Winners and losers


Dear Artist,

Up here in Canada, some people think the government should be regulating the names we pick for our kids. It has come to their attention that oddball names may have a detrimental effect on proper development. There was a case, for example, where a couple named their firstborn “Loser.” Loser was followed by another boy they named “Winner.” Funnily, it was Winner who grew up to be a beer-drinking layabout, and Loser is currently, by all reports, making big bucks as a stockbroker.

Then there’s the case of Benson W. Hedges III. With both dad and grandpa oozing success from every pore, little Benny felt so much pressure that he smoked his lungs out.

Winning in our game can mean jumping on the daily carousel of satisfaction, regular trips to the bank, or both.

I’ve spent a lifetime just trying to figure out what it is that makes artists winners. Raw talent counts, but it certainly isn’t everything. Hard work and quality art are right up there, but there are other factors.

One of them is the ability to develop parallel human relationships — finding and featuring others with complementary personalities and who are equally passionate. These are the folks we need to hook up with. Because our precious creative egos hang so closely to our art, it can be difficult for some to let go, join in the fray, and truly share. “Winners,” says Joe Blodgett, “have friends.”

Then there’s the “stripe factor.” Skunks can change their stripes. Every winner I’ve ever known was capable of change. They knew they could change. They knew they could get better. They became students of their own processes. To do otherwise was just too hard to take.

It doesn’t matter what your name is. Up here in Canada we have a bunch of winning artists whose name is Smith: Gordon Smith, Betty Smith, Keith Smith, etc. Then there’s the case of Larry Bracegirdle. A lot of people want to get a Bracegirdle. Larry, like the others, is dedicated to the daily play of process. “Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing.” (William Shakespeare)

Best regards,


PS: “In order to win, we pay with energy and effort and discipline. If we lose, we pay in disappointment, discontent, and lack of fulfillment.” (Maya Angelou)

Esoterica: When I was in art school, there was a kid who was at first so bad, everybody snickered. After graduation he soon became art director of one of the world’s largest ad agencies. I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in workshops. Some hopeless beginner will come in, fight the frustration, and emerge looking pretty good. It’s not just their attitude that changes. They begin to see how facility and a sense of purpose go hand in hand. They don’t even have to change their names. “When it comes to winning, you need the skill and the will.” (Frank Tyger)


Name as handicap
by Elihu Edelson, Tyler, TX, USA

So, was van Gogh a winner or a loser? — When I was a little kid, some smart-ass friend of my parents called me “the boy with the handicap” because of my uncommon first name. Later I learned that it was from the Hebrew name of Elijah (Eliahu) the prophet. As an adult I enjoy having a prophet complex. Van Gogh signed his paintings “Vincent” because the French couldn’t pronounce the guttural “Chuch.” (Incidentally, chochma in Hebrew means “wisdom.”)


by Linda from Facebook

In Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he speaks of “Five dimensions of Win/Win.” High courage and consideration are both essentials in winning. He then discusses the three essential character traits required in the Win/Win paradigm. A helpful and insightful read.


What’s in a name?
by Fleta Monaghan, Asheville, NC, USA


“Periwinkle Storm”
oil painting, 32 x 32 inches
by Fleta Monaghan

A name can make a difference these days, in ways we did not imagine as kids, at least us older artists. I was named after my grandmother, and always wished for a more conventional name as a young person. Now however, I’m so delighted with the name Fleta. For one thing, it is distinctive and unusual, a good thing for an artist, as we do want folks to remember us by name! And, with the Internet, it is pretty handy too. Just google “Fleta” and there I am on the first page (right below the Federal Law Enforcement Training Accreditation!). My first name makes it easy for folks to remember me by name after meeting or when reading something in the press, and they can find me on the Internet too. Who would have thought.

As to being a real winner, names aside, you hit the nail on the head with the thoughts of being a student of your own process. Always defining yourself as a student, and always refining and reinventing your process is what makes us grow and get better and better at what we do. It is what makes being an artist fun too.


Hard work
by Elsa Bluethner, Sunshine Hills, BC, Canada


“Patterns of Low Tide”
oil painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Elsa Bluethner

Perhaps a person with the name “Winner” feels he is entitled as the name implies, whereas “Loser” needs to prove himself by defying the laws of the negative connotations attached to his name. When I was in CEGEP in Montreal, I attended the Fine Arts program and lasted one semester. I was told by my teachers that I had talent (which was a blessing since I did not have support in the home and had nowhere to do my work). The downside was that since I could not figure out how to put in the time, I failed, and finally was expelled from the program. I felt that since I had talent, I should have been allowed to stay and should have passed with flying colours.

I went on to fashion school 6 years later and excelled — except in drawing. The instructors told me I had “talent” and wanted to see some improvement. Again I believed since I could draw the best in the class I should have the highest mark. This was not to be. I finally decided to look at the work of the students getting the A’s and realized they were putting in a lot of time doing the work. I proceeded to do the same and try harder; my drawings improved, and my teachers took notice. Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.


What is success?
by Caroline Simmill, Morayshire, Scotland


“To regions solitary”
watercolour painting, 11 x 8 inches
by Caroline Simmill

A lot depends on what you want your art to be. Some artists may want commercial success, so it is important to learn your painting and drawing skills very well. You learn to market your work, which is not easy as I don’t remember that being taught to artists at art school. Most important, you need to learn how to network, and this is fun as you get to meet new people and some important feedback on your artwork.

There are a great many artists who see their art as a personal expression. They may also wish to paint subjects that interest them and are not of interest to those who buy art. Can we really deem success by how many paintings an artist sells in their painting life? If you need to live off your painting then yes it is important to sell enough work to take care of yourself.

How many paintings do you need to sell to be seen as a success and how big a success do you really want to be? I am happy selling my paintings in four galleries. This is where I want to be in my artistic career. I don’t want to do big solo exhibitions and I certainly don’t want to travel miles to hold exhibitions in other areas. So, in my small world I am successful yet nationally I am not. At the end of the day we all need to be honest about where it is we want to be in our art. I have met artists who feel success is to have learnt a new skill and to capture light in their painting after not being able to do so before. To another success at their art is about expressing on canvas or paper their personal life journey stuff. I don’t feel we can be black and white about winners and losers. There is just so much more to life than that.

There are 3 comments for What is success? by Caroline Simmill

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 06, 2009

The problem here- and it is enormous- is a paradigm problem. Success is utterly relative- and so local success may be all you want or need. But if I say to someone I’ve just met- I’m an artist- guaranteed 95% of the time they ask me if I’m starving. This cultural reality has existed for so long that most everyone thinks it is the ONLY reality. So artists who do not take their own production/creation experience seriously- with intent to succeed financially- (and by that I mean hobbyists- weekend painters- folks who do not start being artists until after a lifetime career in some other field) these artists do little to change the starving artist paradigm. A hobbyist doesn’t HAVE to succeed financially- so they won’t. A person who starts their art career after some other career- has already acknowledged to themselves that they can’t make it as an artist. They’ve bought into the prevailing belief structure and set aside their creative abilities to some extent. This is JUST a mindset and belief structure- but it supports and plays into the I CAN’T SUCCEED FINANCIALLY AS AN ARTIST paradigm. So at this point- it is US who are holding ourselves back- as much if not more than anybody else. We truly need to change our own beliefs about being successful FIRST- and then every time someone outside us confronts us with the old paradigm we have to work to change their belief- which I do relentlessly.

From: Anonymous — Jun 07, 2009

To say that those who start an art career after retiring from another profession did it because they origionally believed they couldn’t make a living as an artist… isn’t the only POV of experience. I never considered art as interesting, because I thought of it mostly as paintings, flat things that hung on a wall, which never seemed quite real to me. So I just did other things I was interested in, like building houses, owning a retail business, etc. I just wanted to do things with my hands, but it never dawned on me that is what artists do! Yet all along the way people commented I did things with an artistic sensibility. After hearing that often enough, now that I’m in my 50’s I’m taking classes at the Scottsdale Artists School and they are trying to turn me into a “fine artist” doing sculpture, which I can get my hands around, so for me, that’s real. I appreciate paintings more too now! Having owned a retail business for years, I expect to make money for sure, to network and meet new people (which I look forward to most), and to experience life in a new way.

From: Lizglass — Jun 07, 2009

I started an artistic career quite early in life and was quite successful, with some of my photos acquired by collectors and an important museum. However, I found myself doing less and less of what I liked and more of the commercial stuff. After photographing my umpteenth bottle of whisky, I gave up. I could have succeeded as a commercial photographer, but at the price of my artistic integrity. So, I consciously chose to do something else for a living. Never stopped being an artist, just didn’t pay my bills with it.


Talent without soul
by Dave C from live comments

It’s usually not the class presidents or those with higher intellect that make it in this world. It’s those that struggle in school and when entering the workplace. Those that have to work hard to make their way are the ones that become the millionaires and business owners, a lot of times employing those that fared much better than they themselves did during school. It’s those seventeen year old kids that work nights and weekends after school, learning that hard work and pride in one’s work are the future millionaires and business owners. It took the reading of two books to wake me up and show me where I had gone wrong. Both books are by Thomas J. Stanley, entitled The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind.

How many artists who have showed great talent, some even being labeled as “naturals,” have struggled because their work, while showing lots of talent, displayed no life or soul? How many of these artists feel that all they have to do is drip a little paint on a canvas or draw half a dozen lines with a piece of charcoal and the world will be falling down at their feet, ready to proclaim them the next Wyeth or Pollock? I’ve attended art events and have run into this type of artist who, if you question their art, act as if you are beneath contempt, that their art needs no explanation or justification. It is what it is.

Some of us are labeled “winner” early on and it’s the worst thing that can happen to us. Others get the “loser” tag affixed to them and, if they can survive it and look past it, they become some of the most successful in whatever field of endeavor they choose. Maybe, some day, we’ll stop all this nonsense of teaching our children that they are special and they are winners without even lifting a finger, and get back to teaching them how to take pride in hard work and craftsmanship, leading them to much more fulfilling and useful lives.


10,000-hour rule
by Diane Fujimoto from live comments


original painting, 25 x 31 inches
by Diane Fujimoto

Talent alone does not insure success – many things contribute, including hard work of course, but sometimes circumstances like age, environment, etc. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell actually contains a story much like Dave C’s IQ story above. How is it that some are successful and other are not? What made Bill Gates, The Beatles or Tiger Woods so successful? It’s the 10, 000-hour rule — and all the right circumstances that followed.





What is winning?
by Anonymous

If I think I win, I win. If I think I lose, I lose. When aspirations are set so desperately low that anyone can win (a subject you dealt with in a recent letter) then the whole win/lose thing becomes meaningless. I detect that you are on a bandwagon to really raise standards again, even with the conservative and traditionalist slippage that would result. This may be the price America has to pay to get back on track as a quality leader. For too long the visual arts, particularly in the West, have been haunted by the vested interests of pyramiding profits with artistry of little merit.


Your name makes you
by Crandall Roggerty

The Kabalarians believe the name you give your child has a profound effect on his or her progress in life. There is a direct relationship between your names and all the conditions in your life. There is much more to your name than just its sound, origin/meaning, lineage or numerology. It seems that people become their names, and often the simple act of changing your name can have a profound effect even when done in later life. The chosen name expresses his or her inner purpose more fully. It fulfills his or her greater mental potential through a harmonious mind, makes the person happier and more creatively expressive, and engenders health due to the influence of a positive name.

There are 2 comments for Your name makes you by Crandall Roggerty

From: Susan Holland — Jun 05, 2009

My name is a chosen name. I chose it for my art name because both my maiden name and my married name were difficult and punnable. (Children can be cruel, and so can adults.) When I got my divorce, I took my art name as my legal name, and so I have been Susan Holland ever since. Holland is the land of some of my ancestors, and it is easy to spell, easy to understand, but not all that common as to be forgettable. I like the person that name represents — she has accomplished a lot for a shy child with a funny last name. I’m sticking to it!

Surprising, though, were the people who recoiled at my decision to “make up” a name for myself. Some really couldn’t use my new legal name. They still make funny mouths when they say it. Spooky.

From: Joy Cooper — Jun 05, 2009

I also did a name change. It was small and predictable and i got the same reaction as Susan. A change from Joyce, to a simple Joy has created more confusion than I would have expected. My friends have been better able to honor the change than my family. I do believe our name has something to do with who we are. I never quite felt like “Joyce”. I’m comfortable in the shortened version.


We rise up
by J. Bruce Wilcox


J Bruce Wilcox

A whirlwind winds around life and forms new connections. Old ages pass away this moment and a new day is born. Time stops and the big wheel spins on and on. Doesn’t it? Seems like anything is possible… It’s an extraordinary time to be alive and creating — don’tcha think?

The world of fear collapses — but we rise up. Our spinning spiral solar system moves ever closer to the galactic equator and the only real possibility is to continue to align with the New Energies and further awaken from the slumber of millennia. My friend Rocky thinks in Geologic Time — which occasionally I like to chat in. But I think Galactic Time is even more interesting — especially NOW as ages shift and the sands of time cease to blow. Timelessness is taking shape and form.


Caracter & dissiplin
by Theo Halladay


“Ginger cat”
watercolour painting
by Theo Halladay

Robert — I havnt red evrything u hav ritten [I uze reformd spelling], so I wunder if u hav ever ritten about the generus and forgivving caracter of the world of art, that cauzes lots of losers to decide they ar going to hav a try at being artists.

Ware other professional feelds hav strict requirements for membership, the world of the arts — especialy grafic artists — apears like mor of a healing enclave. Wen I was teaching privat art lessons in Victoria between 1991-2005, a good proportion of the students who came to me wer problem children who wer not doing wel in scool. Their parentsw had been advized that art lessons, being less restrictiv & demanding, wud do them good. They wer rite, & I was able in moast cases to help them. [One case ware I notably faild was that of a girl who at 14 chortled as she drownd the girl who had been her best frend, in frunt of an audience of other kids.]

Becaus of the wel-known healing proppertys of art, u ar rite to stress to artists & wud-be artists that they must work at develloping caracter & dissiplin. The way u rite suggests that u ar wel aware of this facet, so much needed in the art world.

There are 5 comments for Caracter & dissiplin by Theo Halladay

From: Patsy — Jun 05, 2009

As someone who spent some very frustrating time attempting to teach online university students how to write a sentence that someone else could understand (never mind what I was hired to do: teach them how to write academic essays), all I can say is I sincerely hope that the children “who wer not doing wel in scool” never saw anything you wrote. Is the ginger cat one of their efforts?

From: Virginia Wieringa — Jun 05, 2009

Theo- I suspect the Ginger cat was the result of your effort and “dissiplin” and that writing this essay was an exercise performed with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek. Em Eye rite?? You make your point very well.

From: Anonymous — Jun 05, 2009

ware is ur dissaplin in regards to adaptashun to the langwage of the mases? comun curtesy yknow?

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jun 05, 2009

Oh, my. This is not “reformd spelling” at all. Not even close. It is a kind of dialect based apparently on how one person speaks, requiring, as most written dialect does, the reader to “translate”, first to the version of spoken English being used, then into a common language. Too bad, because Mr. Halladay might be making a valid point worth at least discussing, even if we don’t agree. Clearly, the failure with the child he mentions was not his failure: it was the failure of a system that was not able to recognize the danger this child presented. It might have been interesting to learn more about how Mr. Halladay worked with the other children. But I don’t want to read about it in dialect. I am not meaning to insult you, sir, but language, both spoken and written, does have conventions. English is a language that carries its history with it, and it is gradually sorting out some of the complexities that go along with that, including unwieldy spelling. But the process is a communal one. At least if you are trying to actually communicate publicly, with people of various ethnic and lingual backgrounds.

From: Anonymous — Jun 05, 2009

Reformed spelling? Looks as if it could have come from Reform School. One question. WHY?





oil painting
by Yuqi Wang, NY, 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 Kenneth Flittonm who wrote, “Today’s letter tells me in no uncertain terms why so many artists are complaining of little or no success. There are just too many darned good artists out there!”

And also Haim Mizrahi who wrote, “Trying to define winners or losers in any way or shape is a drain on one’s energy.”

And also Tepes Dracula (Sergiu Vlad) of Moldova, who wrote, “I’m agree, but when I think about how to live to day tomorrow, here in our country everything is different, is very difficult with art, here is appreciated only stulul classic, (still life) otherwise cannot understand anything.”

And also Henry Wang of Hong Kong, who wrote, “When a born loser gets a break, look out!”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Winners and losers



From: Dave C — Jun 02, 2009
From: Bob — Jun 02, 2009

to Dave – for a long time I’ve believed that the world is run by C students.

From: Rene Wojcik — Jun 02, 2009

A “purpose driven life” is the key to success in art. Being “passionate” will keep you going.

From: Dwight Williams, Idaho — Jun 02, 2009

Congrats to you both! Dave’s column was as good as Robert’s.

From: Weezi — Jun 02, 2009

My friend John and I recently had a conversation regarding doing things that we wanted to do and how motivation didn’t always get them done. We decided that better than motivation, it was Positive Action that got things done. Just doing it. Does it really matter whether or not my husband or my daughter or neighbor or my peers like my work? Do I like what I do? I do, but each day there are new mountains to climb…new pictures to paint…new techniques to play with. JUST DO IT! For Robert, you are right on, for the joy is not in the finished painting, it is in the doing! I think that is one of the biggest mountains to climb…what does it matter how anyone else thinks about my art. It is a part of Me. I am the only one who can paint like I do…this is only MY art, not a copy of someone else’s art. Thanks for giving me a chance to speak out.

From: Patsy — Jun 02, 2009

Dave – the kind of article that has one nodding agreement throughout. When I attended my first high school reunion (25 years) I was intrigued to see how people had turned out. Sure enough, many of those who had been dismissed as mediocre were highly successful; most of the “top” students hadn’t achieved much at all.

I smiled at your comment about the world being run by C students, Bob; I agree. C for commonsense, which is often of more practical use than high intellect.

From: Diane Fujimoto — Jun 03, 2009
From: Rick Rotante — Jun 03, 2009

Ultimately, your name in unimportant, it’s the work that counts. People see an outstanding work, and then they look to the name and remember it. I know I do. You can be called anything and still create good work.

The only time a name stymies one is when that person succumbs to the stereotypes attached to it. If your beginnings are troubled and steeped in turmoil there is a good chance your life will follow suit. On the other hand there are countless examples of people overcoming their origins and achieving great success. Does the name Abraham Lincoln ring a bell?

Library shelves are filled with rags to riches stories and each person has with a different name. I believe it’s not your name but how you are raised and what you are exposed to along with your innate inquisitiveness that says more about you. It’s not who you are but what you do with your life that matters.

As for winners and losers, that is all relative and very personal. By what measure do we consider ourselves winners/losers? Who measures this success?

From: Kelly Borsheim — Jun 04, 2009
From: leah — Jun 04, 2009

To Dave C:

You are so exactly and amazingly right on. Thanks for a refreshing post. Especially, that last paragraph — Amen to that!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 06, 2009

Well Robert- I gotta tell you- this actually gave me a little jolt yesterday- which I haven’t gotten when you’ve used something of mine for quite a while now. But since you really edited my newsletter that I sent out on Wednesday- which really wasn’t a response to your Tuesday letter- well- it kinda doesn’t sound quite finished or whole. But then you also published that picture of me from my website- (you know- the one I used with the really red tone so everybody’d think I’m the little devil that I am) I burst out laughing!!! Anyway- thanks! Because you know me- and you know I’m going to occasionally submit stuff that pushes peoples sexuality/religion buttons- even if you go back and remove it later on…

From: Terry Greenhough — Jun 06, 2009

I am wearing too many hats. Home renovator, T.O.C. (Teacher on call), artist. As you can see artist is at the end of the line and it is very hard at the moment to break free of the others. The only thing that is helping is the fact that my studio is up all the time and I have been working in short burst of three hours at a time and then moving on to the other projects and these will come to an end soon. When I am in a school subbing I draw the students or take some aspect of their lesson and create a drawing around it. For example I drew the farms along the St Lawrence River from an imaginary canoe. I only had a few images to go by. They, on the other hand, were working on a diagram of these farms in a two dimensional format. It was more like a map. I left the drawing there for the teacher.

I believe in the idea of attracting winner friends. That is what I have found in the Federation of Canadian Artists. The mentorship is very exciting and the workshops are a great way to meet these winning people, both the participants and the instructors. You being one of them. We have a great group here at the TNS Chapter in Kamloops.

From: Jim Draughon — Jun 06, 2009
From: Derek McCrea — Jul 24, 2009

To me it is simple, getting better through self discovery and enjoying what I do.



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