The Laws of Nature

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Art Spirit

My good friend, Carolyn Abrams, was kind enough to loan me her copy of Robert Henri's book The Art Spirit. These inspired reflections of this notable artist and teacher, who died in 1929, are worthy of our consideration. He wrote this book at the urging of his students, and from it I'll select passages since there are no chapters.

Art when really understood is the province of every human being.
It is simply a question of doing things, anything well. It is not an outside extra thing.

There are many layers of meaning in these two sentences. I've always believed that all humans are born with the ability to create art in some form, and that the decision to become a professional artist is simply a matter of prioritizing the development of that ability so that it becomes an occupation. And, I've always believed that all humans have the capacity to appreciate art, even if they don't create it. Even the most hardened among us respond to beauty in some way, or to the pathos of a well told story.

The work of the art student is no light matter. Few have the courage and stamina to see it through. You have to make up your mind to be alone in many ways. We like sympathy and we like to be in company. It is easier than going it alone. But alone one gets acquainted with himself, grows up and on, not stopping with the crowd. It costs to do this. If you succeed somewhat you may have to pay for it as well as enjoy it all your life.

How true.

Your thoughts??


Casey Klahn said...

I look forward to this study. I have a copy, too, and may be following with you.

layers said...

This is a book I always recommend in my workshops-- great timeless book on creating art. One thing I find among the artists who take my workshop is that they either have the fire in the belly or they don't-- they either find so many other things to do before the get to their studio-- or they are the ones who put creating art their top priority and work at it-- it always shows in their work.

Odd Chick said...

This is one of my favorite books. Since I have decided to pursue art (and I began at 45) I have found that I spend much more time alone. I have always been a people person but because I have quite a bit of catching up to do, I have devoted much of my free and work time to art so I agree that once it becomes a burning passion - it becomes a relationship in itself that sometimes makes it look as if the artist is a loner. But we know that ART has become our companion.

-Don said...

Well, Kathy, my first thought was, "where am I?". And then I realized you had just moved your furniture around a bit. Luckily I only bumped my shin on the coffee table - no real harm done...

My second thought is, "I agree with you, yet again". And, it's not just because I'm vying to be the teacher's pet...

Anything worth doing is going to require some give-and-take. I haven't found any silver platters laying around yet with all my dreams just sitting there waiting for me to pluck them up. I've always had to work for them. To earn them. I find most of my happiness with art is wrapped around the effort of creating. There is an immense joy and a feeling of accomplishment upon successfully completing a piece, but the sustained joy is in the trying - to me, anyway.

I am a people person - I like/need to interact with people. Maybe that's why I do my best artwork after-hours - when most sane folks are in bed. That's my alone time, my focus time...


hw (hallie) farber said...

I recently read this book (Pam had mentioned it) and loved it.

When I ordered this from Amazon I also ordered Creative Authenticity, which you had blogged about in December--it was out of stock. Maybe you're the Oprah of Art Books!

I'm glad I have my copy of The Art Spirit.

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - Great! I look forward to your input.

Hi Donna - how true: either you have the fire in your belly or you don't! I'm glad you recommend this book to your students.

Hi O.C. - like you, I spend lots of time alone creating art and I like your insight about not really being alone; art is our companion.

Hi Don - sorry about the bruised shin! I figured it was time to redecorate. I do wish, however, that blogger had more colors to select. Hmmmm.... teacher's pet? or class clown?? :-)
You and I are very much alike in that I love the hard work of creating art, the struggle and I'm also a "people person." However, I do manage to spend copious amounts of time alone creating art since the kids long ago left the nest.

Hi Hallie - I look forward to your comments about this book, and am really pleased to know that "Creative Authenticity" is in demand. The author must be thrilled!

M said...

I too have this book and I look forward to reading it again through discussion. I'm with you in that I believe all humans have the ability to create in some form and most have some form of creative pursuit in their lives.

Your definition of a professional artist is interesting and follows from this belief. I hadn't thought about it quite like that before. That is probably a good definition for all careers that are based on skill development.

People are interested in looking at art and putting their interpretation on it. I've seen this in young children who want to explain what they have created and by young viewers who want to know what it is. The need to look and attach meaning is always obvious in galleries that have abstract or non representational art. I've heard some great commentaries on the meaning- even when there wasn't any from where I was standing. I think there is a desire to find meaning in all art.

The aspect of being alone in your art creation is one I identify with right now because of where I am in my production of a body of work. You start to question everything as you get to the end. Showing your work on your blog is the next best thing to having someone in your studio but you can't have the kind of spontaneous conversations you can when the person is next to you.

Anonymous said...

No time to contribute substantively- but gotta say I love this book! Glad you're delving in Kathy. I look forward to the discussion.

Dan Kent said...

Wow. Everyone has read this book - must be good, gotta get a copy. I know what it means to have a burning in the belly. I acquired this a little more than a year ago. And I am on fire. It is tangible. I also know what it means to lack that fire. I am so thrilled that now I fill every empty space of time in my life with art - it's like flowers growing from cracks in the sidewalk. I feel that I have it both ways too. With the blog, this is no longer just a solitary affair. I look forward to hearing more about this book.

Dan Kent said...

And, btw, what is the art on the front of the book? Love it..

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - I'm glad you like the book! This will be a fun discussion. I know what you mean about working alone and trying to finalize your paintings. It can be a frustrating time. For me, I have no trouble finishing my painting and feeling great about it. The problem is looking at it the next day. Inevitably, I feel like starting over!

Hi Pam - I'm glad you love this book! We'll have a great discussion.

Hi Dan - you're on fire!! That's great :-) The cover on the book is from a painting bny Robert Henri entitled "Rosaline", 1927.

Celeste Bergin said...

I own this book ---started reading it and stopped. Perhaps I will pick it up again. It is a must read...I know that!

Stan Kurth said...

Kathy I like the new look!

"But alone gets one acquainted with himself..."

Seems to be a recurring and underlying "how to" theme for serious artists writing about what it means to be a serious artist making serious art. I agree! One who is well acquainted with him or herself knows well his or her emotional processes and how they pertain to the art he or she creates. Am I beating a dead horse? I find myself alone quite often; even here in bloggyland where it's hard to be substantive at all times.

I'm considering starting a new movement: "Confabulationism", whereby you create art with this basic principle: "It is better to have introspected and confabulated, than not to have introspected at all. Anyone care to hang? Doesn't guarantee you'll get acquainted with yourself! You just might be deceived. Not to worry, your art will be important because you were one of the founding members of the confabulationists.

OK, I promise I'll quit beating the dead horse, but my point is this: 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; it is important for me to answer the question, why?

My friends know I don't bite! (abstract apology for this rambling).

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - it looks like this is a very popular book! I look forward to your comments about it :-)

Hi Stan - I'll join your confabulationist movement!! Sounds right up my alley. I know what you mean about the redundancy of ideas set forth by these authors. To me, it's revelatory of the universal truth of art and so the point can't be overlooked. However, the differences lie in the packaging, so sometimes it's worth turning this gem over and around several times to examine all the facets.