Advice to painters – an excerpt from Robert Henri
“Was it worth it?” Is perhaps a proper question to ask when one wonders about the relevance of one’s work. If there ever was a manifesto on the artist’s life, Robert Henri’s seminal collection of writings, “The Art Spirit” come immediately to mind. It has been the bible for many a generation of hopeful creators. He explains the inexplicable desire of those who endeavor to pursue this calling. Below is an excerpt form a “Letter of Criticism.” These are wonderful words to remember when one doubts the validity of his or her work.
Art is, after all, only a trace – like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness. Those who live in full play of their faculties become master economists, they understand the relative value of things. Freedom can only be obtained through an understanding of basic order. Basic order is underlying all life. It is not to be found in the institutions men have made. Those who have lived and grown at least to some degree in the spirit of freedom are our creative artists. They have a wonderful time. They keep the world going. They must leave their trace in some way, paint, stone, machinery, whatever. The importance of what they do is greater than anyone estimates at the time. In fact in a commercial world there are thousands of lives wasted doing things not worth doing. Human spirit is sacrificed. More and more things are produced without a will in the creation, and are consumed or “used” without a will in the consumption or the using. These things are dead. They pass, masquerading as important while they are before us, but they pass utterly. 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 inestimable 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.