Letters to a Young Artist

letters sent to Judith Reeve

Dear S.,

Glad to hear you are well. In your last letter, you asked me whether you should pursue illustration or fine art. Isn’t the real question you are asking whether one can make money pursuing fine art? And if we pare that question down even further, is not the thing you are asking simply should one pursue what is in one’s heart? That is a very serious matter we are talking about now. And it leads to a question of integrity. Do you have the integrity to pursue your individual calling? Is the pressure from society, a pressure that states that if anything is worthwhile it must ultimately lead to financial success, too great? This societal attitude that the investment in beauty and knowledge for its own sake is superfluous. And taking a stand against this wave of conformity leads to that question again of integrity.

You are at the age where these are the questions that will confront you as you enter college. This is the moment to decide the value you place on your own vision. Do you value your own soul and its individual quest to come to terms with itself as well as be a part of the greater community?  When we look at tribal people of the past, one’s role in that society was not of their choosing. The tribe, observing the growth of the individual, would look for signs  that spoke of a larger, more cosmic understanding of the role that that person was called to, whether it would be that of the shaman , a leader or one who nurtured the community as a whole. Today, we believe our role is always of our own choosing. It is our inherent freedom. But I think it is important to be sensitive to what is calling to be brought forth through an intuitive insight. You are very close to the age of a child, not to say childish. I am further from that point being in the middle of my life. But being closer to that age allows you to still feel the power of wonder that is the child’s life. In this state, the intuitive inner life ebbs and flows out into the world. And one is a perfect receptor to gain insight from within and from the world and a equilibrium is formed. In this state, one knows one’s own powers and one’s role that they will play. Many times a child will state who they are and what they wish to be. This may change from year to year, but what they really express  is their desire to be a fully alive human being engaged in the world and called to action. They feel the fullness of ‘integrity’ and there really is no question to be asked. They just are.

That is the best scenario. Be who you are to the fullest possible expression of your being whether that is the difficult life of an artist expressing your vision of the world and acting as a catalyst of healing in that larger society. It may seem like an outrageous task, but it only takes integrity to stay true to yourself regardless of the hardships that may come.

Best Regards,



This series is based on my many years of teaching. I have continued to correspond with former students providing critiques of their work as well as supporting them in any way I can on the road to an artistic life. Their questions have forced me to come to terms with the very reason why I paint and have helped me explore the foundational philosophy that is the basis of my own personal vision.

‘Youth questions all’ and it is these very questions that they ask that allow one an opportunity to intimately discover the path they need to follow.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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