What to expect

Dear Artist, Letting folks into my studio is getting more and more problematical. It has to do with my embarrassment about the accumulated mess — the build-up of unfinished and substandard paintings — as well as the sentimental bric-a-brac and clutter on every surface, including the floor. As well as being recommended for inclusion in the current TV feature “The Hoarders,” it’s also been suggested that I go for counselling. My condition was noted last Thursday when a stretch limo arrived in our driveway. Six recent art-school graduates filed into my studio and stood respectfully in the limited spaces available. As they grimaced into the gridlock, they seemed to be asking if this kind of future might be waiting for them. They were a jolly, optimistic group. We talked about work habits, painting in series, types of easels, use of photography, art dealer relationships. “You must have a very active mind,” said a stylish young woman as she knocked over a piece of Parthenon marble I had liberated some years ago. A young man with a van Dyke beard and a box of Tic-Tacs asked what I thought new artists these days might now expect. Happy to draw attention away from my sloth, I slipped into guru mode: “You will not always get what you think you deserve, but you will quite often get what you negotiate.” “You will find that you’ll work longer hours than your friends who have full time, demanding jobs.” “You will find your best education is the education you give yourself.” “If you’re lucky you will fall in love with some interesting processes and begin to think you own them.” I was going to go on with even more lofty stuff, when one of the grads asked what I thought about the future of neat and tidy studios. It was meant as a light interjection, and it had the effect of causing a brief round of mirth. Several of my visitors were staring at my paint-table and the heap of nearly-dead tubes awaiting their final squeeze. “You will be surprised to find you can always get more paint out of a tube,” I said. It seemed like a good thought at the time. Best regards, Robert PS: There were a lot of questions requiring numerical answers, all of which I guesstimated: “How many paintings do you sign in a year?” (250) “How many days a year do you work in your studio?” (200) “How many on location?” (40) “How many galleries handle your work?” (15) “What percentage of starts do you abandon?” (20%) Esoterica: Over the last decade or so, many art students have demanded more from their schools. Facing similar financial burdens and debts as in other fields, today’s graduates seem better informed of technical and practical concerns. Many have finely-honed skills and media mastery. Others come out with a keen curiosity as to how the artist-dealer-patron axis works. Notwithstanding the mild belittlement of apparent disorder, renewed respect for figurative and realistic art is in the air.   Stack of buckets by Ellen Dick, Swalwell, AB, Canada  

“Sudden green”
original painting, 48 x 72 inches
by Ellen Dick

I once had some very nice, well dressed people in my studio, which is two classrooms of a 1930’s school, when it started to rain. I ran over to the stack of buckets ready for the water that was about to begin pouring in and distributed them in the appropriate places just as the water started pouring down. They have not come back. I also had a workshop in the ‘better’ end of this building (two more class rooms) and at the end of the workshop I had given them all something to eat. One of the women clearing up looked at my kitchen, stood there uncertain and said, ‘Is this your kitchen or do you have a real one somewhere else in this building?’ They haven’t come back either. There are 2 comments for Stack of buckets by Ellen Dick
From: Rose — Jun 15, 2010

Don’t you love it…. Wonderful picture !!!

From: Painter Woman — Jun 16, 2010

Seems like a good way to keep the riff raff away.

  Basement with potential by Debra Gow, Langley, BC, Canada  

“Tuscan Farm House”
acrylic painting
by Debra Gow

Four months ago my husband and I purchased a new home with a front entrance basement with soft retail zoning. Being the business minded A-type man that he is, he envisioned a profitable return on all the years of painting that I’ve done. Students coming and going, papers, canvas, tubes of paint around my area of the house which always turns into most of it. Anyways this beautiful space is now turned into a Studio Gallery which cost us a fair bit in sweat and dollars. But now I have this space I’ve always wanted but still not enough of the messy side, “One needs to keep up the pretense of a professional Gallery” my husband says.   Uncluttered by George Mccausland, Tucson, AZ, USA  

My studio

On the subject of cluttered work areas: I believe as we get older there is a tendency to hold on to things as a sort of means of holding on to the life around us. Since retirement I have treated things around me as distractions, and if I see that I am not going to use them within 6 months to a year then I toss them. My best solution to the clutter problem is, imagine that you are moving within the next two weeks. You would be surprised how organized and clear your area and your home become. I try to treat my photographic work the same. I go through the files stored on the hard drives and try to review the material with a fair eye and clean out the images that held some interest at the time but just didn’t make it. My studio is uncluttered I feel any clutter has the effect of distracting me from the objectives I plan on achieving. There are 3 comments for Uncluttered by George Mccausland
From: NanFiegl — Jun 15, 2010

It’s funny — I find that CLEANING distracts me from the objectives I hope to achieve!

From: Dorenda — Jun 15, 2010

I’m with you George! :) Clutter and old work are a distraction for me. I find that when I keep old or inferior work around I don’t grow in my process or techniques. Although I don’t spend excessive amounts of time cleaning, I do set aside time for routine purging. (I think we are the minority however per the comments submitted.) Like styles and techniques, whatever works for an individual is the best way to accomplish your art goal.

From: Marilyn — Jun 15, 2010

The thought of moving in two weeks 0- I really like that idea! Makes the process sound like fun, like a game rather than a chore. I will try that out myself, Thanks!

  Clean and orderly by Debbie Sierchio, Trinity, FL, USA   I am a neat freak and on certain occasions frantically find an area of the house that needs my complete attention to cleanliness. However, I too have a studio; but it is clean, orderly and I am constantly bombarded with family members who want to hang out with me, or feel they need to intrude on my creativity; and don’t understand why it irritates me. When they hover I close the door or curtain for a few moments of uninterrupted solitude. But, then there is the flip side and that is that artists lead a lonely life and mine is full with family, work and other creative activities that don’t require complete solitude. There is 1 comment for Clean and orderly by Debbie Sierchio
From: Cyndie Katz — Jun 15, 2010

You seem to imply that people come to hang out because the space is clean and orderly and I believe that is true. I used to be clean and orderly, I took a 28 year hiatus, and now I’m back to making tidy my middle name. I’m finding it’s much better for my self-esteem.

  More out than in by Vicki Barton, Westminster, CO, USA  

watercolour painting
by Vicki Barton

I have painted in my basement studio for 30 years. The Hoarders Show has encouraged me to limit my acquisition of more “necessities” and I’m hoping “more out than in” will hold the line. Our children speak of the day after we are gone when they will just open the door, call friends and tell them to take what they want.       There are 3 comments for More out than in by Vicki Barton
From: Jan Ross — Jun 14, 2010

Your painting is beautiful!

From: linda mallery — Jun 15, 2010

So beautiful. Watercolor at its best!

From: Liz Brown — Jun 17, 2010

What a beautiful painting!

  Accumulation of experience by Carol Rosenberg, Sanibel FL, USA   I remember when I was 19 years old and had no art materials and very little aesthetic, academic or technical knowledge of art. I knew, however, that I wanted to be an artist. Your studio sounds like mine; a wonderful accumulation of experience, materials, ideas, books/information and opportunities — a place where people can feel “creativity.” Save the sterility for the kitchen.   Denied entrance by Dorothy Gardiner, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA  

“Cody Calling”
pastel painting
by Dorothy Gardiner

I only let 2 people in my home/studio. One is an artist, the other is a very old friend. Neither of them care what my art/creative hoarding looks like. Or so I thought. The last time my painting buddy came in he mentioned the show “Hoarders” and suggested that I might be heading in that direction. That was 2 months ago and I haven’t let him in since — Although I started cleaning yesterday. Don’t think I’ll get to it today. Made a schedule, figured it will be done in a month.     My cave by Michael Fenton, New Jersey, USA  

“Dwelling Place of Spirits”
original painting
by Michael Fenton

Before I became an artist, I worked for a world class corporation/laboratory. I never felt comfortable with opening up the workplace to visitors and this has carried over to my studio. My studio is always in some state of disarray, but it is not a sty. It is my cave, my private sanctuary where I can think and paint and be; visitors invite in disruptive karma and I have to answer stupid questions like, “how long did that painting take to do?” I don’t mind the occasional fellow artist or student, but I really don’t want visitors. If someone comes to look at a painting I bring the painting to a neutral place in my home where they can see it in a proper setting.   Hoarding habits by Nancy M. Lund, Salt Lake City, UT, USA   When my parents died it made me look at my own “hoarding” habits. My parents were children of the depression and never threw anything away. Well almost nothing. For the last year or so of my parents life, when I was there helping, cooking, cleaning and doing whatever they asked, I became quite a little sneak. When they took their afternoon naps, I would just clean out one drawer or one closet. I wouldn’t throw away the good stuff, just the junk. It was a small thing considering all of the things they couldn’t throw away. Mother saved every ribbon on any gift that had ever been unwrapped in her home. There was the red box, the green box, the yellow and the purple, not to mention the blue and the orange. Oh yes, every color was there. I actually thought about doing a ribbon collage but my rational thoughts got the better of me and I took them to the local thrift store. When my parents both passed away, the real work began. It was overwhelming to try to figure out what was valuable and what wasn’t. We, (I have 3 siblings), finally brought in an estate expert that put a value on everything. It worked out so well. If one of us wanted something, it was put in our pile and we were charged for what it was worth. If all four of us wanted the same thing, we had a drawing and the winner put in their pile which they paid for. When all was said and done, we didn’t have one argument. We all got some of the stuff that we valued and wanted. We are all still best friends. It’s a very workable way to distribute your parent’s assets. There is 1 comment for Hoarding habits by Nancy M. Lund
From: Anonymous — Jun 14, 2010

Hoarding of useless stuff in late age sadly seems to be a symptom of approaching death. When my mother passed away, my father was stunned with the unbearable task of cleaning up of her ‘private space’. After 50 years of a wonderful marriage, he couldn’t face the task and the bleak future. He quickly remarried, and the new wife efficiently cleaned it all up. Ladies, when you can’t decide to throw away your useless garbage, ask yourself if you would rather have the ‘new wife’ do it for you after you are gone (and tell everyone about what she found). Every time I feel lazy to clean up my studio, I remember this.

  What it means to be an artist by Kirk Wassell, Chino Hills, CA, USA  

“Dark n Red”
digital photograph
by Kirk Wassell

I think it is remarkable and humbling how gracious you were in that scenario. It is my humble opinion that to be invited into your realm was without a doubt, an experience that was far beyond their comprehension. I have found you, your art, words, occasional quips, brilliance and your plethora of knowledge of just about everything, to be my greatest find, during my own personal exploration of trying to make sense of “what is art.” Being invited into someone’s lair, and criticizing what you find, indicates to me there was something lacking in the education of those individuals. Again, in my opinion, if they really knew to whom they were speaking, I believe their actions would have been radically different. I know if I were given the opportunity to spend some time with you, it would be such a grand experience, that I would hope to be able to savor it like a glass of the finest brandy, drinking in the moments one by one. Many years ago, when I was approximately 9 years of age, I would sit and listen to my Grandfather who would tell me stories of our family history in the four corners region of the Southwestern United States. I was mesmerized by his ability to convey a word picture, so vivid, I could see the Indians on horseback. I find that your abilities affect me the same way, and I find your eloquence with language is an art in and of itself. Lastly, if those new beings learned anything from you, and I hope for their sake they did, then maybe someday they will realize how blessed they were to have had the opportunity to touch upon what it means to be an artist. What it means to reflect upon yourself as you age, and begin to see that habits change to accommodate growth, and growth seems to mutate as necessary, whenever you find that looking at something does not always reveal understanding, just as looking does not guarantee seeing, and those who know this, know that art is not a manifestation of what we see as much as what we feel and so on. There are 8 comments for What it means to be an artist by Kirk Wassell
From: Delores Hamilton — Jun 15, 2010

Kirk, I hope the Robert invites you to his studio. After this note, how could he not?

From: Debra LePage — Jun 15, 2010

The art collective I belong to holds Open Studios each month. I agree with the above comment about being” invited into someone’s lair”…It’s not always easy to get into the proper frame of mind when it’s time to open my door to visitors. Most are wonderfully respectful but occasionally people behave as if they just stepped into a retail store, not someone’s personal space. I am getting better at engaging and educating and, overall, find it a wonderful experience. I’ve met some fascinating people.

From: Karen — Jun 15, 2010

I agree, Kirk, with your comments on Bob and his generosity of spirit, knowledge, etc. Having recently spent some time with him, (on the cruise off Vancouver Is.), I can tell you he is all those things, very generous with support, ideas, wisdom. I have been reading these letters for years and have found them immensely helpful. So anyone who merely judges by the studio is missing all the really good, juicy stuff that that studio is part of……….

From: Antoinette Ledzian — Jun 15, 2010

With goose bumps, I’m nodding and agreeing with every word Kirk has written ~ never have I corresponded with a more generous, compassionate, talented and wise individual than Robert Genn. I’m convinced “appreciation” is a gift. And I totally agree, given the opportunity to spend time with RG would be an experience of a life time!

From: Win Dinn, Painted Turtle Gallery — Jun 15, 2010

Kirk, I certainly agree with you, and all the posters who commented on your letter. I also want to add that Dark n Red is so juicy that one could go for a swim in it – how lovely. www.ptgallery.ca

From: Celeste Gober — Jun 15, 2010

Beautifully said, Kirk. You have sensitively described what I often feel when I read Robert’s letters. I have received so much inspiration and hope from his wisdom,humor,and insights and feel very fortunate to have found this.

From: Anonymous — Jun 15, 2010

I’m sure Robert’s next letter will be something like, “Coming Down from a Plethora of Compliments.” He has that kind of humor. What I like most of all about his letters is the wordplay: an occasional dip into what some English majors might call “purple prose” cannot hide a genuine sense of humility from a man who seems to know himself very well.

From: Anonymous — Jun 16, 2010

Bravo Kirk! You also are a deft hand with eloquent words too. You have accurately put into words, my thoughts on a man I have never met. I don’t need to meet the man, to know of his wealth and depth of knowledge, or that he is a genuinely humble person, that has concerns for this whole planet and the people on it. As you said – “his word pictures…” paint eloquent pictures in the minds of many. He encourages and teaches us so much, so freely and without restraint. Thank you so much!

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Sandon Point

acrylic painting by Daniela Andersen, Sydney, Australia

  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 Jeannie Browning of SC, USA, who wrote, “They say a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind. I say a clean studio is a sign that nothing happens there.”

And also BJ Wright of Tunnel Hill, GA, USA, who wrote, “I always cling to a long remembered quote: ‘Creative minds are rarely tidy.'” And also Edward Berkeley of Portland, OR, USA, who wrote, “What you describe, Robert, is the organized chaos we all go through in our working areas, desks, labs etc. And it works.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for What to expect

From: Ellie Snyder — Jun 10, 2010

As a fellow sloth, always working on trying not to be, I relished your letter. I have even rented a storage unit so my immediate surroundings are livable. Thank you for keeping up your wonderful letters. Coming to Kauai again some time? Aloha, Ellie

From: Sue Hoppe — Jun 10, 2010

I would also like to know more about “how the artist-dealer-patron axis works”. As the head of a Community Art Centre in South Africa, I am always looking for ways of making the system work for our members and also ways of bypassing the system in order to give opportunities to impoverished emerging artists who would have a difficult time fitting into the essentially elite gallery system, but have so much talent that they really deserve more exposure amongst art lovers and buyers. As far as messy studios go, is there another way? I find the clutter inspiring, and even if visitors can’t see it, there is an order to the chaos, even if I am the only one who can discern it!

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 11, 2010

We’ve all seen studio shots of the artist clad in a smock with light streaming in from a grand window, falling on a magnificent Asian rug. Pretty. I suppose there are some who paint like that. But, I would guess more artists’ studios are true workshops with rags laying about, clutter, props, utilitarian spaces, with any number of the tools of our trade within easy reach. After all, art is a dirty business (pun intended) and why pretend it is not? I wouldn’t expect a pristine “decorator studio” any more than I would expect a master mechanic to work in an immaculate garage. I’m reminded of Norman Rockwell, who faced constant deadlines. He said he sometimes procrastinated and his worse ploy was in tidying his studio instead of painting. I’ve found it is too easy to work at your art instead of on your art.

From: Ron Unruh — Jun 11, 2010

Thanks Robert for the light touch today, the humour is appreciated. I identify with the ease with which a studio becomes untidy because I cleaned up these past few days and certainly like the organization and organization better. I wonder how long it will take to clutter it again. I particularly valued you statement to the young folk, “You will not always get what you think you deserve, but you will quite often get what you negotiate.” That is the way the deal is struck I have found. I got off the phone about a commissioned piece and kicked myself because as I reconsidered the work involved, I could have, should have asked for more but didn’t. You also told the seekers, “If you’re lucky you will fall in love with some interesting processes and begin to think you own them.” I still find myself admiring the processes of successful artists and questioning whether I dare employ them because they belong to those artists. I have to get over that.

From: Deborah Angilletta — Jun 11, 2010

I read your letter just before I left for my studio today and I had to smile. I’ve only been at my new studio a couple months and have a few pictures of it on my website when it was still pristine. I have a theory that an invisible someone must come in every day and mess it up while I am busy painting. I clean my brushes religiously every day but only pick up the studio when I am having guests. I am constantly moving drawings, tubes of paint, easels and half finished works out of my way or into better light. It’s almost like the progression of a painting. You start out with this blank canvas and soon there is more and more areas of color on it. After awhile you would never guess it’s the same canvas. Oh well, my studio is the one place I can be chaotic without feeling guilty and enjoy the dance of disorder.

From: Dorenda — Jun 11, 2010
From: Marvin Humphrey — Jun 11, 2010

I discourage people from visiting my studio. Embarrassment for the chaos is generally mistaken for trying to conceal working methods. I’d rather that they focus on the completed article, presented in a favorable environment.

From: Gene Martin — Jun 11, 2010

I once took an online test, of about 15 questions, to ascertain my rights to the title of artist. I answered all 15, added up my points and proceeded to the bottom of the page where I found an answer. It seems the only question with relevence was is your studio neat or clean and organised. The messier the better you were. My response? Decorated with a bomb.

From: Julia — Jun 11, 2010

LOL! for untidy studio. I live in the small comfortable bachelor apartment ( the only room is 4 X 5 meters) with bathroom, niche for the kitchen and generous built-in closets. I love the neighbourhood and my apartment -i decorated it with modern minimalistic WHITE!!!furniture, i own minimum of everything, trew away lots of books, pictures letters and everything not related to art. I own table, computer stand, sofabed and 2 chairs (no tv) I was super neat – for years -covering with palstic, repainting walls often, sanding floors, organizing, …and setting up the table for painting sessions (some lasted for weeks). My neatness is for nothing – i have too much stuff that i need to refer to, use often, have access. Apartment became messy, overcrowded with artwork, and not appealing at all. Should i become miniaturist? give away paintings? I need extra room preferably on the main floor with decent light and some sort of the backyard. I applied there and there and nothing suitable and affordable in my neighbourhood ( i do not want to live anywhere else). The mess stops me from creating. I need extra room with a door!!! It is not in my nature to live as i live now.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 11, 2010

Not every artist’s expectations can ever be seen as the same as you painters. Visitors to my studio continue to comment on how ordered my space is. But working primarily with textiles requires a clean room. And I’m a music programmer and ex-club DJ too- so a quarter of my space is dedicated to music technology- which also requires a clean room. And since my studio is simultaneously my living room- and I used to be a Display Designer as well- my ‘room’ is hung/arranged beautifully. Of course- the installation changes all the time- but it’s still a studio- not a gallery. How many galleries do I have? None. Who sells my work? Nobody but me. I do make an ongoing mess but I also regularly clean it up. I understand why a painter’s studio might be more cluttered- but having a clean room is actually a physical representation of my spiritual vibration and necessary to my creation experience. Some shelves stacked with fabric are more ordered and some are less ordered- but to have them be NOT ordered means I can’t find anything. If I was rich I’d have a space at least 3 times bigger than the one I have and I’d actually be able to live there. And there’d be a shop with power-tools and space to do printing and silk-screening- messier stuff. But I can’t afford it so what I have will have to do at this time- maybe for the rest of my life. I’m signing 5 to 10 pieces a year- (if I’m lucky) not 250. And I’m open once a month for our local First Friday Art Walk. So my studio space/living room has to be totally cleaned up at least once a month for entertaining- because entertaining is a major part of who I am and what I’m creating/doing.

From: Joan Fenicle — Jun 11, 2010

I participate in a Studio Tour each spring, it guarantees that at least once a year my studio gets cleaned out and polished up for visitors. Since I also collect rocks, pieces of wood and old rusty objects I find on hikes, and a feral kitty shares my work space, this cleaning out process takes a lot of work! As artists, I think neat and orderly are not at the top of our list of virtues.

From: Cindy Mawle — Jun 11, 2010

Thankyou so much for this article! I am printing it off and posting it on my corkboard…(If I can find a clear space) I was feeling guilty about my mess, I know I need to tidy my studio more often, but whenever I attempt to start, I end up painting instead. Some things are just more important to me. It is great to know I am not alone!

From: Denise Bezanson — Jun 11, 2010

Never apologize for your studio, it’s normal as far as I’m concerned. I always enjoy visiting you and checking out all the paintings being started, finished or set aside. It’s the process that counts, and you are also productive. The clutter in your studio doesn’t bother you, or your work, and why should it. As far as I can see, it actually hasn’t changed much in the 14 years I’ve known you. Artists are allowed to have their own space. You forgot to mention your dog, wasn’t she around? Art grads haven’t had time to accumulate a mess in their own spaces.

From: Pat Cale — Jun 11, 2010

Hmmm – have any of these graduates seen pics of Francis Bacon’s studio I wonder. All smart business these days isn’t it – the antithesis of creativity.

From: Fay Lee — Jun 11, 2010

I’m so glad to hear that you aren’t a neatnik! A neat studio would be nice, but I like to have things out so I can see what I have available to work with. If an item is in the closet or in a drawer, I know it is someplace but then I have to spend time looking for them… time that I could use for painting.

From: Paul deMarrais — Jun 11, 2010

I recently had a few uninvited guests {by me!] visit my tiny, dark messy studio. It really bothered me that they were visiting. My studio is pathetic in studio terms, but its MY place to work. I guess it bothered me that these visitors would be assessing and judging me based on my studio. I hate that. You don’t get to visit Meryl Streep in the make up room, but folks think it’s very entertaining to visit an artists studio. They think you will be overjoyed to host them there, like it would be a big ego boost for you. Nothing could be farther than the truth for me. The way I choose to work is my own private business . I’ll show the finished products when they are ready. My studio is honest in that it reflects the struggle that is the artist life…….not the suburban dweller’s dream of the artist life. I’m a polite , likable person so I chatted amiably with my guests as they panned around to see the dry pigments, boxes, stacked up paintings and gear all over the floor etc. I like art making gear myself and feel comfortable among the clutter. These art students of yours should have come to the conclusion that the state of your studio would likely be their future….if they were really fortunate! I say long live the messy productive studio and the messy productive artist in there working! If I were you I’d curtail the visiting limousines with their spiffy riders. What’s with the stretch limo anyway!!! It would be a lot more real to see an old Subaru wagon like mine pull up. I’ve decided I don’t want any studio visitors. I wish they would go visit a plumber myself!

From: Janna Kumi — Jun 11, 2010

As always, your articles leave a lot behind to digest. As an old ‘newbie’ to art, I soak up others experiences and take what I can from them. You always give a lot, so I want to say ‘thank you’! Today’s episode on the messy studio made me laugh though. At last – something we have in common. As I cannot paint as well as you, its nice to know that in the art world as well as at the office, a neat desk is still considered a sign of a sick mind. My mind is still quite healthy as yours is I’m sure.

From: Susan Falk — Jun 11, 2010

I have a studio that sounds a lot like yours. A well loved work space. Thank you for your sharing on this. I’m not going to clean up….as a wise painter once told me…just paint!

From: Chris Bambrough — Jun 11, 2010

Love your post today on the messy studio. Fantastic. I have one third of our garage in just such a condition &, despite myself, I quite like it (!). Needless to say, my wife doesn’t, but then, it does keep her out, when I`m being messily creative!

From: Connie — Jun 11, 2010

I am an artist wanna be but my quilt studio resembles your art studio. I can find almost everything I need to construct a beautiful and utilitarian quilt in my space. I like being surrounded with my “stuff” Don’t worry …be happy!

From: Tim Tyler — Jun 11, 2010

I loved this one Robert and feel absolved. I tell people, well you can come in but my studio is messy. They’ll say, “oh that’s okay we don’t mind.” Then when they see it they are shocked and repulsed!

From: Laudine Borges — Jun 11, 2010

Having a neat studio takes time, lots of time. Usually priorities are about getting ideas on canvas. Preparing for company can take a week out of your creative schedule. It seems socially required, lest we end up on “that” television show.

From: Jan Kuschner — Jun 11, 2010

I firmly believe that if your studio is neat and clean, people will think you never work there. I have painted on my kitchen/studio wall, “A clean house is the sign of a dull woman.” I apply that to my studio too as it is at the end of my kitchen. I am a kitchen artist and have always been my happiest there. The problem is it’s near the food.

From: Neat — Jun 11, 2010

I took this letter as very funny until I read people’s comments calling people like me a freak and dull. In my long life I have met way more “messy freaks” than “neat freaks”. I like to put things away and I don’t have any thoughts or opinions about disorderly people, except that I prefer those who share the same sentiment about my type. I only call “messy freaks” the ones who call neat people “neat freaks” – as a return offense. Sorry, I can’t stand bullies of any type. It’s so easy to type an offense in an email or blog. It takes effort and skill to be funny and respectful at the same time. I have been judged many, many times because I am neat, don’t have pets and live alone. Some of my good friends are everything opposite and we enjoy wonderful friendships. Splitting people in a stupid way like this is not doing anyone any good, except that the few bullies who think they are on the “winning side of the day” are having their high. It’s time to chill out and stop sticking noses in neighbor’s dirty (or clean) laundry. For Robert – unless paintings are rotting in your studio, why should you care what anyone thinks. Visitors, schmisitors…they should be grateful that anyone is giving them personal attention in this day and age when everything is done through internet…

From: Shel Fullerton — Jun 11, 2010

There is so much clutter in my studio that if the sprinkler system were to go off it would be hours before water hit the floor. A visitor once asked me what the floor was made from. It’s oaken flooring board, but neither of us could see it. My significant other once said it was more chromatically interesting that your average pestilential hole. At any rate, work keeps pouring out of the room and finding its place in the world.

From: Marilyn from Ohio — Jun 11, 2010

I am so glad that I am not the only “messy studio” painter-artist. I love my own studio and do not clean it as often as needed. But, I know where everything is, including the nearly used paint tubes. Some have been cut open with snips to use the very last drop – which are thrown away after doing so. I have a chicken sign on my studio that reads: “Come on in, my day is ‘fowled up’ anyway.” In other words, I do not like to be disturbed while creating.

From: doris — Jun 11, 2010

I love this letter. On my wall is a sign that reads “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here”. Enough said.

From: Cathy Harville — Jun 11, 2010

My husband doesn’t understand why my studio is a mess! He is embarrassed to bring anyone into our home, because of my studio. Other people seem to embrace the mess of creativity, and I bet they wish they could get away with having such a carefree, liberating space, to do what you want, when you want, without the care of cleaning it all up. I have made attempts to straighten it up, but they are in vain. Ten minutes later, it is a mess again. Interestingly, my public studio is much neater. But I don’t do the full range of things in my public studio, like framing, and matting, and making cards.

From: Patricia Marie Spence — Jun 11, 2010

Oh I love you Robert. This completely cracked me up!!! Whatever you do do not change

From: Peggy Appleby — Jun 11, 2010

Your post today made me feel so much better. I keep cleaning and organizing and re-organizing my studio; but it seems that although the mess is not in the same place as last week, it is always a mess. Occasionally, it actually looks really good, but then I feel as if I shouldn’t paint at all because as soon as I do, it’s mess again. So, I try to quickly enjoy the cleaner (not clean) studio, and then get back to doing what I enjoy best. Are there really any neat artists? I’ll bet there are, but I don’t know any!

From: Mike Nichol — Jun 11, 2010

Thanks for clutter, when in doubt, rent a mobile bin… it removed my frustrations and transfered my plight onto my critics!

From: Alfred Muma — Jun 11, 2010

It’s so good to know I’m not the only artist with a messy studio. It makes a miraculous reformation the week before the Powell Rover Studio Tour. People can negotiate the isles around my 4’x16′ work table and look at the paintings hung on the walls with little sales tags. The table transforms into a display surface uncluttered of the usual straight edges, knives, paints, scraps of paper with ideas scrawled on them, the bits of left over wood from the last frame I made not to mention the numerous frames removed from the aisles, large cardboard for backing works on paper, paint cans, etc… It feels so good for those two days to have a neat studio. But it feels better to clutter it once again as I work.

From: Betty Covington — Jun 11, 2010

This letter today had me laughting ssooooooooooooooooooooo hard I felt like rolling all over the floor,,, You want to know why???? Well you have just discribed me in a Nutshel!!!! Many Thanks for this one,,,its a keeper

From: Janice Robinson-Delaney — Jun 11, 2010

Point well taken, clutter does not necessarily hinder (or not at all in your case) productivity, What would you say to an artist not interested in art students?

From: Ellen Mahon — Jun 11, 2010

Hi Robert, I loved this letter, it made me feel better about my own messy studio.

From: Bob Ragland — Jun 11, 2010
From: Nicole Lavoie — Jun 11, 2010

Today’s letter came right on time for me. Having a studio full of unfinished or substandard works as well as all the paraphernalia that piles up is exactly what I am living with right now. After having had a time of constructive creative work done, I seem to be having a hard time getting ideas together and the mess around me is specially hard to live with. How come I know so many artists who are so neat and on top of things? Thank you for sharing.

From: oliver — Jun 11, 2010

All good advice but at the end of the day it really comes down to can you help your self or are there is no other way to make it. Being an artist is the highest risk occupation I know of. The world is brutal on eliminating the weak ones and then time sorts out the weak and strong of the remaining. Just ok Dr’.s Lawyer’s, plumbers, electricians, engineers can make quite comfortable livings. A not immediately accepted artist can not. Then of course are the dedicated artists that were not well accepted in their time. Van Gogh of course comes to mind. Of course too are artists well accepted in their time and are not so well regarded many years later…. and then may be making a come back…. readers of this will recognize the pattern, those that are “artists” that don’t need to do a little art history learning. I’ll give a musical hint for one example though Christoph Bach vs Johann Bach ….. Kafka worked as a low level government worker for all or most of his lifetime. Monet was rejected for most of his life but at the end became part of the “salon” and an elder statesman of art. Neiman is a sensation in his own time, as is Johns and Stella. Who knows how the centuries will regard them. Heck in Texas they are trying (got it done?) to eliminate Thomas Jefferson in the public schools from an understanding of history, republican government and inspirational political writing ???????????? But such may be the judgments of history and the arts are long gone as educational requirements. Do Art f you must or if you can, but understand the risks and rewards.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jun 11, 2010

Your studio is just fine, what are you talking about!? There is no leftover food, discarded packaging, wildlife and dead bodies in it. The stuff that’s hanging around is normal studio stuff – stop thinking about it. People tease you because it’s kind of a funny thing that your paintings are so pristinely neat and you are just a normal, very casual guy. From some reason you are oversensitive to that topic, you should just laugh it off – it’s a cute thing. Same thing about your car (last time in Port Moody you didn’t let me got pick up books from it), forget about it, it’s fine!

From: Alice Morgan — Jun 11, 2010

I am so laughing out loud at your description of your studio. Are you sure you weren’t at my den/studio? You made my day! At least the only items I “hoard” are for use in collages though some people object to it. Too bad for them. Thanks for all the other times I didn’t reply with a Good Information.

From: Esther Marie Versch — Jun 11, 2010

Dear Robert , This made me laugh as I can relate it to my studio I accumulate objects from yard sales, thrift shops, Antique shops which I buy for my still life paintings and for use by my students I too have almost emtied tubes of paint because I too know there is one last sqeeze of paint left.! My research material is stacked in piles because at the time I think I am going to paint this then that thought slips my mind as I see another subject I want to paint but I dont want to file the photos or papers away because I may not remember what I wanted to paint in the first place !! I guess I am just not organized . We have 4 cats that own my husband and I so naturally they nap in my studio, When I do get people visiting my studio I take the cat fur covered covers off the couch and chair so they can sit if they like. I love my studio where I can relax paint and leave my stuff around and not have to put it away. because when I come into my studio I want to be motivated to paint ! Thank you for your letters to all of us artists I like your sense of humor!

From: Frances Stilwell — Jun 11, 2010

If you are feeling sensitive about life in general don’t open yourself up to criticism. We all have our down days when a breeze can knock us over. Meanwhile where is that thing you sign to prevent being kept on tubes? I can’t find that form anywhere today that I just saw last week?

From: Michele Hausman — Jun 11, 2010
From: Davis Manning — Jun 11, 2010

First, I love you guys and this twice weekly shot of encuragement. I don’t like to have my good paintings hanging around because I worry that I’ll never do anything that good again, and I don”t like to see the others because I get discuraged by their inferiority, and if I don’t have anything of mine exposed I I have to find somethig for encuragement. What is this all about? I get the insecurity part but what can I do about it?

From: Don Steele — Jun 11, 2010

Bob But in the end the I think old adage “ I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy !!” still holds sway , but maybe you are correct too much thinking ! But other than the suggested surgery (which is pretty extreme for us Sunday painters who need that other half of the brain Mon-Fri to put bread on the table) great cogent suggestions ! Regards Donald

From: John l Brown — Jun 12, 2010

Robert’s comments relating to the clutter in his studio surprisingly made me think of the William Blake quotation, “To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” I suspect many artist would indicate, if correctly, and sincerely questioned,that this quotation largely, if not completely, characterizes their reasons for exploring, and practicing an artistic discipline. Artistic clutter; the tools and products of creative endeavors may well represent elements that individually and collectively represent a personal and universal need to connect with the potential reality Blake alludes to. I am sure that my artistic clutter represents a sincere and personal effort to explore truth, beauty, and a higher, or deeper reality. I doubt my experience is unique. I don’t have any grains of sand, or flowers. I cannot actually see a world in a grain of sand. I would like to believe I see heaven in a wild flower. Or certainly a rose. Yet I claim a like reality, a like perception, but with different, and similar objects, as well as direct perception. Thus the so called clutter, awakens, and reminds the artist of that which constitutes the ground from which creativity, intentionality, and purpose, arise, and seek connection with a higher, or deeper purpose.

From: Dwight Williams — Jun 12, 2010

I find it interesting that messy studios generate nearly a record number of responses. More than some really weighty questions about art and its relationship to all of life. But my studio thought is: don’t reorganize your studio or shop. If you do, you’ll never find anything again.

From: Laurel McBrine — Jun 12, 2010

You mentioned your piles of almost empty paint tubes, which reminded me of one of my favorite studio tools – a metal device that gets every last bit of paint (or toothpaste) out of the tube. Every now and then I go through the house and squeeze down the contents of every middle squished tube I can find. Very satisfying. Sometimes this even leads to more tidying up, but not always.

From: Gayle Sleznick — Jun 12, 2010

Loved this one! Going to print it out and put it up on my wall. My reply is, “Nest building is a process of painting. Kicking rocks is a part of creativity.”

From: Sharon Knettell — Jun 12, 2010

In my studio you can expect to arrive in Outer Slobovia. As I look around my studio as it exists, I see a seated headless mannequin in a pink tutu, one arm raised, the other on her lap on a curley lavender doll wig. The computer area is dusted with papers falling off my printer. My beautiful pastel table supports a heap of assorted confusion. Every chair has a random ‘still life’ on them of dolls, books and brick-a-brack. I have parrot colored wigs everywhere festooned with ribbons and flowers and one forlon plant of unknown species sits by the window. My world.

From: Margot Clayton — Jun 12, 2010

Dear Robert, How delightful to hear your studio is in the same condition as mine. How I hope I don’t pass on before I get a chance to clean it out. Somehow there is always something more appealing to do. Always enjoy your writing.

From: Zalina L-A Barrington — Jun 12, 2010

But arent all us artist hoarders? I find that year by year or is that month by month there is less space here for any visitors & for me for that matter. It’s real hard to throw out stuff that might be useful one day.

From: Louise Ponti — Jun 12, 2010

I find that artists who are married to engineers are diametrically opposite in matters concerning “neatness”. Especially retired military only children!!! My husband and I have been married 48 years and I am not “compelled” to have order all the time. Happily enough, when the disarray gets over the top he is happy to help me straighten out my mess…. and life picks up again!

From: Margaret van Gurp — Jun 12, 2010

For many years I have read your letters and always found the contents very interesting. I also think you have a great sense of humour, I saw your paintings and love them all but you are too humble. You are a great artist as great as the group of seven were. These are my thoughts. Keep going , we need you. I have been painting since 1943 and am still at it.

From: Sharalee Regehr — Jun 12, 2010

Thanks for your letter Robert. If it is any consolation, my father had a plaque on his wall that read, “if the sign of a cluttered mind is a cluttered desk, what is the sign of an empty desk?” I can related to your letter and often wonder why I do not see the mess when I am in the middle of making it, but it is enormous when someone comes to visit. I do have question I hope you can address, how do you transition from one body and style of work to another? I do not know how to price it. I also do not know whether the clients I have worked with in the past will be interested in this new work. Can one have one gallery that represents one style and type of work and then different work in each gallery. Will people get confused? Although I have worked in a new style for this next show I have a show of the previous style in a few months. Am i asking for trouble? Maybe a cluttered desk is my problem.

From: Ann Hardy — Jun 12, 2010

Laugh out loud high-sterically. It was all too close to home!!! You are sooo loved. Hope you feel it radiating from all directions.

From: Tammy — Jun 12, 2010

This is hilarious, You think your studio is ok tell people come to visit, lol !! I loved it!!!

From: Claudia Hershman — Jun 12, 2010

I laughed out-loud when I read your letter today! I am a hoarder too, justified by “I might need it sometime’. I am also a visual learner, so that I have to keep things within eyesight or I forget about them! That can be a real problem, as many surfaces in my studio and house are covered with things to read, to think about, to do, to remember. (Thankfully my husband is very kind and tolerant.) I TRY to be organized, but it just doesn’t work. I AM organized, in my own way. I think we are born with a certain nature, and fighting it is hopeless. So, accept who you are, how you operate, and embrace it. I think our creativity is what makes us special, and if we change what we are, who knows what the dire results will be? Also, time is precious, and I would rather spend my time creating than cleaning and organizing,( I do reorganize when the frenzy strikes me) . Clean surfaces just beckon to be filled! When I applied the concept of “I might need it sometime” to some inventions my husband had in our garage, that he was taking to the trash, it earned him several thousand dollars. Someone called to buy several of these things a few years later, and he sold them all! I have to remind him of that when he gets cranky about what I save!! Also the younger generation seems to be very willing to toss out so much. I have been a recycler all my life, and our planet is better off when we try to reuse, re-purpose, and save. My unasked for advice is this: whoever is fortunate enough to come into your studio will accept it as is. Those substandard and unfinished paintings are just waiting to be under paintings for a wonderful new work. Forget the counseling and just enjoy who you are! I love your weekly letters!

From: Russ Hogger — Jun 12, 2010

Thank goodness for that. Before reading all these letters I thought I was the only artist with a squalid studio.

From: Len Fettig — Jun 13, 2010

Hello Glenn, I saw this letter you wrote, and at the bottom it asked that people comment on it. What a trivial piece of garbage is it that you are writing to other artists! You sound very depressed and in urgent need of some professional help before you commit suicide –or is it that what you are preparing yourself to do? Anyway, please DO NOT burden other new artists with your self pity and current lack of artistic drive that you have to mention your “sloth” and the mess you have made of your life. Are you not totally embarrassed that you would be seen in the light that you portrayed to these students who cam to see you? What a piece of garbage you are. Delete yourself from the Internet and wallow in your self pity and lack of creative drive but don’t waste other people’s time with your mindless, negative thoughts. Who wants to hear it? Nobody!! A disgusted and sorry-that-I-read-your-work, person.

From: Darla — Jun 13, 2010

Wow, where did that last letter come from? Shame on you, Robert — your studio is a mess. So what? Anyone who can sign 250 paintings a year and supply 15 galleries is doing excellently well! Maybe we should all try your method of studio organization. Like many of you, I’m not as neat as I should be in the studio, but that’s only a problem when it interferes with the studio’s function.

From: Ping — Jun 13, 2010

Oh Len Fettig Len Fettig Len Fettig, you are a twit. Do your research before you spouting off such twaddle. No no better still hold your breath until I tell you to breathe again, take a seat I won’t be back for a while.

From: Pele — Jun 14, 2010

I am very grateful for messy people, those that can’t find their supplies, have studios too close to the fridge and spend lot of time elaboarting how Vincent was made by his sister in law. Those people help the art market keep the prices or art supplies low.

From: Jan Ross — Jun 14, 2010

Perhaps this will sound odd, but I find I feel more comfortable cleaning my studio prior to starting a new painting. Once everything is where I can find it and the space is tidy, I begin but take no notice of the room’s condition until the work is complete. Scattered reference books, photos, paint tubes, rags and props as well as splatters of watercolor give the illusion of chaos. Yet i know where to find what I need. Despite familial complaints, of, “Don’t you EVER clean this place?”, I remind myself, the end justifies the means!

From: Margot Hattingh — Jun 15, 2010
From: Karen R. Phinney — Jun 15, 2010

Well, one thing is for sure….we are all different, even when we share many things in common! I laughed at the replies to some critical letters; and then there are those who are neatnics vs. those who aren’t……….hilarious and fun! The variety of life is wonderful, and keeps us stimulated. Wouldn’t it be dreadful if we were all the same!!??

From: Pat in NM — Jun 15, 2010

I once asked my cleaning lady if she’d like to help me clean up my studio… the look on her face was priceless. Needless to say I did not intend to let her try…. I have a small space, so when I get my stuff out it looks messy. I can step over and ignore lots more than I could when I was younger, I used to be a neatnick. But that does not apply to my studio. What needs to be in it’s place… IS in it’s place. It’s place is where I put it!!

From: joanna — Jun 15, 2010

I can work in a mess but once the work is completed I spend an hour or so cleaning and filing. Like another respondent, I feel I can start on a fresh work in a fresh environment. The ‘neatniks’ I know never seem to be able to get started on a project because 1] the place will be a mess if someone comes. 2] the picture/photo to be worked from is not perfect. 3] or, one of a number of other things isn’t right. You must be doing something right, so stay with the clutter and ignore those interlopers. What do they know lol.

From: K. Henderson — Jun 15, 2010

You described my studio to a T! And I don’t let anyone in.

From: Gavin Logan — Jun 16, 2010

There are some people who can’t seem to abide success in others, and these folks only sink further into losership. Mr Len Fettig appears to be one of them.

From: Robyn Warren — Jun 16, 2010

When I bought this house, the attic looked like the perfect studio space. The house is 85 ys old and at the time, being from California, I didn’t know that it was going to be a swelter in the summer and freezing during the winter. With my husband’s health declining, any plans for insulation and a basic remodel were put on hold. So I use this tiny little L-shaped office space upstairs. No matter how I configure it, it seems that I don’t exactly find comfort with the way the lighting comes through the window and how I can move around and also organize my art stuff. I’ve tried to do the best with what I have. The first few months of the year my husband was in bad shape… hospital, recovery, and unemployed. I tried to keep up my painting, but somehow it looks like a tornado blew threw here. Every weekend I have pure intention of getting everything back in the right places but I always find a reason not to attack it. I don’t feel well. It’s too hot. You know, it’s that creative mind that won’t get left-brained! So, it was quite amusing to hear about your mess. If I had someone pop their head in here, I would be quite embarrassed! Last weekend I gave myself a pat on the back for getting my desk cleaned off. Perhaps my drafting table will be next…

From: H. Flessner — Jun 17, 2010

Let us not forget that living is a mess is less efficient most of the time, and just because we are artists is no excuse to continue in that habit. Munich, Germany

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jun 18, 2010

I have a placard prominently posted on my studio wall: “Caution: Area Hazardous due to Complete Lack of Feng-shui.”


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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