Wild places

Dear Artist, Patagonia is well known for its condors, but it also has lapwings. These large plovers are seen on mountain pastures and fallow fields. They make a loud, scolding cry when you get too close. I used to see them often when we lived in Spain. At one time I found one with a broken wing and took it to the local “veterinario.” More familiar with fixing horses than birds, he told me I was “loco” but put a splint on the wing anyway. I kept the bird for a week before releasing it to an unknown future.

Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chillensis)

These South American lapwings migrate. Passages to Bolivia and Brazil cause them no problem. Through the defiles of the Andes they come and go from Chile. Whenever I’m in a lineup for airport security, customs, or immigration, I wish for a similar blessing for humanity. The borderlessness of our world is most evident in wild places. Nature spreads herself in all manner of variety and helps us to grasp her unity. The tumbling tumbleweed knows no borders. Artists have a wisdom and a contribution to make that politicians can only dream of. By honouring our world we speak to the universality of our mother earth. Sure, there are differences in fauna and flora, but one side of a leaf is generally lit and the other side’s in shade. The laws of composition are similar whether you’re in the USA or the former USSR. Artists understand that standards of quality transcend the nation states. We can only hope that artistic licence and freedom of expression will eventually find their way to the earth’s dark corners. Not only nature binds our world but also those among us who inadvertently or on purpose are able to share their magic. Understanding the nature of creative exhibitionism, we artists are hard wired for it. Further, art is not only in us, it’s inevitable. Social scientists tell us our type of work is its own “intrinsic reward.” That is, art can have no need or purpose other than the satisfaction it gives to the maker. Because of this quirk in human nature, art is viral. It has to be. Like the lapwing and the soaring condor, art goes where it pleases.

Working on metric configured canvases
I cropped 40 x 50 cms to an 11 x 14 inches and a 6 x 9 inches and removed them from the stretchers to finish at home. This is Lago Espejo in the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.

Best regards, Robert PS: “I am a citizen of the world.” (Diogenes) “My country is the earth.” (Eugene V. Debs) Esoterica: One of the regrets of my life is that I have not paid enough attention to geology. Argentina has a lot of it. Getting brushes around some of these colours and forms has proved to be a challenge. Sometimes the designs and shapes are hard to believe. Also, I’m learning to put more drama into my work. These ragged peaks seem to be at continual war with their weather. Incidentally, Argentine acrylics, called “Alba acrylico”(Alba also makes “oleo”), flow beautifully and are fully saturated. I’m bringing some of them home — if I can get them through customs.   Mysteries made real by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

oil painting
by Rick Rotante

You hit a nerve with me when you said “…our type of work is its own “intrinsic reward.” Art has not only shaped our world, it has brought us into the light of understanding. When cavemen created works they were trying to bring light and understanding to a very hostile and unknown world which threatened their very existence. By drawing the images of the things they feared, they — in a sense — were conquering those fears. Artists since explain the world by representation and duplication. It is not only emotionally satisfying, it makes concrete the world around us. When we make a drawing or painting, we make real those mysteries of nature that often elude us. It’s the same concept as touching is believing. If I can get my mind around it by making it real, I overcome it and make it mine. There are 2 comments for Mysteries made real by Rick Rotante
From: suzanne jensen — Feb 03, 2012

powerful painting thank you

From: Sarah — Feb 03, 2012

your painting is so powerful and poignant — very moving. You just keep getting better.

  Art is subjective by Andrea Pottyondy, Fall River, NS, Canada  

“Conga Line”
oil painting, 36 x 36 inches
by Andrea Pottyondy

Art is subjective… I am also a docent at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and have learned not to judge art but to experience it in its many variations. You might want to banish some but I think it would be a shame if we all followed the rules or painted alike. As for politicians, seems you have a thing against them… I know many honourable ones that work hard to make Canada better. Some are even artists!       Lapwings north and south by Doug Pollard, Victoria, BC, Canada  

“Trout River Gulch”
watercolour, 11 x 15 inches
by Doug Pollard

Thank you for sharing your experiences in Patagonia, especially your observations on lapwings. These handsome birds conjure images of earlier days in England where small clouds of lapwings were a common sight across lush green fields. Your note prompted me to look into the relationship between the European birds and those you describe in Patagonia. These are separate species, the northern and the southern peewit respectively. There are about two dozen species worldwide of the genus whose lovely name, Vanellus, is derived from the Latin for “little fan” — such an apt metaphor for those bits of white tossed about in the breeze.   Icelandic wonders by John A. Scott, Traverse City, MI, USA  


The next time your seven league boots need a workout, head to Iceland. It is entirely volcanic and, while the colors are limited to reds, blacks, tans and greens of vegetation, they are spectacular. Plus, there are more waterfalls than you can count. Add to that geysers and mudpots and steam vents. There are also beautiful friendly people who mostly speak English and fix great food, again limited but very, very tasty. Expensive to get there but not so bad when you are there. The currency is at first an absolute mystery. You can also buy duty free liquor in the airport coming in!     No artist can resist going there by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA  

watercolour painting
by Brenda Behr

You exalt art to a place that no artist can resist going, or at least try to go. Is that why, against all odds, I continue to paint? Is it that important that my voice be heard, or is it just me who needs to hear it? Like the birds you mention, and like you and the myriad of artists fortunate enough to travel, my dream is to travel (and paint). Here is my prayer: Dear Lord, Unburden me from earthly treasures that weigh me down; leave me only my brushes, paint, and transportation, and set me free. Above all, give me the skills to communicate through the Universal language of art. There is 1 comment for No artist can resist going there by Brenda Behr
From: Lanie Frick — Feb 03, 2012

Love your prayer.

  The reason to create? by Betty Billups, Sandpoint, ID, USA  

“Evening Interlude”
oil painting, 36 x 24 inches
by Betty Billups

Dealing with your desire to help “a wild thing” …yours dealt with perhaps a “more important” “life” …that of your Lapwing. I, also, connect to nature, but perhaps “lower” than the average. I have a live mouse trap, set in my house… Living in the country, there always seems to be one mouse that gets into my house. A few weeks back, I finally caught one, after trying to for over 3 weeks! Smart little guy! Well, I have a small aquarium, and tossed in some ponderosa pine needles, have added torn soft rags, a toilet paper roll, a bowl of water, bowl of sunflower seeds, and a mixed blend of other stuff, and a “run wheel.” It is amazing to find how many ways this little guy can rearrange its living area!! Now, onto the reason I chose to respond: to respond to your “reason” to create: “That is, art can have no need or purpose other than the satisfaction it gives to the maker.” Well, I choose to disagree. Yes, to the satisfaction of being true to oneself! Yes to creating, to satisfy oneself, through whichever way we choose to respond to this creativity that flows through our veins… But No, to the idea that this is the only reason to express ourselves! To me, all things in life deal with communication! We can do this through our silence. We can do this through our actions, we can do this through as many means as there are choices. There is a deeper reason to express ourselves: just as the author’s “journey” is complete when his words are read and possibly taken to heart. For the visual artist, merely creating anything is not the end. Without the creation being enjoyed, shared, observed, it would be like an orator standing in an empty room talking to himself! We are on this earth to not only discover our own “voice,” but to share what we have discovered with others, and thus enhance what our world has always given to everyone: Awesomeness!! But Yes, to your statement, “Like the lapwing and the soaring condor, art goes where it pleases.” Yes, it does take an “open soul” to “hear and appreciate the message”! There are 3 comments for The reason to create? by Betty Billups
From: Sheila Minifie — Feb 03, 2012

Your statement really touched me.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Feb 03, 2012

“Without the creation being enjoyed, shared, observed, it would be like an orator standing in an empty room talking to himself!” This is so true. Connecting with others is one of the best feelings in the world … and through what we have created, makes it even better. It erases all barriers! Thanks, Betty, I enjoyed reading all that you said.

From: Damar Minyak — Feb 05, 2012
  A dream come true by Hope Hebert, Lafayette, LA, USA  

“Love and happiness”
original painting, 24 x 24 inches
by Hope Hebert

Because of your Painter’s Keys web site and allowing me to be one of your premium artists, many doors have opened up for me. This has been a dream come true. As you know, people from all over the world view your site. You do awesome work to help artists and I love reading your twice-weekly letters.       There is 1 comment for A dream come true by Hope Hebert
From: Sheila Minifie — Feb 03, 2012

Love your painting.

  The value of curiosity by Andrew Coleman, Sheffield, UK   Robert mentions regretting not paying enough attention to geology. As a university student in the writing and literature disciplines, I have come to realize that an extreme sense of curiosity for all things is a strong basis for future success. I’m sure this applies to the visual arts, as well. One could fill notebooks with noticed items, poses, human interactions and physical objects, but more than anything it’s an acquired habit that one starts to carry around automatically. In this school there are those who take the time — and the delight — to acquire the habit, and others who do not. I cannot predict the future of my fellow students, but it seems to me that what looks like innate curiosity is probably one of the main predictors of future thriving.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Wild places

From: Betty J. Billups — Jan 31, 2012

P.S. to my statement above: In the late ’70s and early ’80s, every gallery I approached had the same comment: “If you were just tighter, we would be interested in handling your work.” During those early years, I remember doing ONE really photo-tight painting…when I got thru, I was totally bored out of my gourd! From that point on, I worked on my brush stroke, how the paint laid on the surface, how to deliver a brush stroke, to get the MOST out of the delivery…thus allowing the colors and brush stroke be able to stand on it’s own, not merely “rendering” the image I was looking at. THIS ALSO, is very important: being true to yourself! Being true to how YOU SEE THE WORLD, and how YOU WANT TO EXPRESS that observation. For those early years, I opted NOT to be represented by these galleries, than to change and become a tighter artist… it was more important to me, like the age old quote: “to thine own self, be true.” AND each artist, needs to find “their hot spot”… and express that, better than anyone they know! And if you do, regardless of how “life” accepts you, your life will be fulfilled!

From: Victoria Alexander — Feb 01, 2012

Just a note about taking paints through customs. Tell them what you have before it goes through the xray. I got dragged to one side and grilled at a border crossing. I had a big packet of watercolour paints and in the xray they looked just like a round of high caliber bullets.

From: Gins V. O. Doolittle — Feb 01, 2012

A Priceless Piece — magnificent wish for anyone being hatched, matched or dispatched. To soar and go where you please.

From: Eugene Kovacs — Feb 01, 2012

I am floating like a dust in the universe and wonder if I can be wise like Socrates and have a place in our society.

From: Marilyn Wheeler Pease — Feb 01, 2012
From: Sue Rombach Kelly — Feb 01, 2012

Loved this one…I’m sending it to my “closet” artist/mechanic nephew! Just put those tubes into your checked baggage…if the tubes come packed in a box and you’re not the first in line all the better. I once brought home a suitcase full of ceramic tiles from England that was checked, before I checked it through, and there was no problem..they didn’t even ask for the sales slip.

From: Claudia — Feb 01, 2012

Thank you for sharing your beautiful mind with us..on such a regular basis.

From: Elsha Leventis — Feb 01, 2012

Thank you for the eloquent reminder that being an artist is intrinsically satisfying. Sounds like you are enjoying your trip.

From: Catherine Stock — Feb 01, 2012

“That is, art can have no need or purpose other than the satisfaction it gives to the maker.” Its taken me almost 60 years to get that.

From: Clif Dawson — Feb 01, 2012

Instead of attempting to get those paints through customs, why not mail them to yourself?

From: Diane Kramer Arenberg — Feb 01, 2012

I just thought you would like to see my “studio dog” that I got from the shelter a few days after your letter about studio dogs….see Priscilla video on my wall. I can’t thank you enough for planting that seed! What joy!

From: Damar Minyak — Feb 02, 2012
From: Jackie Knott — Feb 02, 2012

I would love to revisit the problems of flying with oil paints and the artist traveler – what works and what doesn’t, what arguments one presents to Homeland Security when you insist your oil paints are made from safflower oil and they think your alizarin crimson is ripe for some type of nefarious device. At times it is easier just to buy the smallest tube possible at your destination and toss it as you leave. Annoying and costly.

From: Damar — Feb 02, 2012

Robert, I must compliment you and your staff. Good job, adding the link above to the Lauder exhibition.

From: Linda Menke — Feb 02, 2012

Thanks, Damar, for sharing the information on the exhibition. It’s great to see what my Alma Mater is doing.

From: Damar — Feb 03, 2012

Linda Menke ? You would not perhaps be one of the Menke girls, from back in the old “hippie days” of the early 70’s. Do you remember the Teehaus crowd, incl Peg’s daughter, Pam, who married Jerry ? If so, I’m Jerry. We’re back in town, after a lifetime of roaming the countryside. I still have a piece of pottery Joy made for me ! If you’re one of the Menke sisters, get my email address from Robert, and contact me. (Robert, please let her have my contact info. Thanks… ) ~DM

From: J McSporran — Feb 03, 2012

with regardd to mysteries made real: how can you possibly know why cavepeople made paintings? I don’t even know why I make art. Or why I don’t make more. Sometimes the art is in seeing it and there is no reason to reproduce it. Sometimes there is a need to slide down a line ro eb and flow with shades in colour. Sometimes it’s the best way of explaining something to someone else. Sometimes it’s because people say I am good at it and should do it more. Sometimes its a gift because someone else likes the way I can do is even if I am not invested in it myself. Sometimes it’s a way to quiet that part of my brain so I can listen to what someone is saying to me. Sometimes it’s just plain fun. There are millions of reasons for making art. Lets stop being so presumptious. We really have no idea what was going through the mind of the artist who painted in caves. Years of studying anthropology has made it clear to me that even when you try you can’t look at the world without shades of your own culture inhibiting your view. I prefer rose coloured cultural glasses myself. And don’t even begin on what makes Good art. Maybe it’s all in the mental flexibility of the observer.

From: Jennifer Depencier — Feb 03, 2012

Some day’s it’s hard to get motivated so I’ve always found it helpful to receive positive and inspirational newsletters from artists who are willing to share like Robert Genn.

From: Terrece Crawford — Feb 03, 2012

Your letters are so inspirational and encourage me to paint and be the painter and artist I am supposed to be–“me!” Learning from the great masters and from my contemporaries is important and I would like to participate in some kind of art travel experience. I agree that art is within us so deeply because God created the world and He is the greatest artist. It is cool to think that the world is God’s canvas and each morning He paints the world and each evening He paints the sunset and gorgeous colors in the sky, and everywhere in nature.

     Featured Workshop: Donna Dickson
020312_robert-genn Donna Dickson workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Waters Rush, Rocks Stand Firm

oil painting by Dianne Mize, USA

  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 Clif Dawson who wrote, “Instead of attempting to get those paints through customs, why not mail them to yourself?” And also Victoria Alexander who wrote, “Tell customs what you have before it goes through the x-ray. I got dragged to one side and grilled at a border crossing. I had a big packet of watercolour paints and in the x-ray they looked just like a round of high caliber bullets.”    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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