The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
Thanks to all of you who commented on yesterday's post! I gleaned gems from each of you, and want to highlight what our good friend Margaret wrote: I consider each artist's production, work, efforts etc. in visual art as an individual contribution to a larger reflection on the world as we live it today. Stick to your interests, make good work and send it out into the mix. I'd say that's a good argument for painting for yourself! And, our good friend Casey's blog post entitled "Artist, Know Thyself" is a must read. I suppose I'm guilty of beating the same drum about the importance of speaking in one's own voice through art, but I believe that it's essential and, possibly the only real "rule" in art.
Speaking of "rules," here's a passage from Henri's book:
As different as ideas and emotions are, there can be no set rule laid down for the making of pictures, but for students found working in a certain line suggestions may be made. there is a certain common sense in procedure which may be basic for all, and there are processes safe to suggest, if only to be used as points of departure, to those who have not already developed a satisfying use of their materials. (p. 21)
I think that every art instructor should begin a class with that statement. Telling students that there is a set of rules that must always be obeyed hampers creativity, authenticity, and innovation. Whereas, informing our students about the principles and elements of design and color theory in the context of useful tools that they may employ when needed is less confusing. It's really the difference between playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata as it's written and interpreting the same piece through jazz. The latter approach requires intimate knowledge of the sonata as it's written, but depends upon the musician's ability to break the rules and play a unique interpretation.
I like Henri's use of the phrase point of departure. Usually, our work is inspired by something - a sight, sound, memory, feeling, etc. It's the place where we begin, and if we aspire to create only an exact replica of the inspiration, our work can suffer from it. But, when the inspiration is used as a point of departure to send our imagination on a voyage that leads us to unique expression, then we have the greatest chance of creating unique and meaningful art. As Jasper Johns once said: Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that.
And, in order to use the point of departure we must first "depart." As Henri wrote:
Those who cannot begin do not finish. (p. 22)