Sometimes it pays to peruse your own bookshelves. I discovered a book that I had purchased a little over a year ago – I read it, found it inspirational at the time, but then it got stuck in the stacks amongst my other books that I won’t part with because I love them for this reason or that. Sometimes I forget what a wealth of inspiration and knowledge I have in my own personal library. The book that I found again is The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri – and it’s the 85th Anniversary Edition.
If you don’t know who Robert Henri is, you should put him on your list to research or simply find this book in a library or a bookstore. As a tease, here’s the first paragraph of the introduction by Forbes Watson:
“No other American painter drew unto himself such a large, ardently personal group of followers as Robert Henri, whose death, July 12th, 1929, brought to an end a life of uncontaminated devotion to art.”
An “uncontaminated devotion to art,” what an idea! In the past 18 years I can boast of having that same type of devotion to poetry – which is art, but as I have written before, I’ve been wrestling with my visual art demons, not because I can’t draw or don’t want to – it’s more like I never found my voice with my visual art, almost like I’m afraid to let me shine through my work on the canvas or on the paper. Yet it’s a love that I can’t let go – a devotion I want to reclaim. So, what I have done to begin to take back my “art spirit?”
Since my last post I’ve been to the Gallery Hop here in Toledo – which was in conjunction with 50 years of the glass arts. Even though I do not work in glass, it was inspiring to see the beauty in the pieces, and just being in the galleries that are popping up here in Toledo, brought back some wonderful, familiar feelings.
I called my dear friend, and former high school teacher, Ann Johnson, who has been one of the biggest influences of my life. She has always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. When I told her that I was in an “art funk” she encouraged me to “paint or draw 10 minutes a day.” So simple, yet so profound. I moved to Toledo a year and half ago, and knowing this she asked: “Have you set up a space where you can just go and paint?” No, I haven’t. And, that got me to thinking – why do I write more than anything? Because it’s accessible – I always have a pen and paper or my laptop handy. When I want to paint or draw I have to get everything out and then put it all away…. So, now I’m in the process of clearing a space for myself in the basement that I can set up and leave as my own “art space.”
And, while preparing my art space, I ran across Henri’s book, which is filled with so many gems – not only about the visual arts, but about the literary arts as well. He talks about Walt Whitman quite a bit throughout the book.
So I feel that I’m getting to where I need to be in regard to my art. I’m hoping to have a new visual piece to share here next week. In the meantime here is something to contemplate from Henri:
There is nothing so important as art in the world, nothing so constructive, so life-sustaining. I would like you to go to your work with a consciousness that it is more important than any other thing you might do. It may have no great commercial value, but it has an estimable and lasting life value. People are often so affected by outside opinion that they go to their most important work half hearted or half ashamed. (176)