Jan Norsetter

Jan Norsetter is an oil painter & rosemaling artist based in Verona, Wisconsin. I recently had the pleasure of photographing her portrait and visiting her studio. 

As Jan showed me around her cozy, art-filled home, I was struck by the contrast between the romantic starving-artist mythology and what it takes to actually be a working artist. The mythology is permeated with addicted, broken geniuses; that makes for a good story but it's no way to live.

In reality, to be a working artist requires the same kinds of things as to be a working-anything-else: regular meals, sufficient sleep, stable relationships, connection to community, some level of organization. It's not particularly romantic, but it keeps the drama where it belongs: in the work.

Jan and her husband have been prolific working artists for decades. Now in her late 60s, I asked Jan what she would say to a past version of herself and she wrote this letter.

Dear Janet,

Enjoy your life. It goes way faster than anticipated! The good news: it’s funny how few things you'll wish you'd've done differently. Worry less, study tai chi sooner, and meditate more. The bad news: the arthritis in your left foot. In spite of wearing clunky shoes your whole life it won’t be enough. Try reflexology. Maybe play soccer for only 5 years instead of 10. 

Get rid of the negative demons sooner than later. Messages from influencers can be misconstrued. Question everything. If a statement is unclear, ask for clarification or more information. Your 22-year-old self esteem, sense of well-being, and confidence are at a low point. These are unnecessary stressors. I don’t mean you need to be cocky. But you don’t need to feel unworthy either. I’m ok, you’re ok.

Write a mission statement for each decade. It makes it easier to sort out which opportunities to take and which to leave. While you want to do as much as you can, get enough sleep. Boundaries. Learn where yours are and honor them. 

Don’t forget to tell people to call you Jan. You’ve always liked that name better. 

With much love, 


PS: be a life long learner. You won’t regret it. 

Do you know why we have the sunflowers? It’s not because because Vincent Van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent Van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. And that is the focus of the story we need: connection.
— Hannah Gadsby
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