When artists talk


Dear Artist,

Last weekend we hit the highway and pulled up to a storefront in a nearby coastal city. Inside sprawled an art space where a handful of artists mingled beneath a barrel ceiling lit to the hilt before taking their places for a panel discussion. The gallerist, prepared with notes and video, dangled questions about background, motivation and process while we cast our glances around the room at one another’s work.


“The Two Masks” 1926
oil painting by Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)

What a strange thing. What a U-turn from the outwardly silent, inwardly rambling monologue of the studio. Now, with the mic hot and camera rolling, I quietly wandered off in my mind to questions about the usefulness of five otherwise creative loners spending a Saturday afternoon verbally indulging themselves before a small crowd. Artists of all stripes understand that it may or may not be beneficial to talk about art, lest we muffle art’s own talking. Yet when invited, the chance to test the talk muscle is all but irresistible. “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt,” said industrialist and father of the Hoover Dam, Henry J. Kaiser. And yet there we were, polluting an elegant, art-hung room with our inadequate words.


“Mystery and Melancholy of a Street” 1914 oil painting
by Giorgio de Chirico

I noticed that artists with backgrounds in teaching were the most natural communicators; generous sharers of enthusiasm, unafraid to divulge inspirational discoveries or trail off spontaneously while thinking aloud. They mostly steered clear of academic credentials, $20 words and self-seriousness and instead jazzed with an appreciation for the infinite and humbling creative universe in which we were all stealing bliss. Microcosmic painting processes were described and revelled in — important, relevant and okay to spend time with. The choir nodded and, for a brief period, all seemed right in the world. And while, as Jean Cocteau announced, “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture,” initially alone in my private toil of technique and purpose, I soon, once again, felt connected to a greater, noble, human plodding.


“Mercury’s Meditation” c.1973
painting by Giorgio de Chirico



PS: “We are a very, very unusual species.” (Richard Dawkins)

“To restore silence is the role of objects.” (Samuel Beckett)

Esoterica: The son of a woodworker and craftswoman, an ex-patriot, ex-Realist and the wife of a Doctor of Philosophy, a mother, metalworker and would-be curator, a schoolteacher — working artists are summoned from the bodies and imaginations of those with the drive to roll up their sleeves and create. “The human heart has hidden treasures, / In secret kept, in silence sealed; / The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures, / Whose charms were broken if revealed.” (Charlotte Bronte)


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” (Sir Francis Bacon)




  1. Mary Gayle Selfridge on

    It is my belief our art reveals inner secrets we express with brush and paint. Difficult to divulge except through the painting rather than dialogue and words.

  2. please

    by Stuart Haden , added 9th February 2018

    please do as you please.

    breathe in or breathe out.

    choose or refuse, leave no doubt.

    what you take in, what you give out

    is up to you and what you do.

    hard, soft or blue?

    make up your mind

    and you will find

    what you choose is up to you.

    what you hear, feel, touch, taste and see

    makes you what you are and what you will be.

    you came from the womb.

    live now as if you’ll die soon.

    cocooned, what is your dream?

    it’s your will.


    • Stuart, I love your poem or statement. It says all that is necessary to say. And Sara, after a life time of making art and teaching others how to make art, your chance encounter reminds me of how I loathe writing artist statements.

      Joseph Melançon

  3. We are a strange species for sure , and artists are even stranger .we pour our inner feelings onto a canvas or whatever your medium . this crazy world needs us dreamers .Somethings cannot be explained in words . Great letter

  4. And yet artist’s are asked to provide “statements” about their work, whether an entire oeuvre or an individual piece. For me, it’s a nearly impossible task; anything else but that.

  5. Art blossoms in communities that support the individuals who create art. Galleries, critics, professors with MFAs, etc. are not part of the environment where art is born and thrives. They merely market what they like. Stay true to your work. Keep seeking. Art is born through the individual being genuine.

  6. Recently I’ve been bombarded with young artists who will endlessly hold forth on the significance of their art. Apparently the art itself doesn’t do the job and requires interpretation. Perhaps the new movement is words and images together. In any case, these makers are boring me to pieces.

  7. I would love to purchase and download the audio letters. Are the narrated letters not available to amazon.ca prime customers? It won’t allow me to purchase. Please advise. Thank you kindly

  8. If it looks like duality- I’m both. I believe one’s art should be (whatever) good enough that it can be appreciated by (almost) anyone without commentary. A visceral reactive *I can’t stand that* may be as good as an *I can’t live without that* swoon. If your art can’t communicate on its own (without you) you haven’t found your voice and you haven’t given your art work its own voice either.
    But as I’m a working fiber artist- being able to speak intelligently about my self-taught background/process and inspiration ends up being very helpful in helping the uninitiated unwashed masses (sarcasm) to understand what I’m doing and the why/where&how of what I’m doing. And unfortunately- I believe all artists should be able to speak about their work. I think it’s both healthy and valuable for all involved parties- artists included.
    Last night was the opening reception of SideKicks- a joint member/friend invitational at Spark Gallery in Denver. I’ve a brand new piece hanging with one of the members- and I spent the evening chatting it up with all my alternative artist friends.
    Do good. Do both. Descriptive words are as cool as the visual art is…

  9. It seems to me that there is a difference between “explaining” your work of art and discussing it with others or answering their questions.
    Actually, a lot of difference. I like getting comments and questions about my work. But when I am asked to “explain” it, it feels like they mean “what in the world is it!” I turn it around and ask them a question.

  10. Too much talking, not enough doing? I wonder about that sometimes. Social media has given artists a platform to communicate daily about their work. Easy to fall into that pattern. . .I’ve often laughed at the supposed “explanation” behind works, when the artist will absolutely confirm in private there was NO meaning! Eye of the beholder and their imagination at work! :-)

  11. United States About Channel – Thanks for visiting my watercolor painting channel! I’m Jennifer Branch, a professional artist who has made my living painting for over 20 years. I’ve taught painting workshops internationally for 20 years. Everything you need to know about watercolor painting is here.

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Featured Workshop

March 11, 2018 to March 17, 2018

Julia-Morgan_Jump,Float,Fly Come to Taos to paint, draw and write with a group of artists interested in deepening their vision and skills. Stay at the iconic Mabel Dodge Luhan House, a place where artists and writers have been gathering for nearly a century.


Artist and Instructor Julia Morgan will teach how to transform sketchbook pages with watercolor and drawing techniques that tell stories of vast and ever-changing skies, adobe dwellings nestled in cottonwood groves, red mesas along the horizon, the colored striations of cliffs, and the winding canyon carved by the Rio Grande.


All levels of art experience are welcome.




https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Zidonja_Magnolia-Joy-wpcf_300x217.jpgMagnolia Joy
11 x 14

Featured Artist

I am a self taught artist, I work in oil, Acrylic and watercolour also in Pastels. Started painting In Ashcroft with Mr. Campbell. I taught my self how to paint by studying professional artists’ work through reading, TV programs, educational DVD and work shops.


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