Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Troubadour Tramps Through the Mountains - 12

"I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.”
-Robert Henri, 1865-1929

Robert Henri self portrait, 1903

In the years before his walking tour of the South, Vachel Lindsay had studied art in Chicago and New York. One of his teachers was the renowned painter Robert Henri, credited as “an immensely significant force behind the change from 19-century academicism to 20-century self-expression.”

Besides Vachel Lindsay, Henri’s roster of students included Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Man Ray, Leon Trotsky and Ariel Durant. Henri himself admired free-thinker Emma Goldman who founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth in 1906.

Emma Goldman

Lindsay had tried combining illustration and poetry in a style somewhere between William Blake and Kenneth Patchen. At one point, though, Henri urged Lindsay to concentrate on poetry rather than painting or drawing.

As he started his great hike in 1906, Lindsay intended to swap drawings as well as poetry for his lodgings. I have no idea if he left any such sketches behind when he traveled through the mountains. In his descriptions of people and places he encountered, he did make frequent allusions to popular paintings and illustrations.

Vachel Lindsay illuminated poem

Henri’s own words suggest how he might have influenced Vachel Lindsay:

The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state.

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.

An artist's job is to surprise himself. Use all means possible.

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 artist should be intoxicated with the idea of the thing he wants to express.

All education must be self-education.

Vachel Lindsay illustration

Self-education only produces expressions of self.

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.

Pretend you are dancing or singing a picture. A worker or painter should enjoy his work, else the observer will not enjoy it.
Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being victim of what I know? Life is not repetition.

Salome, Robert Henri, 1909

The most vital things in the look of a landscape endure only for a moment. Work should be done from memory; memory of that vital moment.

Art tends toward balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.

All the past up to a moment ago is your legacy. You have a right to it.

There are mighty few people who think what they think they think.

What we need is more sense of the wonder of life, and less of the business of making a picture.

The real artist's work is a surprise to himself.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah! Robert Henri and the Ashcan School- I also admire Glackens and Shinn. Prendergast doesn't exactly belong with them, but was a contemporary of theirs and a great favorite of mine. I've always been fascinated by their "life in the streets" paintings of New York and Philadelphia.