We all have a tendency to focus on the daily progress and setbacks of our working lives. The balancing of practical matters and creative joy seem so all-involving that our art can become our main reason for living. Not that there’s much wrong with this — without dedication it’s pretty well impossible to thrive in the game. I’ve spent a bit of time in these letters trying to express the necessity of study, application and hard work. I’ve talked interminably of creative commitment. I’ve also talked about the values of family and significant life-passages. Over the years I’ve shared the death of my parents and other personal happenings, and I thank you for your patience.
Perhaps not often enough have I mentioned the ultimate and rather excellent form of creativity that’s open to most of us. I’m talking about children. None of us asks to be born. We step out innocent to the world’s wiles. We require nurture to approach our potential — to be handled before we can handle. Children are soon enough presented with a puzzling world. “Keep me away,” said Kahlil Gibran, “from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
Carol and I have been blessed with three terrific kids. David, our oldest, is a musician and music producer. James, one of our twins, is a film director. Sara, our other twin, is a painter and singer-songwriter. How this den of artistry and application happened we never quite figured out. Believe me, we’re not disappointed there are no lawyers or accountants in our outfit. But I digress.
This morning at 8:21 David and his wife Tamara produced our first grandchild. Everybody’s doing well. The event makes it even more clear, no matter what else might happen during a short stay on the planet, this sort of creation rises above all else in its profundity. This has been a day of wonders. How David was issued with the genes to stand by in green scrubs and cut the umbilical cord we’ll never know. The glow of accomplishment and joy on Tamara’s face as she held the newborn was more beautiful than any painting or sculpture could ever be. Who knows what these perfect little hands will do — and where these tiny feet will take him. Please welcome Beckett David Nathaniel Genn.
PS: “Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but are not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Esoterica: Art is life and life is art. Offspring may be the greatest art, but they are also like art. They eventually go into the world and make their own way. They flow from some source that we cannot fully know. Like art they require love and work. David and Tamara will know more of this when they check out of the hospital in a couple of days. “Work is love made visible,” said Kahlil Gibran. What a work has now become visible.
From a childless painter
by Linda Anderson Stewart, AB, Canada
Congratulations on your grandson’s birth. You are indeed lucky to be blessed with children. For those of us who will never be able to have children it is sometimes difficult to read such a letter… not that we don’t appreciate your reasons for writing it nor understand your joy and wonder in the event. Over the years I have learned to live with the separateness that being childless has inflicted on me… and my husband. They say it’s a couples’ world… I see it as a families’ world. I am fortunate to have a wonderful partner to share my life with so I take comfort in that… and as a painter I am learning to pass on what I have learned and seen to unknown “children” so that need gets filled. I am so grateful for that gift.
Ground to a halt
by Phyllis Behar, Manhattan, NY, USA
It is so timely for me to hear about children. I have just completed our annual busy, loving, active time with visiting grandchildren. Ten days with two teenagers, then 2 weeks with a 9 and 11 year old. It was fun, exhausting, always interesting and often hilarious. My painting ground to a halt. My artistic life became about cooking, swimming, fireworks, card games and conversation (and hearing a great deal about the new Harry Potter which young Henry completed while with us… all 700 pages). I am assuming, optimist that I am, that all of this loving activity will fuel new paintings now that they have all flown home to Tennessee and California. Unlike others, I cannot multi-task when grand-parenting…
by Sue Adam, Nelson, BC, Canada
I don’t think of myself as creative, really — I don’t paint, sculpt, throw pots, sing or play an instrument, etc. But I find much of what you discuss still relevant to my daily life. Today in particular. I have a grandson who is nearly 3, and welcomed his little brother less than a month ago. No matter how much you love your children, the flood of unconditional love for your grandchildren will still overwhelm you. It is not tempered by obligation or fear. You have no obligation but to love them.
by Phyllis Tarlow, Hartsdale, NY, USA
Yes, children and grandchildren are a wondrous and blessed thing to be lucky enough to have. I’m particularly aware of that at this very moment as I sit in a mid-town New York City hotel with my daughter who is 39 and who came up here for an operation that was performed as an outpatient. She asked me to stay with her the night before and for a few days after until she feels well enough to travel home to Florida. It comes right in the middle of a particularly hectic period of work with commissions due this week and the end of next and a show opening over the weekend. Yet, I feel honored that she still feels that her mother’s love is so reassuring that she asked me to be there for her. It’s a special bond that I cherish.
Offspring in art
by Dorothy Englander, Albany, NY, USA
In a way, there is a new offspring in my creating. I have been thinking of your bits of advice so much lately. In a step of growth and change in my twenty-five-plus year ongoing exploration, I am discovering a new direction in my work, one which encompasses parts of other areas where my imagery and methods have ventured, and yet one that is fresh and different in its approach.
In its wonder, life is full of such absurdity, and one way of dealing with it has been to put it into my art. I have a quote on my wall from you that starts, “Put more into it.” Part of it says to add more style, drama, energy, design, elegance, wonkyness, pathos, mood, texture, humour… etc. I have had this thought simmering for years; in fact I have used it in my own classes. Suddenly it has a direct application to my work, and seems to be the key to progress for me. Right off the bat the new work looks too wonky and humourous, but I say “So what!” So is my life, even in adversity!
Legacy of talent
by Peggy Devney, N. Little Rock, AR, USA
Both of my daughters are artists. My daughter with children is a fine artist (non-practicing due to being a new mama) and my youngest daughter just received her MFA from Emerson and is a poet! We too are not a family of doctors or lawyers but both girls went with their passion. It’s a struggle to make a living in the art world. I am proud of my girls and they are both happy – minus the school loans. I am the “late bloomer” creative, artistic and working in non-profit as a special events person. I have recently started painting in oils and have actually had some success with sales. I don’t have an art degree and I am timid about my work. This was your first letter to me and I was thrilled to receive it. I look forward to receiving my book in hopes it will inspire me to continue to grow in my art. Children are always an inspiration and my job allows me to be creative. Our organization has a huge art auction as our special event which raises money for youth and families in Arkansas. I am proud of what we do and, because I can use my art in my work, it makes me happy.
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA
I have three children myself which I find makes me stand out in my art community where most artists of my acquaintance have chosen to have no children at all. A few have just one. I’ve always wondered if this low birth rate is true for the arts in general, or only the visual arts, and also, why? I suspect that the very dedication/obsession you write about as an important part of having a career in the arts motivates people to cut down on what are seen as extraneous responsibilities and distractions. I respect other people’s choices, and children are indeed a serious responsibility and require a lot of time and attention. However, I personally find that they also “give back” and replenish my creative force enormously. I think I am a better person, a deeper thinker and more caring and sensitive in every way through becoming a mother… and I am humbly grateful for this “emotional enlargement.” Art is, after all, the mirror of one’s soul so I believe becoming a parent has not hurt the quality of my work in the slightest (in fact, quite the reverse), even if it has eaten into my studio time!
Mother and child theme
by Karen Martin Sampson, Sayward, BC, Canada
When I was doing a lot of commercial art I worked extensively for Childbirth Graphics, doing illustrations, including medical, of pregnancy, childbirth, and breast feeding. Several of my pieces were on the covers of their catalogs and I did a few books for them also. Depicting the mother and child subject was extremely gratifying, especially as I am a mother myself (my son nearly 31 now). I still am commissioned to do the mother and child theme for many portraits… capturing the essence of a little one is very challenging and I guess I succeed since children make up the majority of my commissions.
Children keep us grounded
by Mary Susan Vaughn, Weddington , NC, USA
I am the mother of 3 daughters (28, 26, and 13) and 1 son (10) and I never quite know what to expect next, but look forward to every minute. We have also been blessed with a grandson whom we have been raising since he was 2 weeks old (a surprise from our 28 yr old daughter) and he is now 7 years old and a joy to behold. I find it amazing how children, without even trying, manage to keep us grounded in our own childhood. Memories abound.
Children are not ours
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
How beautiful to enjoy this “Ultimate creativity” in your family. It surely is still nothing less than miraculous to be with my daughters for whom I was a portal for their entering this world. They were instrumental in my own awakening, allowing me to be here more solidly and joyfully. My oldest daughter turns 12 on the 15 of August, and time is so quick as I view this growing gem. I agree totally with Kahlil Gibran that children are not our possessions, and that we are only their loving guides. This gives them the freedom to be who they are and flower confidently. It also gives me the space of breath to be clear and have faith in them without imposing or taking what they do personally. As with paintings we do our best, and when they are out in the world it is out of our hands. Could we do anything creative without essential faith? For me it all takes this leap.
by Linda Kukulski, Nanaimo, BC, Canada
I came across this poem The Beginning by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941, India’s first Nobel laureate), many years ago…
Where have I come from? Where did you pick me up?
The baby asked its mother.
She answered half crying, half laughing.
And clasping the baby to her breast.
You were hidden in my heart, as its desire, my darling
You were in the dolls of my childhood games
And with clay I made the image of my God every morning
I made you and unmade you then
You were enshrined with our household deity, in his worship
I worshiped you, in my hopes and in my loves
In my life and the life of my mother
You have lived in the deathless spirit that rules our home
You have been nursed for ages
And when in girlhood, my heart was opening its petals
You hovered as a fragrance about it
Your tender softness blossomed in my youthful limbs
Like a glow in the sky before the sunrise
Heaven’s first darling, twin born with the morning light
You have floated down the stream of the world’s life
And at last you have landed on my heart
As I gaze on your face, mystery overwhelms me
You who belong to all, have become mine
For fear of losing you, I hold you tight to my breast
What magic has snared the world’s treasure in these tender arms of mine.
Enjoy the past comments below for Ultimate creativity…
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Julie Roberts who wrote, “How lucky that baby is to be born in this safe and beautiful part of the world. I want my children to become parents just to know how much I really love them!”
And also Meed Barnett who wrote, “Yes, children are the ultimate creative inspiration. I am a fourth-generation artist, but I have produced a self-proclaimed nerd! Chandra just graduated from Caltech. She has a job in LA giving robots their brains!”
And also Shari Jones who wrote, “May I just say, CONGRATULATIONS!” (RG note) Thanks Shari and to everyone who sent love and best wishes regarding newborn baby Beckett. We were overwhelmed. Every single letter is being printed out and permanently bound. Truly a day to remember.