The Art Spirit


Title: The Art Spirit
Author: Robert Henri
Year Read: 2013
My Rating: 9 / 10
Buy This Book: Amazon

Following Jack Dorsey’s mysterious talk at the Startup School 2013, I decided to read one of the books that he recommended, “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri. I must say that even though I was never a big art appreciator and never really understood art beyond finding some paintings cool and others not-that-cool, I had a great time reading this book. It opened my eyes to a lot of things that go through an artist’s mind: from what motivates her to spend months working on a piece, to what constitutes the process of creation; from how an artist sees herself, to how art can actually be useful to society. (I know, right?!) As I always do when I read, I highlighted on my kindle some parts that resonated with me and that I found interesting and inspiring. So here it goes, a list of my favorite excerpts from “The Art Spirit”:

  1. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The value of repeated studies of beginnings of a painting cannot be over-estimated. Those who cannot begin do not finish.
  5. All things change according to the state we are in. Nothing is fixed.
  6. She was master. Her work is a record of her life’s great moments.
  7. A good picture is a well-built structure. There is material in the model before you for all kinds of structures. All these structures will be like the model, but beyond likeness there will be a manifestation of something more real, more related to all things, and more unique in itself. Infinite simplicity. A direct purpose and most exacting choice of the terms of expression. I believe the great artists of the future will use fewer words, copy fewer things, essays will be shorter in words and longer in meaning. There will be a battle against obscurity. Effort will be made to put everything plain, out in the open. By this means we will enter into the real mystery. There will be fewer things said and done, but each thing will be fuller and will receive fuller consideration.
  8. We must paint only what is important to us, must not respond to outside demands. They do not know what they want, or what we have to give.
  9. The mind is a tool, it is either clogged, bound, rusty, or it is a clear way to and from the soul. An artist should not be afraid of his tools. He should not be afraid to know.
  10. The effect of brilliancy is to be obtained principally from the oppositions of cool colors with warm colors, and the oppositions of grave colors with bright colors. If all the colors are bright there is no brightness.
  11. Understand that in no work will you find the final word, nor will you find a receipt that will just fit you. The fun of living is that we have to make ourselves, after all.
  12. The real study of an art student is more a development of that sensitive nature and appreciative imagination with which he was so fully endowed when a child, and which, unfortunately in almost all cases, the contact with the grown-ups shames out of him before he has passed into what is understood as real life.
  13. We have little interest in the material person or the material thing. All our valuation of them is based on the sensations their presence and existence arouse in us.
  14. Beauty is no material thing. Beauty cannot be copied. Beauty is the sensation of pleasure on the mind of the seer. No thing is beautiful. But all things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at sight of them. This is beauty.
  15. The objects are painted for what they suggest, and their presentation has no excuse if it is not to carry to the mind of the observer the fancy they aroused in the artist.
  16. An art student should read, or talk a great deal with those who have read. His conversations with his intimate fellow-students should be more of his life and less of paint. He should be careful of the influence of those with whom he consorts, and he runs a great risk in becoming a member of a large society, for large bodies tend toward the leveling of individuality to a common consent, the forming and the adherence to a creed. And a member must be ever in unnecessary broil or pretend agreement which he cannot permit himself to do, for it is his principle as an art student to have and to defend his personal impressions.
  17. One of the great difficulties of an art student is to decide between his own natural impressions and what he thinks should be his impressions.
  18. Art after all is but an extension of language to the expression of sensations too subtle for words.
  19. It is harder to see than it is to express.
  20. To study technique means to make it, to invent it. To take the raw material each time anew and twist it into shape. It must be made to serve a specific purpose. The same technique must never be used again. Each time it must be made new and fresh. A stock of set phrases won’t do. The study is a development of wit.
  21. All outward success, when it has value, is but the inevitable result of an inward success of full living, full play and enjoyment of one’s faculties.
  22. To award prizes is to attempt to control the course of another man’s work. It is a bid to have him do what you will approve. It affects not only the one who wins the award, but all those who in any measure strive for it. It is an effort to stop evolution, to hold things back to the plane of your judgment. It is a check on a great adventure of human life. It is negative to the idea that youth should go forward. It is for the coming generation to judge you, not for you to judge it. So it must happen, whether you will it or not.
  23. The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture—however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state.
  24. The easiest thing is the hardest. It is harder to be simple than it is to be complex.
  25. Work always as if you were a master, expect from yourself a masterpiece.
  26. No work of art is really ever finished. They only stop at good places.
  27. The most beautiful life possible, wherein there is no sordidness, is only attainable by effort. To be free, to be happy and fruitful, can only be attained through sacrifice of many common but overestimated things.
  28. Keep up the work. Try to reduce everything you see to the utmost simplicity. That is, let nothing but the things which are of the utmost importance to you have any place.
  29. Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway.
  30. Art is simply a result of expression during right feeling. It’s a result of a grip on the fundamentals of nature, the spirit of life, the constructive force, the secret of growth, a real understanding of the relative importance of things, order, balance. Any material will do. After all, the object is not to make art, but to be in the wonderful state which makes art inevitable.
  31. A scientist is not a scientist in order to be a scientist. He is what he is because he wants to know about life.