Conversation piece
by Robert Genn

February 1, 2011

Yesterday, Anne Swannell of Victoria, B. C., wrote, "A couple of years ago one of my 
paintings sold in a group show and also won the Viewer's Choice Award. The other day, 
I printed a copy of it to be made into a card, when I noticed it had an error. It's 
a painting of people walking in the rain, with reflections of them and their 
umbrellas. But one of the reflections is missing an umbrella! Would you call up the 
buyer and offer to paint a blurry upside-down umbrella in, or would you consider 
that mistake part of the picture's mystique and leave well enough alone?" 

Thanks, Anne. There are times when you need to repair your sold paintings, but this 
is not one of them. You have produced what is known as a "conversation piece," that 
is, something the owners and their friends can talk about long after it stops 
raining in B.C. My guess is your customer will want it left just the way it is. FYI, 
we've put the painting at the top of the current clicback.

Whether by intent, intuition or error, artists do well to take liberties in their 

Art has the potential for another kind of truth--the truth of illusion, distortion, 
anomaly, enigma, exaggeration, paucity, understatement, embellishment and error. If 
everything in a picture were exactly as in nature, there would be little to engage 
anyone, much less give them something to talk about. Art fascinates for reasons the 
artist and the viewer cannot always define. We sit in front of our work and say, 
"There's something funny about this, but I don't know what it is." 

Just the thing you can't figure out may just be the basis of its charm. Further, 
with the exception of a short hint in the title, your work is mute. Here are a few 
ideas to encourage your viewers to speak up on its behalf:

A personal connection to either you or the owner.
An intriguing style that has them wondering.
An incongruity that begs the question, "What's this?"

Artists are supposed to be the ones with imagination. A good part of our job 
description is to get regular people to use theirs.

Best regards,


PS: "Those things which are most real are the illusions I create in my paintings." 
(Eugene Delacroix)

Esoterica: Recently, I was a guest at one of our exclusive men's clubs, an 
establishment I've visited a dozen times. There's a painting in there that shows a 
steeplechase horse knocking down part of a fence. The cast shadow of the fence shows 
the fence in perfect shape, as if the picture was painted faster than the speed of 
light. Our host delighted in asking, "Can you see what's wrong with this picture?" 
I pleaded ignorance, of course, so that he could get the upper hand in the 
conversation. It was kicking a dead horse for me, having seen it before, but his 
other guests were mighty impressed and continued to discuss the painting at length 
during dinner.