Surprise Encounters in the 'Happiness of Life' and other Brownies

By Way of Preface to the Fifth Edition

            Before going to press with this new edition, its publishers wrote Mr. Henri suggesting that in it he might care to include additional references to the exponents of modern art.

            His reply is in itself so valuable, and it so clearly shows the purpose of the volume and the breadth of its author’s point of view, that it is a privilege to transcribe his letter for the benefit of his readers:


I include the letter in its entirety below for those of you who want to know.  But for all his words, Robert Henri reiterates the main point in one sentence, “My interest is in the growth of the idea that the happiness of life depends on using all hereditary experiences as the starting base for an individual course.”


This isn’t only Henri’s interest, it’s his primary message of the entire book: We are the sum of our parts.  “Happiness of life,” and the pursuit thereof, unless we put everything we know into every observation and response, constantly questioning and seeking new territory to explore, then we’re little more than prisoners in cages of our own design.

I consider The Art Spirit a closed book—see no reason to change it by adding to it.  In it I suggest plainly that the best way to get acquainted with an artist or his pictures is to see the pictures.  I expressed very few personal opinions about works in the book—and them only for the purpose of illustrating the general idea.  Indirectly, living artists and the possibility of their great values were indicated, but the book was no propaganda for any school or period.  I even took satisfaction in mentioning with great respect artists now out of vogue.  Whistler was very much out of vogue at the time the book went to press.  If I had merely wanted to popularize the book with the newest generation, I would not have mentioned him as I did.  But Whistler was a good example of a man who stepped out of the crowd, went his own way and did the thing that was his own to do.  I do not ask the artist to please me.  I ask him to please himself.  I also spoke of Eakins (who, unlike Whistler, never even had a day of vogue) because he was another example of a man who went his own way, had a great life nevertheless.


Henri used artists as examples, as any artist or creator is a teacher.  The responsibility lies with the student as he follows his own course (or destiny, if you want to call it that.)


Among the moderns you suggest my writing about there are similar examples.  I do not care whether their works are greater or less than those I have already mentioned.  My interest is in the growth of the idea that the happiness of life depends on using all hereditary experience as the starting base for an individual course.

            The above-mentioned examples are sufficient.  The book is about the spirit and has nothing to do with period.  If I ever write again it will have to be a thing apart.  I am glad to heart the The Art Spirit is passing to a fifth printing.


What course do you choose to follow?


“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4:8 (NIV)


This doesn’t mean that I’m supposed to hide away from the nasty, evil world, painting pretty, pointless pictures in my hermetic existence.  What it means is that I will subject myself to rigorous training—a discipline that can only come through encountering obstacles and conquering by applying Father’s principles.  How else could I hope to see the beauty in the ordinary if I don’t go looking for it?


An early example was at the start of my expatriate housewife career.  My prior training stilled the importance of milk, eggs, bread and plenty of toilet paper in the larder.  Alas, what to do when there wasn’t a Brownie mix to be found in all of Munich?  These were pre-internet days, so I had to do some real old-fashioned research.  So, I started reading all those fire hall, church fellowship and farmwomen’s cookbooks that my Pennsylvania Dutch aunts blessed me with on my marriage.


Not only did I appease my chocolate craving, charm my neighbors and wow the American University Women, I spent the next several years learning how to cook from my ancestors, little knowing how that knowledge would nourish my family in the lean times 20 years in the future.  In celebration, here’s the link to the brownie recipe (with or without personal embellishments), and other recipes that have similarly changed my life.


Name one way you met an ‘impossible’ challenge that you can look back in gratitude as a major life lesson learned:


AIXcavating Robert Henri's The Art Spirit

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