The school of life

June 24, 2011

Robert Genn

Every year about 900,000 North Americans buy brushes and paints for the first time. Every year, often after a prolonged bout of frustration, about 800,000 folks decide painting is not their thing. These figures are confirmed by the statistics of artists' colourmen and art materials stores. Apparently, at any given time, three percent of the population is trying to paint.

On the surface, painting looks easy, offers mounds of personal satisfaction and has the potential of big bucks. But then again, so does golf. And we all know that golf makes grown men cry.
When closely examined, high-aimed painting is difficult, loaded with disappointment and the dubious benefits of poverty.

My basic idea is that pretty well all motivated persons can become realized painters. But it's a tricky, deceptive path with lots of sink-holes. Certain personality types, in my observation, have a better chance than others. To test yourself against my findings, give yourself a score of one to ten on the following twelve items. You don't have to score well on all. Out of a possible score of 120, if your score is over 70 you'll be a likely candidate for a life in art.






*self-motivated, entrepreneurial

*loner, non-joiner, outsider

*hard worker




*individualistic, resistant to prior programming

The personality traits listed above all sidestep the possibilities of innate talent. Curiously, many with loads of talent don't make it. Talent only completes the equation. While many may have some primal facility in drawing, color or composition, talent may be more the combination of some of those twelve personality traits. In the words of Louis Armstrong, "If ya ain't got it in ya, ya can't blow it out."
Our main job in life is to try to find out what we're good for. Life is a school. We keep taking tests. If we pass a test, we move on. If we fail a test, sooner or later we are given the test again. Failing or succeeding, wise artists know themselves and quickly move through the tests. In art, it takes a lifetime of moving through the tests. Fact is, they never stop coming.

Best regards,


PS: "To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life." (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Esoterica: Many of us are urged in our youth to choose a lifetime field. Recent research following the lives of a wide range of people found that many life directions are cast in bronze by conditions or remarks made back in high school. In a recent Time Magazine article, Annie Murphy Paul noted, "High school is a formative life experience, as social as it is academic, in which students encounter a jostling bazaar of potential identities--from jock to prep to geek [to artist]--and choose, (or are assigned) one that will stay with them for years to come."