My previous posts about the “Find of the Week” have always been about clothing. But today’s post is all about a wonderful book I discovered. The Art Spirit by Robert Henri is a collection of the artist’s beliefs, theories, and teachings on painting. I can’t tell you how excited I was to accidentally discover this book!
Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an American artist, primarily know for his portraits, and the leader of the Ashcan School. Around 1900, this group of painters focused on depicting scenes as they were (Realism) instead of in the dreamy, staccato way of the American (and French) Impressionists.
Henri attracted droves of students to The Art Students League of New York, including George Bellows. (New to my site? Please take a moment to read my previous post on George Bellows) Henri was an excellent communicator, mostly because of the passion which drove him to create art. He saw no separation between art and life, constantly stating that art is a matter in which everyone is vitally concerned. Why? Henri opens the book with the following:
“Art, when really understood, is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things – anything – well. It is not an outside, extra thing. 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.“
Current course catalog for The Art Students League
The Art Students League is still in operation. After finding Henri’s book, I took a trip to the school. There classes are extremely flexible and affordable. You simply select the type of class you’d like to take, and pay for a month of enrollment. Classes offered range in price from $80 to $240 for the month, and meet either once, twice, or five times a week. The Art Students League also offers workshops, as well! I’m hoping to enroll in a class or two this summer.
Classroom storage at The Art Students League.
The book is so inspiring. It is no wonder to me that Henri had so many students. When I read his words now, so long after they were written in the 1920s, I can feel this dormant creativity in myself waking up. A particular passage in the book really touched me:
“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his visions by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Signposts on the way to what might be. Signposts towards greater knowledge.”
Jessica Penn in Black and White Plumes by Robert Henri, 1908.
That is what made Henri such a great artist. He could observe daily life in such extraordinary detail. Looking at his portrait of Jessica Penn, I imagine that he captured her likeness very well. Penn seems very self-assured with her bold pose: shoulders back, hip thrust back and jutted out to the side, arms positioning the fabric of her skirt to show her silhouette more closely. She has that s-shaped silhouette so typical of the time period. But look at her face: doesn’t she look a bit, well, bored? Maybe she is just tired – those extreme corsets of the day certainly made daily activities, like walking and breathing, difficult.
Her outfit is really skillful depicted. It really reminds me a lot of this dress by Jaques Doucet from 1903.
Dress by Jacques Doucet, 1903. Image courtesy of The Kyoto Costume Institute.