Robert Henri on the Mastery of a Fine Art

From a letter by Maxwell Perkins to James Jones, 28 May 1947, concerning work on From Here to Eternity, taken from Editor to Author:  The Letters of Maxwell Perkins edited by John Hall Wheelock (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950):

Yesterday, without naming you, I was trying to explain to a prominent and able writer what you were trying to get across in your book, and the great difficulties of it. It would have been much easier to make a man writer understand, but I think she did, for she is very intuitive. Then I told her you had been reading “——-,“ and she was shocked by that and agreed with me that while you are writing you should not be reading about writing. But then she spoke of a book which was not about writing, but which by inference enormously illuminates the problem. I have sent you that. I had read it years ago and thought it most revealing. It is concerned with painting, and is derived from the lectures of Robert Henri.

From The Art Spirit by Robert Henri, compiled by Margery Ryerson (Philadelphia and New York, J. B. Lippincott Co., 1951):

The real study of the art student is generally missed in the pursuit of a copying technique.

I knew men who were students at the Academie Julian in Paris, where I studied thirteen years ago. I visited the Academie this year [1901] and found some of the same students still there, repeating the same exercises, and doing work nearly as good as they did thirteen years ago.

At almost any time in these thirteen years they have had technical ability enough to produce masterpieces. Many of them are more facile in their trade of copying the model, and they make fewer mistakes and imperfections of literal drawing and proportion than do some of the greatest masters of art.

These students have become masters of the trade of drawing, as some others have become masters of their grammars. And like so many of the latter, brilliant jugglers of words, having nothing worth while to say, they remain little else than clever jugglers of the brush.

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 pressure 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 have learned to draw!”

Oh! those long and dreary years of learning to draw! How can a student after the drudgery of it, look at a man or an antique statue with any other emotion than a plumbob estimate of how many lengths of head he has.

One’s early fancy of man and things must not be forgot. One’s appreciation of them is too much sullied by coldly calculating and dissecting them. One’s fancy must not be put aside, but the excitement and the development of it must be continued throughout the work. From the antique cast there should be no work done if it is not to translate your impression of the beauty the sculptor has expressed. To go before the cast or the living model without having them suggest to you a theme, and to sit there and draw without a theme for hours, is to begin the hardening of your sensibilities to them — the loss of your power to take pleasure in them. What you must express in your drawing is not “what model you had,” but “what were your sensations,” and you select from what is visual of the model the traits that best express you.

In drawing from the cast the work may be easier. The cast always remains the same — the student has but to guard against his own digressions. The living model is never the same. He is only consistent to one mental state during the moment of its duration. He is always changing. The picture which takes hours — possibly months — must not follow him. It must remain in the one chosen moment, in the attitude which was the result of the sensation of that moment. Most students wade through a week of changings both of the subject and their own views of it. The real student has remained with the idea which was the commencement. He has simply used the model as the indifferent manikin of what the model was. Or, should he have given up the first idea, it was then to take on another, having destroyed the work which was the expression of the former.

The habit of digression — lack of continued interest — want of fixed purpose, is an almost general failing. It is too easy to drift and the habit of letting oneself drift begets drifting. The power of concentration is rare and must be sought and cultivated, and prolonged work on one subject may be simply prolonged digression, which is a useless effort, as it is to no end.

Your model can be little more than an indifferent manikin of herself. Her presence can but recall to you the self she was when she so inspired you. She can but mislead if you follow her. You need great time to paint your picture. It took her a moment, a glance, a movement, to inspire it. She may never be just as she was again. She changes momentarily. As she poses she may be in the anguish of fatigue. Who can stand all those hours, detained from their natural pursuits without being bored? At least there is a drifting of the mind, pleasant, gay, sad, trivial — and, imperceptibly the forms and the attitude change to the expression of the thought, and it gets into the brush of the careless artist and it comes out in the paint.

Few paintings express one idea. They are generally drifting composites wandering through the poses of many frames of mind of the sitter, and the easy driftings of the view of the artist. They present the subject, but the parts are as seen under different emotions, and their only excuse is that they are so wonderfully well done.

This Week’s Links, 24 Aug 2014

Astra Taylor on The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

Wall Street Journal’s Interactive Graphic of the Defense of Israel

In Honor of Studs Terkel and Working
‘Sometimes I Just Feel Pretty Discouraged’

THE OTHER HUNDRED

From “You won’t notice” to “It’s a little bit of a lonely experience”: The Distortion of Sound

Mission Accomplished

The US armed forces concluded the Iraq war in a manner that must be considered a victory: never defeated in battle, accomplished objectives that led to attaining the policy goal of delivering the security challenge to the Iraqis; and departing in accord with a nation-to-nation agreement in December 2011. This is something never done before in that region of the world—an Army leaving in accord with a treaty and not remaining indefinitely as an occupying power.

— Col. Kevin Benson, USA (ret)
“A War Examined: Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003″
Parameters, v43(4), Winter 2013-2014

Hitler’s Ghost Channeled in the TImes of Israel

The Times of Israel does not vet the posts of their bloggers, though authors must pass an initial screening.  Maybe this policy is not thought through very well.  The following appeared on the Times’s website on 1 August 2014:

When Genocide Is Permissible

by Yochanan Gordon

Judging by the numbers of casualties on both sides in this almost one-month old war one would be led to the conclusion that Israel has resorted to disproportionate means in fighting a far less-capable enemy. That is as far as what meets the eye. But, it’s now obvious that the US and the UN are completely out of touch with the nature of this foe and are therefore not qualified to dictate or enforce the rules of this war — because when it comes to terror there is much more than meets the eye.

I wasn’t aware of this, but it seems that the nature of warfare has undergone a major shift over the years. Where wars were usually waged to defeat the opposing side, today it seems — and judging by the number of foul calls it would indicate — that today’s wars are fought to a draw. I mean, whoever heard of a timeout in war? An NBA Basketball game allows six timeouts for each team during the course of a game, but last I checked this is a war! We are at war with an enemy whose charter calls for the annihilation of our people. Nothing, then, can be considered disproportionate when we are fighting for our very right to live.

The sad reality is that Israel gets it, but its hands are being tied by world leaders who over the past six years have insisted they are such good friends with the Jewish state, that they know more regarding its interests than even they do. But there’s going to have to come a time where Israel feels threatened enough where it has no other choice but to defy international warnings — because this is life or death.

Most of the reports coming from Gazan officials and leaders since the start of this operation have been either largely exaggerated or patently false. The truth is, it’s not their fault, falsehood and deceit is part of the very fabric of who they are and that will never change. Still however, despite their propensity to lie, when your enemy tells you that they are bent on your destruction you believe them. Similarly, when Khaled Meshal declares that no physical damage to Gaza will dampen their morale or weaken their resolve — they have to be believed. Our sage Gedalia the son of Achikam was given intelligence that Yishmael Ben Nesanyah was plotting to kill him. However, in his piety or rather naiveté Gedalia dismissed the report as a random act of gossip and paid no attention to it. To this day, the day following Rosh Hashana is commemorated as a fast day in the memory of Gedalia who was killed in cold blood on the second day of Rosh Hashana during the meal. They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over. History is there to teach us lessons and the lesson here is that when your enemy swears to destroy you — you take him seriously.

Hamas has stated forthrightly that it idealizes death as much as Israel celebrates life. What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?

News anchors such as those from CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera have not missed an opportunity to point out the majority of innocent civilians who have lost their lives as a result of this war. But anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian. If you’ll counter, that Hamas has been seen abusing civilians who have attempted to leave their homes in response to Israeli warnings to leave — well then, your beginning to come to terms with the nature of this enemy which should automatically cause the rules of standard warfare to be suspended.

Everyone agrees that Israel has the right to defend itself as well as the right to exercise that right. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has declared it, Obama and Kerry have clearly stated that no one could be expected to sit idle as thousands of rockets rain down on the heads of its citizens, placing them in clear and present danger. It seems then that the only point of contention is regarding the measure of punishment meted out in this situation.

I will conclude with a question for all the humanitarians out there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly stated at the outset of this incursion that his objective is to restore a sustainable quiet for the citizens of Israel. We have already established that it is the responsibility of every government to ensure the safety and security of its people. If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?

Students of the history of the Nazi Holocaust, among whom Yochanan apparently does not number, will recognize this rationale — or is it a rationalization?  This reasoning is identical, in its content as well as its logical form, to that of Adolf Hitler’s for the industrialized slaughter he and his henchmen committed in the death camps, and at other sites, all across Eastern Europe.

Chancellor  Hitler  truly believed himself and his peers to be involved in a life-and-death struggle to the bitter end with an enemy bent on their complete annihilation.  Indeed, he said that if the Jews were not destroyed, they would precipitate a third world war that would engulf all of humanity.  This article of Nazi faith is a fact of history.

It also ranks as one of the greatest and most hideous delusions of all time.  Yochanan has truly become what he has beheld:  he reasons just like a Nazi.  He is enabled in this logical, if-then-therefore hallucinating by large numbers of people, in Israel and in the United States.  And probably a lot of East European goyim, as well.

Yochanan is what the G.I.s of World War II called a garatrooper.  That’s a soldier who is so close to the front line that he doesn’t have to wear a tie, but so far to the rear that he never actually risks being shot himself.  Garatroopers like to talk real tough.  I remember Pat Buchanan once responding to some journalist’s query about politics by crying: “Lock and load!”  Genuine fake machismo, see?  And Yochanan fits the bill, with his contemptuous reference to the pussy “humanitarians” who don’t “get it.”

Yochanan gets it, just like Pat Buchanan did.  At one point, Buchanan was one of two speechwriters working for Richard Nixon when he was president.  The staff nicknamed these two scribes “Mister Inside” and “Mister Outside.”  Guess which one Pat was!

One humanitarian of history was Hillel the Elder, who could sum up the meaning of Torah while standing on one foot:  ”That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Hillel is the one who gets it, and make no mistake about that.

Either we believe what Hillel says — which means we actually practice it — or we’d rather play garatrooper.  And when these garatroopers play, people die in the thousands.  This is the real front line, and it has very little in the way of a middle ground where logicians and rhetoricians like those blogging in the Times can stand.  We know which side of the line Yochanan stands on. The same side as the Germans who destroyed the Warsaw ghetto — a place that bore a more than passing resemblance to Gaza today.

Palestinians, by the way, are Semites.  Does this render Yochanan into an antisemite?  Of course not.  He is simply a poseur and a fool, a fatuous pseudo-intellectual talking claptrap and trash in order to enable the real murderers in (and of) his culture, who are not quite so naive as he.  Or, for that matter, as the editors of the Times.

Yochanan’s teachers are well-advised to note that the first inmates of the concentration camp at Dachau were politically undesirable left-wingers.  The Nazis charged them with terrorism.

Yes, Virginia, there is an endnote:  some editor must have yelled at Yochanan, because his post was removed — sadly for the Times, only after it had circled the globe via the Internet — and Yochanan cried “Uncle!” for all of us humanitarians here in the outer dark:

“I wish to express deep regret and beg forgiveness for an article I authored which was posted on 5TJT.com, Times of Israel and was tweeted and shared the world over.

“I never intended to call to harm any people although my words may have conveyed that message.

“With that said I pray and hope for a quick peaceful end to the hostilities and that all people learn to coexist with each other in creating a better world for us all.”

Sure he does.  Me, too.  And for those who would call my words here “antisemitism,” so be it.  They are, slowly but surely, changing radically the meaning of the term, and their dubious emendation, which cheapens and prostitutes the sufferings and deaths of the six million, and more, can only come to haunt them.