Passing the light
by Robert Genn

February 4, 2011

Returning from a workshop a few years ago, I dropped in on a fellow painter whose 
name I'll not mention. "You know, Robert," he said, "Every time you do a workshop 
and show people how you do things, it gets tougher and more competitive for both 
you and me." Even though my friend was remarkably religious, he didn't seem to have 
been in class the day they covered the Golden Rule.

I told him I wasn't aware that sharing diminished my work or my business, and 
besides, I felt I had an obligation to those who might be craving info and know-how. 
When I told him it gave me joy to proselytize whatever I knew, he frowned as if I 
was on the slippery slope to a life of sin.

Then there was the time a fellow phoned and asked if he could hang out in my studio 
for a day. A perfect gentleman, he brought his own lunch, hardly said a word, took 
notes, and left. A week or so later a friend phoned to say that I had a disciple--
my work was in a certain gallery with this guy's name on it. Did I forgive him? Yep.

While a few bad eggs turn up in every egg-processing plant, what's amazing is that 
the vast majority are Grade A. Most artists want to be original. They grasp the 
principle of rugged individualism. They don't want to make someone else's work 
under their own name. But they do have a right to get info from someone who has 
some sort of a track record. In my experience, no instructor claims the Holy Grail. 
As Stephen Quiller says, "The one common element that I've discovered when studying 
master painters is that they were all students." 

Painting is tougher than the accurate drilling of root canals. Painter wannabees 
need all the help they can get. Composition, colour mixing, and the professional 
touch, to name just a few, can be troublesome minefields. The better mentors give 
options. Choose your mentors carefully. In my experience, some of the best love it 
so much they do it for a song. In some cases you might have to bring your own lunch.   

Best regards,


PS: "He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without 
diminishing mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without 
darkening me." (Thomas Jefferson)

Esoterica: When I was about 8 years old my dad took me to watch a pro. Among other 
magical visions, I saw him spread a wash of Ultramarine blue and Burnt Sienna 
across a slightly tilted sheet of rough Whatman. When my dad sprung for my own 
watercolour block, my folks endured a few days with a whirling dervish at their 
kitchen table.