Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Robert Genn’

The Monday Post: 10.23.17

Robert Genn 2

Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how! And if you commented on last week’s Monday Post, let us know how things went: the hiccups as well as the successes.

Your Creative Intentions: The Monday Post ~ June 2, 2014

Robert Genn

Today we honor the legacy of Robert Genn, painter and champion of artists around the world. Bob passed away last week. This loss is felt by so many in the creative community. Always generous, Bob often allowed us to reprint his insightful and inspiring twice-weekly letters here at Studio Mothers. His daughter, Sara, is ably carrying Robert’s legacy into the future. Our thoughts, prayers, and every good wish are with the Genns.

A regular creative practice — a daily practice, if possible — is key to staying in touch with how you make meaning. Key to living, not postponing. (Let’s all agree to give up on “someday.”)

What are your plans for creative practice this week? Given the specifics of your schedule, decide on a realistic intention or practice plan — and ink that time in your calendar. The scheduling part is important, because as you know, if you try to “fit it in” around the edges, it generally won’t happen. An intention as simple as “I will write for 20 minutes every morning after breakfast” or “I will sketch a new still life on Wednesday evening” is what it’s all about. If appropriate, use time estimates to containerize your task, which can make a daunting project feel more accessible.

Share your intentions or goals as a comment to this post, and let us know how things went with your creative plans for last week, if you posted to last week’s Monday Post. We use a broad brush in defining creativity, so don’t be shy. We also often include well-being practices that support creativity, such as exercise and journaling.

Putting your intentions on “paper” helps you get clear on what you want to do — and sharing those intentions with this community leverages the motivation of an accountability group. Join us!


If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. “Highly recommended.” ~Eric Maisel. 35 pages/$11.98. Available for download here.

How to Think Less and Do More

The Canadian painter Robert Genn writes a terrific, twice-weekly newsletter. While Genn writes primarily about painting, his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing. The gem below, which looks at ways to stop wasting time in the abyss of decision-making, is reprinted by permission.

Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit describes her morning routine of rising early and going through the same morning rituals; same coffee, same bun. She puts on the same leotards, goes down the same elevator to the same street corner, puts her same arm up in the air and gets into the first cab that comes along.

By the time she gets to the studio she has made no significant decisions. Stepping out onto the dance floor, her dancers await. It’s eight in the morning and her first decision is yet to come. It will be a creative one.

We painters also need to save our decision-making for things of importance. “Don’t,” as they say, “sweat the small stuff.” I figure an average 11″ x 14″ uses up several hundred thousand decisions. Compound that over a day of painting and it’s in the millions. Even the small decisions in a painting, some of them so micro and seemingly insignificant, are the building blocks of what we are to become.

Fact is, some lives are so filled with impedimentary drama and ancillary decision-making that there is little time left over for work.

While I sympathize with those who find it difficult to eliminate some workaday decisions, the idea is to step ASAP into the happy hunting ground. Here are a few ideas:

  • Simplify morning rituals.
  • Keep regular habits by day and week.
  • Have your workplace nearby and handy.
  • Work in a space unsullied by impedimenta.
  • Use a day-timer — plan your work; work your plan.
  • Always ask — “Is this action necessary?”
  • Be businesslike — discourage time-wasters and interlopers.
  • Be efficient and mindful of wasted motion in your space.
  • Drive your car mainly for pleasure.
  • As far as possible, get stuff delivered and taken away.
  • Be modern — pay bills, bank, book flights, etc., online.
  • Keep your dress code practical and simple. You don’t need to look good in a studio.
  • Quit your day and move to a relatively decision-free mode: Play well, laugh much, love much, sleep well.
  • Finally, and most important, with every non work-related decision, you need to decide: “Is the decision I’m making truly needed, or is it just another excuse?”

Best regards,


PS: “We cannot directly choose our circumstances, but we can choose our thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, we shape our circumstances.” (self-help pioneer James Allen)

Esoterica: The cosmetics tycoon and women’s advocate Mary Kay Ash said, “There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened… You can decide which type of person you want to be.” We artists, in particular, need to be among those who make things happen. Self-starting, self-motivating and self-critical, we focus our energy on thought, planning, observation, quality control and production. Difficult decisions–lots of them–are both the joy and the burden of creative folks. “Those who avoid the tough choices of life,” said author Robert Brault, “live a life they never chose.”


Don’t miss the treasure trove of Genn’s letters here.

When Do Ideas Happen?

The Canadian painter Robert Genn writes a terrific, twice-weekly newsletter. While Genn writes primarily about painting, his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing — and we’ve reposted his letters here several times before. The gem below, which looks at the situations that generate ideas, is reprinted by permission.

Recent research, aimed at finding specific triggers that result in good ideas, better solutions and bouts of creativity, has confirmed my own favourite times when stuff happens. Here are a few:

When we step away: Focusing at your workstation doesn’t always work, particularly if you do too much of it. Leave your cubicle or studio and step into a new environment. Great stuff is ready to grab out there, floating in the ether.

When we’re in transition: Waking up, falling asleep, showering, tubbing, or going to the bathroom are hot times for new ideas. We need to trust the possibilities of fleeting brain waves at these times and take the trouble to knock them down for further study.

When we’re drinking: Moderate drinking gives confidence and gusto. A 2012 study at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that students who drank enough to raise their blood-alcohol level to 0.075 performed better on tests of insight than sober students.

When we’re doing chores: This may be one of the reasons why so many artists prefer to have their studios at home. I absolutely don’t want this sort of information passed around, but I personally find stimulation in washing cars, taking out the garbage, and helping our gardener move bags of manure.

When we’re satisfied: A relatively fulfilled life calms the mind and enriches the ground for idea growth. I’ve tried frustration, anger, disappointment, tiredness and misery, and they all work to a degree, but joyous satisfaction and a sense of élan work best.

When we’re daydreaming: It turns out that daydreaming is one of the most valuable things that creative people do. Even the fantasizing of chicks that bedevils a lot of men apparently hastens bubble-up ideas from the subconscious that have nothing to do with women. What women need to fantasize, I’m not sure.

When we see green: Green surroundings, whether green-painted walls or the green outdoors, suggest new growth, rebirth, fertility, and renewal — just one of the reasons why a walk in the park can be so fruitful. Feeling non-creative in the studio? Squeeze out some green.

Best regards,


PS: “When students were given creativity tests, those whose test-cover pages had a green background gave more creative answers than those whose pages were white, blue, red or grey.” (Sue Shellenbarger, reporting in the Wall Street Journal)

Esoterica: Personal and unique fetishes can be useful as well. For a steady flow of creativity, easel-time foot-massage has been recommended, as has military marching music played loudly. I notice slight rises when I consult or share minor triumphs with Dorothy the Airedale. She is non-confrontational, always eager, never critical, and I know she’s quite fond of me. Sometimes she likes my creativity so much she sleeps on it. In other words, she’s a low-maintenance muse. ‘Scuse me, she just came in, and now she wants out.


Don’t miss the treasure trove of Genn’s letters here.

Quantity versus Quality: A Tale of Two Artists

Canadian painter Robert Genn has a twice-weekly newsletter that I always enjoy. While Genn writes primarily about painting, his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing — and we’ve reposted his letters here several times before. The gem below, which illustrates the importance of practice and gets to the heart of what “success” really means, is reprinted by permission.

Because this is a bit personal, I’m not using their real names. They’re both about 40 years old.

“Jack” got a BFA and then an MFA from a Midwestern University. He’s visited many of the major contemporary art museums and follows the work of several “important” contemporary painters. He’s written articles on Philip Guston and others. He subscribes to several art magazines and is “the most knowledgeable art-guy in any discussion.” After university he worked for a while in a commercial art gallery. He sometimes writes me long, well-informed letters. He’s painted eleven large paintings (two unfinished) since leaving school. He’s not represented by any gallery. He thinks you need to move to New York and “get lucky” with a dealer who “really represents you.”

“Jill” took two years of art school and then quit. She pays little attention to other artists. She subscribes to no art magazines but has taken several workshops. Her hobbies include bowling and travelling. At one time she also worked in a commercial art gallery. On two or three occasions she’s written to me. She’s painted “approximately two thousand paintings” since leaving school. She’s represented by four commercial galleries in four, well-separated mid-sized cities.

There’s a great story in David Bayles and Ted Orland’s Art and Fear. Here it is: 

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work in the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A,” forty pounds a “B,” and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busy turning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Best regards,


PS: “Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work.” (David Bayles and Ted Orland)

Esoterica: Both subscribers Jack and Jill are thoughtful and enthusiastic artists. Art is central to their lives. And while success and “being able to function as a full time artist” may not be important to some of us, their current situations are quite different. Jack rents an apartment and makes $2,150 per month (plus tips and benefits) as an airport porter. Jill works daily in her converted garage in a home she now owns. These days she’s averaging $18,000 per month. She has “no benefits.”


Don’t miss the treasure trove of Genn’s letters here.

The Feminine Mystique

Canadian painter Robert Genn has a twice-weekly newsletter that I always enjoy reading. While Genn writes about painting, his thoughts usually apply to any creative pursuit, including writing — and we’ve reposted his letters here before. Recently, Robert wrote a letter entitled. “The Feminine Mystique.” I found the letter quite timely, as I’d just dusted off my copy of Friedan’s classic and reminded myself that I needed to finish it (read all but the last 100 pages several years ago before getting pulled into something else). Genn’s newsletter is reprinted here by permission.

Many readers of my letters may not be old enough to remember Betty Friedan’s 1963 bombshell book, The Feminine Mystique. In those days, 78% of college faculty were men, as were 95% of physicians and 97% of lawyers. Only 30% of college graduates were women. Now, women outnumber men in higher education and are apparently nearing par in job placement and life achievement.

One of Friedan’s main points was that post-war, middle class women had to figure out what they were going to do after their little ones had flown the coop. With longer life expectancies, smaller families, relative economic freedom and a shopping cart full of labour-saving devices, millions of women apparently grabbed the brass ring of creativity. They found they were well suited to it. Based on this subscriber list, workshop attendance and popular statistics, 78% percent of living painters are women. And to the disgruntlement of some of the boys, we know that women in general tend to have better art-brains. Long-time readers may remember I’ve frequently identified women artists as the next big thing.

Going by my inbox, it’s possible to get the idea that women are in a bit of a bad patch. Many tell me they are “not motivated,” “lack passion,” and are “too distracted to be anything other than mediocre.” Perhaps an indication of our anxious times, in my darker moments I also wonder if these concerns are mainly from those who are reading too much self-help stuff. Like the sort of thing I put out.

But in my vast and virtual part-time mentoring practice, which I generally do for free, I also see highly optimistic, ambitious women who value education and are willing to put in time and treasure (when they have it) to achieve their goals. These women cut to the chase and, in my experience, get good. Here’s what they bring to their easels:

* The capability and the desire to work alone.
* A degree of independence from outside opinion.
* Steady, well-regulated, workmanlike habits.
* The understanding that passion comes from process.
* The curiosity to explore sets and series.
* An intuitive sense of quality and reasonable taste.
* A philosophical but nevertheless combative attitude to the miserably dying vestiges of the boy’s club.

Betty Friedan would have been particularly enthused by these ladies.

Best regards,


PS: “Who knows what women can become when they are finally free to become themselves.” (Betty Friedan)

Art and Motherhood

Does blending art and motherhood = mission impossible? One recent response to this perennial question comes from Canadian painter Robert Genn, in his twice-weekly newsletter. While Genn writes about painting, his thoughts usually apply to any creative pursuit, including writing — and I have reposted his letters here before. Late this summer, Robert wrote a letter specific to making art as a mother. The letter garnered a TON of comments that are well-worth reading. Much inspiration and practical advice to be found. (Genn’s newsletter is reprinted here by permission. Thanks again, Bob.)

Yesterday, Cedar Lee of Ellicott City, MD, wrote, “I have a 10-month-old son. Before I had this child I never realized the level of freedom and time that I had. The demands are so all-consuming that they leave me with little if anything left to give to my work. I’m depressed about my career–at full speed a year ago, it’s now barely squeaking along. Do you have any advice for how to keep my creative flames burning, how to keep my professional image from slipping, and how to be productive during this time? What are the creative, financial, political, and practical dilemmas facing female artists with young children.”

Thanks, Cedar. Big order. Before I start in with my stuff about being more efficient, making time, getting help, etc., I need to ask you mothers to give me a hand with Cedar’s questions. Your best advice will be included in the next clickback. Live comments are welcome as well. FYI, we’ve put a short video of Cedar’s studio at the top of the current clickback.

Also, I want to mention the extreme expectations that current parents have for their children. Children have taken on a god-like role and have become the focus for everything from prepping for stellar futures to daily parental companionship. Parents sacrifice their own lives for the potential brilliance of kids. For better or for worse, raising kids well is the new religion.

Further, I wanted to say that letters like Cedar’s come in here like leaves from a shaken maple. I’m conscious that many artists, both male and female, use the advent of parenthood as a scapegoat for failing careers. Artists in this predicament need to examine their true motivation for this popular complaint.

It’s been my experience that dedicated artists will always find a way. I’m also happy to report that selfishness need not prevail, nor need the baby lie unchanged in its crib. The creative mind is always working, even during the application of nappies. Household workstations can be set up and work can continue between feedings and other downtimes. The intermittent business may actually benefit the art–for many of us, contemplation is a much needed ingredient to our progress.

Cedar, exhausted though you may be, there is always recourse to the DMWH (Daily Manic Working Hour). This can be programmed any time, perhaps early morning or late at night. When performed as regularly as baby-feeding, you might amaze yourself with how much you can get done when you focus hard for one lovely little hour.

Best regards,


PS: “You have no obligation other than to discover your real needs, to fulfill them, and to rejoice in doing so.” (Francois Rabelais)

Esoterica: There is an excellent book on the subject. The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood by Rachel Power [reviewed at Studio Mothers]. It’s well researched with lots of references and historical evidence. An excerpt is here. There’s value in partnership. “To create art once you have children requires the commitment of more than one person,” she writes. “As novelist Eleanor Dark wrote, ‘The balance is elusive; the support crucial.’ “

To read the many responses to Robert’s letter, click here. Any pieces of advice that really stand out for you?

The miracles of attention and focus

Canadian painter Robert Genn has a twice-weekly newsletter that I always enjoy reading. While Genn writes about painting, his thoughts usually apply to any creative pursuit, including writing — and I have reposted his letters here before. This week’s newsletter is of use to all creative mothers, in our search for making the most of fleeting and sporadic windows of creative opportunity. (Genn’s newsletter is reprinted here by permission. Thanks again, Bob.)

During a recent short workshop, I reintroduced my legendary hourglass. Bought in a junk shop some years ago, its “hour” consists of only 37 minutes. Such is the deflation of time. The idea for the 25 participants was to complete a painting in one turn of the glass. To level the playing field, I asked for 11 x 14’s. A few students groaned; others readily accepted the challenge.

We did the exercise three times. I asked them to squeeze out first, contemplate for a tiny minute and make their painting either from reference, reality, or their imagination. Blowing my little whistle to start and stop, I was not surprised to find some painters did more than one in the allotted time. Students brought their quickies forward and laid them out in rows. At the end of the workshop more than 100 time-sensitive paintings had been produced. We’ve put a photo of the hourglass in action at the top of the current clickback.

Apart from producing a pile of credible, pleasantly-underworked paintings, the exercise showed the value of short periods of full attention and unwavering focus. The mind quickens and so does the spirit. The audacious brush flicks here and there; the work moves holistically into being. Students were energized by the exercise — feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction rippled through the room. I thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “To fill the hour — that is happiness.”

Countless times in my own studio, I’ve turned over my miraculous hourglass. Falling roof-rafters could not deter me from my 37-minute exercises. “Why don’t I just do this all the time?” I ask myself. Indeed, learning to focus and pay attention, if only for a short time, has been identified as a primary key to the development of human effectiveness.

I’m currently reading Winifred Gallagher’s new book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. She makes clear the simple value of training ourselves to focus. Our levels of concentration may be sullied or even vestigial in many of us, and the simple act of learning to pay attention is key to our dreams and aspirations. Happiness and success depend on it. Think a bit, grab your brush, time’s a wastin’. Toot!

Best regards,


PS: “I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.” (Douglas Adams) “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” (Alexander Graham Bell)

Esoterica: “The Universal Society of Timed Painters” (USTP) ought to be established with chapters worldwide. No instructor need apply. Just get together and turn the glass. Keep doing it until pleasantly exhausted. Prizes may be awarded by popular vote at the end of the day, but the greatest prize of all will be your own increased levels of attention and focus.

I found Genn’s letter to be just what I needed to read right now. Writing or painting or doing anything creative “under the gun” forces you to turn off the editor and just produce. If your editor has taken over, a timed exercise such as Genn outlines above is just the ticket for getting back into the organics of your work. Baby just went down for a nap and the only thing you can count on is 30 minutes? Forget the laundry, turn off your internet connection, and go for it. You might get lucky: you find yourself in the groove and the baby ends up napping for an hour and a half. Or maybe you only get 20 minutes — but 20 minutes is still better than NOT 20 minutes, yes?

Miranda: What to paint (or write or make) next

paintbrushesI subscribe to the weekly newsletter of Canadian painter Robert Genn. While Genn writes about painting, I often find that his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing. This week’s newsletter spoke to the dilemma of deciding which project to work on next–something that Christa recently experienced.

Genn’s newsletter is reprinted here in full, by permission.

Yesterday’s inbox included the short and sweet: ‘I’ve been painting seriously for the last fifteen years, and I now have trouble deciding what to paint. How do I decide?’ The email was signed ‘Diane W. Reitz, BFA.’

Thanks, Diane. Maybe the BFA after your name gives us a clue. Maybe you know too much. But don’t worry, it’s a common problem, BFA or not.

The creative life requires a steady progression of experimentation and discovery. While acquired wisdom is useful, your knowledge must work in tandem with the daily exercise of your curiosity. A life in art is more a working event than the application of prior knowledge. Further, as you paint, you are able to decide what to paint. Paintings come out of themselves.

Prime your pump–your work goes viral.

There’s a pile of tricks you can pull to prime the pump. Go to your earlier inspiration–drawings, reference photos, field notes. Recall the direction this material took you in the past, and then go looking for a new angle. Don’t waste time. Commit yourself to the most humble application of paint. Get it through your system and out onto your reviewing easel. Perhaps reward it with a quick framing. Consider again the possibilities and commit once more, perhaps to a larger size.

Don’t be precious. Try to think like Edison when he was trying different stuff that might do for filaments in light bulbs.

First thing you know you’ll feel refreshed and renewed rather than burdened with making a decision. Further, you will see a need for further refinement. Personal refinement of vision makes creativity worthwhile. What you do may not be unique in the greater world of art, but it’s the sweet ignorance of outcome that drives you on.

When artists see themselves inching forward with minor improvements, they begin a natural flow that becomes unstoppable. I formerly told artists who were unable to decide what to paint that they might not be cut out for the game. Then I realized that our very existence is based on ignorance of where we’re going. What’s important is having the fortitude and patience to dig around and try to find out. Actually, ‘having trouble deciding’ is a good part of the fun. Accept the fun.

Best regards,


%d bloggers like this: