Robert Genn May 29, 2009 In 1995, Stanford University psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson coined the term "Stereotype threat." At the time, they were dealing with such stereotypes as "Girls do poorly in math" and "African Americans are challenged in higher education." Their idea was that the mere knowledge of expectations affected performance. Conversely, such stereotypes as "Jews are smart" seemed to have a positive effect on Jewish academic performance. Prophesies and indigenous myths can be self-fulfilling. As artists, one of our frequently heard stereotypes is "Painters are poor." A more gentle variation is "While painters may live enriched lives, they suffer a lifetime of having no money." Funnily, this stereotype hasn't been around long--mainly since Paul Gauguin deserted his wife and kids and tried to live cheaply among the brown ladies of Tahiti. Somerset Maugham wrote a play about it: "The Moon and Sixpence." These days, the poor-artist stereotype is sometimes reinforced in art schools where instructors advise students on the thrills of their impending poverty. In the Stanford psychologist's theory, the most recent or oft-repeated stereotype has the most potent influence. Students who were issued a written test, for example, tended to do better when asked for their personal details at the end, rather than at the beginning, of the test. When I was about ten years old, my dad took me to visit a couple of Fine Artists. Both these painters seemed to me to lead enriched lives, working with integrity and to be anything but poor. They had no day jobs and, apparently, no inheritance to keep their families comfortable. They worked long hours and sent excellent art to distant dealers. The penny dropped in my bony little head that an artist could prosper, and the penny has been lodged there ever since. Popping the festering bubble of stereotype ought to be part of our job description. Here are a few more to think about: "Collectors prefer their artists to be male," "Art is what you can get away with," and "Painters are flogging a dead horse." Best regards, Robert PS: "Some members of stigmatized groups lag behind others because they have internalized the stereotypes." (John Cloud, Time Magazine) Esoterica: One of those artists my dad and I visited was quite elderly. We bought his old, much-sanded drawing table, which I still treasure. It was this sort of experience that gave me the idea of the Eternal Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists. While we tend to be solitary, we are part of a greater movement that spans generations. And while misery, poverty and poisonous pedagogy lurk beside our paths, we can take power from the positive in one another.