Robert Genn, a very successful Canadian artist, sent out a newsletter blog which were the first I had ever encountered and to which I subscribed. While he was alive, he wrote one every week and i looked forward to reading them..sort of like a weekly mantra. Since his death, a few years ago, his daughter has kept up the tradition by sending out, every other week, a copy of a previously published letter and, every other week, she writes one of her own. I still prefer his more but i have a book which contains many (if not all) of his letters and , apparently his son has recorded an audio book of it.
Most of his letters talked about art and work of being an artist-some tended to address a bit more about the psychology of being an artist –the recent repeat of the one below contains that kind of thought and may be a good one to read as the doldrums of winter are coming upon us:
In this studio, a high percentage of inbox letters are from artists complaining about things. Some are like leopards jumping out of the screen, clawing wildly. As I like to keep our website fairly positive, some of this growling gets answered personally. A lot of complaints are about art dealers, art clubs, and general and specific lack of support.
“Mona Lisa, Age Twelve” 1959
oil and tempera on canvas, 211 x 195.5 cm
by Fernando Botero (b.1932)
Other complaints include the state of the economy and personal frustrations. Many of these are real and genuine, but I always think how things might improve if artists were to bend their own behaviour. I’ve noticed that some artists thrive in all seasons — in sunshine and in rain. They somehow rise above misfortune and the influence of problematic others. It’s more than a shield that they carry — it’s how they are. Without claiming any kind of uniformity, artists who thrive often have a certain kind of behaviour.
A lot of this behaviour has to do with what these artists have to say. I recognize that in certain environments it’s difficult to keep optimistic, to keep a smiley face. That’s one of the reasons why thriving artists tend to avoid certain environments. Because we’re a most specialized type of creator-entrepreneur, we have to develop specialized techniques to maintain our rights-of-way. As well as becoming masters, some of us become masters at avoiding the negative. “Don’t, can’t, won’t,” and a pile of others get purged from vocabularies. We retrain ourselves to be positive beings. Pundits like Deepak Chopra and David Simon have written books on this sort of self-management. We artists need to customize this knowledge to suit our profession.
“Self-portrait as Velasquez” 1986
oil on canvas, 218 x 175 cm
by Fernando Botero
Each and every artist is a unique island — living with a unique set of expectations and conditions. Self-management and self-education start with introspection. Quietly and in our own lairs we owe it to ourselves to take a look within — to get an understanding of who we are and why we do the things we do.
Inside, we creators are a pretty interesting bunch. I’ve spent a lifetime observing and trying to fathom the artistic mind. One thing I’m pretty sure about: Leopards can change their spots.
oil on canvas, 36 x 36 cm
by Fernando Botero
PS: “Use language that is empowering rather than victimizing. When we say, ‘I feel neglected. I feel betrayed. I feel humiliated,’ we are requiring someone else to change their behaviour in order to change our feelings. Rather, describe your internal state using language such as, ‘I feel sad. I feel empty. I feel lonely.’ Taking responsibility for your feelings enables you to make the changes you need to feel better.” (David Simon)
Esoterica: Never underestimate the value of friendship. Clear friendships are made by those who stake their territory and claim their rights-of-way. Friendships are earned. One of the reasons the Painter’s Keys works for artists is that it’s loaded with opportunities for friendship. One way the word gets around is that owners of large and small group-mail lists are including some of these twice-weekly letters as content. If you are thinking there might be value in this idea for your friends, please let us know.
This letter was originally published as “It’s our behaviour” on December 14, 2004.
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.
“The richness of an artist is the fusion of influences that have shaped his life and work.” (Fernando Botero)