View Full Version : Artists should not talk

08-31-2012, 07:56 AM
Robert Genn, in his usually excellent email newsletter says this week:

" I don't think artists should talk about what
they're going to do, what they're doing, or, in some cases, what they've
done. Something about words that eviscerates the will to do things, to
derail works in progress, or take the shine off done deals"

Since Wet Canvas is not just about asking questions about materials etc, but is also about showing current works, talking about upcoming exhibitions, and expressing oneself generally.....I wonder how many would agree with what he says?

08-31-2012, 09:10 AM
Eh? Well, it is probably depending a lot on the person. I can happily talk about what I'm going to do, what I'm doing , and what I've done. With no ill effects, but then, I don't talk extensively about it.

I think I can understand what the estimated Mr Genn is hinting at: sometimes, the creative process doesn't have to be materialized. Sometimes, going through it mentally and verbally finishes the process.

It is said about Mozart that he visualised his compositions as three-dimensional structures, and saw them whole and complete. Then he only had the tedious task of writing it down on paper. Which in a way makes sense, as writing words also first happens in the head, and then the words are written and typed.

And the task may be just too much drudgery, without all the excitement and the feeling of flow of the creative process.

Which raises the question: how well do artists visualize in their minds what the finished painting will look like?

I don't do that too well, I think. I have to realize it, get it down on paper, and then evaluate it. For me, the process is taking place in the physical world. The visualization is rather dim, but I do have some inkling of what I want. But then the process becomes bilateral, a dialogue between me and the painting, where it and I respond to each other during the execution (sounds dangerous... :-)

Talking about it, getting input from others, it all contributes to the process.

Maybe Mr Genn means talking excessively? Especially the "what I have done" part. We all know people who tell us -- in extensio -- about former glories, and namedrop who they knew back in the 60s. Living in the past, reliving faded glories nobody else even care about anymore.

The past is gone, the future hasn't happened, we live right now. And I'll talk about it.

08-31-2012, 09:56 AM
"Eh?" is right, Charlie. I'd like to see a bit more of the context of this particular quote before I take it seriously. At best it's a very personal revelation disguised as a bit of advice. At worst it's nonsense. Just my opinion, of course.


08-31-2012, 10:14 AM
Actually Jan, the context is not really relevant. He simply begins the sentence by saying "Readers may have noticed that I don't think artists should talk about their work......" implying that this is a belief system he holds, and has discussed IN THE PAST.

He then goes on to talk about "humblebragging", which is talking DOWN your own work while not really meaning it... which I have no argument with, I too disapprove of false modesty.

I just have an issue with this particular statement. I "celebrate" any successes I might have...why not, indeed. Nobody else is necessarily going to do it for me ! I talk about what I am doing and sometimes - why. I try not to brag, but others might see it as such, I have no idea if they do or if they don't. I just hope they don't.

I see nothing whatsoever wrong with talking about my work, but I don't force it down others' throats. If anything, I don't bring up the subject at all, but if someone asks me what I am up to these days, I would think it very rude to refuse to discuss it at all, or to brush off their enquiry. I try not to bore them rigid by over-egging the pudding though! I certainly don't go into details, I doubt anyone other than another artist, would be interested.

I really like to get input from others, particularly artists here on WC, who often help me to see things with new eyes.

I once had a tutor who refused to talk about her work. She refused to show us students her work. She was incredibly secretive about her work. She would not even discuss it with her students. I found this odd. One doesn't have to shout from the rooftops, but any normal person, to my mind, should be able to talk a little about their work, and if that artist is going thro a period of experimentation, or is trying to work through problems, what is wrong with saying just that? When I had a fallow period, and someone would ask me about what I was doing, I simply said that I was taking a bit of a break.

I think it is all a question of balance. And common sense. And sensitivity to to others. I think the statement, as it stands, is somewhat extreme.

08-31-2012, 10:26 AM
I think our Goal Post thread is direct evidence that quite the opposite is true. Once people commit in words to what they plan on doing, they are far more likely to actually do it.

Talking about what you've done is perfectly fine, too. Creative endeavors are difficult. When people accomplish difficult things, then why not let others know! Some artists - I know I am one - get much of their energy and inspiration from communicating with others. People are usually more enthused and energetic when they are part of a group. If you have friends to paint with or are part of a class, you do more. I think WetCanvas is another good example of that.


Kathryn Wilson
08-31-2012, 11:05 AM
I agree partly with what Robert says - I've learned not to talk about an idea in public, rather just to close friends - I've had it turn around and bite me when I don't follow through exactly what I had verbalized.

My paintings rarely turn out exactly the way I intended - I get the comp, theme, color palette all set, but when I start painting the painting takes on a life of its own. If I were to copy a photograph exactly, where's the joy in that? If I were to copy a plein air scene exactly, many a painting won't work because nature is not made that way.

So, I keep my mouth shut and paint.

On the other hand, I value the advice given on this web site and always try to give back and wouldn't have it any other way.

08-31-2012, 02:52 PM
Ah, now talking about an IDEA...to me, that is quite different. Talking in detail about what you INTEND to do....has the potential to be fraught with danger, since intent and execution are often miles apart. I don't talk much about work in progress, because it is fluid and often changes. I would simply say something like "I am working on a new piece - it has a way to go yet."

I might say "I am planning to try so and so". I don't see anything wrong with that. I might fail.....but nobody is going to judge me harshly for that. I would have no problem admitting failure. I always say that knowing what you never want to do again, is progress!

I am unconvinced by what Robert says because to me, he seems to be saying that by talking about your work, you "dilute" your creativity and your successes (take the shine off done deals??? I think not. )
Words, for me, definitely do NOT "eviscerate the will to do things"....like Don, I think that once someone starts talking about something, it is a step on the way to DOING it.

I think I am going to impart all of this to Mr G himself. See - words, then action.

Kathryn Wilson
08-31-2012, 05:13 PM
I look forward to what you have to say to Mr. G - :)


08-31-2012, 05:53 PM
Thank you, Jackie, for the additional info on the context (or lack thereof). I am still of the notion that this is more of a "note to self" piece rather than a suggestion that all artists ought to heed. If talk eviscerates Mr. Genn's will to do things, derails his works in progress, or takes the shine off his done deals, then he is more than wise to keep mute about it all. And so would anyone else who observes the same effects on their work.

The rest of us can each forge our own MO (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modus_operandi).

But this is good stuff! Thought-provoking and fun to noodle over. Thank you! :thumbsup:


08-31-2012, 06:02 PM
Mostly I agree with Genn. I don't like talking about my work, often because I'm never quite sure why I'm doing what I'm doing. Asking me for a "bio," what galleries I'm in, what shows I've been in, what awards I've won strikes me as superficial. Who cares?:rolleyes: If someone likes my work, fine. If someone doesn't, fine. But I suggest staying tuned, because over time it will probably change. Then those who don't like it might, and those who do might not. Such is life (yes, I've really said this.)

I disagree with him when it comes to teaching. I try to be as open as I can. Beginners are struggling, not that we all aren't, but often they don't see it that way. I talk about process. A lot. About my "ah-ha!" moments, and who helped me reach those moments, how looong it took. I talk about concentration on a subject, getting the feeling of place. I feel this is relevant to teaching.

I also talk about my problems and joys with like minded folks. Other artists who are on the same wave length. There aren't very many of these.

I never discuss goals. What goals?:eek: I don't have any except live to paint another day.

That's about it.

08-31-2012, 08:47 PM
NO WAY!......it's called marketing........tell them how wonderful the painting is, how/where it was done and don't let them out of your site until they buy a painting.......they want to hear about yourself, why you paint as you do, awards you have won, books,magazines, etc you are in.....etc......

listen to him and you will be sitting in the corner twittling your thumbs.....never selling a thing.....

you wouldn't drink COKE if they didn't constantly tell you how much you need it, how good it taste, etc.

you make the painting and baby, you've got to market it, which means selling yourself.....no vaniety in business......:thumbsup:

08-31-2012, 11:45 PM
I think Genn's quote is very prescriptive. What is right and true for one person is not necessarily right and true for another. There are some artists whose work I admire and respect, and so I am interested in how they think and what makes them tick. There are others whose work does not appeal to me so I don't really care what they think. Genn belongs to the latter group for me, so I would take his opinions with a grain of salt.

09-01-2012, 02:00 AM
NO WAY!......it's called marketing........tell them how wonderful the painting is, how/where it was done and don't let them out of your site until they buy a painting.......they want to hear about yourself, why you paint as you do, awards you have won, books,magazines, etc you are in.....etc......

If you have a good agent or gallery, this is their job. As an artist, my job is painting the best I can. I have a friend who goes through what you describe when she wants to sell what she calls a "dog." Then she and her husband quietly go "woof-woof" after the sale, pocket the check and move on.

On many occasion (and I'm not bragging), I have sold paintings right off the easel without saying much more than the cost and discussing the medium (are those chalks?). A decent painting sells itself.

09-01-2012, 03:20 AM
I do think you are right, Sonni, a decent painting sells itself, but there is also no denying the power of marketing - sometimes a less than decent painting, or a dead sheep in formaldehyde - is sold as a major work of art and that has a LOT more to do with marketing than the merit of the piece itself imho.

I am afraid that galleries do set store by a bio. I sometimes wonder if that is the only way that gallery owners can judge who they accept! Otherwise, they simply accept on the basis of what THEY like, but that might not be the same as what sells, and they are in the business of selling or they will quickly go out of business...but this is a whole 'nother subject.

Certainly, as a teacher, one needs to communicate with one's students, otherwise you are just a watcher, not a teacher. I have met some of those. When at art school, I had a teacher stand behind me while I did a life drawing - he stood there silently for some time. I imagined he was either admiring my work, or thinking what on earth to say because it was so bad. I shook in my shoes. Then he opened his mouth and said "that's an interesting pencil you are using...what make is it?".............eh? Why on earth was this man a teacher?

I think Robert is entitled, as are you Sonni, to feel disinclined to talk about his work, or to sense that with words, he might derail himself...but I do not think he should be suggesting that this is how all artists should behave. Would be better, as Jan suggests, to leave it as a note to self, saying " I personally prefer not to talk about my work because...."

Nobody could argue with that.

09-01-2012, 05:16 AM
That quote seems a little ironic.

09-01-2012, 07:02 AM
Right, Blue brings up an important point. An artist has to market their work.

Now, I live in the capital, where The Art-scene is. It is like a mini-New York (fewer galleries, but with the same paradigm). It is not likely I'll ever get gallery representation, as they take on artists who provoke. So I *have to* market, if I want to make a living from painting. I would have to market in the unlikelihood that my work would end up in a gallery, as I can't resign from the responsibility of making a living.

There's no way a decent painting of mine is going to sell off the easel in the second bedroom or my (the bank's) house. Not unless I let people know it exists, and bring it to a place where they can see it. And talk about it a bit.

And what about people who live in climates other than California? My plein air season is a max of 4 months/year, so I can't be my own "advert board" all that often, especially when it rains all summer...

We are all in different situations, locations, cultures, etc. One size doesn't fit all.

09-01-2012, 09:13 PM
You do have a point, Charlie, if you are under pressure to sell, or if your goal is to make art to sell. Of course one size doesn't fit all. That wasn't my point. I have always been more interested in the process and if the process brings about a sale, life is a little better financially. My job is painting and that's how I've always looked at it. I don't join clubs that want me to sit shows, bring dips to openings or attend monthly meetings (unless it's a meeting where we paint or I've been asked to do a demo). Joining a few does raise your visibility, though. They have member shows. There must be clubs and societies in Stockholm.

Where you paint and what you paint is always important, I think. I don't mind people milling about my plein air set up as long as they don't ask me a lot of what I consider dumb questions. So, often, if the subject suits me, I paint where there is foot traffic. Almost always someone will stop and ask about a piece I'm working on. I smile, thank them and hand them my card and explain I really need to concentrate on what I'm doing. When I am not painting outdoors, I'm in a life drawing group, and somehow word gets out to come look. My studio, I have to admit, is a dead end. I could die in it and no one would know for weeks. I've had hits from my puny little Flickr site, with people telling me to get a website and do a blog. Probably a good idea, a way to get paintings out there, but it hasn't happened yet.

What I'm saying is that I understand a person has to make his or her own venue within their particular situation. I'm not against marketing if the work is really good, nor am I against other people talking about their work if done tastefully. But it bothers me that in this day and age, instant gratification is the rage and too often people, including artists, expect instant compensation for their work regardless of the quality. I've been working at painting (and not very diligently) for about six years now, after art school training completed 30 years ago. Between then and now I didn't do much in the way of fine art and I can't possibly compare myself with those who have been at it on a daily--hourly-- basis for maybe thirty years. I look at the work of artists such as Marc Hanson , Elizabeth Mowrey , Richard McKinley , Joe Paquet, Gil Dellinger , Harley Brown , Howard Terpning, Matt Smith and many others. and clam up when it comes to my own. Six lousy years and I'm brilliant? Here-- buy this, it's great? I don't think so.

A week or so ago, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the third largest art market in the US. In among the gems on Canyon Rd, there were canvases of stuff that I would be embarrassed to admit I'd painted had I been the artists (I've seen better work on Wet Canvas!). All hanging on the walls with hefty price tags. Some of the artists were at hand, hawking their wares (this was the Fri. night art stroll and openings). People gawking at Nieto's work, for example (which has slid to a lower level--sloppy execution, iffy composition...), with Nieto holding court. Marketing.

09-02-2012, 11:01 AM
I went to Santa Fe some while ago, loved the fair, and did a stroll along Canyon Road too. I think that the prices get hiked up because they can get it! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and i guess if someone wants a painting which has been sloppily executed, and is prepared to pay the earth for it, so be it. I imagine it costs quite a lot to have a gallery, or house on Canyon Road, and the prices reflect that.

I doubt those artists whose work you felt was rubbish, were embarrassed at all - they probably think their work is fine, because it sells. One size certainly does not fit all, and that applies to the world at large. Paintings that I look at and deeply admire are seldom those which are brilliantly, psychedelically coloured....but I know people who search out paintings like that. Each to his own.

I am about to show a fair bit of work at an Open Studio at my home..about 45 paintings.....I have absolutely no doubt that I will have a mixed reaction, because that is the way of the world. As for Mr G's comment...well, if I did not talk about my Open Studio, advertise my open studio, publicise my open studio, and do my best to get people here, I would end up twiddling my thumbs for three weeks, looking at the walls all on my own!!! That still might happen, in this difficult financial climate, but I feel I had to give it my best shot.

09-02-2012, 06:53 PM
I've never been one for 'marketing'. I grew up in a family of realtors and insurance salesman, and salesladies.

There has been a lot said in this thread, and perhaps I missed it but one of the other reasons (I think) that artists should just stop talking, is that ... in my opinion .... the talking needs to be done with the medium. Any movement of the mouth, for me, seems to 'kill' the piece being hawked. Much of the magic, again in my opinion, comes from the artist being able to work 'magic' with the pencil, pen, brush, fingers, etc.

Great art doesn't need a mouthpiece, in my opinion.

09-02-2012, 08:07 PM
I don't think anyone wants to listen to an artist of any sort brag about their talent or work to the point you'd think they were the only one on earth. However, several years ago when I first began to get serious about painting and attempting to sell my work I had an opportunity to sell my work in a small gallery in exchange for working there a couple days out of the week. The owner of the gallery was a good friend and an encouragement and supporter to me at that time. I sometimes wonder if I would have ever made it out of the bedroom where I painted if it weren't for him. His work was quite different from mine and he already had established his name to a degree with different followers. While working in the gallery there were times when one of his past clients would come in and comment on how much they liked one of my paintings until they found out it wasn't one of his and then they'd go to his work. I was too shy to tell them I was the artist and it was not my intention to steal his clients. I also didn't tell anyone else I knew that I painted and that my work was in that gallery. One day someone I had known for along time approached me and said I didn't know you painted and went on to give me some nice complicments. By the end of the summer my work was selling fairly decent but to people that knew neither one of us. But my work was out where people could see it. Were it still at home sitting in the corner of my bedroom no one would have seen it or known it existed. Opportunities like this don't happen that easily in larger cities/towns though where the competition is much greater to get seen. If you don't have representation at a gallery or other avenue I think you need to talk about your work or no one even knows your artwork exists. And I do believe that people buy your work because they know you and like you and attach feelings of one sort or another between the artist and the work.

09-02-2012, 10:58 PM
I wonder what he actually meant by not talking, does he mean bragging?
Sometimes I'm guilty of thinking too much and not doing anything, if you take his comment as "advise" maybe I shouldn't think at all, or maybe I'm not a good enough artist and should take my pastels and drop them in the bin because I don't understand these type of comments.
And by the way, I don't talk about my work because I don't really know what to say,and guess what I hardly sell anything!

09-03-2012, 04:35 PM
maybe I'm not a good enough artist and should take my pastels and drop them in the bin because I don't understand these type of comments.

Not a good idea if you enjoy painting. If you work to improve your skills, eventually you will sell if this is important to you. Often this means taking really good workshops. On Wet Canvas Johannes Vloothuis had a great series of free-bees. At my intermediate level I learned a lot! Did you tune in? If not, for about $20 you can purchase a lesson. Barry John Raybauld has an online tutorial. He gives great advice--classic information to help students. The cost is less than a workshop with 20 people in it. These are the things you can do to paint better. If you care mostly about selling, I have no advice.

As for being good enough, come on! Just about every painter goes through these thoughts at one time or another. You brush them aside and keep on truckin'. Richard McKinley told me once he had one good painting for every 10 he did. You may never be a Rembrandt, or a Howard Terpning. You may be mediorce like many, many artists. But so what? I'm 72 now, and figure there's nothing for me to lose by doing what I love. Painting. What else am I going to do? Watch the clouds roll by until I'm parked on the porch of an old folks home wishing I had? Not in my bucket list.

My guess, and this is only that, is Genn thinks talking about your inspiration for works of art (every friggin' reporter I've talked to asks that as well as onlookers), what a certain passage means, why you are making art, why did you paint it that way, do you see the whole painting in your head, how did you arrive at a certain point, etc. is futile. In general I agree with this.

09-03-2012, 04:44 PM
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,

Ah, yes, Jackie. This is another conversation, which could go on for pages. I'll just say that when I'm looking at a piece of artwork, I am not looking for "beauty." I'm looking for solid composition or design, how values work in dealing with the light, color harmony, mood, movement, pattern, craftsmanship-- and for me I like to see a little discord that jolts the eye. Not necessary in a good piece, and I've liked many pieces without it. But I always look for it. I look at art this way regardless of the genre. I don't know what the "general public" looks for, but gather it's sometimes just the signature.

09-03-2012, 06:12 PM
the 'general' public looks for a piece that will color match their new sofa!.......a 'fact of a marketing artist life'........

and Sonni, I really do enjoy the creative side of 'hawking my wares' as I do creating them........but to each her/his own........:thumbsup:

'blue :wave:

09-03-2012, 06:57 PM
Eh? And, heins? Bragging? OK, some people do brag, for certain, but normally artists talk about what they do, their passion. Sadly, that can be labelled bragging by envious friends/family. But, they measure their life against their myth about an artist's life. If an artist wants to earn a living and not only a pittance, they have to be business people as well as artists. Who says a lawyer brags when they talk about their job? Does the sales-person brag when talking about their job? No, but as people believe falsely that an artist sleeps all morning, spends all evening at a bar/club/Café Guerbois where they pick up babes or hunks, and then spend a couple of hour of the afternoon in devilishly inspired "creativity", they feel envy. It is all in their head, and I say it is therefore *their* problem.

There is a vast difference between art as a hobby, and art as a profession earning a living. If one never has to deal with customers/clients, and if one doesn't have to pay the bills by money earned from one's art, then one has the luxury to do art for art's sake. Working artists have to balance on the knife's edge of staying true to their artistic vision, and please clients. To quote 10CC (a band, making music) "art for art's sake, money for god's sake".

Yes, I want to eat, and have my own roof over my poor head. So I'll bite it and paint something matching their sofa. Luxury of painting only what I want isn't on the agenda at this particular time. I congratulate you who have it, and I hope I'll be able to in a not too distant future. And I'm delirious that people do want to buy what I paint while on this lifetime long path of learning.

09-03-2012, 07:10 PM
I checked Genn's link. Here it is:


He starts like this so you see the context.

(begin quote)
Readers may have noticed that I don't think artists should talk about what they're going to do, what they're doing, or, in some cases, what they've done. Something about words that eviscerates the will to do things, to derail works in progress, or take the shine off done deals. But now that everyone's blabbing, tweeting and Facebooking minor and major glories, there's a new way to deliver your stuff. It's called humblebragging.

This is where you lace your accomplishments with enough humility to get your stuff across and yet soften the blow to others. After all, it's not nice to let people think your life is better than theirs.

"That crummy painting I struggled with and almost threw out got sold to Lindsay Lohan."

You get the idea? (end quote)

09-04-2012, 04:30 AM
I did mention, in post 4 right at the beginning, that he goes on to discuss "humblebragging" which I have no argument with, I too feel false modesty makes the artist look a little ridiculous.

I only was concerned with the opening two sentences, which show a belief he holds. To my mind, the humblebragging issue is, in fact, a separate issue completely, which he has launched off the back of the first comment.

Even if you are not a "humblebragger", and you discuss your work with honesty and sincerity, nevertheless banging on about WHY you painted something, and HOW you painted it, and what that particular passage means, will surely bore the socks off any well-meaning person who was foolish enough to ask you a question of this kind. So perhaps it might be best to keep fairly quiet about the hows and whys. (Or certainly keep it short and sweet! ) You and I think alike there, Sonni!

But as for "derailing work in progress" or "taking the shine off done deals" - sorry, I just don't get what he is on about.

thanks for all the thoughtful responses.

09-04-2012, 08:16 AM
Gosh Charlie, I really like that description of a 'artist' in your first paragraph.....I've been doing it wrongly all these years......do you have the address of that Cafe Guerbois?.........:rolleyes:

'blue :wave:

09-04-2012, 09:26 AM
yeah, I'd like it too. We can meet up there in between being devilishly creative.....

Charlie you are a gem.

09-04-2012, 12:17 PM
Blue, are you asking us for a double date? :-D Let's meet in Paris, at 9 Avenue de Clichy, the Café Guerbois (today the Brasserie Müller).

09-04-2012, 01:14 PM
shopping for 'airline tickets' while we speak......oh boy!....I'm finally going to live the life of a 'artist'! :wink2: :angel: :lol:

09-04-2012, 02:00 PM
Charlie, I am relying on you for writing a full report on how to be a "proper artist" in the Scribler next month, with 'blue filling in the devilish details. Have fun!