A New Year, a clean slate—time for a recap, a visit to ye ole stand-by ideas, but ideas that keep fresh the intent of the creative spirit.
Starting with the lessons Robert Henri (pronounced Hen-rye), who was a beloved and influential teacher of the early 20th century. His students at the New York School of Art included the renown: Joseph Stella, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows and Stuart Davis, among others. At the encouragement of his followers he published a book of his teachings entitled The Art Spirit, which has been in a handy spot on my bookshelf for the last 25 years. The book is a collection of wisdoms, easy to pick up for a quick insight.
A few quotes to re-point the direction for 2014:
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.
This is ultimately the goal of painting for me. What it feels like to do it. Those moments when being lost in a focus is palpable, when the energy waves in the room hit a certain frequency that calms the mind and lifts the soul–those are really the reward of the doing. It is indeed a state of “high functioning”.
No work of art is ever really finished, they stop at good places.
It is helpful to remember this idea. “When do you know it’s done?” is a frequently asked question. I once read an artist’s response: “When I’ve learned all I can from it.” Not a bad answer either. I usually put a work up for a long while and if it still interests me when I’m not really paying attention and nothing bugs me, I’ll consider it “done”.
An artist’s job is to surprise himself. Use all means possible.
For me a painting is a record of an encounter rather than a record of a subject. The encounter is with something that evokes emotion for any number of reasons. The whole idea of encounter, by definition, implies action and reaction. It is most often unplanned, unexpected. It isn’t passive. I think of painting as engagement and the job of an artist is to become and remain engaged. When you find yourself laboriously filling in the picture plane with imagery that really doesn’t interest you, it’s time to shake things up. That’s one of the reasons people like the “follow the leader” exercise. It allows one to stay in a reaction mode—to be surprised—to employ honest, active responses.
The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.
Full circle. It speaks for itself.