Your creative truth


Dear Artist,

Scrabbling around in mountains is good for you. Among other things, I’m having occasional bouts of lucidity. For instance, I just discovered the “truth.”


“Above Berg Lake”
acrylic on canvas, 30 x 34 inches
by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

I’m realizing that an artist’s own creative truth is really all that matters. Up here, it’s more than just looking for things to inflict your style on — it has to do with inhaling and exhaling. Getting it in depth. Walking helps — it slows the intake, aids digestion and speeds imagination.
It’s a high (7200 foot) natural rock garden enfolded and framed by a spur of the Rocky Mountains. This morning, every boulder, every meadow flower, clump of moss and struggling larch seems to stand out in brilliant relief. The new sun sparkles and the hoary marmot whistles. Picas scurry. Porcupines rumble in the undergrowth. On the high, narrow ridges, atmosphere prevails — sometimes the clouds are below you. Human foibles, the art of politics, the politics of art, and controversy, seem so far, far away.


“Bugaboo Weather”
acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 inches
by Robert Genn

While values are permanent, every pattern is a pattern in flux. The glacier, measured by ancient lichens, takes ten thousand years to recede. Design and purpose are everywhere. The moving sky joins the peaks. You have it for your very own. Because it is timeless and at the same time arbitrary, you, the artist, can more readily step into the magic. Communion goes hand in hand with sorting and simplification. The naked eye sees nuances not noticed in books or postcards. Colour swatches accumulate on the mind’s palette. Reality overcomes theory and understanding begins to float in the spaces. The notebook fills up. The energy to work is given.

One can almost glimpse an answer to the most important of all artists’ questions: “How can I be me?” The answer lies in “What can I do with this?” Professional dingbats aside, it’s based on looking and seeing.


“High Tumult, Bugaboos”
acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches
by Robert Genn

Best regards,


PS: “People sometimes accuse me of being a mystic about the influences of the mountains. Perhaps I am. I devoutly believe that there are emanations from them, intangible but very real, which elevate the mind and purify the spirit.” (J. B. Harkin, Parks Commissioner, 1911-36)

Esoterica: Lichens, their spores on the jet-stream of our planet, are universal at this altitude. They are abstract rock-paintings, their colours subtle, their textures inviting. Xanthoria, the orange one (and the map lichen, geographicum, lime green with black mottling) is one of the oldest living creatures at 10,000 years. It grows at a known rate of 0.02 mm/yr for the first 110 years, 0.114 mm/yr for the next 140, and slower thereafter.

This letter was originally published as “Your creative truth” on July 11, 2003.


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.

“While knowledge of tools and the love of motif may be in your backpack, and all mountains may be measured by their previous heroes, art must exist for you in a place beyond the judgment of others.” (Robert Genn)



    • Marilyn Yates on

      I totally agree with everything you said, Levi. I am inspired to go up into the mountains above my beloved Santa Fe right now, and those paintings of Robert’s are sublime. Love these weekly letters!

  1. Robert was an amazing judge of art. When Robert featured one of my paintings on this Twice Weekly Newsletter so many years ago it was such an honor. Artists now join me to paint in mountains and other places in the world. The Rocky Mountains is where we will be painting the golden Aspens this October. Can’t wait.

  2. This quote could be Robert’s as well. In fact when I read it, I thought it was:

    PS: “People sometimes accuse me of being a mystic about the influences of the mountains. Perhaps I am. I devoutly believe that there are emanations from them, intangible but very real, which elevate the mind and purify the spirit.” (J. B. Harkin, Parks Commissioner, 1911-36).

    Dynamic paintings of your dad’s. Thank you for sharing.

    • Kathy Taylor on

      Thanks, Rose! I enjoyed the Scripture. I enjoyed the Watercolor Painting video. And I enjoyed Millie Gift Smith. Wow. 98 years old, God bless her! She is an inspiration. I needed to see that. Thanks, again. And thank you Sara, Robert and the Painter’s Keys, for these letters!

  3. Robert’s observation that “communion goes hand in hand with sorting and simplification” is so profound. It’s been my experience, too, that when I simply look, listen silently and absorb the beauty of nature, the magic takes over. A new composition begins to form, and I can visualize the shape, line and colour as it presents itself to me…

  4. Ruth Sentelle on

    Thanks once again for a thoughtful insight, as your Dad always professes, in addition to your own caring and inspirational words, dear Sara. His paintings are exceptional in this post, I LOVE the Bugaboo series. Thanks for sharing with us on a regular basis!

    Gratefully, Ruth

  5. I agree with all the posts in answer to this letter. A painter and philosopher, a teacher and encourager: your dad left a tremendous legacy. Thank you for keeping up the good work.

    • I agree..paintings really do take my breath away. Roberts words are really inspiring. You can tell he loved the mountains and his work! Thank you Sarah for sharing

  6. Hi Sarah. I am writing the concluding chapter of a theory of creativity and I would like to quote this particular blog as it perfectly illustrates a point I would like to make about the nature of spiral creativity. That which has its’ origins in opening onto “what is”.
    I will give the quote full and appropriate credit.
    many thanks, Catherine

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