Those first few years


Robert Genn

June 17, 2011

Dear Rodney,

Yesterday, Ryan Foster of Tampa, Florida, wrote, "Between my Bachelor's degree and my Master's I've spent the last 7 years in school. Now that I'm done I feel pressure to get a job (to pay rent), but all I want to do is paint. How do I convince my newly married wife that it's possible to make it as an artist? What were your first couple of years out of school like? How did you get the ball rolling?"

Thanks, Ryan. Great questions--many answers. First, things were just as tough then as they are now. Second, in my case I was not particularly good at a lot of things, but, like you, trying to get good at painting was almost an obsession. Third, I wanted to be independent and self-employed at all costs. Getting a job would have sucked up my energy and signaled defeat. I just knew that I could do better than the crummy paintings that I was doing at the time. While disheartened, I was not the type to give up. Unattached, I was on my own.

After an excellent formal education, I still didn't know what I was doing. I felt I was on the outside looking in. Everybody was doing better than me. In a small rented studio I gave myself six months of concentrated, anti-social energy. I painted like a banshee--over six hundred paintings--anything that crossed my mind. My work seemed to form up and I gradually winnowed my preferences. With a naturally upbeat, non-angst nature and a fondness for peace and tranquility, my work began to show it. This was not calculated--just lucky. Finally desperate, I took my work around to several galleries--got rejected, then barely accepted by one. At the time, my work was just marginally "marketable."

From the very beginning I fought the idea of being a "local artist." I tried very hard to get my work into respectable galleries in other cities, other countries--even at the expense of local markets. Never one to sign contracts, I ran my life like a mutual fund--diversified dealers, varying results.

I was strategic. I planned ahead, penciled in projects. At no time did I ask for grants, nor did I enter contests or competitions. Looking back, my stance of 'simple worker' helped maintain my fragile self-esteem. My life was one of calculated studenthood. Still is. Inevitably, I fell further in love with painting. I so much valued and enjoyed the daily challenge of looking and seeing, contemplating and painting. Still do.

Best regards,


PS: "A wish has been defined as a 'goal with no energy behind it.' Hope is not a strategy." (Brian Tracy)

Esoterica: When I was about thirty-two I came to understand that my mutual fund concept was the right one. Walking to the mailbox one morning I found three separate checks from three separate galleries in three separate cities. I came back down to the house and told my new wife, Carol, that I didn't think money was going to be a problem from now on. And it hasn't.