This will be an occasional series in which a contemporary
artist introduces some writing by an artist now mostly forgotten,
or whose writing is unjustly overlooked. The series is inspired by
the enthusiasm of James Welling for the writing of Robert Henri, of
which more below.
Robert Henri (1865-1929) is acknowledged as America's greatest art teacher of the first half of the 20th century. His students are legion: George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Arthur Dove, even Arshile Gorky sat in on his critiques. Henri was also one of the driving forces behind a series of important exhibitions in the first decade of the century against the official, staid exhibitions of the National Academy. Henri's efforts eventually culminated in the Armory Show, which he worked on as an advisor. Interestingly, Henri's work, like that of his friends, was pretty much obliterated by what the Armory Show ushered in. Henri, who was a member of the group of artists known as The Eight, practised a style of realist painting which combined the spontaneity of Monet with the tonality of Velázquez. As Forbes Watson puts it in the introduction to Henri's collected writings, The Art Spirit, Robert Henri 'looked at contemporary life and contemporary scenes with a fresh, unprejudiced, un-academic eye.'
Last year I became interested in The Eight. I wanted to look closely at Robert Henri and his friends and at the road not taken after the Armory Show. I bought The Art Spirit and a biography of Henri. The Art Spirit knocked my socks off. It was fresh, contemporary. If you changed 'painting' to 'art' it reads like something written today. I asked around some of my art history friends; 'Have you read The Art Spirit?' No. No one had. Well, get ready then. It's very good.
THE ART SPIRIT
By Robert Henri
PART I (pp.240-265)
NOTES TAKEN BY M. R. FROM ROBERT HENRI'S CRITICISMS AND CLASS TALKS
ART is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong.
Be always looking for the thing you like and not afraid of overstating it. We want the simple vision of one who sees and enjoys. Suppose all people try to declare the things they like.
Terrible to have an artist put into his portrait what he does not like in the sitter. If we could only learn to see while we are painting as we see when we enjoy things.
It won't do to blunt and dull your sensitiveness.
Study to appreciate.
What we need is more sense of the wonder of life and less of this business of making a picture.
Your painting is the marking of your progression into nature, a sensation of something you see way beyond the two pretty colors over there. Don't stop to paint the material, but push on to give the spirit. We do not enjoy or admire the material in life, for we hate a miser or a merely businessman. So why should we draw like a miser? Rather, we should work like a person who sees beyond the material. When we look at anything, we see beyond the objects we draw. We should draw with this spiritual sight. Thus the measure of a painting is the conception of the artist. The value of a work of art depends on the Bight the observer takes from it.
A sign makes us see no end of things. Painting is to a great extent a thing of signs. Of the many forms on the model there are very few that the greatest artist need employ.
The cause of revolutions in art is, that, at times, feeling drops out of the work and it must fight to get back in again.
Those who express even a little of themselves never become old-fashioned.
The only true modern movement is a frank expression of self.
The artist should have a powerful will. He should be powerfully possessed by one idea. He should be intoxicated with the idea of the thing he wants to express. If his will is not strong he will see all kinds of unessential things. A picture should be the expression of the will of the painter.
We have very little idea and sight of big things, but a splendid idea of little ones. This is the reason the war could occur. Such evil growths as its cause would otherwise have been foreseen. People have not looked largely at life, mainly because our education drowns us in detail. We don't see the why of it all. Even the superficial thing is important if you can see way beyond it. This is true of painting. Much can be said with a few elements if you can see each in its place.
There is a joy in the pursuit of anything. Life is finding yourself. It is a spirit development.
A DRAWING should be a verdict on the model. Don't confuse a drawing with a map.
Lines are results, do not draw them for themselves.
Your drawing should be an expression of your spiritual sight.
You should draw not a line, but an inspired line.
Yours should be the drawing of strong intentions.
Every line should be the universe to you.
Every line should carry a thousand pounds.
A line expresses your pride, fear and hope.
A line that has come from a line. Lines give birth to lines.
Drawing is not following a line on the model, it is drawing your sense of the thing.
Reality is obtained not by imitation, but by producing the sense of nature.
Has your drawing the meaning you saw in the model at first?
Make a drawing How, stopping sometimes, and going on.
Yours should be the drawing of the human spirit through the human form.
You will never draw the sense of a thing unless you are feeling it at the time you work.
Search for the simple constructive forces, like the lines of a suspension bridge.
Get the few main lines and see what lines they call out.
Some lines are as though they would like to run off the canvas.
Keep a bad drawing until by study you have found out why it is bad.
Work for continuity of line. Strength is gained through culmination.
Have a motive in breaking a plane. Have purpose in the places where lines stop.
Keep thinking of rhythm of line and of forms.
Colors should have rhythmic effect.
Count on big line to express your ideas.
Find and lose.
Find the big shape of the head. All the small bumps are but variations under control of the big shape. This is constructive drawing.
The act of receiving is as difficult a feat and as creative as the act of giving. Therefore help the observer by making your painting simple. Straight lines and clear angles have definiteness of character. If you use them, the observer knows when he is being led in a new direction, while a wabbly line confuses him. It is surprising how much variety or how many changes exist within a line, that is, without destroying it. Work for the holding of a line. If all points are painted with the same valuation only monotony will result. You should drive the observer on to a conclusion.
There is always a commanding and simple line around each head. Learn to have a love for the big simple note.
IF PAINTING is painting, it is drawing. You do not stop drawing when you begin to paint, for painting is drawing.
A study from the nude should be a study to comprehend the human body. When away from model draw from memory. Draw also opposite or very different views from what you had in the class.
If you think of a school drawing while you work, your drawing will look like one.
Originality can be halted but not stamped out or taken away.
Let yourself free to be what you will be.
Clerk mathematician. Creative mathematician.
IF YOU do not act on a suggestion at first, you grow dull to its message.
Be yourself today, don't wait till tomorrow. He who is master of what he has today will be master of what he has tomorrow. Many things we know are true that we have never made a part of us. An artist is a master at the start, if he is ever going to be one. Masters are people who use what they have.
Don't demonstrate measure but demonstrate the results you may get from the employment of measure. There is geometry in all good expression.
In a canvas there are two orders working together, the dynamic and static.
Things are at interesting intervals away from you, as well as across the canvas.
Look for echoes. Sometimes the same shape or direction will echo through the picture.
A curve does not exist in its full power until contrasted with a straight line.
Good to oppose straight line to action side of figure.
In making the variations within a curve do not destroy the main movement of the curve.
It is mathematics that gives the imposing architectural structure.
It is through change that we get the laws of nature.
In this group get the beautiful relationship which exists between these two children, that is, the rhythm of their life.
The model is not to be copied, but to be realized. The painting is the result of the effect of the model on the artist. It is not the model we need but the vision. Thus when a great artist, as Isadora Duncan, affects us, that is when we realize her, we are great as well as she. Thus the observer can be great as he looks at a picture; that is, to the extent to which he sees it as wonderful. The greatness of the picture as it hangs on the wall is up to the observer.
In your model are the essential materials out of which to make a good composition. Enough is there to make a Manet, had he seen it; or a Whistler, had he seen it; but the idiot if he saw it would make a copy. He would put each line as he saw it, for he does not see correlation. Those who interpret the model do not use the measures of photography or of sheer skill.
The Greeks did far less on a piece of work than Bougereau. Still we do not feel that there is anything more to be done on a Greek statue. What is needed is a wonderful judgment in the handling of your materials.
There has never been a painting that was more beautiful than nature. The model does not unfold herself to you, you must rise to her. She should be the inspiration for your painting. No man has ever over-appreciated a human being.
Get the distinction of the model.
In painting some people we select mass rather than action, they are more like a static pond than a running brook.
A good model is one whose lines have meaning.
Sometimes the sparkle on a button may be vital to the whole composition.
Look for the spirit line that runs through everything.
Let your painting show the vibration of breathing.
Take the pose of the model, yourself, then you can feel the pull of the muscles. Make the legs as though they ran right through the body.
Defend your sight of the model.
Think, are the energies of the model in your painting?
Demand of the model all your greatest ideas. See the dignity of the model, see the man in him.
What you see is not what is over there, but what you are capable of seeing. It is a creation of your own mind, not the model. The model is dependent on your idea of her. Your canvas should be a thing created under the influence of her.
Draw constructively from the model. Art is a manifestation of the constructive power. Construction is the bearing or relation of one note on another, each note in its relation to each and every other note.
The model is one thing, like one gesture. Each part does not exist until all parts are. Each part is a step in a progression. There is a power that things have when organized. Finish is only good when it plays a part in the whole, but it is, too often, only an attempt to cover up faults.
Energy, vitality and unity are the essential things about man. The strength of a wild horse lies in its unity.
Think of a mother's love for her child while you paint that subject, that is, think of the idea you want to give while you are painting.
I must win my way in with a child. He lives in a world he has made, and in it there is no tying down to literal facts. Paint with respect for him. You can't buy him. He is the great possibility, the independent individual. The child lives in his world. It is nothing to you, but it is just as big as yours.
To a child all the different colors are a romance, and romance is all that is true.
The tremendous activity of a boy sitting still.
There have been periods when the world has thought much of human beings, we knew more about them then than we do now.
IT IS not the way you put paint on, but what you ask of it that counts.
Your style is the way you talk in paint.
That little covering up is what is generally called finish.
The thing that makes the artist is a gigantic individual development.
Is your painting in accord with the big scheme in nature? Anyone who desires to make a thing in large, simple terms is in a healthy state.
SELF-EDUCATION, only, produces expression of self.
Don't ask for a criticism until you are sure you can't give it yourself. Then you will be in a fine state to receive it.
You cannot impose education on anyone.
Few people ever mention that they have studied under themselves. Their attitude in school is, "Here I am, a student, a ball of putty, roll me." Nobody in the land is free, for they are all asking, "What do people expect of me?"
If I could see and really understand the essence of the life that is right around me I could with even such technique as I now command make masterpieces.
By my teaching I hope to inspire you to personal activity and to present your vision.
I am interested in the size of your intention. It is better to overstate the important than to understate it.
In your painting think of the neck, head and body as having a liking for each other. There is a love of the hand for the head. No cold lack of sympathy between the parts of a human being, but a beautiful fellowship exists. The parts are joyous in their play together, and an absolute confidence exists between them. There should be the same loving harmony between the face, the drapery, ornaments, and in the very air which surrounds, for in your portrait all these things have become part of the person.
Regard the head as a gesture.
Think-how does the head come out of the body?
Some people's features are strongly cut.
Look upon the head as a Greek bust. It may help you to see the beauties of the head before you.
Sometimes the features shape the face, other times they are contained within the face. The features of a Chinese rarely destroy the dominance of the face.
If you wish, concentrate on a single feature (as, build all toward one eye), make all lines lead toward that eye.
Interest generally begins with the eyes, with the mouth or the gesture of the nose.
Often the rise of the forehead is as though it were a surprise. A beautiful nobility of light up there.
Better have eyebrows too long and mouth too big than the opposite.
Get a large and simple appreciation of the head.
Make the head a solid in a swim of atmosphere.
Keep your masses distinct, do not merge them to softness. But note also
that decided things are on the verge of crudeness and may go over.
Never use a highlight unless you have to. Use it only when it will be of great service. The same is true of reflected lights, and even of half-tones.
In painting a flower aim for its strength. Strength in delicacy.
Five minutes' consideration of the model is more important than hours of haphazard work.
If you get stuck with your painting, make a sketch of the model in another medium. It will give you a fresh eye.
Hair and beard. The hair is wonderful in its gamut from materialism to idealism, from detail to bigness.
It is so free and still so certain.
In hair there should be places of silence. These are of great value.
You may use her hair, in contrast, to make the cool distinction of her face. The beauty of one is necessary to the other. The hair helps to make the face, the face helps to make the hair.
The line on the head between the hair and the face is often a great opportunity for expression in a picture.
Ask yourself, what is your concept of the hair. How get its activity'?
Let the hair flow amply over the head. It goes back into richness.
First see that it gives the shape of the head, then get its own gesture.
Notice the way the hair dresses the head, how it reaches out and possesses the background.
Black hair may be painted over a warm-sienna -undertone, and at its edge against the flesh there is often a stronger red. Paint this red to be felt - not seen.
There is very little white paint about white hair.
There is a wonderful fancifulness in the old man's long gray hair.
Look for the occurrence of beautiful measures in the hair. Things are beautiful because they are related. The beauty lies in relationships.
Have elasticity in the hair.
The skull should be firm under the hair.
Often the hair produces the idea of action, will.
A white beard is nearer the color of the face than one would think. Sometimes it is but a few accents that make the difference.
All faces have a direction of their own, some point in, some point out. Concert the lines to express them.
A passage of gesture over the face.
Drive for the activity of mind through the features.
There may be many colors and shapes in a forehead, but it should look like one thing, a forehead. This is simplicity.
See the clock! Its great, big, blond, full face is not spoiled by the hands, as the face of your painting is by the features. Handle the majesty of the human face without destroying it with the features.
AN EYE is an expression.
Think of the eyelid and the lip together. They are different features but they concert to express the same emotion.
The eye of a young person is clear cut, of an old person indefinite.
Generally there is a richer color around the eye.
Remember the shadow from the upper lid on the eyeball.
The light in the comer of the eye, near the nose, helps to model the socket.
The white of an eye deceives almost everyone. It is much less white than you think it, nor is it so cold. It is nearer the color of the flesh. Often a slight variation makes it.
The eyebrows are important. They have great meaning. They are never without important action, and they may have a multiplicity of gestures.
The eyebrows should be the master constructors of the forehead.
Be certain of them, their place, direction, length, beginning, variation and end. Then draw with this understanding.
What use will you make of the eyebrow?
Remember the importance of the cheekbone.
Feel the sweep back under the eyebrow.
Feel sense of quick movement.
THE direction of the nose may decide the way the hair shall go.
The painting of a nose is the painting of an expression.
Think of the nose as dominating and giving direction. It is like a chieftain advancing.
Work for the shape of the end pf the nose. Do not forget its whole shape in attention to the details of the nostrils.
You need not elaborate both sides of the nose. In all cases one side dominates the other. If the two sides are made equally important the observer does not know which to look at and jumps from one to the other satisfied with neither.
Paint the nostrils as just going to expand.
Square the nose, angularize.
The end of the nose is not light, only the highlight on it is bright.
The neck is often very expressive of the character of the person.
Get the mellowness and glow of the neck. You must sensitize paint and color.
Paint the neck, not only the shadow on the neck.
The neck rises from the action of the body.
There is imagination in the neck. The forms should have life and action.
The body projects the neck and the neck projects the head. The neck holds the head. Vital force articulates the picture.
A pair of lips is not enough to make a mouth. The chin must he active, not soft, mushy, or mixed up in shadow.
The lips are a culmination. It takes all the lower part of the face to make a mouth.
A GESTURE that embraces space.
Every picture should have one big controlling gesture.
Things should all he moving toward the expression of a great idea.
Certain animals have developed into a grandeur of gesture.
In painting a group of three women do not let interest in the individuals spoil the dominant gesture of the whole group.
Better to give the gesture than the outline of the arm.
Jump, and all becomes the spirit of that jump.
We watch dancing because there we can see the essential. We find in it the significant, wonderful line. It takes a mighty little to do a lot.
THE BACKGROUND has as much to do with the likeness as anything else. It should be evoked by the figure. It is the sensation of all space around the girl. The background should he sensitive to the head, and the chair seem to strengthen itself to hold the body.
This drawing is good because the woman grips the chair, she has weight. The legs of the chair support her, they meet the floor. There is a sense of touch. The artist should not copy the chair but be filled with the thought of its function. If only a small part shows, never paint this small part as a bit of a chair, but transform it, that is, paint it in its relation to the head. There should he something of the model all the way through. Paint her fan in its relation to her head.
Paint even the rungs of the model's chair so a poem could he written about them.
Remember that your model is not against space but in it. What is real to us and what we enjoy is the space, not the walls of a room.
A background is that thing sensed around and back of the model.
A background is good in color and form when it is so certainly there that you do not think of it.
A poor background is sometimes thin, purely theatrical, a mere drop curtain. It could be taken away.
The face should radiate its activity and color out into the background.
Don't let the background smother the figure.
When you paint the background don't look back of the model to see it.
The space this woman occupies is very handsome. Realize the dignity of space.
Some people need a big space back of them. Some heads call for a big space, some others for a small one.
Be interested in the containing power of the wall.
Sometimes it is easier to draw the spaces left around the model than actually to draw the model. Study the Greek compositions done in relief on the Parthenon to get the value of this.
Silk conducts the eye rapidly.
Some colors seem slow, others represent speed.
A purple thing may be painted without mixing the constituents, red and blue, but these colors, red and blue, may be so applied as to create a purple sensation in the eye and at the same time give a richer modeling than possible with the Bat purple. The red forward and the blue receding.
The importance of the garment as a garment is negligible in the presence of life.
Furniture and clothes are the escape of the bad artist.
Eradicate no end of lines and values, so that the clothes become sensations of clothes with big gestures in them. In life we eradicate much to see beauty.
Everything on the canvas, hair, coat, background and chair should help express your idea of the man's character.
FIGHT with yourself when you paint, not with the model. A student is one who struggles with himself, struggles for order.
MAKE the forms of a garment so that a trip through its hills and dales will be delightful.
When you start a painting, think: why is the model interesting, why strong? How shall I use this necktie, his hair, these things, to express him?
How does this tie make for energy, accent or character?
Paint not the material but the spirit of the necktie, that is, its relation to life, thought, breathing of the model.
Tie (here bright orange). Think of an engine coming--cumulative effect.
A necktie is like a cork Boating down a river, it is itself last.
To make body exist under the dress, make the lines in the man's shirt continue those in the neck. Think of the man while you draw his clothes.
The shoulder straps of that dress draw the shape of the upper part of her body.
The beads of a chain had better not be counted. Think of it as a series of influences. The chain around a woman's neck is a live thing.
In the line of the collar over the shoulders give the graciousness of the young woman.
Paint the hat as a complement to the head.
Give her quality to the dress, as gentle as she is. The way a bit of white looks on an old woman. It is different from the way it looks on anybody else.
Give the cuffs and muff the energy of the hand.
Something of savagery and untamed life is indicated by the jewel in the ear.
The flesh pulsates. In reality it is never very brilliant, still it has the effect of being the most brilliant thing you see. You can't quite touch it as you can the earring.
A drag in a dress suggests a past action. Good with long skirt to have model walk and thus trace the action. All, instead of being limp, should be carrying out the theme. Clothes should have not limpness but the beauty of activity. Great things should be happening, currents should be running through.
Think, what have you to say about that red dress and white collar?
Remember that the angle of light should catch down the whole figure. It is deflected in its course by the accidents of form, but it is continuous.
Avoid monotony among the lights.
The white of a collar may be an excellent compositional note in the color of a canvas, and it should be an aid to solidity.
Think of the coat as a great opposition to the head.
Better paint the gesture of the hand than the hand.
The belt around the waist should be an expression of the living, breathing body.
The wrinkles of a child's dress are full of the history of the day. The little child spoils the clean dress and makes it. The clothes have become part of the child.
The necklaces on a papoose are the signs of the bountiful in the savage.
Paint that over there as though the shawl itself were alive. Put a certain expression in the shawl. Try to give the sensation of the activity of her shoulders, the life of her. The shawl should tell of its excursion around her neck and over her shoulders.
Paint her clothes, laughing, brave.
FORCE a sense of life and sense of volume.
Don't look the shadows out of the face. If you look at any shadow long enough, it tends to grow light. Therefore keep your eye focused on the lights or on the expression, never on the shadows or background. Better have shadows black and simple than weak.
Nothing should be negative or trying to get away, brush strokes irresolute, words you did not mean.
Positiveness makes for good art. Don't work flatly, softly, roundly and negatively.
All concession is lying.
You will never get form till you want it. And wanting to want it is not wanting it.
There are forms that can only be seen when you are near a canvas, others only appear when you are far away. To paint is to know how to put nothing on a canvas, and have it look like something when you stand back.
THINK of solidity as you work.
Think of values as giving form, not as spots of light and dark.
Do not ask, 'Where is'?" but ''Where do I need the light to make the beard, etc.?"
Dark and light to produce form not dark because there is dark and light on the model.
Be sure not to model the knuckles and small incidents so carefully that you forget the general big planes. This fault causes lack of solidity.
Hardness and thinness of edge makes for flatness.
Draw for solid as well as plane geometrical forms.
Be careful to go not nearly around, but rather, all the way around the head.
Lack of solidity is sometimes due to little lights all over.
Angle of light, find and trace.
Nothing would be more horrible to you than the elimination of form in real life.
Put parts nearer to you or further away, as you work. Reach way back to the background and then forward until it envelops the 6gure. Use forceful projection.
When painting a laughing head the idea of continued motion should be impressed on the observer. The picture should only start the observer, should make him think he sees more than is on the canvas. To do this, the painter takes all the factors of the canvas and sets them in motion. He must create a rhythm of movement through all.
A laughing head should be organic; that is, all related. An organism has order.
Idea of face all bound together and tight as a clasped hand, idea of pressure. A laughing mouth is stretched, the chin projects, nose and upper lip shortened, the nostrils spread, and. eyes squeezed with ends lifted. The spirit of laughter lights up a room. It spreads out over the whole canvas. The body should be laughing as well as the face. The laughter should pass from the beginning of the hair to the ends of it. In the picture of a laughing boy, the laughter should be continued in the hair, carrying out the lines of the features, and a chatter should be in the background. The whole canvas should be like a laughing person coming into a room.
After laughter one should feel full, not empty as one feels after fireworks.
A ripple runs around and picks up the chin. When he laughs a whole new set of forms begin.
LEARN giving and receiving in giving. That which is worth while in a landscape is the expression of human emotion in it. The sympathetic painting of a still-life has more humanity in it than a head, unsympathetically painted.
I WOULD rather see a wonderful little child than the Grand Canyon.
Paint mountains as they are when they look wonderful to you, when they seem to move and have a life of their own. Try to discover what it is you see when they look so wonderful. The thrilling glimpse from a train window may dissolve into mere materialism when you go back and coldly look at the subject. Mountains are great living things under the sky. Sometimes a mountain lies there in the atmosphere. The atmosphere comes down and envelops it.
Grasp the big things outdoors. The immense power of the sea, the rock standing there. We do not think of rock, but of resistance.
The romance of snow-filled atmosphere and the grimness of a house.
Render the waterfall not merely as a waterfall, but use the waterfall as an expression of life.
The old house sits down. At first a new house is an interloper, after a while the landscape takes it in. The houses become all of a family, related, and all the neighborhood grows old together. People's houses get to look like them. There is more in a house than the materials it is made of. Humanize the houses.
Get one form that looks like the tree rather than little pickings at the branches. Give the tree its gesture. Some trees are heavy, ample and full.
In a tree there is a spirit of life, a spirit of growth and a spirit of holding its head up.
Get the music that exists in the play of light over the houses in the landscape.
A mountain seen in the haze of distance must nevertheless look a solid heavy mountain.
Evening has a powerful light.
Be sensitive to just a common stick leaning against the wall.
The very sense of love was in the approach of part to part.
This is extremely beautiful, it is like a thought.
In his pictures there is the supreme line.
Everybody who has any respect for painting feels scared when he starts a new canvas.
A person who has never been afraid has no imagination.
There are "colorist" pictures which have color as agents of construction, and there are others which riot like a ribbon counter.
BRILLIANCY is going toward color, not toward white.
Cumulation is stronger than contrast. Cumulative color.
Yellow makes things come forward, purple makes them go back. Model with oppositions of cold and warm side of palette.
Black is a very difficult color. Don't get an over balance of it.
Black or gray, when opposed to warm colors tend to look cool and opposite. That is with purple they tend to look yellow, but when with yellow the black or gray seem purple.
Study the effect of juxtapositions of pure colors with neutrals.
Vitalizing of color, by having it play within its note a warm, a medium and a cool vibration, is very good and you may develop it to advantage in all your color. This is easily overdone, and sometimes becomes an obvious mannerism.
Work for simplicity of color.
Don't see the colors too much by themselves.
There is a golden mean in color, a spectral relation.
People who have sense of color have sense of texture. Color may be expressed through texture.
There are fashions of painting, such as painting dark, painting light, and using a hundred colors to the square inch.
At times you may produce the effect of a change of color by only a change of texture.
A color mysteriously true.
Color is only beautiful when it means something. It is never good of itself. It must be the expression of some life value.
Color represents the deeper strain in human life.
There can be no fine color without good form.
Form should carry you along by its beautiful measures. Think of form as an agent. Also there are measures of color as they advance and as they recede.
There are many colors and they are all moving, moving.
Color should flow over the face.
Color and warmth are coming into our lives.
A big simple space is often a good complement to activity.
A VERY dark picture is likely to look well in a white frame. See the dark pictures in Petit Trianon, Versailles, set into panels of white rooms. A very light picture may look well in a black frame. Gold in good tone is generally safe, but every picture has its best setting.
The frame should be an agreeable complement to the picture. A picture made with dull colors should not be in a dull frame; most certainly not if there is also a similar tone in the frame to that of the picture. When a wall is beautifully complementary to the picture in color and texture only a very slight border is necessary as a frame to stop the picture. The border and the wall combine to make the setting.
When we have acquired good taste most of the frames now made will go to the furnace.
A picture has its definite areas, they should not wander out into the frame. The frame should show that the picture has stopped at its edges.
DO WHATEVER you do intensely.
The artist is the man who leaves the crowd and goes pioneering. With him there is an idea which is his life.
The signature on a picture should be modest, should be readable and simple and should enter into, not interrupt, the composition.
THE strong make-up of the human body is beauty and refinement. The human body is terrific. Beauty is a terrific thing, as great as structure. Very few life-studies are strong enough to live.
If you work from memory, you are most likely to put in your real feeling.
The nude is exquisite, the most beautiful thing in all the world.
Don't let your figure look as though it had been ironed.
Feel the energy of the man. The shoulders have thickness.
Description of a nude. See the welling of one color into another, the mellowness and glow, the fire. She is gracious, organic. There is a wonderful melting of red in the flesh of her body.
A gleam of light plays over the body of the model. The painting of the gleam depends more on change of color than on white.
Paint the look of the body, the sensitiveness, the full, tight leg. Her head is a delicate rose color seen in shade.
Purple over there is the sensation of purple rather than the color purple. Don't think of them as paints, but get the quality of light.
Give the sensation of motion by distinctly showing in your work which parts of the body are movable and which not. Study to know which are which. Remember that the head of man is a solid structure. It refuses to be twisted and cannot be bent up. The neck is a more loosely jointed thing. Then come the fixed structural bones of the chest. The waist again is movable and pliable, but is followed by the structural and bony place at the hips, then to the knee. The whole body consists of flexible parts, in flexible parts. It is at the flexible places named that the bend or twist actually occurs, but one is made to feel the continuity of movement throughout.
Study muscles so that you know the nature of what you use. Where each comes from, and goes to, and its part of the action in hand.
Anatomy is a tool like good brushes.
Caught by facts, caught by facts of anatomy.
When in trouble drawing a nude, look for the straight line. It may straighten you out.
A hand is more important as a hand than it is as a series of fingers. You can't see all the fingers of a hand at once.
The overlay and interplay of muscles is like the running of a brook.
Feel the grip of the muscles on the heel.
Study that seeming magical effect of one line on another.
A human body in a work of art may have normal color and normal shape. The Greeks did it, they did not distort.
A GREAT painter will know a great deal about how he did it, but still he will say, "How did I do it?"
The real artist's work is a surprise to himself.
The big painter is one who has something to say. He thus does not paint men, landscape or furniture, but an idea.
There is a spirit of youth in the way these Bowers are painted. They are presented as youth sees growing things, strong, courageous and sympathetic.
In looking at the work of another, try to enter into his vision.
First look for the beauties in a painting. If I see anything beautiful in my own work, that is what I am interested in.
PRETEND you are dancing or singing a picture.
A worker or painter should enjoy his work, else the observer will not enjoy it. It is not good to wear lace that was a drudgery to someone to make. The lace, as well as the picture, should be made in joy.
His works are full of the beauty of his enthusiastic interest in life.
All real works of art look as though they were done in joy.
LOW art is just telling things; as, There is the night. High art gives the feel of the night. The latter is nearer reality although the former is a copy. A painter should be interested not in the incident but in the essence of his subject.
Here is an emotional landscape. It is like something thought, something remembered.
Reveal the spirit you have about the thing, not the materials you are going to paint. Reality does not exist in material things. Rather paint the flying spirit of the bird than its feathers.
THE coming into the presence of a piece of art you truly love causes a tremendous revolution to occur in you.
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. 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.
The world would stagnate without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and he is interesting to 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.
Museums of art will not make a country an art country. But where there is the art spirit there will be precious works to fill museums. Better still, there will be the happiness that is in the making. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living- very good things for anyone to be interested in.
THE work of the art student is no light matter. Few have the courage and stamina to see it through. You have to make up your mind to be alone in many ways. We like sympathy and we like to be in company. It is easier than going it alone. But alone one gets acquainted with himself, grows up and on, not stopping with the crowd. It costs to do this. If you succeed somewhat you may have to pay for it as well as enjoy it all your life.
Cherish your own emotions and never undervalue them.
We are not here to do what has already been done.
I have little interest in teaching you what I know. I wish to stimulate you to tell me what you know. In my office toward you I am simply trying to improve my own environment.
Know what the old masters did. Know how they composed their pictures, but do not fall into the conventions they established. These conventions were right for them, and they are wonderful. They made their language. You make yours. They can help you. All the past can help you.
AN ART student must be a master from the beginning; that is, he must be master of such as he has. By being now master of such as he has there is promise that he will be master in the future.
A work of art 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 doing the work. The brush stroke at the moment of contact carries inevitably the exact state of being of the artist at that exact moment into the work, and there it is, to be seen and read by those who can read such signs, and to be read later by the artist himself, with perhaps some surprise, as a revelation of himself.
For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself. He must have been capable of intense feeling, and capable of profound contemplation.
He who has contemplated has met with himself, is in a state to see into the realities beyond the surfaces of his subject. Nature reveals to him, and, seeing and feeling intensely, he paints, and whether he wills it or not each brush stroke is an exact record of such as he was at the exact moment the stroke was made.
THE sketch hunter has delightful days of drifting about among people, in and out of the city, going anywhere, everywhere, stopping as long as he likes-no need to reach any point, moving in any direction following the call of interests. He moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook, a box of oils with a few small panels, the fit of his pocket, or on his drawing pad. Like any hunter he hits or misses. He is looking for what he loves, he tries to capture it. It's found anywhere, everywhere. Those who are not hunters do not see these things. The hunter is learning to see and to understand-to enjoy.
There are memories of days of this sort, of wonderful driftings in and out of the crowd, of seeing and thinking. Where are the sketches that were made? Some of them are in dusty piles, some turned out to be so good they got frames, some became motives for big pictures, which were either better or worse than the sketches, but they, or rather the states of being and understandings we had at the time of doing them all, are sifting through and leaving their impress on our whole work and life.
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. I had many years of rejections.
Do some great work, Son! 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. Wit.
There are lots of people who can make sweet colors, nice tones, nice shapes of landscape, all done in nice broad and intelligent-looking brushwork.
Courbet showed in every work what a man he was, what a head and heart he had.
Every student should put down in some form or other his findings. All any man can hope to do is to add his fragment to the whole. No man can be final, but he can record his progress, and whatever he records is so much done in the thrashing out of the whole thing. What he leaves is so much for others to use as stones to step on or stones to avoid.
The student is not an isolated force. He belongs to a great brotherhood, bears great kinship to his kind. He takes and he gives. He benefits by taking and he benefits by giving.
THROUGH art mysterious bonds of understanding and of knowledge are established among men. They are the bonds of a great Brotherhood. Those who are of the Brotherhood know each other, and time and space cannot separate them.
The Brotherhood is powerful. It has many members. They are of all places and of all times. The members do not die. One is member to the degree that he can be member, no more, no less. And that part of him that is of the Brotherhood does not die.
The work of the Brotherhood does not deal with surface events. Institutions on the world surface can rise and become powerful and they can destroy each other. Statesmen can put patch upon patch to make things continue to stand still. No matter what may happen on the surface the Brotherhood goes steadily on. It is the evolution of man. Let the surface destroy itself, the Brotherhood will start it again. For in all cases, no matter how strong the surface institutions become, no matter what laws may be laid down, what patches may be made, all change that is real is due to the Brotherhood.
IF THE artist is alive in you, you may meet Greco nearer than many people, also Plato, Shakespeare, the Greeks.
In certain books-some way in the first few paragraphs you know that you have met a brother.
You pass people on the street, some are for you, some are not.
REALIZE that your sitter has a state of being, that this state of being manifests itself to you through form, color and gesture; 'that your appreciation of him has depended on your perception of these things in their significance, that they are there of your selection (others will see differently), that your work will be the statement of what have been your emotions, and you will use these specialized forms, colors and gestures to make your statement. Plainly you are to develop as a seer, as an appreciator as well as a craftsman. You are to give the craftsman in you a motive, else he cannot develop.
All that I have said argues the predominant value of gesture. Gesture expresses through form and color the states of life.
Work with great speed. Have your energies alert, up and active. Finish as quickly as you can. There is no virtue in delaying. Get the greatest possibility of expression in the larger masses first. Then the features in their greatest simplicity in concordance with and dependent on the mass. Do it all in one sitting if you can. In one minute if you can. There is no virtue in delaying. But do not pass from the work on mass to features until all that can be said with the larger forms has been said-no matter how long it may take. no matter if accomplishment of the picture may be delayed from one to many days. Hold to this principle that the greatest drawing, the greatest expression, the greatest completion, the sense of all contained, lies in what can be done through the larger masses and the larger gestures.
WHEN we know the relative value of things we can do anything with them. We can build with them without destroying them. Under such conditions they are enhanced by coming into contact with each other.
The study of art is the study of the relative value of things. The factors of a work of art cannot be used constructively until their relative values are known. Unstable governments, like unstable works of art, are such as they are because values have not been appreciated.
The most vital things in the look of a face or of a landscape endure only for a moment. Work should be done from memory. The memory is of that vital movement. During that moment there is a correlation of the factors of that look. This correlation does not continue. New arrangements, greater or less, replace them as mood changes. The special order has to be retained in memory-that special look, and that order which was its expression. Memory must hold it. All work done from the subject thereafter must be no more than data-gathering. The subject is now in another mood. A new series of relations has been established. These may confound. The memory of that special look must be held, and the "subject" can now only serve as an indifferent manikin of its former self. The picture must not become a patchwork of parts of various moods. The original mood must be held to.
The artist sees only that in the model which may help him to build up the look he would record. His work is now very difficult. With the model before him he works from memory. He refers to the model, but he does not follow the new relations which differing moods establish. He chooses only from the appearance before him that which relates to his true subject-the look which first inspired him to work. That look has passed and it may not return. He is very fortunate if he can evoke again that look in the subject.
It is very difficult to go away from a subject after having received an impression and set that impression down from memory. It is yet more difficult to work from memory with the "subject" in its changing moods still before you. All good work is done from memory whether the model is still present or not. With the model present there is coupled with the distracting changes in its organization which must not be followed, the advantage of seeing, nevertheless, the material-the raw material one might say-of which the look was made.
Were the student constantly in the habit of memory-practice there is little doubt but that he would dispense with the presence of the model at the time of the actual accomplishment of his work. But this would mean a form of study which has not yet come in vogue. There is no form of study more fascinating than this-that is, after the first disheartening steps are taken. The first steps are disheartening because while we may have learned copying right well the effort to put down what we actually know-that is, what we can carry away with us-is often a revelation of the very little understanding we had in the presence of the model.
I think it is safe to say that the kind of seeing and the kind of thinking done by one who works with the model always before him is entirely different from the kind of seeing and thinking done by one who is about to lose the presence of the model and will have to continue his work from the knowledge he gained in the intimate presence.
The latter type of worker generally manifests a mental activity of much higher order than his apparently safe and secure confrere. He must know and he must know that he knows before the model is snatched away from him. He studies for information.
A good painting is a remarkable feat of organization. Every part of it is wonderful in itself because it seems so alive in its share in the making of the unity of the whole, and the whole is so definitely one thing.
You can look at a good painting in but one way. That is, the way it is made. Whether you will or not you must follow its sequences.
There are some paintings, very remarkable for the skill they display, which are, however, a mere welding together of factors which belong to many different expressions of nature. Many a school drawing of this character have I seen held up as an example, given a prize, and yet being but a mere patching together of many concepts-unrelated factors nevertheless cunningly interwoven-there is not in them that surge of life, that unity which is the mark of true organization.
If you wish your work to have organization your concept of the motive which is the incentive to your flight must be as certain and you must hold as well to it as you would have your organization certain and true to itself in all of its parts.
No vacillating or uncertain interest can produce a unity.
I have often thought of an art school where the model might hold the pose in one room and the work might be done in another. The pupils would have their places in both rooms, one for observation and the other for work. The pupil could return to the model room for information. In getting the information he could view the model from his place or could walk about and get an all-around concept; he could also make any sketches he might desire to make-for information-but these drawings are not to be carried into the work room. Into this room he only carries what he knows.
It would be a wonderful school and the pupils in it would not only enjoy their work and profit more but they would be a much better class of students. For this class of work would demand such activity of mind and such energy that the practitioners of idle industry that now occupy so many places in school studios would eliminate themselves.
One might ask why this plan is not tried. The reason is the usual sad one. Good art schools are generally self-supporting. They barely pay their expenses. Innovations are financial risks. Besides, in this case the students have to be convinced, and, as I have said before, the initial steps in this kind of study are very discouraging.
Some tentative efforts have been made in memory study but perhaps the nearest we have come to it in any effective way has been through the introduction of the five, ten, or thirty minute poses. In these, mental activity, alertness, the quick seizing of essentials have been stimulated. We have proved that thirty minutes of high-pitch mentality and spirit is worth more than a whole week below par. And in such rapid work where seeing and doing is accomplished in five, ten, or thirty minutes the seeing must be certain, selective, and the memory must be good. This system of quick action has been of service.
In the old days, when a drawing was begun on Monday and finished on Saturday, the student who did not know how to begin a drawing "began" one a week and spent a week finishing the thing he had not known how to begin. A thing that has not been begun cannot be finished.
But it took a terrible battle to introduce the Quick Sketch. It will not be easy to introduce this Concept-and-Carry method of study. A few individuals throughout the history of art have adopted this method in spite of the school conventions and these individuals are known to us through their works.
It should be noted that in this memory form of study it is not proposed that the model should be used less. It is proposed that the model should be used more. This is a thing that it would be well to understand. In fact, in observing the work of many students or artists where the model is before them for every stroke we may be impressed with the idea that it is the model who is using the artist instead of the artist using the model. This is certainly the case where the artist is following the moods of the model. Sometimes we see that the artist is not a willing slave, however, for we hear him complaining that "the model has moved," showing that somewhere in his mysterious consciousness there is a desire to do that thing which he started out to do.
The development of an ability to work from memory, to select factors, to take things of certain constructive values and build with them a special thing, your unique vision of nature, the thing you caught in an instant look of a face or the formations of a moment in the sky, will make it possible to state not only that face, that landscape, but make your statement of them as they were when they were most beautiful to you.
By this I mean that you will make an organization in paint on canvas; not a reproduction, but an organization, subject to the natural laws of paint and canvas, which will have an order in it kin to that order which has so impressed you in nature- the look of a face, in the look of a landscape.
Faces are not permanently beautiful to us, nor are landscapes. There seem to be moments of revelation, moments when we see in the transition of one part to another the unification of the whole. There is a sense of comprehension and of great happiness. We have entered into a great order and have been carried into greater knowledge by it. This sometimes in a passing face, a landscape, a growing thing. We may call it a passage into another dimension than our ordinary. If one could but record the vision of these moments by some sort of sign! It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Signposts on the way to what may be. Signposts towards greater knowledge.
There are those who have found the sign and through their works we can to some degree follow, as we do at times when hearing music or in association with the works of the masters of other arts.
Everyone in some measure has these moments of clearer understanding, and it is equally important for all to hold and fix them.
It is really not important whether one's vision is as great as that of another. It is a personal question as to whether one shall live in and deal with his greatest moments of happiness.
The development of the power of seeing and the power to retain in the memory that which is essential and to make record and thus test out how true the seeing and the memory have been is the way to happiness.
- James Welling