Fresh wisdom to trump the monkey.


I was served two giant helpings of insight this morning, both in my email inbox.

First, this note from Evelyn:

Hi Danny,

I recently ran a drawing class for adults – a sort of introduction to urban sketching, really. On the first day I shared the story of my own rediscovery of drawing, a rediscovery largely fueled by Everyday Matters. I talked about letting go of attachment to the outcome, focusing on seeing and the connection that is made with the world around us as we draw. I said don’t wait for it to be perfect before you share what you draw.

One of the participants then told me, ” I don’t have much confidence and I have no experience. The reason I signed up for this class was because the drawing on the flyer was not that good.”

It was a drawing I’d done with a bamboo pen and ink I didn’t know was water soluble, so the watercolour kind of ran into the ink and there are some pretty messy bits.

This woman’s words made a big impression on me. There is so much value in modelling joyful imperfection!!

When I teach in high schools, I don’t teach art, but the same principle holds. We need to help people to be able to love themselves unconditionally. To be self critical without anxiety and to create fearlessly.

With gratitude for all you have given, and my best wishes, Evelyn

And then, on a different but somehow related note, this blogpost from Jennifer: Live up to your full potential. It’s a lovely perspective on how to judge whether you are making the most of your gifts.

What if we redefined what this whole potential thing really meant? What if, instead of having to prove our creative selves in a particular area of art, we could reach our potential by simply living artfully? What if, instead of striving to make lots of money with our art, or show just how technically perfect we could draw… what if we engaged in our everyday lives with an artful eye, probing the moments for beauty? What if, we reached our potential by daily living the life WE HAVE, the good and the bad, the mundane and the magical, with open arms and full hearts, celebrating and capturing some of it in an artful manner along the way? What if living up to our potential as artists had MORE to do with seeing the beauty in all of life and sharing it with one or more persons, than with being able to say we have devoted our whole lives to making a career of x or y or z.

To me, these are both conversations about the monkey, about how we can cope with the incessant jabber of our self-doubt and -criticism that wastes so much energy and time. As Evelyn points out, our ‘failures’ are in fact our richest lessons. The most important things is just to start, to make, to move forward, and to shun the wimper within that woud keep us forever in the starting blocks. That voice isn’t just an impediment, it’s a cancer that chews on us, winnowing us down to smaller and smaller versions of ourselves, as we brutalize ourselves with doubt and recrimination. Be kind to yourself, and be creative.

Jennifer’s lessons comes from outside, from the larger world that uses the dollars as the only true yardstick, from the golden monkey now internalized. This monkey voice is just one of the sheepdogs of economics and really has nothing to do with us.  It barks the simple cry of the market. For art to be valued financially, it must be a limited commodity. If everybody made art, it would be so common it would have no financial value. So our society is geared towards making art an exceptional behavior created by the few, a meager supply managed by the system of galleries and museums that turn human creativity into a market.

So it’s not surprising that when you graduate from crayons and want to continue creating art as part of your everyday life, you are discouraged from making at every turn. The only way that art can be sanctioned is if you pass through the system of art schools, galleries and critics that will cull the herd and protect the market.

Fortunately, the Internet has made it possible to share your creativity with other people and to get positive feedback and constructive criticism without financial transactions. The Internet has liberated us from the marketplace of art. It has restored the impulse for creative expression that has existed in our species since we painted bison on the  walls of caves.

This isn’t anti-capitalist. It is pro-self-expression. And it is optimistic. Because no matter whether it is stifled by the government, by religion, by the marketplace or by snobs and bores, ultimately that impulse will return and prevail. Now more than ever.

One of the wonderful things about the Internet is that value and scarcity are no longer inextricably linked. Now good ideas are what are valuable and good ideas can be copied over and over and shared with billions and still retain their value. We live in the golden age of creativity, a new renaissance. Now making art will no longer be discouraged. it will be essential.

art with a small a is not a product. It’s a point of view.  It’s a way of life.

art isn’t for museums. art is for everyday.

The Art world is about money. art is about passion, love, life, humanity — everything that is truly valuable.

29 thoughts on “Fresh wisdom to trump the monkey.”

  1. It’s incredible how YOUNG people learn to be self-critical of their own art, too, Danny.

    art with a small “a” is GRAMMAR that cave-people used to use to communicate, express and share ideas. It’s part of being human. It **IS** passion, love, life and humanity right down to our DNA.

    Sometimes I just want to shake people when they’re looking into their pocket computer devices and walking around like zombies and tell them to look up and talk to people, observe the world and take it all in. It’s glorious!!! People are glorious and we can see so much happiness and joy in the world if we look around.

    Thanks for the Monkey series. It resonates! It’s powerful! Huzzah!


    1. Great thoughts! Yes, “art” is about communication and self-expression, and I think, growth. Somehow ideas and thoughts develop and work themselves out in the background in the act of creation.


  2. Another great post in praise of creativity! May we “create fearlessly” as Evelyn says. And of course anything Jennifer has to say is like a ray of multicolored light. As you say, we must “start, to make, to move forward, and to shun the wimper within”. I think creating is a little like a bar of soap. It just sits there until you pick it up and start using it, and then, oh, the bubbles it can make you can’t even imagine!


  3. This is a glorious post, Danny! It made me happy, and validated that it really doesn’t matter if other people think what I create is art…it’s the fact that I DO create and am filled up and challenged by the act of creating. It’s the fact that, by creating art, it helps me to see, and feel and experience the world around me in whole new ways. It’s the fact that creating art teaches me new lessons each and every day and connects me with people that I would not have come to know otherwise.


  4. When I teach sketching and watercolor, i break it down in simple steps. I’ve often had students say, at the end of my demo, “I can do that!” It feels great, to me, to share that love of capturing everyday matters…. Great insight about what the internet has done for creative self expression. Wow, so true!


  5. This is a great post and I thank you so much. School begins in about 3 weeks and one of the problems I grapple with every year and with each class is how to get kids (middle school) to value their own work. I’m printing your words out and posting it on my bulletin board right behind my desk so I see it and am reminded of making “art with a small a” all year. Thank you for so generously sharing with all of us.


  6. yES! That’s exactly why I don’t have a monkey! I have a small audience of followers on my blog who each week tell me they like the people I draw, they feel they have gotten to know them personally! My “people” look nothing like the people I am drawing or very little like only in a wonky way. But in a year and a half of drawing them, what started out as a personal challenge has become my passion, and the feedback I get definitely keeps me going. I’ve not thought of it as art anyone would want to buy. But it gives me such pleasure, capturing my daily life in ink and paint, and sharing it with others, that that is more valuable to me than dollars. I don’t worry about rejection. I do it for myself. If others don’t like it they don’t come to see it. It’s their choice. I focus on my own joy and the joy I give my small audience of followers! I’m so glad I gave myself that personal challenge to draw in public!


  7. Thank you Danny, for compiling all these thoughts into a broader whole!! And I love this: “art with a small a is not a product. It’s a point of view. It’s a way of life.” Yes!!


  8. These points of view and your comments are priceless–which is what living artfully is really all about, isn’t it? Thank you for the boost you just gave me by sharing these emails and your perspective. I have a project or two I need to finish…


  9. Absolutely spot on! You’re so right, Danny. thank you so much. Here toward the end of my life I have no desire to use my energy to enter shows or market my art, but I don’t want to/can’t stop making art. It’s who I have always been, a maker, a painter, an artistic soul. It’s all right to have a studio full of supplies and an attitude of play with no end in mind.


  10. […]  Check out this recent post by Danny Gregory, especially the final paragraphs distinguishing between Art (what you already do) and art (which might be your key, for example,  to new “flexibility” or “looseness” because formal art training often “tightens” us up)): […]


  11. “…Except you be changed, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” I take that to mean that if we revert back to the creative, playful abandon of a child, we can attain that blissful state of Joy we all seek in this life! Forcing ourselves to see our accomplishments as having to measure up to some vague, institutional standard is truly a living hell, dontcha think?


    1. Love that verse, Elspeth.

      Makes me think of the line, ‘And all these things shall be added unto you.’

      I have a bad habit of putting the cart before the horse sometimes. When you get your head straight and your priorities right then everything flows.

      Great stuff.


  12. The hairs on my head stood up as I read this post. I drew my parents last week and their faces (which I’ve known for 45 years) are more alive & more real to me than ever before. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that celebrated them as much and my monkey has been well and truly silenced. To me, art is a form of worship and seeing the world with artful eyes is my way of honouring this amazing life I get to live. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in a way that reflect & enhance my own.


  13. Great post Danny. Thanks to Evelyn and Jennifer for their seeds of wisdom. For years I stood on the “just starting” step. When I finally understood an valued the process above and beyond what anyone thought of my art I began to really move forward. And an image transfer group began a whole new world of other like minds and wonderful feedback. Does every effort feel fabulous? No. Do I let that stop me? NO! It’s all part of living an art-full and art filled life.


  14. Amen. Awesome. Absolutely. Adorable.

    Ahhh! All of it true and wonderful and spot-on. There’s a book in there (The Monkey’s Book on Art), but until that comes out, there is happiness in these posts and I am grateful to have you and all the other post’ers in my life and I say a whole-hearted YES! to Jennifer’s message, which bears re-quoting and re-reading daily:

    “What if we reached our potential by daily living the life WE HAVE, the good and the bad, the mundane and the magical, with open arms and full hearts, celebrating and capturing some of it in an artful manner along the way? What if living up to our potential as artists had MORE to do with seeing the beauty in all of life and sharing it with one or more persons, than with being able to say we have devoted our whole lives to making a career of x or y or z.”

    Amen. Awesome. Absolutely.


  15. Just yesterday, I told my tutor: I don’t think I will live long enough to get good. He said that he isn’t even trying to please anyone anymore. So, your post yesterday just was the frosting on the cake.

    We are having a plein air festival in a couple of weeks in our little village. It is a lovely area to paint. I helped plan it and signed up, but decided not to enter the judging part of the festival, nor the silent auction. First of all, i thought it would spoil all my fun to have to produce “good” art. After reading your post, Danny, I now think that at least I should SHAMELESSLY paint in front of people…..and share my stuff. (I do donate little paintings to the library for sale). But, to send it into the meatgrinder of judges and the market, I still think it will spoil the fun of it.

    BTW, Danny, I put my friend Velma Bolyard onto your call for teachers. She actually gave me your book Creative License a few years ago.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Kathy Kelly


  16. Love your sentence ” Now good ideas are what are valuable and good ideas can be copied over and over and shared with billions and still retain their value.” That helps make the whole world happier. Sharing rather than holding back. Great post.


  17. Thank you for this blog post – I’m bookmarking it for future re-reading when I need a boost! Your points are well made, well articulated and quite insightful and I really appreciate your view that creativity is not anti-capitalist but optimistic pro-self expression!
    BTW: found your blog post through a link at a friends blog and I’m glad I did =-)


  18. Absolutely agree. Make art that feels good, before making art that sells! Everyday does matter. If only we could get the monkey to eat the chip on our shoulders we might all be fine! 😀 Thanks for posting.


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