Serious artist
by Robert Genn

June 19, 2009

I'm out here on a rocky Donegal foreland. Below, on the beach, one of those 
smart-looking black-and-white Irish farm dogs is running loose. With no master 
in sight, the dog has a tennis ball she tosses in the air, chases and 
sometimes catches. Hit or miss, each attempt is announced with a joyful bark. 
She's telling me something: "Come on, Bob, loosen up. Put joy into that stuff. 
Get a life. Don't take yourself so seriously."

Everyone has heard of the "serious artist." The term has a lot of different 
meanings. To a person who paints only on Sundays, one who paints every day 
might be one. An artist whose work is difficult to understand may consider 
those who paint understandable things "not serious." On the other hand, 
realistic artists sometimes consider modernists to be only wanking the public 
and therefore not serious. Some think serious artists are those who deal with 
serious subject matter--poverty, war, politics, injustice, etc. Except for a 
bit of irony once in a while, these folks don't generally think humour has its 
place in art. You may know of artists who take themselves so seriously they 
become significant hazards at dinner parties. 

Hey, it's okay to be serious about honing technique, learning the ropes and 
trying to understand the muse. 

When I was younger and much more idealistic, I used to worry I was not 
serious enough. In my studies, I eventually got around to the critic Bernard 
Berenson and was relieved by his idea that art ought to be life-enhancing and 
not life-deprecating. I figured it was okay to please, both myself and others. 
Anger and angst were just fine for anyone else.  

Further, I've always thought that in an ideal state people should do only what 
they love--perhaps an impossible, hedonistic position. I'm sticking to it. The 
pursuit of personal joy is serious business. 

To experience joy one has to consider play. The British writer G.K. Chesterton 
said, "Children's play is the most serious thing." Unfortunately, age and 
accumulated wisdom tend to interfere with play. It's a human condition. Or is 

That dog down there is seriously immature, but she has a wisdom that is worth 
looking into.   

Best regards,


PS: "We have an infinite number of reasons to be happy, and a serious 
responsibility not to be serious." (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi)

Esoterica: "God," said Voltaire, "is a comedian playing to an audience too 
afraid to laugh." Obviously, some folks think all this seriousness is a 
byproduct of a great cosmic joke. And these little stretchy things--these 
canvases and the stuff we mark them up with--are truncated playgrounds of the 
human soul. In the end, it is we who can become the master jokers. "It is not 
necessary for the public to know whether I'm joking or whether I'm serious," 
said Salvador Dali, "just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself."