The Art Spirit- Robert Henri

My ex, who is a great painter, turned me on to a book called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. This book really spoke to me, even though Henri was writing about painted rather than music.

Painters often have more developed conception of the creative process than musicians do. Both of my parents were serious artists, so I grew up thinking of music more as a fine art than just as entertainment.

My childhood was spent around artists so I got into the habit of relating ideas about painting to the process of making music. If we as musicians are not aware of ideas relating to the philosophy of art, as well as of music, then we will fail to see the profound importance of what we are doing. We may forget that we are creative artists in the tradition of Beethoven, van Gogh, Michelangelo, Matisse, and Velasquez. Sometimes we may become too blinded by playing music for the cocktail enhancement of yuppies

  • Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an American artist, teacher, and an outspoken advocate of modern painting. He is best known for his leadership of the group of realist painters known "The Eight," later termed the Ashcan School. Henri was a devotee of realism and the usage of everyday city life as a subject. He taught at the Art Students League in New York and had a profound influence on 20th century painters such as Stuart Davis, Rockwell Kent, and Edward Hopper.

Below are some excepts. I've changed a few words here and there, like from the word gallery to concert hall.

"Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing thing, 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. 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 that there are still more pages possible.

The world would stagnate without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and others. He does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. He can work in any medium. He simply has to find the gain in the work itself, not outside it.

Cherish your emotions and never undervalue them.

We are not here to do what has already been done.

Know what the masters did. Know how they composed and improvised, but do not fall into the conventions they established. These conventions were right for them, and they are wonderful. They made their language. You can make yours. They can help you. All the past can help you.

A music student must be a master from the beginning; that is, he must be master of such as he has. By being a master of such as he has there is promise that he will be master in the future.

A work of music which inspires us comes from no quibbling or uncertain man. It is the manifest of a very positive nature in great enjoyment, and at the very moment the work was done.

It is not enough to have thought great things before playing the music. The moment a note is played it carries inevitably the exact state of being of the musician at the exact moment of the tune, and there it is, to be heard by those who can hear such signs, and by musician himself, with perhaps some surprise, as a revelation of himself.

For an musician to be interesting to us he must be interesting to himself. He must be capable of intense feeling and profound concentration.

Don't worry about feeling unappreciated. Everybody that's good has gone though it. Don't let it matter if your music is not "accepted" at once. The better or more personal you are the less likely likely they are of acceptance. Just remember that the object of playing music is not simply to sell CDs. It is all very fine to sell CDs or play concerts, but you are playing for yourself, not for the audience.

The music student is not an isolated force. He belongs to a great Brotherhood, bears great kinship to his kind. He benefits by taking and he benefits by giving.

Through music mysterious bonds of understanding are established among men. They the bonds of a great Brotherhood. Those who are of the Brotherhood know each other, and time and space cannot separate them.

If the musician is alive in you, you may meet Bird nearer than many people, also Monk, Pops, Trane, and Miles. In certain recordings- a few bars into the first tune you know that you have met a brother. You pass people on the street, some are for you, some are not."


MonksDream said...

That seems like a pretty inspiring book. Was Henri originally French? It reminds me of a book that a choreographer recommended to me that he said transcends any artistic medium. By Twyla Tharp, it's called "The Creative Life."
Tharp describes various ways and routines of consistently getting out of ruts. Methods to continue to achieve breakthroughs in your creative endeavours. Probably worth checking out.

MonksDream said...

I blew that by the way, it's "The Creative Habit."

Stefan Kac said...

It is all very fine to sell CDs or play concerts, but you are playing for yourself, not for the audience.

I'm curious to know what exactly the original quote was, and therefore, whether he is advocating playing for yourself, or advocating playing for your audience. Jazz musicians, in particular, seem to get quite caught up thinking that these two things are always at odds with each other, rather than adopting the philosophy that YOUR audience IS people who dig what YOU do.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Good point Stefan. Not everything dealing with painting can be directly translated into musical terms. The full original quote is:

"Don't worry about 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 hung in exhibitions. It is all very fine to have your pictures hung, but you are paining for yourself, not for the jury. I had many years of rejections."

This topic is a theme that we have explored many times on this blog, in my posts and in the comments section. What ever you decide your attitude should be in this area, it is a crucial thing to consider as a musician. This is because the attitude you take can affect everything you play.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Really great blog by the way Stefan.
I will be checking it out and may even write about it here at Casa Valdez.

Adam said...

Sitting here listening to Gary Bartz and thinking "I haven't been to David's blog in a while..."

Hey, I married the granddaughter of a famous European/Australian painter, Michael Kmit. He was pretty amazing.
I'm sure you'll dig his stuff.
Here's a few:






We're set to inherit a few of his original works. The trouble is I can't imagine us affording a house with proper wall space to do it justice, but at least the cart is before horse.