Wanted for Christmas


Dear Artist,

I may be totally wrong on this one. I’m thinking that artists are among those who don’t really want to receive too many gifts for the Holiday Season. It may have something to do with the overabundance of joy in our daily lives — or the consequent guilt that arises, but we artists, by and large, are not into materialism. At this time of year there is little that we might covet. Actually, this year the only thing that I want is one of those radio-controlled tarantulas. And that’s hardly a gift — it’s entertainment for others — controlled by me of course — perhaps to set off drama among the nieces. They are nice nieces. “Funny Uncle Bob,” I’ll hear them scream when my radio-controlled tarantula haltingly emerges from under the Christmas tree. “They come in with shipments of Bolivian trees,” I’ll tell them. The little darlings.


“The Beach at Trouville”
oil painting, 1870, by Claude Monet (1840-1926)

But I digress. The only thing that I can ever remember really craving was the know-how to do a decent painting. I’d seen what the really great painters could do. For my stocking I wanted a zapper — perhaps a pill or an easily gulped liquid. Picasso chutzpah, Sargent talent, Monet joy. Put this stuff in bottles and you could name your price. Pop one just before stepping into the studio, and “Schazzam,” I’d be the wizard I always knew I was. Actually, I think these twice-weekly letters are like little silent pills — some that work for one and not another — or that work one time and not the next. “What a bunch of pap,” wrote one subscriber after my recent letter about creativity and love. She unsubscribed from the freebee. That’s the good thing about giving a gift. No one ever complains about the price.

But I digress. We don’t need stuff. We need ideas and energy and subjects and motivation and time and lots of other things that can’t be bought and are not sold at Wal-Mart. Happiness is not under the Christmas tree but somewhere in the air above it. It doesn’t stick to traditional dates or statutory holidays. It can sometimes be found on the most ordinary of Thursdays. Sometimes it just blows in like a swallow in December. Sometimes when you want it most you can’t have it. And sometimes you’re up to your elbows. That’s why we don’t need regular stuff. We’re into bigger stuff. And if we need tools or paint or clay or something we just go out and buy it anyway. Which reminds me, I’m outa here — last minute stuff.


“Jean Monet on his Hobby Horse”
oil painting, 1872, by Claude Monet

Merry Christmas,


PS: “Thanks to my work everything’s going well.” (Claude Monet)

Esoterica: It’s a sort of ecstasy. It’s like a drug. It’s that feeling you get when you’ve given everything in a work of art. And it connects, really connects, not with everyone, but with someone — maybe someone special. It’s the possibility of the existence of such a high that keeps us believing in things even more preposterous than a jolly bearded chap descending over 6000 chimneys per second. “And for a breath of ecstasy / Give all you have been, or could be.” (Sara Teasdale)

This letter was originally published as “Wanted for Christmas” on December 23, 2005.



  1. My Christmas list is mostly art supplies. On a more serious note, I had the privilege of doing the Christmas shopping and wrapping for a family, mother and five children, who are survivors of domestic abuse. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to shop for this family and then wrap all the presents. That kind of Christmas “stuff” I can get into.

  2. Going through an artistic expansion by exploring petroglyphs and pictographs. The experience is changing energy, creative focus, and life itself. A gift from the universe. Political, geographical and social boundaries are dissolving, and this is a remarkable experience! Thank you!

  3. Christmas is all year around here, as long as I spend everyday in my painting studio and get a few hours oil painting in. I will not need many art supplies throughout the year because, I have lots of extra supplies and art books. Once a year I donate to the Senior Center painting classes and also to relatives & neighbors who are interested in art. So my Christmas is to be able to continue doing what I love best, oil painting and I love it…! Grant S.

  4. This made me feel good. Thanks. Yesterday I hung 5 fun child like paintings in our local information center next to the children’s play area. I would feel blessed if they caused smiles and joy over the Christmas Season..and always. Your letter supports me. Many thanks.

  5. You hit the nail on the head with this one. I agree completely. Christmas has gotten too greedy. I like the Winter Solstice: the sun is coming back north. What if it kept on going south…….?

  6. Judy Breedlove on

    Wonderful letter and my thoughts, completely. I would love to be able to snap my fingers and paint like the great. I’m blessed to be able to paint in our art gallery (the Watermelon Art Gallery) every day, if I wish. My only problem is being inside when I’d love to be outside, so I live vicariously through the many great artists in this world.

  7. For Christmas, I want a plein air box that is perfect sitting on a chair with it on your lap doing small, quick paintings. It would hold all of your very organized equipment in 3 compartments, that cantilever out when open and attaches to any tri-pod whenever I want to stand and do a quick painting. When you pick it up, I want everything, oil paint, brushes, to stay organized, and not a jumble mess when you open it again, everything is ready for the next small painting. I want it designed by a woman, because we live to be organized. I want a Z Box for Christmas. Please tell Santa he can get one for me here: email: shaveart@earthlink.net for “Z Box” Patent Pending, specs and ordering. http://sharonruschshaver.com/ and http://adventure-artists.com/

  8. Pamela in Canada on

    Hello to all! Thank you so much for this wonderful letter! I read each letter with great interest, and have forwarded many of your letters to my friends, including your recent letter regarding Lawren Harris. I am happy to discover other people here who are not materialistic – I thought that I was strange!! We seem to live in a world that is focused on creating people who produce at work and then consume at home, in order to keep the fires of industry burning. I am fortunate enough to be blessed with an overabundance of material goods – too many in fact! So I am giving away many things this Christmas to the less fortunate. I live a very very modest and quiet life on a very low income, but I am grateful everyday for living in a wonderful circumstances. I live in Canada, a beautiful country that is free, democratic, economically prosperous (normally), and at peace. I have a modest roof over my head, and clothes to wear, and the basic things that I need – how incredibly lucky I am! Best wishes to all for a Joyous Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and Happy Hanukkah!

  9. I didn’t realise, a few years ago now, when I first came across Robert and his ‘Painter’s Keys’ what a special gift I was about to receive. It is a gift that keeps on giving.
    Thank you Sara for this and Merry Christmas to all.
    (And I bet I’m not the only one who googled radio-controlled tarantulas!)

  10. I totally agree! When I was young , my mother Claire Gunter, who was a beautiful artist, would ask for a single piece of water colour paper. I always thought she was trying to be nice because she knew of my limited funds . Now an artist myself, following in her footsteps, I realize- that really was all she wanted!!

  11. Love your letter. Thank you. But I have one wish (not very modest I am afraid) that nobody knows about. A workshop in Italy! I know this is a lot to ask for. What is life all about if you don’t have dreams? Merry Christmas Sarah!

  12. all i want for christmas is a new brush so i can finish the minature paintings i intend to give for Christmas presents! what a conumbrum! guess i better call the art supply store . Somehow its more fun to work under pressure, with honerable purpose anyway! Must be the Santa Claus affect.. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

  13. Put a lot of smiles on my face with this one. Right with these thoughts all the way. I’ll take all the “pap” I can get from this wonderful newsletter. So grateful for the humor, wisdom, passion, and freedom of expression found here. As always Thank you.

  14. I always read what your all write. It is a great gift to share your thoughts with others without any need for return. A lot of times it is because my life is moving at such a fast busy pace that I don’t take time to answer but the writings always lift my mood. Thank your for what you do.

  15. This year my sweetheart and I are cutting back on gifts and giving some money in support of the Syrian refugees now arriving in Canada. We don’t need more stuff, but they sure will.

  16. I don’t have any specific wants for Christmas… I’d appreciate receiving anything at all, to be honest. I don’t receive much in the way of gifts anymore (not that I expect to receive anything) so when I do it’s a complete shock and I don’t even know how to express my gratitude.

  17. Just so amazing how insightful Robert was. Two days off from regular work now, sitting in my studio looking at the walls wondering what to paint, what to do. so I sat down and read this letter. It is such a busy time. But baking is done, meat pies are made, gifts are bought all but a few. There is time. But what shall I paint?

Reply To Judy Breedlove Cancel Reply

Featured Workshop


Featured Artist


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.