The Art Spirit

The world would stagnate without it.


On intuition I pulled Robert Henri's book, The Art Spirit, off my bookshelf today. I turned to the first page and read:

Art when really understood is the province of every human being.

It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. 

Henri's book is by far one of my favorites on the 700 shelves. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that I found it on my own, rather than it being recommended to me by someone else as a "must-read" book.

In 2010 I read an incredible novel called My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Within this book I found  The Art Spirit by Robert Henri mentioned. I looked up the title, fully expecting it to be a fictitious book, and was thrilled to find it was real and still in print. I devoured it.

I'm finding the books I'm reading on from the 700 shelves to be dreadfully adult and boring and pretentious. But today I pulled Henri's book off the shelf because I know it has life between the covers. This was my attempt to quell the return of a mounting lie inside my chest that says art isn't what I hoped it could be.

My chest has been feeling tight with disappointment. Through my observations as of late, from a number of sources, I've been direly discouraged that art does have a box and I don't fit in it and that what I think of as art (how one lives one's life and does one's work) is not in fact real art at all.


How is it that I feel that I am more of an artist than many of the "accomplished" artists and why do I feel so heavy hearted that the "accomplished" artists are all the world knows to think of as true artists? Am I just arrogant?

I don't think so. I am very aware of the level of artist I am when it comes to sheer art skills. I know that there are artists who can paint better than me, draw better than me, use colour better than me. But this doesn't feel like all there is to art. In fact, I am finding this alone makes for a rather dull and dreadful artist to be around. So you can do it perfectly? So you know people who know people? So you sit in your art studio for hours upon hours upon hours. Very well then, but are you alive?

I have set aside the aliveness of art lately, as I research some experts. I have done this with my cycling as well. Learning from the best, and realizing that even from the best something just isn't there for me. There is lack, specifically the lack of enjoyment that I have come to expect out of life. How can people be doing what they love and not be enjoying their life? That's a big miss in my book.

Robert Henri’s “Tesuque Buck,” ca. 1916 as seen in the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Robert Henri’s “Tesuque Buck,” ca. 1916 as seen in the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

I am grateful for Robert Henri. Grateful for a 700 book that doesn't suck the life out of me. There is so much dryness in the world of art, so much seriousness, so much hardness, so many rough edges to cut oneself on and then to bleed. Oh, the allure of bleeding.

It has been a desert lately, when all I want is dessert - a chocolate filled croissant and a warm cup of coffee.

I think I shall be water and soak into the ground.


I believe The Art Spirit that Henri speaks of has gone missing. The artists should be the ones having all the fascinating and interesting and playful conversations. They should be drawing crowds to Come, drink, all you who are thirsty. They should be the leaders in their communities. A hub of hope. The one's opening up windows to keep the air from getting stagnant. Instead the artists keep pointing out the ways to suffer over and over and over again when, hell, haven't we all suffered enough, many times overs?

2 thoughts on “The Art Spirit”

  1. Yes, a thousand times, yes.
    You can abandon the 700s if they are not serving you, Mandy.
    I remember when your word was “vulnerable”, and you told your husband part way through the year that you didn’t want it anymore, and he said — so give it up then.
    Don’t let the 700s kill you. There’s a reason why some of us choose not to go to art school.

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