Salome, Robert Henri, 1909
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
Before returning to Henri's book, I'd like to spend a moment pondering an important comment from the previous post about the books I'm reviewing on this blog. Our good friend, Stan Kurth, wrote: it's the same point that all of these authors seem to be making. Do you think it's a clue? If you want to be better at what you do, know thyself. My life is art; is it important for me to answer the question, why?
It's no accident that all the books I review on this blog are related to both the psychological aspects of being an artist and the history of art theory. That's the mission of this blog and, for me, a part of my daily scholarship in art. I like to take an idea and view it from all sides. Each author packages the same ideas in a slightly different way, in a way that expands my understanding. It IS interesting that so many authors tackle the same topics, which are the universal "truths" for art and artists. And, I agree with Stan that the artist needs to "know thyself." After all, artistic expression, if it is sincere (authentic), is an honest exposure of oneself, completely unveiled. But, "knowing thyself" is a lifelong quest.
Stan also asks if it's important to question why we make art. I guess that depends. I don't so much question it as think about how to deal with it. For me, creating art is an obsession and an integral part of who I am. When I'm unsuccessful with a painting I need to figure out why, but I also fall prey to many of the self-doubts that are common to artists. It is the words of wisdom and advice provided by these authors that often sets me on the right path again and builds confidence. And, I truly value this small community of artists who has gathered with me to reflect upon who we are and why we make art. The words of these authors are the catalyst for our interactions as we challenge, encourage, enlighten, and bolster each other.
Thank you, Stan, for your comment! It made me evaluate and reaffirm why I take the time to write this blog. I'll also explain that there are three aspects to my profession as an artist: scholarship, painting, and teaching. This blog is my daily scholarship.
Now, back to Henri's book. For those of you who are following in your own copy, I'm on page 18:
Don't worry about the rejections. Everybody that's good has gone through it. Don't let it matter if your works are not "accepted" at once. The better or more personal you are the less likely they are of acceptance. Just remember that the object of painting pictures is not simply to get them in exhibitions. It is all very fine to have your pictures hung, but you are painting for yourself, not for the jury. I had many years of rejections.
This passage reminded me of the second watercolor workshop I took over a decade ago. This instructor advised us that "If your family and friends like your painting, you are doing something wrong!" Now, I don't know if that's true, but the point is that I need to paint for myself and the odds are that few people will feel the same way I do about my paintings. And, when you get right down to it, what's the point of painting from someone else's view anyway?
Don't try to paint "good landscapes." Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscape looks to you - your pleasure in the thing. Wit.
Recently, I read an article in an art magazine (wish I could find it again!) where an artist gave this advice: don't paint the pig, paint the squeal!
We've discussed authenticity, painting from one's viewpoint, and dealing with rejections many times on this blog. So, let's flip the coin:
Is it important and necessary for an artist to avoid esoteric work, derived from the artist's narrow viewpoint, in order to produce work that may communicate with a larger number of people? For instance, much classical art has broad appeal because it portrays timeless subjects like beauty, the human dilemma, or environments.