Your Vision


Dear Artist,

Do you ever wander back to that time when you first started thinking about making art? Do you ever think of the vision you first had — how your art would be made, its themes, its look? How simple it all was then. For some of us we thought it was just a matter of learning the skills and enacting our vision.


“Delphic Sybil” (detail), Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo Buonarroti Simoni (1475–1564)

Then, with a little seasoning under our belts, we modified, changed, expanded, contracted — we grew. Or perhaps we regressed. We artists are constantly faced with forks in our roads, with the realization that some of the paths we take are a genuine pressing-ahead with our dreams, and others a caving-in to demands and the easy backslide into mediocrity. We see it in ourselves if we are honest, and it’s evident enough when we look at the life work of many artists. It’s been my observation that it’s sometimes possible to confuse creativity with compromise.

For me, it’s been a matter of figuring out what is true. I like to take a break regularly and reassess where I’m going — put a check on my weaker tendencies and review whether I’m doing what I truly like and want to do. What am I doing right? What is uniquely mine? Which subjects and stylistic elements give me satisfaction? The penalty for not doing this is boredom and blindness. The boredom and blindness may be only temporary — or it may become chronic and put an artist in prison for life.

Go back to your dreams. Feel the evolution since the beginning as a natural unfolding. Think of misguided moves as only potholes and part of the process. Breathe deeply, be thankful, and be true to your true self.


“Last Judgement” (detail of Charon)
Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo Buonarroti Simoni

Best regards,


PS. “It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes and not in the hand, for the hands execute, but the eye judges.” (Michelangelo)

Esoterica: We also pause to look at the miracle and the promise of the Internet. It’s the ultimate democratization of our profession. In theory, and now to some degree in practice, an artist working by a wild river in Iceland can ride on the same current as an artist two floors above Manhattan traffic.

This letter was originally published as “Your Vision” on January 30, 2001.



  1. I am full of admiration for what artists can achieve when they chart their course. I am not possessed with any artistic skill, but dip my toe in others inspiration. The creative pool that inspires me the most is one that has a definite style, a definite purpose. Even as a non artist, I can see work that is derivative, and yes sorry to say it does lessen my appreciation, even if aesthetically it is still pleasing to the eye.

  2. Such an inspiring letter. I’ve been going through the archives here and found similar gems to motivate me. THANK YOU for doing this!

  3. This is perfect timing for a great movie I just saw, “Love & Mercy” about the musical genius Brian Wilson (Beach Boys). Hearbreakingly beautiful film! I can relate to his journey in the way his outside audience became a source of compromise and ended up taking him down a really difficult road. It’s so important to get thoughts, opinions, suggestions, but like I’ve read several times in these letters…but most importantly, we need to become our own honest critic.

    Love these letters!! Thank you Sara, for keeping them coming!

  4. A vision implies you know where you are going… a true explorer doesn’t really know where they are going until they get there and then they are still not sure. Art is uncharted territory and I am not yet sure where I will end up. I did a lot of photographic realism – people get that – but I will only occasionally go back and only by special request. I would rather ride the waves of thick paint and more colour…

  5. Thank you Sara. When I read the letters, both past and present, I have the feeling of receiving a sermon in the best possible light. These words strike universal themes, I think. They offer both insight and guidance for me.

  6. Robert’s letter is very timely for me. I am about to have my first solo show having taken up art 12 years ago after retirement. In assembling the 30 odd works (it is yet to be hung) I have dipped into my archives and included a few works from more than five years ago. These are works I still feel very good about, even though it was early days in my new venture in life. I am looking forward to seeing the exhibition hung, as it includes a diverse range of subjects, media and styles. I have some understanding of what runs through my work, and I assume this reflects what my vision is in the sense that Robert uses the term. What I really look forward to is the feedback I will seek from my visitors. What will they see as distinctive about my work? Sometimes I think we need the view of others to help us identify that, or maybe to confirm our own view of our work.

    • I can tell from your comments that we are alike. I too started painting after retirement and have yet to exhibit my work. I crave the feedback of others wether to justify or clarify, it’s an anxious and exscelerating desire.
      These letters and comments keep me focused and interested. They constantly spark an awareness I overlooked.

    • yes and no; because someone may say what we want to hear, and then we want to hear it from others. yes, it’s tough to just smile and go back into our studio with only ourselves. best to you!

    • Interesting comments about the run up to your first solo show. Now that I am getting into juried shows regularly, I am also working up to that solo show goal. Regarding feedback from your viewers: I am advised by my esteemed mentor that it is inappropriate to allow feedback from viewers to affect your work. Most viewers will be untrained. If you are a well trained artist, then you certainly will know more about what makes a good painting. Best wishes for a successful show!

  7. Elizabeth Garat on

    An important reminder.
    Just last night discusing art business related matters with a close friend I was reminded to consider why I paint. It’s easy to get caught up in the material aspects. Easy to doubt ourselves or be swayed by detrimental voices- as in that beautiful movie, Love and Mercy. Sometimes we understand what we are making, sometimes we can not see at the time. Sometimes the opinions of others harm us or lead us astray. Sometimes if we are lucky, people of wisdom enter our lives and value our work, our process and are able to point out what they see in it . When that happens it is a gift.

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