"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Art Spirit and Himself

A favorite book is "The Art Spirit" by Robert Henri....a collection of this great artist's teaching, letters, essays, critiques. My Dad had a copy when I was too young to know much about it. But I've acquired a third edition, 1939, and have much of it underlined, because what he writes is not just about painting, but about art, about drawing,a bout seeing, about writing. It's much like a book of proverbs, aphorisms and wisdom.

I don't think I've ever been all the way through it. I sometimes leave it in my car so if I'm stuck somewhere, I can read a few pages. It's one of those you can pick up and find something interesting on almost every page.

There is much to still be discovered in this book, and the thrill of discovery is one of the joys of reading.

  • "In certain books--some way in the first few paragraphs you know that you have met a brother. "
  • "The lace on a lady's sleeve is no longer lace, it is part of her, and in the picture stands as a symbol of her refinement and delicacy."
  • "The lace on a woman's wrist is an entirely different thing from lace in a shop."
  • "the world is not done. Evolution is not complete."
  • "The institutionalized  religion doubts humanity, whereas truth itself rests in faith in humanity."
  • "No matter how good the school is, his education is in his own hands. all education must be self education."
  • "When the teacher is continually author both of the question and its answer, it is not as likely the answer will sink deep and get into service, as it will if the question is asked by the child."
  • "Art is, after all, only a trace--like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness."
  • "It's a wrong idea that a master is a finished person. Masters are very faulty, they haven't learned everything and they know it. Finished persons are very common--people who are closed up, quite satisfied that there is little or nothign mroe to learn."
  • "No nation as yet is the home of art. Art is an outsider, a gypsy over the face of the earth."
And so was the thrill and the shock, to find near the end of the book, this photograph of his portrait of the old Irish fisherman, "Himself." That's the one I discovered in Chicago last year, and the revelation of Bob Illidge's term for me that I wrote about in The Booth is a verb. It was sitting here under my nose all the time. The black and white photograph can't show the nuances of color Henri had mastered in portrait painting, but the light and structure and expression are there.

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