Robert Henri and his 1923 book, The Art Spirit, continue to be wise and welcome companions on this artist’s journey.
I have begun to carry the book around with me the way I once carried Walden and Yevtushenko’s Selected Poems and Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez. There were others over the years. We all have our iconic books at one time or another.
Henri, of course, speaks directly to art. No need for Emily Dickinson’s telling anything “slant.” It’s all there in plain language to the working artist. Here’s a passage I came across recently that struck me in its simplicity and applicability:
The technique of a little individuality will be a little technique, however scrupulously elaborated it may be. However long studied it will still be a little technique…The greatness of art depends absolutely on the greatness of the artist’s individuality and on the same source depends the power to acquire a technique sufficient for expression. The (artist) who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime (he) may have something to express will never have the technique of the thing (he) wishes to express.
No little individuality! For me this is a call to have confidence in our work, whatever it may be, and to take the risks that go with it. Individuality is about that confidence, not about behaving wildly or wearing mismatched socks. It’s the individuality of our work, not some quasi-Bohemian idea of the artist as an unusual person.
Dressing, as someone once wrote of a character in a book, like a person leaving a burning building doesn’t make anyone an artist. It just makes the person – well, look like someone leaving a burning building.
Artists and other creatives are rarely run-of-the-mill individuals, to be sure, but there’s no need to call attention to that or make it the basis for any kind of entitlement. In the communities I’ve loved the most, creative people – artists, writers, musicians and more – are treated not with entitlement but with the same respect other members of the community are accorded, no more and no less. Those who claim entitlement become smaller in my eyes.
So we soldier on, toilers in the creative vineyard like toilers in any other vineyard. We encourage each other, laugh with each other, engage in serious discussions with each other, feed each other when called upon and breath the same air as everyone else in the community.
Our difference – Henri’s “greatness of art” – is in our fearless individuality and our power (read confidence) to express that.
To my artist sisters and brothers, I can say only, “Keep on keepin’ on.” (Yes, I’m that old!)
Here are the three pieces I’ve been working on…I’ll write more about the process and lessons learned next time. These are 15×30 acrylics. No titles yet. The center panel which a week or so ago was wanting to be horizontal changed its mind in the company of the other two. We never know…