Fresh Perspective (Peeping through the Smoke & Mirrors)

It’s been a nice break from the computer to enjoy a mid-term break with family and friends.  A change in perspective is always good, given the choice.  How do I know my true goals if I don’t view them from another angle from time to time?  That’s why Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit is such an insightful guide for so many of us.  Even though he writes to painters, his understanding of the eternal spirit of life applies to anyone seeking his utmost potential.


Realize that your sitter has a state of being, that this state of being manifests itself to you through form, color and gesture, that your appreciation of him has depended on your perception of these things in their significance, that they are there of your selection (others will see differently), that your work will be the statement of what have been your emotions, and you will use these specialized forms, colors and gestures to make your statement.  Plainly you are to develop as a seer, as an appreciator as well as a craftsman.  You are to give the craftsman in you a motive, else he cannot develop.


Henri says a few seemingly esoteric things here, and I can see how they apply to far more than portrait painting.  It’s all about perception—something that each of us would do well to master, regardless of your art.  (Remember that I mean the skills you practice, be that craftsmanship or another profession.)  All of us have something to say and another way to say it.  The challenge is to determine if it’s worth saying.  There’s already so much noise out there, do we really want to listen to one another? 


What’s your statement?  Do your words and actions give life?  So much of what mankind’s attuned to hear doesn’t encourage growth; it invites death.  We turn to news and entertainment (and news as entertainment), and we learn that the way to get ahead—to grow—is by wielding power and misusing authority.  That doesn’t give life, quite the opposite! 


It takes concentrated effort to recognize the Spirit amidst the oppressive spirit of this world.  This is the ‘seer’ that Henri wants to develop.  We train in our technical skills—craftsmanship—and the ‘appreciator’ learns to perceive and communicate the truth that leads to life.  The Biblical prophets aren’t dead; they’re today’s artists.  And as in the days of the Scriptures (Isaiah and Jeremiah, for instance), not all of the seers revealed the way to life.  They were also accused of telling the people what they wanted to hear, not the challenging discipline of choosing love over power.


All that I have said argues the predominant value of gesture.  Gesture expresses through form and color the states of life.


Yes, I suppose that makes sense, considering that gesture is action.  The mouth can tell us what we want to hear, but a keen observer can spot the magician’s slight-of-hand.  (Smoke & mirrors is tricky business, because so often we’d rather believe an impressive show than the painful truth about things.)  It takes time and patience for the true picture to reveal itself.  That’s why it’s so important to train in the discipline of consistently choosing life over those habits that lead to death.


My current training ground is learning to reject the expectations that I must behave in a way that doesn’t make others feel threatened.  I’m an artist, therefore I’m a prophet, and for 16 years, I’ve made a point of observing those subtle gestures that precede manipulative behavior.  I’ve chosen to paint pretty pictures so as not to incite aggression.  Now I’m compelled to mature into courage—that’s scary! 


Where are you training in life right now?



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