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Henry Miller on Escaping Into Painting and Rules of Creativity

Painter Robert Genn has noted that he and writer Henry Miller “had a correspondence and a bit of a friendship” in the sixties, and that when they met in Big Sur, “he was having a tough time. His Paris days were behind him.

“Now married to Janina Lepska and raising two young children, they were living in a low-cost holiday home among the trees.

“On the porch and on their kitchen table were some of his watercolours. While Miller and his paintings were attached at the hip, he didn’t seem to take them seriously. ‘Slops,’ he called them.”

Genn says Miller “claimed that he was losing his edge as a writer and was now more than ever getting a kick out of painting. In this medium he didn’t have the same expectations that he had for his writing. ‘I just love it,’ he said, ‘Maybe it’s because anything goes.’

“Many literary figures have found escape in the brush: Lawrence Durrell, Victor Hugo, William Thackeray, to name but a few.”

From Genn’s post Die happy.

Creative polymathy

Many creative people are multitalented, engaged and creative in more than one domain.

See my post I Want To Do It All: Creative Polymathy.

But many people have a different attitude toward their various forms of expression, not seeing them as meaningless ‘slops’ as Miller called his paintings. Though maybe that was just his way of telling himself and others to not take them too seriously.

Actor Viggo Mortensen, another multitalented creator has commented, “Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating.”

Miller’s defense against creative demons – and his Rules

In an edition of his stimulating Twice-Weekly Letter newsletter, Genn refers to this second photo of Miller, in his studio in Big Sur. [Click to enlarge.]

Genn notes the item hanging on the wall, just to the left of the window – an item of the sort Genn has also had in his own studios since his teens. “I bought it in a junk store,” he notes.

“It made me smile. It appealed to my feelings of power and my secret desire to control things…It’s a nightstick–a truncheon–I call it my billy club. I’ve never actually hit anyone with it.

“I always suspected Miller had it as a weapon to fend off the demons that often beset creative folks. I’m happy with that idea.”

Genn adds, “Miller gave his fellow writers a set of commandments–eleven of them. Here they are, only slightly abridged:

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books.

3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood.

5. When you can’t create, you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.”

Read more in Genn’s post The thing on the wall.

More from Miller

In his book Personal Development for Smart People, Steve Pavlina shares some more quotes by Miller that relate to our personal growth as well as being open to be creative:

“Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end.”

From my post Being brutally honest with ourselves – the basis for self growth.

Photos are from the Henry Miller Memorial Library.

Book: The Painter’s Keys A Seminar With Robert Genn.

Multiple articles by Robert Genn.


Henry Miller on Escaping Into Painting and Rules of Creativity

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2019). Henry Miller on Escaping Into Painting and Rules of Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2019
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