A Love Letter to Art, Or What it All Means to Me

I am writing a different kind of post today.  I generally try to write practical and helpful posts around the business of art. I love to give tips that might help artists and galleries be  just a little more successful. Today though, I want to step back from the business and write a short love note to art itself. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I’ve had occasion recently to think a little bit about my relationship to art, and I feel it is important to share a few of my thoughts. Being in the business, I sometimes find myself taking the art itself for granted, thinking of it all in terms of dollars and cents. It’s good to pause now and again to remind myself what it’s all about.

I love art. I could probably equally say, “I live art.” I spend every day of my life thinking about art, working with art, and communicating with artists and art lovers. Other than a brief stint moving furniture as a teenager, I’ve spent every working day of my life in the art industry.

Growing up with an artist father, my earliest memory is not a sight or a sound, it’s a smell – the smell of oil paint. I remember watching my dad hard at work in the studio and seeing landscapes, still-lifes, and florals magically taking shape and form on his easel. I marveled (and still do) at his ability to transform a canvas and paint it into a window of the world.

As a teenager, I went to work at Legacy Gallery, the Scottsdale, AZ gallery where my father was showing his work. There, I started to learn the business. In the beginning, I was working in the background doing the shipping and receiving, cleaning, installing artwork, but what an eye-opening experience it was to see art coming into the gallery and then seeing collectors fall in love with it and buy it.

My true love for art came in my early twenties, however, and I think I can even point to the exact moment when my passion for art began. I was working in the Jackson Hole location of  Legacy Gallery when the artist Harry Jackson called. It was a slow day in the gallery, before the summer season had begun, and I happened to pick up the phone. I ended up having an hour-long conversation with Jackson, and it’s a conversation that changed my life.

Jackson was, at the time, a cantankerous old artist creating western sculpture from his studio in Cody, Wyoming. If you don’t know Jackson’s work, that will give you the wrong impression of him. While Jackson was creating Western artwork, he was doing so with the sensibilities of an artist who had come of age with the Abstract Expressionist scene of 1950’s New York. He was friends with De Kooning and Pollock and knew all of the artists that ran in those circles. He studied with Hans Hofmann and Rufino Tamayo.

I wish I could remember the whole conversation (I would kill for a recording of it), but there are a few things I do remember clearly.

Jackson asked me if I had a degree in art history. I told him I had taken art history classes but didn’t have a degree in it.

“Good,” he said, “waste of time.” He went on to tell me I should teach myself about art history (he suggested I start with the Abrams book about Harry Jacskon!).

“I’m a boot-strappin’ sonofabitch”  he said, “everything I know about art and art history I learned because I wanted to learn it, not because some professor told me I had to.”

He encouraged me to study it all, from ancient Greek and Roman art, all the way through the abstract expressionists (he didn’t seem to have too high an opinion of pop or postmodern art).

Jackson also explained some of his pieces to me, and even now, one of my favorite works of art of all time is his piece “Cosmos”.

To this day, I’m not sure why he would have spent an hour on the phone with a kid he had never even met (I did get to meet him once a few years later), but I’m grateful he did.

Cosmos by Harry Jackson | Photo: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
Cosmos by Harry Jackson | Photo: Buffalo Bill Historical Center

 

From that day, I became a serious student of art, even though my study has always been autodidactic. I’ve read dozens (hundreds?) of biographies on a wide variety of artists – everyone from Gauguin to Warhol. I’ve spent years studying Ancient Greece  and Rome (not only their art, but also their literature and civilization). Once I started knowing the artists, my appetite to see their artwork became almost insatiable. I can’t travel without visiting museums and galleries.

Some of the deepest, most transcendent  experiences of my life have occurred as I’ve taken in great works of art. I’ve come to love the technical aspects of the art and the craft involved in creating it. Ever more, though, is my love of an artist’s ability to communicate with me.

AtlantaHighMuseumI remember wondering, as a child, if other people saw the world the same way I do. Is the red I see the same red you see? Well art has answered that question. Through art I can see that we all experience the world in different ways, and see different things. Art allows me to  see and understand the world from another perspective.

I am also amazed by the proximity artwork gives me to human history. I’ll often stand in front of a Greek statue and feel the electricity of knowing an artist, a fellow human, is reaching across time and space to talk to me. I’ll feel that same wonder as I stand in front of a Van Gogh and realize that those brush strokes, mere inches in front of me, were put there by the hand of  the great artist. How lucky I am to be able to experience the art!

A Few Things I’ve Learned About my Love for Art

As my love for art has grown, I’ve come to several conclusions about my appreciation for art. First, I’ve decided I don’t have to limit my love for art to one style or period. I can love realism, abstract, pop art and every other style without my love for any one of them diminishing because of the breadth of my interest. I can love Cowboy art and Contemporary and my head won’t explode.

I’ve also learned to enjoy the unexpected. It’s easy, when I’m visiting a museum, to focus only on those artists that I know something about – the big name artists. While I certainly love seeing the famous pieces, I also love visiting museum’s regional art collections, or seeing a show of contemporary work. I also love visiting various shows around the country to discover the art of currently-working artists. Sometimes I’m scouting work for the gallery, but often I try to stroll a show looking through the eyes of an art lover.

I’ve learned to love the transformative power of artwork. It’s a real kick to deliver artwork to a buyer’s home and see how that artwork dramatically changes the atmosphere of that home. It’s equally amazing to see how the home changes the art. There are times when it ends up not working at all, but there are also times when the combination is incredible and you can almost feel everyone’s breath taken away as the artwork finds its home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love how artists still have the ability to surprise, delight, and, sometimes, shock. As a civilization, we’ve been creating art for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years. You might think that we’ve seen it all. You’d be wrong. Though art is certainly an evolving on a continuum, the artist’s vision seems never to tire of innovation. Even subjects that have been well-covered over the millennia can appear fresh and new as an artist brings new perspective, insight and technique to bear on them.

Finally, I’ve learned that it’s impossible to separate the artist from the art, and for that reason, I love getting to know the artists. I  love reading about the great artists, but, even more, I love meeting living artists and seeing what they are doing. I love talking to them about their lives and work. I like to think that by doing so, I’m seeing art history take shape, and maybe, I even get to be a small part of it.

So, I guess I’m a pretty lucky guy. I get to spend my days surrounded by amazing art, or out discovering it, and I get to rub shoulders with some of the most fascinating people in the world. If I do my job well, I help keep it going and get to be a part of it. Life is amazing!

Now . . . back to work!

What Does Art Mean To You?

How did you fall in love with art? How has art impacted your life? Share your thoughts and feelings about art, and your feedback about this article in the comments below.

 

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

39 Comments

  1. Hi Jason! I agree with Jackson’s philosophy of learning about art history because you want to. I’ve been out of school for ten plus years and it’s only been recently that I’ve started to hunger after knowing more about the artists I have followed and inspired my own work. While in school, I took art history because I had to and my lack of retention is frustrating…the hunger to know wasn’t there!

    Sounds like you have read quite a few books on artists….do you have a short list you could share with someone who also wants to understand and grow in her appreciation for past and present artists? Thanks!
    Amelia

    1. I do have some favorites Amelia! Here’s a look at some of the books in my bookcase

      I’m going to put them here as Amazon links for ease, but most of these books are widely available, including in most local libraries:

  2. Art is an oasis of purity and beauty to me in a world that can be compromised and downright ugly. My own art is the only place in my life where I have complete control and is not compromised in any way. It is as precious to me as life itself and ultimately, it defines my soul.

  3. Hi Jason,
    I really enjoyed reading this. As an artist myself who has been working with many gallerists, curators and art consultants, I have found that the passion and love for art, the reason we are all in the same room, supposedly, is rarely part of the conversation. Passion is the fundamental ingredient for bringing the art to life. Love is what gives it wings outside of the artist’s studio. Thank you for speaking from your heart.

  4. How did I ever come to love art after my 6th grade teacher, meanest woman (with bottle black hair) in all of Minnesota, taught me art history? That “Art History” only included the Expressionists of the 50’s as indeed I was in sixth grade in the fifties. Unfortunately Jason, I still have not come to appreciate those artists. I think I learned to love art by first loving Fine Art Crafts, followed by Sculpture, and later the great artists of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. All on my own. Now I live art. It too has transformed my life and provided me with my most transcendental moments. I study all the time and never plan to retire from painting.

  5. A good teacher can help guide you where to look or how to proceed, but it is truly our own curiosity and the ensuing experience that investigates what we are curious about that drives what we are open to learning. I enjoyed reading the story of your development Jason.

  6. I am an oil painter & have always loved viewing, researhing & creating art. Peolple have always enjoyed making & enjoying art since cave paintings were producd & probably before.

    Art is such an integral part of human life, it’s a crying shame that it’s so difficult for people in the art industries have such a hard time making a living from their art…

  7. My love affair with art began as a child although a greater emphasis was placed on my music education. In the 9th grade I changed schools and they didn’t have a band or musical instruments so I traded up to an art elective. It was literally life changing for me. My teacher worked with me closely throughout the year and when I entered a citywide contest and won, the direction for my life was set.

    Sadly, art history class in Art College was the first class of the day and I was typical tired student. Over Christmas during my 4th year I went on a month long Art College tour to Europe. WOW! I remember walking in to The National Gallery in London and seeing Luncheon on the Grass by George Surratt. It took my breath away to be able enjoy being both near enough to see the texture and brush strokes, and far enough to see the whole composition. We spend roughly a week each in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Munich with a purpose of visiting the major galleries in each city. Years later I’ve made similar trips to Italy, Greece, Croacia, back to France and many of the major cities in the US and Canada. I’ll never tire of learning about art and artists.

  8. I actually didn’t think about art until my mother had my older foster sister bring my 8 year old self in every day to do art for an hour. At that time I went straight to drawing portraits. All these years later and all the training and I still just have to do art or I’ll just die. I have traveled around the world chasing art just to see what it’s trying to teach me. I just can’t get enough. I would say that it is my passion and who I am. I’m so glad to hear your story Jason, and see your library links. Creating and showing people a new way of looking at things is the breath of life. Thank you Jason.

  9. Thank you, Jason – a really great article! My inspiration came through a movie I saw on the life and times of Michelangelo when I was young. It was my introduction to the world of art, and it put me on the path I travel today. I love viewing art, and love creating it. It is the most rewarding and enriching experience ever! I cannot imagine my life without it.

  10. Thank you Jason , I was not aware of Harry Jackson or his work so you have given me someone else to look into. All good inspiration. Pretty much self taught myself through reading and visiting galleries and museums. We are very lucky to have so many of them here in London , many being free although mainly reliant on donations. Wish I could show you some of my pictures, but you are so far a way, because after absorbing all this information I think/ feel that I have come up with something of my own. Selling it is another job in itself as I can see you know well . Your posts are helping me though, little by little, to get the confidence to get out there and start showing the pictures I keep making. Good to hear from you again

  11. What about the fun of the wine and cheese openings?
    I agree about art historians. Fortunately my college art history lessons were given by talented painters. Totally different perspective from an artist rather than a historian.

  12. Great article and thoughts. I study and read art more now then when I was a student. It means more now and I think my tastes and appreciation may be almost as wide as yours. Thank you for sharing

  13. I’ve credited a progressive school system (suburban Washington DC) for my introduction to art. The constant filed trips to the great museums were a terrific influence to an adolescent … a foundation.
    In college I took the prerequisite art history course. I always wondered why the curriculum was so standardized. It’s like art critics got together for a weekend symposium and decided who was great and who wasn’t, and then college professors took up the banner and proclaimed, this is so ….
    One architecture lecture changed the direction of my personal study. The professor showed slides of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye; the 1931 award winning, reinforced concrete residence that began the modernist era. Fine. Looking at the empty rooms one student innocently asked, “Is the house lived in?” The professor shrugged off his question and said it had been empty since the family left after a few short years (and hasn’t been lived in since). The young man pressed on … “But it’s empty. Why is that considered great architecture if it isn’t livable? My dad is an architect. All his houses are lived in. Why is this one great if it didn’t meet the client’s desires? Isn’t this a failed design?” That started a near argument.
    What was impressed upon me listening is to quit taking someone else’s word what was great art. I evaluated a piece myself and appreciated its strengths and weaknesses … it also helped me critique my own work. I firmly believe I’ve learned as much from “second and third tier” artists as I have the giants.
    My art library is fairly broad and it is a joy to sit with these massive books in my lap and gaze at these works again. It is a comfort to share this love with personalities long gone, to feel a certain kinship with their passion … who else understands that except another artist?
    I quoted this just the other day: “I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.” Robert Henri
    Great observations, Jason

    1. Thank you, Jackie. I find your entry thought provoking and inspiring. Two highlights for me are the college class architecture discussion, and the quote by Robert Henri, which broaden my perspective.

  14. I had a not so great experience with art history in Art School. So, my masters work had a lot of art history as a basis for the thesis. I got a chance to teach Art History in college with non-art majors (which doesn’t matter in this case). I taught it the way I would have liked it as a student. Lots of outside work on your own and a few illustrations in class to frame the discussions and activities. Strong emphasis on observation and digging about for details and side issues. There was also a lot about the various media processes and the “Why”? of art images. Metaphor figured greatly as it should because that seems to underlie all art genres whether we acknowledge it or not.
    As an elementary division art educator in public school, my 8-10 year olds all did a hands on art history project and it was one of the top three lesson requests.
    It’s all in how it is presented and I am so sorry to read when artists have had bad experiences with their own history. It’s painful for me to read.
    I’m not academic per se but if one loves what they see, it would seem that the stories surrounding the work or the artist would lend a certain depth. I would quickly differentiate between the stories, the assertions from others, and the myths and gossip.
    I count myself fortunate to be able to view great art, work with art materials and ideas every day, and visit with friends who are artists themselves as well as people who love art.

  15. How lovely Jason, it is really great to know that someone is this enthusiastic about art when almost all of the artists I know are wondering what they are doing and if it is even worth it. I myself are very inspired and am working every day and very hard but I often feel like I am deluded thinking that I can make a living from art when I am surrounded by artists that feel deflated. I am a bit stubborn though and like I said, always inspired so I guess I know my path.

  16. My hope is that true art will remain for future generations. I am afraid college’s are trying to rid society of our history, with art being a part of that. I remember seeing, as a young teen, several of Monet’s works in a museum in Washington, DC. I was elated. I stood and studied his work for some time. That experience stays with me and gives me the drive to paint. Painting is a large part of my life. It IS FREEDOM.

  17. i enjoyed reading how you came to love art. I was 6 when my mother (also an artist) showed me how the flat square I had drawn could be altered by a few slanted lines (perspective) to create a cube…from that moment on I was hooked! I saw how I could create an illusion from the marks I made. I never looked back. I always have made art.
    50 years later I read a book about the artist Artemesia Gentileschi who defied all norms for women of her time (1600’s) painting large high drama figurative works. She endured rape and torture, and continued to paint. I went to an exhibition in Ottawa where some of her work was on loan, and I stood in front of her work ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ just weeping… her rage was all in that painting, and I felt it enough to cry 400 years later.

  18. Lots of relies. I will read more of them perhaps tomorrow. You encouraged everyone to read art history in the first 4 hour class I watched. Being able to have a conversation with someone about art made sense. I read the only book in the house on the subject. And it is here by accident. And then a shorter book on CM Russell. As a kid in school I am certain I did a book report on Da Vinci. When I saw you post on fb about the book I ordered it. It arrived today. So, little by little I will learn. After all, if your not growing – you’re dying!

  19. As a Latina growing up in poverty in an inner-city neighborhood, I had next to zero experience with art history, and an adolescent’s need to be “original” when I got to college. My second year of college, I had been studiously avoiding taking the required art history classes, but loved loved loved painting. I was beginning to experiment and it turned out I was inventing my own sort of expressionism. I brought in a wild, brushy, colorful, wind-swept landscape to class and the TA said, “Have you been looking at Vlaminck?”
    “What’s a Vlaminck?” I asked innocently.
    “Not a what! A WHO!” shouted the TA. “Now go to the library and look him up!” and he pushed me out the door and locked it.
    So…I went to the library. I found Vlaminck and was amazed that he had done what I was doing …nearly a century earlier. The images were beautiful, breathtaking, inspiring. Then I began pulling books out of the stacks by the dozens. I rummaged through the illustrations voraciously. I spent over 6 hours there, surrounded by piles of books, until they kicked me out. I hadn’t known the magic of looking at art as an artist. It was one of the most revelatory experiences of my life.

  20. With an artist mother I also grew up with the smell of turps in the morning. But my learning about art history was given a big boost in college, taking a class from a very old professor who was free of university politics and taught what he liked. He had a friend who was a curator at a nearby major art museum, and had him set up a gallery for his students with everything unmarked. We had to select a piece, identify it, and then justify our decision based on the qualities of the piece. It was the best class I ever took, and led me to a lifelong interest in art history. PS thanks for your reading list!

  21. This is a super article, Jason! I think art history is important but the way it’s taught can make or break a students appreciation for it. At art school we had two core years of art history starting with cave paintings. Unfortunately the class was huge in a dark auditorium and started at 8:30 am….I mostly slept through the Greeks and Romans but was very into the great architecture and cathedrals of Europe and Byzantium. Additionally there were intensive classes of Asian and Mayan and Aztec art. At another school I took modern art history from two interesting teachers. It helped immensely that the class was very small–20 students at the most–so we could study together. Both teachers had seen the works in the flesh so they could relate to us what they saw and felt. One teacher had a funny kind of sarcasm that I enjoyed and the other invited students to her home. This was in the 70s and I think what made a big difference was that the works were on slides that really trashed the true colors of the art. My first semester of art school I got to see an exhibition of impressionist work from the Hermitage Museum in Russia. Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Seurrat …It was the first time I ever saw real art and how they used color. That’s what art history should be about!

  22. I took Art History as a liberal arts requirement in a BS degree program. It began a life long love of art, especially for contemporary art and new creative ways to look at things. I remember seeing a picture of Picasso’s bull made of bicycle handles and thinking how imaginative it was. I sometimes have a hard time thinking of myself as an artist if I can’t draw a realistic face, but I keep an open mind when I think of pieces like the Bull. Even with so much art already presented, I get surprised and inspired all the time by the imaginative and fresh visions still being created.

  23. Thank you, Jason – a truly interesting and useful article.
    Art for me, like most, began as I child. Draw, draw, draw, colour, colour, colour,
    as well as spending tons of time in the outdoors, up in cherry trees, on my knees in
    flower gardens and woodlands, playing on beaches along our B. C . coast, always
    looking intently and almost daily, at buds developing in early March and
    watching them til they opened in mid-April etc. etc. Keeping track of which wild birds
    stayed the winter and which, and when, were now or soon arriving. While watching and absorbing
    all these ‘treasures’ the urge to ‘put them down on paper,’ so I’d have them forever,
    was impossible to ignore. Years later I am still doing much the same thing – no cherry
    trees, however.
    I believe strongly that it is just an integral part of the artist-heart. We’re born that way. Couldn’t help it if we tried.
    Thanks, Jason

  24. As I was reading pieces of this article, I felt that you were reading my mind. I once spent the better part of an hour in front of the first Van Gogh I’d seen in person, in wonder that Vincent Van Gogh himself had created those brushstrokes and feeling close to him across time. It is like having a time machine. Seeing great art in person is not the same as seeing it in photos. You can see the textures and combinations of colours and sometimes smell the materials. I wish I had your experience, but I, too, am happy to work with art and artists daily at a little store that I share with two other artist/owners that sells the work of 35 local artists. It becomes a passion that just is a part of you.

  25. Jason,
    Like you I was surrounded by art and artists growing up. Both my parents were artists having met in art school. Aunts, Uncles and my grandfather too. When I smell turpentine I am brought back to the sacred studio of my parents and my incredible childhood growing up there. Though turpentine is eschewed for other solvents today I love the scent still.
    I too live art every day in my custom frame shop/gallery. In my front window I have my easel set up and switch between painting, oils or pastel and framing others art.
    My study of art history and other artist is the similar, diverse. I had the privilege of studying with some of Jackson’s contemporaries at the New York Studio School where Lee Krasner came to give critiques occasionally. Mercedes Matter and Philip Guston were among my teachers but that was some time ago.

  26. I liked art as far back as I can remember. It started by seeing paintings by Renoir,
    Rembrandt, and Goya, my 3 favorite artists. My first drawings were architectural.
    At age 10, I was designing houses. After a few years, I added floor plans with house designs. Frank Loyd Wright was my favorite architect. Painting didn’t start until my teen years. I have always been an artist at heart. It wasn’t until my college years when I
    received my first portrait commission. Art is my passion.

  27. Jason, this is an interesting subject. Your essay set me recalling my early journey with the world of art.
    My encounter started at a very young age. My parental home was filled with printed reproductions of the paintings of Van Gogh as well as the prints of local artists. The framed Van Gogh prints struck me – a young child, as frightening and nauseating. I particularly remember the electrically lit bar room scene as well as the reaper mowing the wheat field by this artist as being particularly repulsive. It did not surprise me when I learned at a later stage that Vinvent Van Gogh had committed suicide. On the other hand a lino black print of a pioneer farmer’s cottage by a local artist (Pierneef) was comforting and remains embedded in my mind as everything that represents the positive values of family, hearth and home.
    Later in life an important event in my further encounter with art was a project undertaken by members of the senior art class at my high school. They decided to reproduce the Ghent Alterpiece originally painted by a famous Flemish Master (whose name I don’t recall). To view this magnificent painting unfolding week by week, slowly and by the hand of mere school boys was a revelation. After that I was completely ‘hooked’ on art and what it could mean to the artist as well as the viewer.
    Another milestone occurred during a visit to a famous art gallery where I was privileges to see a bust of “Mrs Fairfax” in white marble by August Rodin. After that, like you Jason I cannot feel satisfied with travel without visiting art museums and galleries.

  28. Thank you for this terrific article. It is interesting to read how you wondered if other people had the same experience while looking at art, how artists spoke to you through their artwork.
    At my mother’s memorial service last year my brother spoke about how she had taught her children to see beauty in the world. She did so in gardens, homes and what I remember most, in galleries, museums, and cathedrals. Her love of art and her ability to see were shared with us. How lucky I am to have had an introduction to art from a loving mother.
    I had art history in high school and college and loved it all. I guess it was the teachers and professors, but I couldn’t wait to see the slides.

  29. Oh yes! What a lovely article about falling in love with art! Though I can’t pinpoint that exact moment I fell in love with art, I feel like it has always been in my life. I see it more as a slow evolution of love. But I can pinpoint the moment I saw a Renoir at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. My eyes welled with tears as I realized the greatness of his hand that created that piece. Or an etching by Durer, a drawing bu Da Vinci. All had a profound effect on me. I have read books on many artists, great and some obscure. I’ve watched videos of the history of more artists than I can remember! All is invaluable in my thirst for knowledge of art and artist! It’s wonderful that there are so many more that feel the same way!

  30. I love the way you share so much with us, Jason. Thank you!
    The first time I knew I was going to move on from Jon Gnagy’s Learn to Draw TV courses, and the set I received for Christmas from my parents is when a White school nurse came to my all-Black segregated elementary school and presented me with her set of used oils, brushes, a palette, and Walter Foster’s How to Draw and Paint Seascapes. From then on, there would be no paint-by-numbers for me! I am now a professional artist who sells my works – but never enough; so I appreciate all of this wonderful, FREE advice. Best wishes to you always. Merry Christmas.

  31. Thank you Jason for your heartfelt article. My love of art began out of a suggestion by a therapist I was attending, for severe trauma. I started twenty five years ago and have never stopped. Up until recently, all of my work has come purely from my imagination. I say recently, because now I have felt a strong urge to use a reference pint to begin my piece with, instead of just placing my pen on the paper and starting. As well, trthe idea of a work telling some sort of story now appeals.

    I could break this into right and left brain etc, but only want to experience looking outside of myself, to some degree, instead of solely inside. It is ot coming easily to me to balance my focas, but as has always been my way, once I see the need, I am off and running. Thank you so much Jason, your newsletters have been of real value to me.

    All the best,

    Trish. (Australia)

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