Artists' and Artisans' Place

Robert Henri, an American Master, 1865-1929

by Gemma Insinna Artist and Designer
Gemma Insinna Innovator   Artist and Designer
I would like to talk about a most influential painter that is known more in artist circles. I'd like to recall him to the rest of the world in this article.
He was an inspired teacher, and had a personality that transformed his students into idolators. Why?  
To say the least, Robert Henri was a remarkable man, a pioneer of freedom in the Arts, and a painter of incredible talent .
He was a genius in his arrangement of  color, and how light interacts and actually forms the shape and substance of a subject in a painting.
He did for America, and art in New York at the turn of the century, what the Impressionists did for revolutionizing painting and art in Paris.
He showed his students what they were doing in Paris, and was one of the very first in America to spread in any broad sense the work of the French painters, but he did not encourage them to imitate it, he wanted to encourage a whole American point of view that, as of yet, hadn't existed.
It was first from his lips that the names Daumier, Manet, Degas, Goya, and a host of others were expounded and shown to his passionate students who otherwise might never have heard of these great masters , who as of yet, were not famous.   
One must realize that at the time, the 1900's in New York City, there was no way of actually knowing what was going on in Paris, and there was no "art world" and "art news", so to speak of. It was all very isolated, and there were no galleries, art schools, or shows that encouraged the young artist in any way--many an artist was a clerk or a day laboror, and had no way of participating in an art dialogue of any kind. Many of Henri's students worked all day, attended his school at night, and slept on park benches .
The shows were organized with the usual accepted dogmatic art and artists, the prize-winning repeaters.They  didn't include the Impressionists until later.  None of the new wave New York art had a chance at participating. 
The American artist had no opportunity to sell, or even show his work. 
But Henri began to change all that, he merely demanded a fair and free opportunity for the young independent artist.
The debt that America owes to Henri the man, and the teacher, is inestimable.He fought for freedom of expression of subject,  and he gave to his students the courage to conquer "officialdom".
His essential craft was portraiture, but he formed ( along with the famous group known as The Eight, of which he was a member) a whole new category of art, which was mockingly called it the "Ashcan School". 
He wanted his students to walk around with a sketch pad and sketch the everyday scenes out on the streets of New York. A revolutionary thought, because no one up to that point thought  that the laundry hanging above a tiny alley or a scene in a park could have impact or be interesting in any way. But it was life, and life is surprisingly interesting!
He sought above all to cultivate spontaniety, and founded an art school for followers of his liberating theories.The Henri School of Art, and then went on to The Art Students League, where he taught and hugely contributed to making it what it is today.
He gave his followers a complete respect for the American outlook, which in essence he invented.
His book "The Art Spirit" is a collection of episodes, teaching, commentary, and reflections of the great teacher. 
He himself says of the book, in characteristic disinterest for any theory of painting, or for his own individual advancement,  "There is no idea that anyone should follow the advice given. If they irritate to activity in quite a different direction it will be just as well.The subject is beauty- or happiness, and man's approach to it is various. "
I feel this quote from his book, The Art Spirit , says it all:
"There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness.Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign.It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be.Sign-posts toward greater knowledge."
I will talk more about Henri's life in subsequent articles, because I feel we all need a little of his passion for everyday life!
Thanks for reading this, all the best, 
Gemma Insinna  What  I learned about life and creativity living in a foreign country  Art, a Family Vocation, the life of Michael Insinna Art, a Family Vocation, part 2,  the life of Cappi Insinna
Apr 10th 2010 12:12

Sponsor Ads


tannas4545 Innovator   
Thanks for share your artical.
May 7th 2010 09:44   
You are not yet a member of this group.