The Art Spirit is not organized like any other book I’ve read, it is in fact, a wonderful collection of poignant, thought provoking and motivating quotes. It is a testament to Robert Henri’s skill as a teacher and the reason he had a large following of devoted students.

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

The Art Spirit

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Organizing this book into a few major topics has taken me months. Yet after reading the book multiple times, coping quotes, organizing them and pruning each one down to wisdom that most succinctly communicates Robert Henri’s most ideas, has made me a better artist.

Below is my humble attempt to pull out the most salient ideas found in The Art Spirit but it is far from capturing the scope of knowledge in this book.

About Robert Henri

“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.

Henri was an inspired teacher with an extraordinary gift for verbal communication, with the personality and prophetic fire that transformed pupils into idolators.

Not only so but he ardently believed in the close relationship of Art to Life — believed that Art is a matter in which not only professionals and students, but everyone is vitally concerned; and his contention is supported by the immense benefit that has accrued to France through its devotion to art and its production….

The Art Spirit embodies the entire system of Henri’s teaching. To make it more complete he went over his notes and correspondence for twenty-three years. His book is indeed so individual and characteristic that those who knew him can recognize the very tones and manner of utterance that he employed. The book is not only teaching, it is inspiration.”

Forbes Watson

This passage is from the intro of the book written by Forbes Watson and fully captures the essence of when Robert Henri was in history as well as how impactful the book is, not only to me, but to many during his life and in the many generations hence.

“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.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

This is the first passage in The Art Spirit and one that I feel sums up the life of every passionate artist that has changed the art world in some way. But Robert Henri applies this thinking to anyone, not just artists but anyone. As I read this quote I was thinking of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s amazing Street Sweeper speech.

“Even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.’

If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley, but be the best little scrub. On the side of the hill be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway just be a trail. If you can’t be the Sun, be a star.

It isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

When you do this you’ve mastered the length of life.”

Dr, Martin Luther King Jr.

Regardless of where your skill level is an artist, regardless if you’re an artist, a businessman or a stay at home dad, do whatever you do to the best of your ability. Every pencil line drawn, every brush stroke applied, every business deal closed and every load of laundry done, when executed to the best of your ability adds up to an astonishing life.

Anyone could read this book and benefit from the wisdom regardless of his or her passion. Even artists are not painting or drawing constantly. When we are living our lives much as any other person the wisdom or Robert Henri can still be applied.

More Than Just a Copy

“The  model  is  not  to  be  copied, but  to  be  realized. The painting is the result of the effect of the model on the artist. It  is  not  the  model  we  need  but  the  vision. Thus  when  a great artist, as Isadora Duncan, affects us, that is when we realize her, we are great as well as she. Thus the observer can be  great  as  he  looks  at  a  picture; that  is, to  the  extent  to which he sees it as wonderful. The greatness of the picture as it hangs on the wall is up to the observer.

In your model are the essential materials out of which to make a good composition. Enough is there to make a Manet, had he seen it; or a Whistler, had he seen it; but the idiot if he saw it would make a copy. He would put each line as he saw it, for he does not see correlation. Those who interpret the model do not use the measures of photography or of sheer skill.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

Throughout the entire book Robert Henri repeats, in many different ways, the importance of doing more with a subject than just to copy it. Art, as he says, is not a copy of external experiences but the communication of our feelings for a subject. 

Look at art history and all the major works that have changed it and you will see artists expressing ideas, more than merely recording surfaces.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “The Problem We All Live With,” 1963. Oil on canvas, 36″ x 58″

Just to name a few.

To be a great artist, that looks beyond the surface, we don’t always need to work from our imagination though. Being influenced by the subject, rather than slave to the surface, allows for our own emotions to shine through in the work.

Although, I must warn you. Embarking on this journey is a great deal more difficult than copying the surface. But through persistent and diligent effort expressing ourselves will pay dividends later.

“When  you  make  figures in composition you may discover  that  you  do  not  know  the  figure. Students  work  in schools making life studies for years, win the prizes for life studies and find in the end that they know practically nothing of the human figure. They have acquired the ability to copy.  It  is  the  common  defect  of  modern  art  study. Too many students do not know why they draw.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

When we focus on expression rather than surface, we inevitably begin to ask ourselves, “Why am I drawing/painting/sculpting this?”.

So, I ask. Why do you make art?

If you feel so inclined take the time to sit quietly and contemplate this question.

Know that this is not something you will answer once in your life. We can’t possibly know how our feelings and emotions will change months or years from now. We have to consistently ask ourselves why we make art and refresh this important goal in our minds weekly, even daily.

Art making at its highest purpose is not just about understanding a subject we like but also about understanding ourselves. As artists we would do well to cultivate an understanding of ourselves, and our deep emotions. How can we truly express ourselves if we are not attune to that which makes us most human? We must ask ourselves “why” and “What” constantly, not just “how”.

  • Why are you painting, drawing or sculpting this subject? 
  • What do you want to communicate?
  • What are you passionate about?

Ask these questions daily if you have to, but know thyself.

“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”


“Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things.” 

Robert Henri (American, 1865 – 1929), Elizabeth Virginia Lanning Bradner Smith (Mrs. George Cotton Smith), 1908, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. George Cotton Smith Adams in memory of George Cotton Smith Adams 1986.93.2

The Impulse

“To start with a deep impression, the best, the most interesting, the deepest you can have of the model; to preserve this vision throughout the work; to see nothing else; to admit of no digression from it; choosing only from the model the signs of it; will lead to an organic work. Every element in the picture will be constructive, constructive of an idea, expressive of an emotion. Every factor in the painting will have beauty because in its place in the organization it is doing its living part. It will be living line, living form, living color. Because of its adjustment, it is given its greatest power of expansion. It is only through a sense of the right relation of things that freedom can be obtained.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

Everyone experiences the impulse, not just artists or creatives. That instant rush of awe when seeing snow capped mountains, or the rush of excitement when your favorite team scores or the wordless joy and passion at the birth of your child.

It’s these impulses, these encapsulated essences of emotion that we need to hold in our mind and capture with our limited materials.

“All his science and all his powers of invention must be brought into practice to capture the vision of an illusive moment. It is as though he were in pursuit of something more real which he knows but has not as yet fully realized, which appears, permits a thrilling appreciation, and is gone in the instant.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

These impulses are illusive moments and the only way that I’ve found to retain that passion in a piece is to constantly refresh the idea in my mind. Whether through a photo, a note to myself or my daily blog posts I find a way to connect with that elusive moment before each session.

Communicating your thoughts and feelings through your artwork is difficult but, just like with anything difficult, practice and patience goes a long way. The best way I’ve found to practice noticing your impulses, feeling for a subject, and bringing them alive is with a practice called The Daily Composition. This is an exercise from The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides. With this exercise the artist sets aside a short amount of time daily to sketch a composition, normally with figures, from memory of a scene experience within the past 24 hours.

I love this exercise because it trains my memory, shows me all that I don’t know about drawing the human form and influences me to go throughout my day with a greater sense of presence. Because I never know which scene I will need to commit to memory for tomorrow’s composition. Inevitably the scenes that I have an emotional impulse with are the ones that make it to my daily composition sketchbook.

How about you? Are you ready to make a commitment to improving the emotions you infuse into your work? It’s easy to get started with the daily compositions as The Natural Way to Draw is free.

Also this flows perfectly into the next big part of The Art Spirit and one that Robert Henri is passionate about.

Working From Memory

“The development of an ability to work from memory, to select factors, to take things of certain constructive values and build with them a special thing, your unique vision of nature, the thing you caught in an instant look of a face or the formations of a moment in the sky, will make it possible to state not only that face, that landscape, but make your statement of them as they were when they were most beautiful to you.

By this I mean that you will make an organization in paint on canvas; not a reproduction, but an organization, subject to the natural laws of paint and canvas, which will have an order in it kin to that order which has so impressed you in nature—in the look of a face, in the look of a landscape. “ 

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

How do we artists do more than just copy a subject or dive deep into the initial impulse of a subject?

By using our memory.

By cultivating our visual memory and working from it we have a more direct connection to our thoughts and feelings rather than only relying upon the surface of the subject for direction.

After reading The Art Spirit many times I changed the entire purpose of my art. Now that purpose is centered around memory and expression. It wasn’t just Robert Henri’s words that moved me but my research into the history art that exposed the truth of all that he said.

If we want to be artists that change minds and lives we need to go beyond the surface and deeper into communicating our emotions. This can be done best through memory.

So, how do we improve our visual memory?

The obvious answer is deliberate practice, deliberate practice and more deliberate practice. But Robert Henri also outlines a wonderful exercise for improving visual memory. In this exercise the model will pose in one room and the artist’s painting will sit in another. While moving from room to room the only thing that the artist can take with him or her is what they gathered while looking at the model.

It could also be a great way to get some exercise!

This was back in the early 1900’s but today we have so many more possibilities for training our memory. 

Just to name a few. The best resource I can recommend for this type of work is The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides. He was almost a direct descendent of Robert Henri’s teachings. Henri taught John Sloan who then taught Nicolaides. Nicolaides came up with many amazing exercises to train in memory and get in touch with emotional work.

As Nicolaides suggests “You are not trying to remember merely the position of the model…” What you are trying to remember is the feeling or the impulse. Attaching an emotional response to the thing you’re looking at provides a tighter connection with your memory.

Think about your artwork. Do you work from the subject only? Could you draw or paint anything from memory or imagination?

If you feel so inclined, step out of your comfort zone of copying from life and into your new growth zone by expanding your visual memory.

Remember we all suck at first, but the sooner we make our first 5000 mistakes the sooner we will improve. Through failure we learn more.


“There is an orchestration throughout the whole canvas. Nothing is for itself, but each thing partaking of the other is living its greatest possibility, is surpassing itself with vitality and meaning and is part of the making of a great unity. So with the works of the great masters.

Do not tell me that you as students will first learn how to draw and then afterwards attend to all this.

It is only through such motives that you can learn to draw. This kind of thought is drawing, the hand must obey the spirit. With motive you will become clairvoyant of means, will seize and command them. Without motive you will wabble about. “

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

I love this! Too many times artists focus on nothing but the technique and building up skill. I know, because I’ve done it. 

Most of the art I’ve created has been with a purpose of getting good. But what does “getting good” really mean? Increasing our skill is not the true purpose of creating. Granted it is important to have control of our materials. But we make art to change lives, to create something beautiful, to communicate an idea. Becoming skilled is just part of the journey to our end goal of communicating our thoughts, feelings and, eventually, the broader scope of our lives.

Let’s not wait until we are master draftsmen to begin making art that means something to us. Instead, let’s be a master of what we have, NOW. Work towards communicating with the skills we have now and through that deeper purpose we will search out the ways and means to achieve what we want.

An artist trying to communicate his/her passion will seek out the materials, the techniques and the knowledge to allow them to be proficient enough to communicate. 

“The man who has something very definite to say and tries to force the medium to say it will learn how to draw.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit
Indian Girl of Santa Clara (Gregorita) (Robert Henri 1917 oil on canvas)

Many students have spent years of their lives learning skills in college for an industry, later to work in that industry and hate the art they do. The purpose and passion is not there. We should let our love and passion guide us first. Then we can seek out jobs that match what we love. If we love what we do, it will seem effortless.

What do you love? Where does your true motive lie and how can you communicate it? Is now a time to show the world who you are, how you think and what is important to you?

Let’s create with our motive in mind first and become our true authentic selves regardless of external condemnation or approval.

Cultivating Our Emotions

“The real study of an art student is more a development of that sensitive nature and appreciative imagination with which he was so fully endowed when a child, and which, unfortunately in almost all cases, the contact with the grown-ups shames out of him before he has passed into what is understood as real life.Persons and things are whatever we imagine them to be.

We have little interest in the material person or the material thing. All our valuation of them is based on the sensations their presence and existence arouse in us.

And when we study the subject of our pleasure it is to select and seize the salient characteristics which have been the cause of our emotion.

Thus two individuals looking at the same objects may both exclaim “Beautiful!”—both be right, and yet each have a different sensation—each seeing different characteristics as the salient ones, according to the prejudice of their sensations.

Beauty is no material thing.

Beauty cannot be copied.

Beauty is the sensation of pleasure on the mind of the seer.

No thing is beautiful. But all things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at sight of them. This is beauty.

The art student that should be, and is so rare, is the one whose life is spent in the love and the culture of his personal sensations, the cherishing of his emotions, never undervaluing them, the pleasure of exclaiming them to others, and an eager search for their clearest expression. He never studies drawing because it will come in useful later when he is an artist. He has not time for that. He is an artist in the beginning and is busy finding the lines and forms to express the pleasures and emotions with which nature has already charged him.

No knowledge is so easily found as when it is needed.

Teachers have too long stood in the way; have said: ‘Go slowly—you want to be an artist before you’ve learned to draw!’” 

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

We are not moved by great writers and poets because they have a huge vocabulary, we are moved by what they have to say.

What do you want to communicate in your art?

Like Martin Luther King Jr using powerful words in a speech our skillful brush strokes delivered passionately can also change the world.

But how do we instill passion into our art?

We study our own sensitivities. We cultivate our own emotions and understand them so well that we can communicate them in imagery. You could paint the night sky exactly how it looks to a camera, or you can paint it how you see it. This is what Van Gogh did and the world was changed because of it.

Learning the skills of your craft is important, but these are a means to a much greater end. Don’t wait till you’re a master draftsman to begin cultivating your emotions and trying to communicate. Through the emotion, through the passion of your subject, you will find the means or skill to communicate your own idiosyncratic idea.

For your next piece of art ask yourself how you can instill some emotion into the work. What material would communicate your idea best? How can you use that material to express your idea?

Here is an example. My drawing of Spock was done in a way that would, I feel, better fit the character. Spock is a very logical and analytical character. So I asked myself what would be the best material to use for this drawing and how should I manipulate it to communicate logic. I chose a hard charcoal pencil so I could get some crisp straight lines similar to a technical illustration. Then I did the whole drawing with as many straight lines as possible and very clear delineations of value.

How can you use your materials to communicate something in your next work?

Keep hold of your motive

“If you wish your work to have organization your concept of the motive which is the incentive to your flight must be as certain and you must hold as well to it as you would have your organization certain and true to itself in all of its parts.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

Remembering your original idea of the piece your creating is paramount for a unified composition. When you have a clear direction in your work you will tend to change the subject to suit your idea. This results in a composition or “organization” as Robert Henri calls it. Rather than a piece that is fully informed by the surface of the subject alone.

Before you approach a painting or drawing ask yourself “what is my highest pleasure in the subject and why?”. If you focus on your highest pleasure in the subject while you’re producing you will begin to have a greater appreciation for the most important elements in the subject that will most fully communicate your pleasure and eliminate anything that doesn’t help to communicate the pleasure.

I find that it helps to write my original idea down on a note and keep it close to what I’m working on. Your initial emotion for the subject may be so intense that you feel you could never lose sight of it but when a painting takes weeks or months to complete the initial impulse will fade and it becomes easy to lapse into copying.

Robert Henri (American, 1865 – 1929), George Cotton Smith, 1908, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. George Cotton Smith Adams in memory of George Cotton Smith Adams 1986.93.1

A Venn Diagram for Masterpiece Art

“The undercurrent and motive of all art is an individual man’s idea. From each we expect what he has to give. We desire it. It is absolutely necessary for him to give it out.

What is the relation of the artist to the community? What good does a man’s art do? There are those in the community who regard the artist as a mere entertainer come with cap and bells to amuse and perform graces before a paying public. The true artist regards his work as a means of talking with men, of saying his say to himself and to others. It is not a question of pay. It is not a question of willing acceptance on the part of the public. If he is welcomed and paid it is very good, but whether or no he must say his say.

Whitman was not paid for his work either in money or in appreciation at the time he did it. What we have from him was a gift, at first—and for long after—unwillingly received. So also with Ibsen. They made good first. They were ridiculed first. Stevenson, the inventor, was laughed at. The Wright brothers were laughed at in the beginning. Men have to give just as the bird has to sing. The artist is teaching the world the idea of life. The man who believes that money is the thing is cheating himself. The artist teaches that the object of a man’s life should be to play as a little child plays. Only it is the play of maturity—the play of one’s mental faculties. Therefore, we have art and invention.” 

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

This reminds me of Jim Collins, one of the greatest business thinkers alive and his hedgehog /  Venn circle diagram.

The first circle is what you love to do. Something you love so much that you would pay someone else to do it. The second circle is what you can be great at and the third is something in service to others or what the world needs.

What do you love about this subject? What is your biggest idea for it?

What do you have to say about this subject and communicate to others?

Lastly, how can you draw or paint it using what you’re great at?

The center of the diagram where all these questions meet is the artwork that has a good chance to change your life and the world.

As an example of this let’s look at Picasso’s Guernica

Guernica, oil on canvas by Pablo Picasso, 1937; in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. 3.49 × 7.77 m.

He chose a subject that he was passionate about, he had a motive, he had an idea. He wanted to communicate the tragedies of war so casually inflicted on innocent civilians by the Nazi’s during the Spanish Civil War.

He was passionate about the subject (love). He wanted to educate the world of this tragedy (service). And he chose a technique that was all his own and had mastered.

Out of this came one of the greatest paintings the world has ever known.

Art is About Expressing Oneself, Feeling, Profound Contemplation

“Is it not fine to see the development of oneself? The finding of one’s own tastes. The final selection of a most favorite theme; the concentration of all one’s forces on that theme; its development; the constant effort to find its clearest expression in the chosen medium; an effort of expression which commenced with the beginning of the idea, and follows its progress step by step, becoming a technique born of the theme itself and special to it. The continuation through years, new elements entering as life goes on, each step differing, yet all the same. A simple theme on which a life is strung.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit
  • This is the best place for all art journeys to start. Simply asking, Why?
  • Why do you want to paint that figure?
  • Why do you want to draw the portrait?
  • Why sculpt the dancer?
  • Why paint the night sky?
  • What is your overall goal for your art journey?

Seriously take some time and figure it out. Envision yourself 10, 20, 30 years from now or at the end of your life. What would you like to accomplish in that span of time?

Get clear on this vision, write it down every day, live it and use it as your guiding star. Then, rub it up against reality. What do you need to accomplish in 10 years to reach your ultimate goal? How about 5 years? What about 1 year? 

Then finally ask yourself. What can I do today to take one step toward that awesome soul goal today?

Then do that every single day!

“One of the great difficulties of an art student is to decide between his own natural impressions and what he thinks should be his impressions.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

“Find out what you really like if you can. Find out what is really important to you. Then sing your song. You will have something to sing about and your whole heart will be in the singing.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

When we were children imagination and make believe came easy to us. Then we grew up and the world began to shape our ideas. We learned what was right, what was wrong, how to talk, how to walk, how to dress, etc..

Unfortunately somewhere along the way we forgot our individuality. Now it’s all muddled up into extrinsic influences and it’s hard to pick out of that big mess of experiences which sensations are truly our own. 

We must cultivate our own personal sensations!

Don’t shy from your emotions, recognize them and cultivate them. No one on earth can tell you that your feelings are wrong. Your originality will come from these feelings because only you can feel the way you do about anything and only you can communicate it in art the way you do.

What do you love or dislike?

What makes you happy or sad?

What subject would you paint even if you had to pay to paint it?

Follow these impulses and they will lead you to the art you can spend an entire life on perfecting.

“Courage to go on developing this ability to see in nature the thing which charms you, and to express just that as fully and completely as you can. Just that. Nothing else. Not to do as any other artist does. Nor to be afraid that you may do as any other artist does.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

We must have the courage to be our authentic selves. Shrinivas Rao in his book An Audience of One, echoes this wisdom. His whole book is about finding your authentic self then having the courage, when inevitably society scorns that individuality, to embody that individuality.

Shrinivas Rao even has wonderful exercises in his book that can help anyone get in touch with our authentic selves. I highly recommend it.

I’m also reminded of Deepak Chopra in The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire with his awesome mantra that I repeat to myself every morning.

I’m totally independent of the good or bad opinion of others.

I’m totally independent of the good or bad opinion of others.

I’m totally independent of the good or bad opinion of others.

I’m totally independent of the good or bad opinion of others.

I’m totally independent of the good or bad opinion of others.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s in his wisdom says. “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

If you feel so inspired answer the questions above and take one step further to getting in touch with your authentic self.

Be A Master Now

“The man who becomes a master starts out by being master of such as he has, and the man who is master at any time of such as he has is at that time straining every faculty. What he learns then from his experience is fundamental, constructive, to the point. His wits are being used and are being formed into the habit of usage.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

No matter where you are starting out in your artistic journey you can be a master of yourself and show up to the task committed, confident and in it for the long hall. This is the “what you have now” that Robert Henri is talking about. We have control over how we show up.

How will you show up daily to your art journey? Will you settle for an absent-minded lethargic and apathetic practice? Or will you do everything you can to dial in your energy and focus so your passion is poured into your work? 

In Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art he talks about being a professional and is later expanded upon in his book Turning Pro. He has an awesome chapter on how to do it.

“What exactly are the qualities that define us as professionals?

  1. We show up every day.
  2. We show up no matter what.
  3. We stay on the job all day.
  4. We are committed over the long haul.
  5. The stakes for us are high and real.
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor.
  7. We do not over identify with our jobs.
  8. We master the technique of our jobs.
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.”

To be a master of whatever skill you have is not just about creating art with your current ability. A master shows up to the task with the best energy, mindset and focus he or she can have.

Just like the top athletes in any sport they know that they need to have their fitness, nutrition and mind in top shape to perform at their best. An artist is no different. When we master the fundamentals of eating, moving and sleeping then we can master our craft.

Art IS Life

“It is  not desirable to devote all your time to an appreciation of art. Art should drive you forth. It should be an incentive to life. The greatest value of art to the appreciator is in that it stimulates to personal activity.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

“I am not interested in art as a means of making a living, but I am interested in art as a means of living a life. It is the most important of all studies, and all studies are tributary to it.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

This is possibly one of the most important pieces of wisdom in The Art Spirit and one that I’m taking to heart in my own life.

Asking, “how do you make great art?” I feel, is not the right question. Instead ask “how do we make a great life?”. Through having an interesting and challenging life we will generate all of the fuel for our art.

Andrew Wyeth is one of the most celebrated American artists of the 21st century and all of his subjects are people and places that were part of his life. In fact his art is a record of his life and the people and places he surrounded himself with.

If we stay inside all day, don’t take any chances and just coast through life, how are we ever going to create something interesting? Be a student of art and hunger for learning wherever it takes you and along the way make your artwork, your biography. 

“After all, the goal is not making art. It is living a life. Those who live their lives will leave the stuff that is really art. Art is a result. It is the trace of those who have led their lives. It is interesting to us because we read the struggle and the degree of success the man made in his struggle to live. The great question is: “What is worth while?” The majority of people have failed to ask themselves seriously enough, and have failed to try seriously enough to answer this question.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

Take a moment and ask yourself “What is worth spending most of your life to achieve?”

Let’s get specific with our answers also. “I want to be a great artist”. Just won’t cut it.

What do you want to create with your art?

What subject matter do you love?

What mediums do you love?

How do you express yourself?

Get some clarity on exactly what you love to do in art and in life. Do what you think would result in a life fulfilled life first. Having passion first will give you the energy to pay any price to achieve your dreams.

Remember, it’s not about spending 10 hours a day working on art. Make time for life outside art.

Alex Soojung-kim Pang in his book Rest, gives us a comprehensive account of the daily schedules of some of the world’s most creative geniuses such as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincare and INgram Bergman. And he says…

“Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work. The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the results of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest ‘working’ hours. …”

Alex Soojung-kim Pang from Rest

That is from a chapter called “Four Hours”, and yes that is about the average amount of time put in daily by some of history’s greatest creators.

To provide further scientific proof that living and resting is just as important to the creative process as work is a quote from Peak by Anders Ericcson

“Deliberate practice” they observed, “is an effortful activity that can be sustained only for a limited time each day.”

So if you want to show up fully to your art practice have a wonderful life outside of your work. Rest and recuperate between deeply focused sessions of creativity. So that you can show up fully each and every day.

Rosaleen by Robert Henri. And the cover for The Art Spirit

Art as a State of Being

“The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture—however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. 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.

These results, however crude, become dear to the artist who made them because they are records of states of being which he has enjoyed and which he would regain. They are likewise interesting to others because they are to some extent readable and reveal the possibilities of greater existence.

The picture is a by-product of such states as it is in the nature of man to desire. The object therefore is the state. We may even be negligible of the by-product, for it will be, inevitably, the likeness of its origin, however crude.”

Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

Profound and deserves further study.

This is what I’ve been trying to say for so long but lacked the words.

This also pertains to all exercises in Nicolaides’ book.

Art is a state of being and has been, and can be, experienced by anyone. The golfer who hits the ball just right, the basketball player that hits that perfect three pointer, the gardener that marvels at the beauty of their labor. All of us have experienced moments of complete oneness with our actions. 

Regardless of the outcome of our actions it is that moment of pure joy that we cherish. Where the golf ball goes, what the score is or a picture perfect garden are just records of our moments of intense existence within a perfect state of being.

Let’s continue to strive for those cherished moments as we cultivate our art spirit.


  1. Chris, thank you for putting together this synopsis with such amazing comparative notes. I’ve tried reading through the entire book before, but never got deep into it, so I skimmed quite a bit and looked for quotes or interesting passages that caught my attention. Most of the quotes you pulled here are passages that I’ve earmarked, myself!

    Some of the parallels with Flow by Mihaly C. are very, very intriguing, and the notes on Motive (which seems to be a very common thread among many of Henri’s thoughts) are definitely thought-provoking. I’m loving the questions you propose for each piece of work, as well. I’ll start doing this when I sit and study or work on a performance piece from now on.

    Fantastic thoughts, good sir. I can’t wait to have a conversation about this soon!

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