Artistic Inspiration: Robert Henri (June 24, 1865–July 12, 1929)

Henri was a significant artist in his own right, but his influence extended beyond his repudiation of Impressionist and Academic conventions; his greatest influence was as an educator. Although Robert Henri was an important portraitist and figure painter, he is best remembered as a progressive and influential teacher.  He demanded his students be free-thinking and independent individuals and this likely contributed to their success and originality. He once said that “the world will see many fashions of art and most of the world will follow the fashions and make none. These cults – these ‘movements’ – are absolutely necessary, or at any rate their causes are, for somewhere in their centers are the ones who bear the Idea, the ones who have questioned, ‘But what do I think?’ and ‘How shall I say it best?’” (Russell Tether Fine Art)

His ideas on art were collected by former pupil Margery Ryerson and published as The Art Spirit (Philadelphia, 1923). He died in 1929 at the age of sixty-four (National Gallery of Art).

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The Art Spirit (1923) – A Collection of Quotes

“The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an ‘Art Education’; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.”

“It is a big job to know oneself; no one can ever entirely accomplish it. But to try is to act in the line of evolution. Men can come to know more of themselves, and act more like themselves, and this will be by dint of self-acknowledgment. The only men who are interesting to themselves and to others are those who have been willing to meet themselves squarely. Today man stands in his own way. He puts externally imposed criteria in the way of his own revelation and development. He should push the restraining hands off himself; he should defy fashion and let himself be.”

“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. All the past can help you.”

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual- become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.”

“The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an art education; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.”

“When the artist is alive in any person… he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for better understanding.”

“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.”

References

  • Homer, William Innes. Robert Henri and His Circle. Ithaca, 1969.
  • Kwiat, Joseph J. “Robert Henri’s Good Theory and Earnest Practice: The Humanistic Values of an American Painter.” Prospects 4 (1979), 389 – 401.
  • Kennedy-Gustafson, Sharon L., “Review of American Women Modernists: The Legacy of Robert Henri, 1910-1945 Edited by Marian Wardle” (2007). Great Plains Quarterly. Paper 1517. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/greatplainsquarterly/1517
  • Leeds, Valerie Anne. Robert Henri: American Icon [Catalogue Essay]. Robert Henri: American Icon, 1998. New York: Owen Gallery.  (Accessed via Resource Library Magazine, Traditional Fine Arts Organization Online)
  • Perlman, Bennard B. Robert Henri: His Life and Art. New York, 1991.
  • Web, Poul.  Ashcan School – Robert Henri parts 1-5.  Art & Artists [blog], October 2012.

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