On Painting

The object therefore is the state... the living is the thing

Robert Henri, from The Art Spirit...

"Advice about your paintings is difficult. As I said to you before, I cannot interest myself in whether they will pass juries or not. More paintings have been spoiled during the process of their making, through such considerations, than the judgements of juries are worth.

"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, a 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.

"... Contemplative appreciation of a trace; a picture, hearing music, observing a graceful gesture, may cause the spirit to flame up. We care for and treasure the traces of states of greater living, fuller functioning, because we want to live also, and they inspire to living. That is the value of 'a work of art.' The traces are inevitable. The living is the thing."

Stacy CaldwellComment