Monday, February 27, 2012


Monday, February 20, 2012

Walk Briskly And Carry A Big Pen from Robert Genn

Trust your steps

February 21, 2012

Dear Sherrie,

Walking briskly, pushing the blood to your extremities, alone and with minimal distraction along the path, concentrating the mind on the thighs' movements, you trigger imagination and focus. In other words, brisk walking is a form of creative meditation. You need a notebook to scrawl the thoughts as they come. After the walk, you need to reassess your scrawls. I like to clarify them in my laptop. I put my really stupid thoughts into trash, but I don't delete them.

The ability to focus is challenged in our society--not just with the nerve-jangled adults but also with the new batch of kids. Richard Davidson, a psychologist known for his behavioral research with Rhesus monkeys and studies in meditation with the Dali Lama, has made some interesting discoveries. Children (some of them with learning disorders) were invited to lie on their backs with a pebble placed on their tummies. While deep breathing, they were to focus on the pebble going up and down. After this exercise and for a period of time, they enthusiastically concentrated on schoolwork and other tasks.

I haven't tried watching pebbles going up and down on my tummy, but I sometimes look down at the movement of my feet while walking. It induces a lovely trance. I don't recommend doing it in traffic.

Brisk walking removes dark clouds, refreshes the artistic mind, encourages the interbreeding of thoughts, and plucks new ideas out of the blue. Walking itself is a time-honoured path to spirituality (think Camino de Santiago across northern Spain). There can be no doubt walking stimulates the imagination. Walking is a readily available antidote to a sedentary life. Different artists get different results. Mine are all over the place. Here are a few purged from my laptop: "The same object seen from two sides." "A work of art dependent on gradation alone." "Teaching art by not talking, just showing." "A way of temporarily gassing fanatics so they just lay down their arms and become nice." "Encouraging autonomy in others by being autonomous yourself." "A better way to fix that sky."

With the brisk walk, you make up your mind. It's as if someone is walking along with you, helping you with your thinking. No matter how long the walk, the best stuff comes during the second half. You may find the last minute is spent running to the studio.

Best regards,


PS: "She was wrapped up and sold, coming home from an old fashioned walk." (Irving Berlin)

Esoterica: Dr. Davidson thinks happiness, compassion and a sense of well-being are simply skills learned in the same way a person might learn the violin, tennis or painting. Time and practice are necessary. Apparently, the brain is built to change in response to training and the use of ploys. Whether you are a Rhesus monkey or a student in third year industrial design, focus is key. There are many ways to improve focus. Trusting your steps is just one of them. The system is just outside your door, and it's free.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Five skills worth learning by Robert Genn

Five skills worth learning

February 14, 2012

Dear Sherrie,

Drawing mastery is understanding our world and understanding relationships. Contrary to popular belief, drawing doesn't mean trailing a line around things--it means seeing and reporting the relative distances between things. Drawing is a non-literary way of looking--and the skill to put down what you see in a two-dimensional way. Drawing mastery takes time and patience.

Colour mastery involves knowing the properties of pigments, both in theory and as chemicals that have certain effects on one another when juxtaposed or mixed. Colour mixes that call for opposites on the colour wheel (complementary), as well as nearby on the colour wheel (analogous), or even so closely related as to appear to be one colour (monochromatic), make for lively and sophisticated effects. Colour mastery takes time and patience.

Abstract understanding doesn't mean arbitrary sloshing and messing. Abstract art is controlled visual magic based on laws and methodology. Abstraction generally involves implication, suggestion and mystery rather that obvious description. Like a good poem, a good abstraction attacks your feelings before your understanding. Abstraction within realism adds zest and excitement to otherwise dull subject matter. Abstract understanding takes time and patience.

Compositional mastery is a variety of traditional rules that beg to be broken. That's why composition is the queen of the skills. With composition you learn to control and play with the eye and move it within the picture plane. Composition includes the golden mean, the rule of thirds, big and small, dark and light, activation, circulation, focus, pattern, stoppage and a pile of other ploys, many of them developed by you and unique to yourself. Compositional mastery also means the avoidance of lineups, homeostasis, and a jungle road of potholes too tedious and disheartening to include in a 500-word letter. Learn to compose intelligently in your own vocabulary and you can get away with murder. Compositional mastery takes time and patience.

Emotional evolution means combining basic skills--such as the above--so that a unique voice and engagement occur. Finding yourunique voice may not be everything, but it's way ahead of whatever comes next. Emotional evolution takes time and patience.

Best regards,


PS: "Skills aren't enough on their own. Emotion has to come through. But when you've got the various skills sewn up, that's one thing you don't have to worry about." (Zoe Benbow)

Esoterica: You can choose to make unskilled art if you wish. Unskilled art has its allure. The mere act of moving paint around can produce joy. Knowing little or nothing in the "how to" department and failing to inquire about it can probably make some people happy and may even be good for the soul. But if you persist in this direction, your unskilled work will be like that of so many others--and you will begin to bore yourself. On the other hand, the skills I suggest are worth learning for their own sake--and they will stand you well no matter what you try to do. They are hard won. We value most what is hard won--and so do many others. Skills worth learning take time and patience.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Robert Genn on "What turns you on?"

What turns you on?

February 7, 2012

Dear Sherrie,

The business guru Peter Drucker admitted motivation was a sticky wicket. "We know nothing about it," he said. "All we can do is write books about it." Our own Resource of Art Quotations holds a huge variety of angles on the subject. Picasso, for example, felt it oozed from the world around us because of the variety of material at our disposal. He also felt it had something to do with "the passion we get from women."

I wonder where that leaves the women. Do they get it from men?

Cicero thought motivation was all about obtaining praise. Others suggest the big thing is desire, and I agree, but nobody seems to be able to properly define what desire actually is. Some cynical ones figure motivation is all to do with fear, poverty, hunger and pain. Ouch.

Fact is, when our lives are free of clutter and we're "rolling pure," the stuff that turns us on is found as easily as shells along a tropical beach. But there's more to it than that. We follow our particular noses. Some are in it for sentiments, others as salve for their "inner selves." Still others feel the need to dig deeply for universal meanings.

Flawed though I may be, I've always trusted our universe. In the art department I'm looking for complexity, pattern, design, and just ordinary wonderful stuff to get the brush around. It seems to me that if deeper meanings are to be had, they'll somehow find a way to the end of the brush.

This naivety is not unique. It starts with what can only be called "love." Maybe that's where the women come in. Whatever, it's a growing love affair with a desirable and particular thing, often privately discovered and often from our youth. Specificity drives desire. Take, for example, the passion of many wildlife painters and illustrators of nature. Something to do with honouring--it's a high emotion that daily brings out the pencils and brushes.

Best regards,


PS: "Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly." (Stephen R. Covey)

Esoterica: Give yourself permission to fall in love and you'll partake in the miracle. Life may not be fully understood, but art is one way we can try. Drawing, for example, is a flashlight on the path to comprehension. Trying to master colour is to flirt with the gods. Composition makes us one of them. It's quite a turn-on.

But we artists needn't suffer the delusion that we're the only ones turned on. This morning I had a haircut and a beard trim in a beauty salon in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Accompanied by her own humming and singing, Murielle took her time and did a truly masterful job using only scissors, comb and a straight razor. Proud as rum punch, she kept admiring the two of us in the mirror. "My goodness I love cuttin' your hair, Mr. Bob," she said. "Come back tomorrow 'cause I need bad to dye it black." I'm thinking about it.