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.
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.
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)
All generalizations are bad
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
As a sub-group of humans, artists generally reflect the entire population when it comes to human foibles. Artists like to get gifts, just like anyone else. In fact, if there is a difference, it is that artists are people for whom it easier to buy. Cadmium Red is always a good choice, or a blank sketch book.
Then, too, a few issues ago your letter was about how selfish artists are. I did not agree with that either, but it does seem a bit contradictory. I did not reply to that specific issue, but I think one could make the case that there is a similar percentage of golf widows as art widows. Self-centered brain surgeons and self-centered painters. Indeed, the only thing that separates artists from the general public is that artists are more intelligent and much better lovers.
Use of tarantulas at Christmas
by Sandy Whittley, San Angelo, TX, USA
Pap? I think not! I love your letters. Some really hit the nail on the head, and some I just enjoy, but it’s all part of the whole. I agree with you about artists and not particularly wanting gifts. I love giving them, and the getting is not a biggie. I do want to know where to get a radio controlled tarantula! We have a big family, and thankfully, they all come to our house for holiday dinners. I think it would be hilarious for the tarantula to make an “entrance” at some point. Where can I get one?
(RG note) Thanks, Sandy. Mine came out from under the Christmas tree (batteries not included) and frightened aunts and nieces satisfactorily. Herman (we called her Herman) was, unfortunately, put out of service by Dorothy and Stanley. Takara USA $20.00 (Airedales not anticipated)
Handmade Christmas Cards
by Ben Novak, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Many of us probably make our own Christmas Cards. Now with printing in color so readily available to all, it is a simple and inexpensive procedure. I have found that many of my cards are actually expected, collected, framed and displayed as numbered prints. I usually number and sign them. They can be considered gifts. I find they also generate interest in my art and have resulted in some private sales of other work.
Parsimonious with parsnip
by Gwen Sinclair, Scotland
I do like the idea of a winter break from work and to have fun, but sadly, here in SW Scotland it has been a mad dash for most people to get all the parsnips! No kidding, a woman was trying to shut my hand in the pull over freezers in case I got the last pack — all the fresh ones were gone — and hey, she won! Now, I would so much have preferred to sit indoors and watch how the aqua tinted sky filled with peach and lavender — all the colours of soft summer in the middle of winter. I did have a lovely walk in the park with the old dog and new pup racing around — what freedom for them — that is one of those happy moments you cannot orchestrate to be what it should be — something you can’t buy on eBay.
by Mary Anne Tateishi, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I don’t want more stuff, I want more time in the studio. When we have a lot of possessions, we have to tend to them. When we are free of clutter, our minds are clear and open to new ideas. Making art makes me happy, and content people don’t need things to make them happy. Of course having said all this, I am open to receiving a gift certificate to our local art supply store! When I was in my twenties, I bought lots of clothes, now my biggest indulgence is art supplies.
The gift you give yourself
by Melanie Wegner, Albuquerque, NM, USA
Your Christmas letter brought tears to my eyes. I keep telling people, yes I love you but no gifts, thank you and then wonder what to do with the obnoxious sounding wind chime… (the gift is appreciated — the object is not). But I would love a month of Sundays in my stocking. Or an extra day for a walk in the mountains. Or hours of time with my clay when I’m not tired. But then — I realize — this is the gift I can give myself.
by Barb McGee, Peterson, IA, USA
This letter struck a cord with me. I remember one day I was in my studio and all of the sudden I realized that there was no place else in the world that I would rather be. This was really pretty startling because I have spent my whole life wishing I could live in the mountains. I love riding horses in the clear mountain air and the look of it and the feel of it. I love painting the mountains and the horses and the cowboys and the late afternoon sun and the shadows, you get the idea. So now I guess I am satisfied to live in Iowa and paint the mountains. I hear people say that they grow used to living in a great place and forget to appreciate it. I am not so sure I believe it because I live in one of the greatest places in Iowa (the Little Sioux River Valley) and I never fail to appreciate the beauty. We even have eagles here in the winter and have one pair who have made their home here to raise their young. When God created artists he truly blessed us. We get to get up in the morning and do exactly what we love most every day. Not many people are that blessed.
Love is our focus
by Carol Brock, Oklahoma City, OK, USA
I’m laughing. I liked your creativity and love issue so much I forwarded it to my aunt with my own thoughts and discussion from it. Born a valentine in a family with other valentine babies, love is a focus in our family not to be denied. I do my best to contain some in myself and let it rip once I sit down in the studio, but how much easier it would be to just contain it in a pill for a timely digestion. Too bad for the subscriber who thought it pap.
by Patricia Lynne Grace Cummings, Concord, NH, USA
Trouble is, gifts are often given out of a sense of obligation, and with no real understanding of what the recipient might like or enjoy. Therefore, they often elicit an obligatory “thank you,” and a puzzlement on the part of the receiver as to, “What will I do with another gizamawhat?”
The joy of Christmas is in the anticipation of pleasing others, and in “finding Christmas in one’s heart.” This is not always easy to do, as the world has de-sanctified the holiday, and just about robbed it of its reason for being. A friend of mine now calls it, “Santa’s Birthday.”
On a roll
by Peter Trent
I rather like the ‘pap’ that you make available to us. The variety of subjects, the insights you offer, the encouragement that you give, are all things I relish as I struggle to achieve in drawing the same endorphin lift I get from a good workout at the gym. Who says nothing in life is free — I get my bi-weekly motivational shove and, with pictures too! Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll!
Almost beats American Girl
by Janet Toney, Greeneville, TN, USA
Gifts I’ve made are the best. I am not a fancy seamstress or quilter, but since my son went to Iraq at the beginning of that war, I have been making tied quilts for each member of my family. The first was for him and his wife, the Christmas he came back, it was a US flag, but in prints even on the white, so you have to look to see it. They are a mix of homey and artsy — more artsy — since that’s what I like the best. This year it was a cat and dog quilt for my granddaughter. Cats and dogs were her requested theme. It was fun all year to look for the fabrics with cats and dogs on them, then I found bones and fish prints and appliqued cats on the fishy prints and dogs on the bone prints. The quilt got to her in yesterday’s mail and reportedly it was a hit with its new owner! That was the ultimate high for the season! She’s happy, my artsy/crafty ego is boosted and so what could be better?
I like reading your letters even when I really, really disagree with you! I haven’t enjoyed reading a regular publication since I was 11 or 12 and waited impatiently each month for my American Girl magazine!
Spaciousness of mind needed
by Rev. Sedgwick Heskett, Racine, WI, USA
Robert, you are a full-time artist — making art is your work — and probably so are many of your readers. I am a part-time writer — other forms of work support me — and probably so are many of your readers. What I want for Christmas (and all other holidays and every day of the year) is, certainly, more time. But more important than expanses of time is spaciousness of mind: a place to enter every day that isn’t occupied with the minutiae of survival. Increasingly, I find I get that by prioritizing the important-but-not-immediately-urgent over the urgent-but-less-important.
New Year’s resolution
by Jo B. Williams, Cumming, GA, USA
Every time I go downstairs to my studio it’s got that magical feeling of expectation you get on Christmas morning. There is a heightened energy in that room that I think is caused by all the creative potential just waiting to happen. The rare day that I don’t feel enervated by working (playing) in my studio is a day that things must be really, really, bad. Right now I have enough art supplies, art books for inspiration, etc. — the only thing I don’t have is enough time to do all the things I want to. I guess that’ll have to be my New Year’s resolution: #1 priority — time for art.
(RG note) Thanks, Jo. Don’t forget at New Years, for those who make resolutions, we agree to accept and hold, in complete confidence, your private resolutions for a whole year. This year Andrew will be mailing over a thousand of your 2005 ones back to you on the evening of December 30.
What, me guilty?
by Bobbi Chukran, Leander, TX, USA
Funny, isn’t it, that lots of artists are not especially materialistic, but most of us require that others spend money and buy our “stuff” in order for us to make a living. Many artists I know are getting older and starting to think about the whole materialism thing, and are downsizing, decluttering, simplifying, etc.
Online you will see that art has become a commodity, too. There’s just so much of it! How can artists say that they wish to not be materialistic, yet they are overjoyed about large print orders or a large painting sale? How can we sort this out for ourselves, and not feel guilty for contributing to all of the over-consumption?
You can’t buy Christmas
by Claudio Ghirardo, Mississauga, ON, Canada
Before I was married I was totally on my own. My family had moved to Italy. I spent many Christmases with little to no presents. When I got married, my wife’s parents are extremely materialistic (in fact my wife had real problems with the idea of being married to an artist and we spent many hours talking through stuff). Anyways, my wife had to get used to the idea that I really didn’t need a lot. All I asked for was time to do my art and to buy the supplies I needed. Well, that blew my in-law’s brains to the point they insisted I give them a list for Christmas which I do to appease them. My creative gift never allowed me to make much money but every Christmas I make up a Christmas card design I hand out to friends and family and am always told that they look forward to my holiday designs (even contemporary ones like angels playing jazz). To me, Christmas is the idea to present one’s personal gift to others, not the gift of what money can buy. I think that’s why artists tend not to be as materialistic as the rest of society and don’t need much. As a friend of mine once said: “You can’t buy Christmas.”
Have more fun now
by Barb Rees, Powell River, BC, Canada
I have an Uncle Bob like you, only we affectionately call him “Rotten Robert.” He’s always good for a laugh. May your tarantula or some other wild fun thing be found in your Christmas stocking so you too can continue to make the world a lighter and brighter place. Another material gift is not what we need, but rather more wisdom, more creativity, more inspiration, more understanding, more fun–and a tarantula in a pear tree!
by Jan Bentz, Florida, USA
I’m a “self/community college/free workshop” taught artist. All I do well is portraits… Human landscapes! Whenever I do a painting I do it for someone. I’ve had a few of commissioned pieces, but for the most part I give them as gifts — my father’s nurses in the nursing home (3 of them) …my cleaning lady… a man who works on my computer removing a nasty virus in exchange for his son’s portrait. People who probably couldn’t afford a commissioned piece, have my work on their walls. Your letter made me realize I am not only addicted to the joy of the journey of creating the painting… but the hugs, letters of thanks and even tears of gratitude for the work I have so enjoyed doing. I’ve gotten paid and I’ve given them free… I prefer the rush I get from giving free ones… I feel so generous when I “give.” I’m fortunate not to have to paint-to-live, but live-to-paint.
Sentimentality and love
by Rita Putatunda, India
You make love to your canvas — and when you are doing that, you don’t notice the world outside its edges — at least that’s how it is for me. It’s what Dronacharya — the ancient Indian sage — told Arjuna (please refer to the Indian epic Mahabharata) when he taught him to use the bow and arrow — if you see anything else but the eye of the bird in the tree which is your target, you will fail. Anyway, reading all the “love gushings” in the responses of your letter, I think most people mistake “sentimentality” for “love.”
Gifts of the heart
by Anne Copeland, Lomita, CA, USA
I have long thought how the best gifts we can get are not gifts we can buy or even make. They are the gifts of the heart, and they come in many forms. The gift of being a friend for someone and having that person be a friend for you. The gift of love from our pets.
Today I sadly had to put my kitty to sleep. He had been ill for a long time, and it was clearly time for him to go. I told him just before he left this earth, “I will always love you. You gave me such a wonderful gift.” And that is true. There will never be any gift like this.
My best gifts don’t come wrapped and in ribbons. They come in the form of an e-mail from a friend, or watching someone I know achieve something she or he didn’t think was possible. Or a kitty rubbing against me when he knows I am sad. And yes, this letter is one of the best gifts I have ever given myself and many if not all my friends too. Everyone I know reads and loves this letter! Peace and blessings and thank you so much for such a great gift.
“There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” (Martha Graham)
(RG note) Thanks, Anne. And thanks to old friends and new who sent personal emails, e-cards, and regular mail cards and letters with wishes of happiness and good will for the season. Amazing Clausal effect around this studio I’ll tell you.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Patricia Mosca of Rochester, NY who wrote, “Send me those pills.”
And also Mary Englert of Redding, CA who wrote, “I would be lonely without your letters.”
And Linda Mirth who wrote, “Now if I could just find my studio underneath the Christmas tree.”
And Kate Ramsey who wrote, “I’m printing your ‘Wanted for Christmas’ and saving it with my next year’s Christmas card. I intend to plagiarize the beauty in those words and tailor them to fit those lucky enough to receive them.”
And also Marvin Petal of Oxnard, CA who wrote, “I probably would like one of those remote-controlled tarantulas. But I don’t think I could get one by shouting ‘Schazzam’ or any other Teutonic deity. Wouldn’t I have to do as Billy Batson did and invoke the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury?”
And B. J. Adams of Washington, DC who wrote, “I have given so many of my artist friends your gift of the twice weekly letters and many write me saying… ‘Did you read the one about?’ …so know that everyone, even if they don’t write to you, so appreciate all you put into each one.”
And also Dorothy Shumsky of PA who wrote, “The ability to paint is gift enough for a lifetime. I thank God every day for the talent I possess and I try never to take it for granted.”
And also Brigitte Nowak of Toronto, Ontario who wrote, “As an artist, should I spend an hour trying to paint the perfect sky, or bake a batch of shortbread? How is my time better spent? How would my family answer this question?”
And JoAnne Lussier of Weare, NH who wrote, “Can’t seem to get my kids to understand the concept of contentment without the material things. I have a saying on my fridge, ‘True security lies in not what you have but in what you can do without.’ Oh give me a glorious sunset with plenty of clouds any day and that is truly spiritual.”
And also Anna Morales of Barcelona, Spain who wrote, “I always look forward to your letters. Even though I don’t earn my living as a painter, they make me feel I belong to your world. I can feel the same craving for a decent painting. When I try to paint a fair watercolour I am spellbound by the hues that unfold in the process, and I can feel happiness walking on tiptoe beaming with satisfaction.”
And also LeslieAnn Butler of Portland, Oregon who wrote, “I love your letters. Thank you. I am having storage racks made for my canvases and paintings. How far apart are your vertical dividers?”
(RG note) Thanks, LeslieAnn. A little bit wider than my canvases.