by Robert Genn

March 31, 2009

The two main types of eccentricity are "genuine" and "phony." If you're 
sensitized to human nature, you'll find excellent examples of both 
types among your friends. Then there's the grey area where some folks 
start out phony and end up genuine. But that's another story. 

The phony ones lead such dull lives that they find the need to cook 
up stuff to make themselves stand out. The genuine ones come by 
eccentricity quite naturally--often unaware of their own idiosyncrasies. 
Eccentricity is the sidecar to the powerful motorcycle of individualism. 
Anyone who has read my stuff will know individualism is a good thing.

My friend Egbert Oudendag (1914-1998) was of the genuine kind, becoming 
even more genuine as he aged. Dining exclusively on spare ribs and 
grapefruit, owning up to nine bicycles at a time, eschewing the medical 
profession and painting while in the nude were just a few of his 
peculiarities. Egbert appeared poor and simple but was wealthy and 
smart. Our mutual bank manager thought him "mad." I wrote a short 
chapter about Egbert in "Love Letters to Art."

The controversial American journalist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) defined 
madness as "affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; 
at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that 
persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that they 
themselves are sane."

Egbert opened all his freshly purchased oils from the back end of the 
tube and cut in significant quantities of a secret oily brew. This 
gave him the longest and most languid stroke I've ever seen. His 
inventiveness in so many areas stemmed from his disadvantaged background 
in Holland before he immigrated to Canada. Eccentricity, coupled with 
need as the mother of invention, defines style. Egbert had style. 

Eccentricity is getting more difficult to fake. In what appears to 
be a rebirth of artistic responsibility, we are honouring craft and 
proficiency, as well as individual initiative. Conservative waves are 
spilling over the shaky dikes. We might just be left with empowered 
eccentrics who quietly make their own genuine articles. Eccentrics 
work. They think things out. They ride many bikes. This is a good thing.

Best regards,


PS: "Eccentricity is a method of distinction so cheap that fools employ 
it to accentuate their incapacity." (Ambrose Bierce) 

Esoterica: Truly creative people are perennially in a state of 
reinventing themselves. Anyone who cares to focus for a time on any 
difficult task is bound to exhibit elements of eccentricity. Artists 
need to take stock of what they are doing that's different from the 
norm--peculiarities of mixing, drawing, stroking, looking. Name them 
and claim them. We must see our uniqueness clearly and be prepared 
to go wherever it takes us. So what if it involves taking your clothes 
off? That's the way we were born, eh?