We received a phone call this week from the Board President of the Robert Henri Museum in Cozad, Nebraska. (To learn more about the early life of Henri, see Sign Posts.) The museum is receiving, on loan, four original paintings done by Henri – portraits of his family and himself for a new exhibition. The call reminded us again of the great inspiration we continue to receive from Henri’s classic book – The Art Spirit.
In our pursuit of mastering the necessary skills and art techniques needed to express our creativity, we must also never lose sight of our individual vision. Skills are important, but passion for our subjects and ideas is even more so. Representational painting, in particular, should never be about recording the facts of something – any camera can do that better. Technical ability aside, what really should be at the heart of every artistic work is the expression of our unique experience of life. How else can we connect?
Henri stated it perfectly:
“It seems to me that before a man tries to express anything to the world he must recognize in himself an individual, a new one, very distinct from others. . . in everyone there is the great mystery; every single person in the world has evidence to give of his own individuality, providing he has acquired the full power to make clear this evidence.”
“. . . For instance, contrast the work of Twachtman and Winslow Homer. The same scene presented by these two men would be not an identical geographical spot but an absolutely different expression of personality. Twachtman saw the seas bathed in mists, the rocks softened with vapor. Winslow Homer looked straight through the vapor at the hard rock; he found in the leaden heaviness a most tremendously forceful idea. It was not the sea or the rock to either of these men, but their own individual attitude toward the beauty or the force of nature. Each man must take the material that he finds at hand, see that in it there are the big truths of life, the fundamentally big forces, and then express in his art whatever is the cause of his pleasure. . .”
We’ve put examples of Twachtman and Homer’s works above. We would enjoy hearing from you. Are you able to maintain your individuality within your painting while learning the art techniques and skills required? And, if so, how?
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–John and Ann