Excerpt from "The Art Spirit" by Robert Henri a propos of finding my own artistic voice.
"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 happiness that is in the making. Art tends towards balance, order, judgement 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 or 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 to 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 itself 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."