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How to give advice by Robert Genn

How to give advice
by Robert Genn

Recent emails asking for advice prompted me to give further thought to the business of giving advice. Believe me, I'm deeply honoured when people trust me with a half dozen jpegs and the question, "What do you think?" Further, it's exciting to know that some subscribers are getting valuable advice from other subscribers.

As noted by "Buttonwood" in The Economist magazine, "If you ask enough people you will eventually find someone who will tell you what you want to hear." Recent studies show investment gurus make big bucks telling investors what stocks to buy, sell and hold. I've always suspected that these advisors make more dough by advising than by investing. We artists often give advice for free.

Because of the unpredictable nature of life, humans may be hard-wired to ask for advice. A few others may be hard-wired to give it. Some psychologists think the main benefit of getting advice is to avoid personal regret--if someone's advice is bad or disappointing, it's their fault, not yours.

Funnily, many advice-seekers already know the answer to their questions. They just want to hear it from someone else. But they also know that experienced eyes can often see faults and weaknesses and may be in a position to suggest fixes. I advise advice-givers to follow the advice of the Roman lyric poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, generally know as Horace: "Whatever advice you give, be brief."

1. "Your work is interesting." You're safe here because all work, even bad work, is interesting.

2. "This part is excellent." There's always a good part in any painting, and this observation relaxes the receiver and permits you to home in on what you think they need to know.

3. Now comes the part where you need to be of optimum value to the asker. Try to figure out the one main thing you think might truly be of use to them. It may be about composition, drawing, colour or whatever. Try to make your advice specific, illuminating and memorable. Don't confuse people with lesser concerns.

For what it's worth, that's my system. For the record, it would be great to hear your advice on the delicate art of advising.

Best regards,


PS: "Maybe you can't give advice to an artist." (Louise Nevelson)

Esoterica: I often think the best advice is what I call "Osmotic advice." This is where casual remarks (particularly in workshops) are overheard and inadvertently soaked up. It helps if the remarks were intended for someone else, but in your private wisdom you secretly know it was intended for you. Here's an example from the great workshopper Tony van Hasselt: "The 's' curve can be found in the human form, in animals, plants, flowers, in anything alive. Keep the straight lines for structures, created from 'dead' materials." You can take that sort of raw gold into your studio and forge with it. Tens of thousands of specific gems like this one can be found in our

Resource of Art Quotations.


Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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