Who you know


Dear Artist,

Recent studies of more than 5,000 people by social scientists Dr. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler show that happiness is contagious. The happy people you know are party to your own happiness. Moreover, the happy people you do not know and will never meet also have an influence on your happiness. Just like the guy who catches the cold from the guy who catches the cold, happiness (or misery) is epidemic.

October Gold, Yoho, c. 2011 Acrylic on canvas 12 x 16 inches by Robert Genn (1936 - 2013)

October Gold, Yoho, c. 2011
Acrylic on canvas
12 x 16 inches
by Robert Genn (1936 – 2013)

It’s been observed for some time that if a person has a lot of obese friends, they themselves are at a higher risk of obesity. Smokers hang out with smokers, glue sniffers with glue sniffers, etc. It doesn’t take a big leap of faith to see that an artist who hangs out with mediocre artists is more likely to be mediocre.

Conversely, an artist who is attached to artists with high standards and professional ways is more likely to become one of them. In my ideal world, all the “friends” who read my letters would somehow seek the higher ground, identify with and learn from the better artists out there, and become the truly great artists I know they can become. But I also know this is wishful thinking. Many happy campers will always be contented to go with the comfortable crowd.

Yoho Contraluz, c. 2012 Acrylic on canvas 16 x 20 inches by Robert Genn

Yoho Contraluz, c. 2012
Acrylic on canvas
16 x 20 inches
by Robert Genn

In my ideal world, artists would be rugged individualists with impeccable standards and would not allow mediocrity to transgress their doorsteps. They might keep the company of their favoured greats through the miracle of books. That’s the short answer. The longer one is to establish relationships with admired others who walk the walk. For those who desire to put themselves on the path to growth, the wisdom to choose true authority is the bottom line of progress.

A reasonable route is to know a lot of informed and gifted mentors and to balance them against one another, as in the recently mentioned smARTist telesummit. Hanging out with informed people makes it more likely that you yourself will become informed. But sooner or later, no matter who you know, you have to go to your room and reinvent yourself in your own glory. It can be a bit lonely struggling in your room, but by that time you’re less likely to catch a cold.

Kettle Drum Point, Yoho, c. 2011 Acrylic on canvas 11 x 14 inches by Robert Genn

Kettle Drum Point, Yoho, c. 2011
Acrylic on canvas
11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn

Best regards,


PS: “We have a collective identity that transcends individual identity.” (Dr. Nicholas Christakis)

Esoterica: Collective identities can build empires as well as destroy them. A collective is just as apt to close minds as to open them. Struggling on your own, thinking things out for yourself and being a rugged individualist works just fine for many artists. But it doesn’t work for doctors, engineers or architects, so why would it work for other professionals who require knowledge, skill and practice? In the arts, before we jump we need to stand — however briefly — on the shoulders of others.

This letter was originally published as “Who you know on December 23, 2008.

Late Light, Mount Huber, Yoho National Park, c. 2012 Acrylic on canvas 11 x 14 inches by Robert Genn

Late Light, Mount Huber, Yoho National Park, c. 2012
Acrylic on canvas
11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn

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“Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.” (Virginia Woolf)





  1. Amen. Thank you Sara for revisiting this wonderful story from your remarkable father. He was an excellent example of an existence. You, Sara, are a excellent example of an existence. I wish you, Peter & the entire Genn family a Merry Christmas , and all the very best in 2022. I’d like to take this time to wish each and everyone reading a Merry Christmas , and all the very best in 2022.

    As always, love is the way,

    Miles Patrick Yohnke


    • Thank you sooo much for this spectacular writing! So positive and comforting as we struggle though challenging times! I always loved visiting your dad and it brings back thoughts of my dad, so special!! All the best to you and yours, have a wonderful Christmas!
      Barbie Newton

  2. Thank you so much, Sara, for these wonderful columns from your father and you! They inspire and give us a hearty hunk of knowledge to ponder, take with us and grow our futures. Most people are not willing to push beyond perceived boundaries, but you and your father encourage each and every one of us to leap and to take that extra step. Courage leads to soaring! Merry Christmas to you and your family and a very Happy New Year 2022.

  3. You are so right. I had a relationship with an unhappy person years ago and friends told me I had an unhappy expression always. Then they started saying something has changed in your life – my expression – and it was when I started a new relationship with a jovial being. It is definitely transmissible, to use a presently common phrase. But it influenced by drawing and art as well. I seem to do less when happy.

  4. I love this line – “ In the arts, before we jump we need to stand — however briefly — on the shoulders of others.” and I love these particular paintings by Robert. This notion of becoming familiar with the best in our field and finding mentors (dead or alive) whose character we can emulate and create a sound base of strength and integrity to inform our work is so important, just as important as going to our room and reinventing ourselves (which made me giggle with its oddly familiar truth). I like to think of this newsletter, these connections with Robert and Sara and this community of people who comment as being one of those worthwhile places to bring out the very best I have to offer. All the best of the Holiday Season and sending light on this day of Winter Solstice.

  5. “Doing less (in your art ) when happy”, the final comment of Ben, (above), has always intrigued me. It seems all the huge players ,like Van Gogh, Munch, just about all the early Expressionists, Virginia Woolf, even Picasso, to name a few, seemed to have lived tortured, emotional lives. To the point where, in counting all the most successful artists, it would seem that to achieve the most success in your art form, you can’t be happy…well, not most of the time. One needs to lead a tortured life in order to reach the heights of the accomplished and renowned.
    I do enjoy “the Painter’s Keys”. Each letter is received like the gift of a little jewel. Merry Christmas.
    Marjorie Moeser

    • Deirdre Ní Argáin on

      I too paused at the idea that we do less when happy. My life is very challenging at the moment and sad as I am caring for loved ones who are in poor health. But my creative life is at its richest ! I’m drawn to the studio in my precious free time and am making more art than when I had more time. I’m getting older myself too so maybe it’s the wisdom of age !

  6. Thanks so much, dear Sara, for sharing your father’s wisdom, and for your forward walking with your artful insights. I deeply appreciate the work you are doing with “the Painters Keys”! May your holiday celebrations be filled with love & light, and the New Year bring you joy and tantalizing discoveries! ~ Loi Eberle

  7. I can see a direct line between this letter and your ‘Genius-mobile’ from a while back. Surrounding yourself with genius (and happiness) is such a platform from which to grow. Happy holidays to you and your family Sara, and to ‘the letters’ community as well!

  8. Thank you very much, Sara, for continuing to share your father’s legacy. And thank you as well for sharing your own insights to the brotherhood and sisterhood of the art community of The Painter’s Keys. I wish you and Peter and the Genn family a peaceful and safe Christmas and a New Year of bountiful blessings.

    • Dear Sara and to those who responded before me today. Each message held my own thoughts and feelings. Thank you all and most of all to Sara for sharing this message from your dad and these wonderous paintings that I love.

  9. Hi, Sara! Thought-provoking ideas about the company we keep, and it’s also always nice to see your father’s paintings alongside his words. Found myself in a funk this weekend about Omicron holiday ramifications, and decided to turn some happy music on and sing along at the top of my lungs. After about 90 minutes, it worked. The holidays will be probably harder for you this year with the loss of your mother, but I hope you still find some joy and meaningful moments. Happy Holidays, and thank you for continuing to publish this blog.

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https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Wild-roses-wpcf_300x300.jpgWild Roses
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches

Featured Artist

All of my paintings are an exploration – either representational of people and nature or non-representational  work that explores bits of poetry and always, nature. 

I work in acrylic for non-representational work and oil for the representational paintings. 

I find that the more connected I am to the content, the more successful the painting seems to be.  Content comes from family, from my love of nature from travel and reading. 


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