The Humble Wisdom of a 100-Year-Old Artist | Milford Zornes

Sometimes I think I’m smart. And then I spend some time with a much older person and realize that there’s a difference between being smart and being wise. Not to say that I don’t have wisdom; I’m old enough to have been around the block and gained my own experiences. I “know better” now. But it’s reassuring to hear the words of someone like watercolor artist Milford Zornes (1908-2008), in the interview he did with Sylvia Megerdichian and Bill Anderson for The Artist’s Magazine on the eve of his 100th birthday. Here, he helps us all see truths that are easy to overlook.

LA County Fair (watercolor) by Milford Zornes, featured at

LA County Fair (2003; watercolor, 15×22) by Milford Zornes, who is pictured below. The artist was also featured in an interview with Kelly Kane, which is included in the eMagazine Watercolor Painting with the Masters.

Q: When did you realize that painting was what you wanted to do?
A: I got out of high school in 1925 and started doing what we called hack writing. I was taking photographs and writing short articles and sending them to magazines. About 1929, I had a change of heart. In a conversation with my father, I announced that I wanted to be a painter. My father had wanted me to go into partnership with him in his business, so I was a little shaky, and I didn’t know exactly what being a painter truly entailed, but my father, after some thought, said, “Well, if you’re going to be one, be a good one.

Milford Zornes, watercolor artist, featured at

Photograph by Bill Anderson

Q: Did you face discouragement as you pursued your art?
A: I have a capacity for experiencing discouragement in all kinds of ways! First of all, I have no talent. Talent is simply a native ability. Some people have a skill in mathematics or music or whatever. But if you’re going to be creative, you have to go beyond talent.Talent is like having muscles or good looks; you’ve got an asset if you can use it skillfully and thoughtfully and tastefully. But we all know that some of the ugliest actors are the most talented ones, and we know that a lot of great athletes fought their way up from a physical disability. We know people who managed to get their education by hook or by crook, whether they had money or not. If we look at these examples, they all involve discouragement. That’s the foundation, really. And for me that certainly was the case.

Q: Do you experience that discouragement in the process of painting?
A: Oh, no. That’s the one thing that sustains me. Painting offers a promise, a relief from the difficulties any painter has to to get around in order to paint. I tell students this: “If you want a career where you’ll never be a success, get into the creative arts.”

Q: But you’re never discouraged 100 percent, because if you were, you wouldn’t go on.
A: Discouraged isn’t the word as much as “challenged.” When you take stock once in a while, what have you got? You’ve committed yourself; you’ve spent time in trying to be a painter, and if you’re going to achieve some security for yourself, you probably would have been better off getting into business or into a trade, something that offered a definite income. Artists, in any art–whether singing, acting, painting–are just taking a chance.

I can’t get enough of Zornes’s words. Read another of his interviews in Watercolor Painting with the Masters, a new eMagazine. It also features tips and techniques from Joseph Raffael and a painting demonstration by Henry Fukuhara.

And if you’re moved by this interview and the work of Milford Zornes, click here to share it with your friends on Facebook.

Live to inspire,

Cherie Haas, online editor
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