974 J. Bruce Wilcox christmas comes and christmas goes and with it come those winter snows the cold wind blows and blows and blows to chill our nose- to freeze our toes we wrap up warm- forget our woes enjoy the christmas highs and lows and when it’s over- I suppose that we’ll still have those ooohs- and aaahs- and oh nooos…

From: Susan — Dec 26, 2013

Mr Wilcox, I detach a lot of angry in your letters. Jesus Christ had and still does the power to change peoples lives for the good. I’ve seen this with in my own life and my family. To love everyone not just those who agree with my opinions. Yes He died on the cross to save us from our sins,but first you have to believe you are a sinner before you need a savior. All you have to do is read the paper or watch Tv and know how desperate this world’s need is for someone to save us.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Dec 26, 2013
From: Bonnie Lucas — Dec 26, 2013

Thank you Sara :) What a beautiful deep letter today. Your writing is so similar to your Dad’s with a slight different peak into your window, it is heart warming. Love those feelings expressed and confirm why we are so happy in our family.

From: photomancoo — Dec 26, 2013

You are a fine writer Sara, just to tell you. Surely you fit right in with your dad’s train of thought and intellect. I love your mind. Have a wonderful Christmas

From: Anne Copeland — Dec 26, 2013

I am just writing to let you know what a genuine influence you have had on me with your writing. I have learned so much from you and have saved every newsletter I think since I started subscribing. They are all treasures to me I will always hold in my heart’s memory. I think you have done wonders to connect the art community in the most amazing way. I am 72 now and realize that none of us are going to be here forever, but I think about the opportunity we have to make a difference in the lives of others, and perhaps in a greater way we may not know or understand, for the entire world. I feel so honored and blessed to know you. I have looked forward to every single newsletter you and Sara have written. I thank you so much for all you have been, all you can be, and all you will be forever and a day in the minds and hearts of so many of us.

From: Helene McIntosh — Dec 26, 2013

Dear Sara – this must be a very difficult time for you, yet you are a brick and to be admired for your tenacity, courage and wonderful support that you are for your dear father. Bless you and your family during this difficult time.

From: Warren Criswell — Dec 26, 2013

Sara, I don’t want to be the Grinch at Christmas, and I don’t mean to compare cooking meth to making art, but art is about truth and we should be honest with ourselves as well. Remember Walter White’s confession at the end of Breaking Bad? Walter was a harmless high school chemistry teacher who, when he found out he was dying of cancer, devised a new formula for methamphetamine so that his family would be provided for when he was gone. Throughout the whole series, during which he became a very bad man, that was his justification, and he believed it himself – or wanted to. But in the end he told the truth: “I did it for me. I was good at it…. I was alive.” Of course we want our work to be of value to others, aesthetically, emotionally and financially. It’s reciprocal, not complete until it goes out into the world. As in quantum mechanics, it doesn’t exist until it’s observed. I’m just suggesting that the root cause of creativity is inward and not outward. Selfish, not altruistic. It’s the satisfying of our own needs that, hopefully, leads to satisfying the needs of others. Because even if it doesn’t … we keep doing it. Though I am not a Yalie, I spent half my life like Adam’s 80 percent, with that monster (the artist) trapped inside, scratching to get out. The question was not how to transform others, but how to transform myself.

From: Kellianne Land — Dec 26, 2013

A really encouraging letter Sara. Peace, love and joy to you and your family.

From: margaret henkels — Dec 26, 2013

I have no pity for the unhappy 80% who went to Yale and still don’t like their lives. They have exactly what they chose. I also don’t think the whole answer is in creativity….. many creative people themselves live one-sided compulsive lives. What’s really missing on earth right now is the presence of God and heart values. This is not about church, christianity or any religion. In fact, churches are simply power bases.

From: Miles Patrick Yohnke — Dec 26, 2013

I just wanted to reach out and let you know I enjoyed this article. I always look forward and enjoy yours–your fathers insight. From it I became a far smarter person and I thank you for that. You, your father, are in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas season. I share with you a few of past Christmas gifts that I had made–made up for Mom, family over recent years. A heartfelt thank you goes out to you and your father. Thank you so much for all your gifts. You have enriched my life!

From: L Gardner — Dec 26, 2013

Thanks, Sara! This is so right on! Thanks for the validation of my “never-succeeded-in-a-career” life…but always had the passion to create art. Always felt, true, powerful, alive, full of zest, as when my mind is on fire with ideas, visions, and the act of painting.

From: Robert McCormick — Dec 26, 2013

I’m sure you, your, dad, and all of the Genn family face many trials these days. I also suspect you share moments of abundant love and gratitude. Since reading of Robert’s illness some weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to write to him. My message is simple: thank you for enriching my life. I looked forward to each letter, and they always seemed to address some unresolved issue in my quest to find my way. The number of people you have affected throughout your years with your art and your knowledge will continue to grow forever. That’s an amazing thing, isn’t it!

From: David Chidgey — Dec 26, 2013

Thank you Sara for this letter. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your dad, family and friends during this Christmas season.

From: L. Udell — Dec 26, 2013

I am simply blown away by today’s post. Sara, your father must be bursting with joy at how seamlessly you’ve stepped into his shoes and sharing life wisdom for artists. Robert’s legacy continues. Your list of “musts” for an emotionally/spiritually rich life is a keeper. It echoes everything I’m learning as a hospice volunteer. It repeats everything I experienced yesterday when two customers came to make purchases directly from my studio. The work I made that is the best I can do, right now, has enriched them and their entire families. There’s no greater reward for an artist. Thank you.

From: Pat Spencer — Dec 26, 2013

What a thought-provoking letter this week! Who they are – I am the expression of life in all its wonder What they do – I try (with lapses in focus, I confess) to demonstrate life, joy, intelligence, enthusiasm, curiosity, hope, love, beauty to the best of my ability in any way that I can. Who they do it for – any gifts that I possess, I have been freely given so share it with family, friends and contacts. Even a smile to a stranger makes a huge difference and I know that it will be reflected back in some manner at some point. What those people’s needs are – to know that there is loving-kindness, joy,hope and reasons to celebrate being alive. And what they get out of it – They are challenged and sometimes worn out often with my strong belief in life and its benefits, I must confess. Later, I hear that I helped them through a difficult time with thoughts, actions and gifts of beauty. It seems so much easier for others to accept shared misery and loss but to gently and quietly share the joy in the simplest facets of life requires a change in viewpoint that is hard to do for some. Just to be aware, I have faced poverty, struggles in employment, the passing of my beloved DH etc., but there is so much that is good to enjoy each and every day if one make the decision to look for and acknowledge it.

From: BJ Adams, Washington DC — Dec 26, 2013

Such a well described message for the holiday season that will stretch into the new year. I have often thought that perhaps having wealth and power gives you an expanding purpose to give and help many others. Without what is considered wealth we all can do that little thing to help others. I would hope that my art would bring some happiness to those who view it as it brings me joy, that is frustrated at times, just to be able to create. All the Robert Genn and now Sara letters have brought more than joy to me. Thankyou.

From: Shawn Nelson Dahlstrom — Dec 26, 2013
From: Margaret Moon Hames — Dec 26, 2013

Robert, I want you to know how much I enjoy your writings and website. I feature quotes and writings from your pages at my classes and your eletters have inspired and informed me. You are a remarkable artist, teacher, person. I am sending prayers and good wishes to you and your family. Wishing you a season of peace, love, and joy. Margaret

From: Valerie Kent — Dec 26, 2013

Hi Sara C-L=0. How did we used to express it? We can call ourselves artists, but we need to “walk the talk” for personal happiness. If we believe we have great ideas, we put in the work, yet it is not particularly liked nor successful, does it still have Value? Are we still happy? Is it the process or the product that creates the Value?

From: Norman Ridenour — Dec 26, 2013

We hear that this is the season of giving. The point of this commentary is that giving is not is a seasonal activity. It is a way of life-One gives ones own life, daily, in what they create, build, share hour by hour. This is probably the ultimate reward of teaching. It is certainly the reward of watching a (young) person touch, smell, fondle, cling to a bowl I made, especially when they wrangle dad into advancing their allowance to buy it. Of course they get a discount. I am an introvert but in the classroom or at markets when in both cases I deal with people who are dealing with my life’s work, my art I cease to be one. We need to enlarge the 20%.

From: David Skrypnyk — Dec 26, 2013

This article of yours came at the right time for me. Most of my life I diverted from art to fit in with the eighty percent. They of course, capitalized on my mathematical and design ability. In doing this I was never happy other than when my invoices were paid. I tried to be multi – disciplined but kept being tugged away from the art world. Now at last I can try to fit full time back in with the vastly misunderstood twenty percent you describe, by returning to full time art; which is where I was in the seventies when I met your dad at my gallery in New Westminster.

From: Bridget — Dec 26, 2013

I love this formula and have writ it large on the support of my easel, happy christmas to you all.

From: Lorraine McIntyre — Dec 26, 2013

Dear Robert, Just to let you know how much I have been appreciating your Twice Weekly Letter. I do enjoy it so much. It helps me to channel myself in another area a the times I need it. I play at art and wish I could become really comfortable in my art! I think I am too much of a perfectionist but I find it very relaxing and a something I can do to forget the chronic pain I have from a very bad car accident. I have turned out a few pieces I’ve really liked and I got confident enough to give a piece to my son for his birthday gift. I want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, many blessings your way and may you find hope in the New Year.

From: Suzanne — Dec 26, 2013

I have so enjoyed and related to this email from you! I was “forced” to major in business by my father, who felt (correctly) that it would provide me with an income. Yet, I have followed in his mother’s path all of my life, dabbling in one art form or another. My grandmother (Louise Lauritzen McCaslin) provided me with the true happiness in life – expressing myself through the visual arts. Thank goodness, my parents recognized this as they provided me with private art classes through Jean Ray Laury & Joyce Aiken and the various art teachers that I had throughout Jr. High School, High School and college – all of whom were former students of my grandmother (Fresno was a small town back then). I now find myself still earning my living through my business education yet finding my joy through art – and serving on the board of directors of the Central California Art Association – a 60+ year old non profit art organization in California’s central valley.

From: L. Cadden — Dec 26, 2013

LOVE THIS LETTER! Way to carry the torch Sara :)

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 26, 2013

After hanging around this forum for several years I have learned when some names post to glance at the comments for anything worthwhile and move on. Regardless of any reader’s spiritual persuasion, anger and virulent philosophy will never entice. Most refuse to entertain such a mindset and are surprisingly tolerant. Accusations are unnecessary. This forum is Robert Genn’s and lately his daughter, Sara’s vehicle to encourage, inspire, inform, present technique, offer marketing tips and analysis, question theory, and generally be a clearing house of information to help artists in whatever their quest. Thank you both from the bottom of my heart. It is the integrity of the members that make one forum superior over the next. It is the higher principles that draw creative people as like minded artists. As this forum grows and transitions it is up to us as members to keep that purity of purpose in mind.

From: Mary Ann Laing — Dec 26, 2013

Ah, the old question asks again.. “Are you an artist or a painter, or artisan, or creative maker of things, or student, or teacher, or….” We got into a very looooooong comment debate in Facebook over this subject, long because there is not one clear answer, it depends. It depends on who we are being asked by, I think. I’m over the sweating of stress in using the “A” word now, I can actually say I am an artist and smile with a humble “yup I am” What bugs me is when people I’ve known for a long time decide to translate my lack of needing to expound on my talents is because I’m not very good, that’s why I don’t puff up and take the stage to project my artistic worth, I’m an amateur or not very good. So much gets tangled in attitudes and judgments, and during the most insecure years of my journey, it was stressful. I have come to understand so well that to become anything, it requires a huge committment of time. I didn’t know that then, but I know it now. Years of years of “going to my room” and stopping myself from following others had to happen for me to truly understand what my purpose as an artist is. I know there will always be many who don’t understand and ask as if they do, but that’s okay, I forgive them. thank you for the letter, Sara, I wish you all the best for 2014. Mary Ann

From: Sarah Atkins — Dec 27, 2013
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 27, 2013

Happy New Year! I wish us all another one!

From: Tatjana — Dec 27, 2013

Happy New Year! What we need is what Robert has been teaching in those letters – dedicated learning, true understanding and tolerance.

From: Tina Jurva — Jan 11, 2014
    Featured Workshop: Julie Snyder 122713_workshop Julie Snyder Workshops Held in Western Scotland, Oban   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa


photograph by Alejandro Salinas, Mexico

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