Archive for February 1st, 2023

The Art Spirit

Robert Henri The Art Spirit

The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture — however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state.

–Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, 1901

The Art Spirit by painter/teacher Robert Henri is a rare book. It might well be a work of art in its own right. First published in 1901, its observations on the making of art have maintained a contemporary feel for the last 120 years, always feeling as though its words could have been written today.

I never fail to either gain new insight or be reminded of some forgotten bits when I pick up the book. Leafing through, I often go page by page muttering “Aah…” or “Yes!” at his wise words.

It’s to the point that when I write something about making art in general, I find myself wondering if it is my own thought or came from Henri. I don’t know if it’s an echo or a form of harmony.

I guess it doesn’t matter so long as the words ring true.

For example, Henri describes the process of creating as a more than ordinary moment of existence. I have often felt that when I am painting, my chosen form of expression, and find myself in a deep groove, I feel as though it is an altered state of being in that moment.

Something beyond myself, beyond my ordinariness.

It might just be that it is not anything extraordinary. It might be that in these moments there is a deployment of parts of ourselves that we are not able to engage with under normal circumstances.

Things, emotions and concepts, we can’t express otherwise. I certainly have felt that at times in those more than ordinary moments I have experienced.

The part I don’t understand is that I sometimes find myself avoiding entering such states. That would be those times when I am feeling blocked, I guess. I usually feel emotionally empty in those instances, feeling as though there is nothing to express. Or that I am somehow fearful to go into that state, not wanting to face the unexpressed.

Fortunately, experience has taught me that simply by starting I am immediately taken past that fear and hesitancy and into that state of being that occurs when creating, that more than ordinary moment of existence.

There is something reassuring in that knowledge, which I find myself employing on a regular basis.

For anyone interested in the creative endeavor, I highly recommend Henri’s classic. I consider this book and Concerning the Spiritual in Art, written in 1910 by Wassily Kandinsky, as indispensable reads for any artist.

Just my two cents…

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