Thursday, November 29, 2007
While talking with Karl J. Kuerner about his art recently, he stressed the influence of Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit on his life as an artist and a teacher of art. (A photo of Henri appears above.) Anytime anyone speaks of a book as that powerful an influence on their life, I’m immediately compelled to read it. Published in 1923, The Art Spirit collects Henri’s philosophy on art and life in his unmistakably inspirational style. Artists can still come away from it learning a lot about art and themselves. Anyone who loves art can come away equally inspired. One section especially hit home with me in regards to being “qualified” to talk about art:
“All manifestations of art are but landmarks in the progress of the human spirit towards a thing but as yet sensed and far from being possessed.
The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an art education; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.”
My “official” qualifications for talking about art consist of one art appreciation class in high school, a survey of modern art in college, and one cheap drawing class taken at the local high school at night. My unofficial qualifications consist of an interest in drawing since childhood (thanks to comic books) and reading almost every book on art I could get my hands on since I was ten, something that has actually accelerated since I started getting review copies to write up on this blog. I literally read through the entire art book collection of the library near my childhood home. Even today, I gravitate to the art section of libraries and book stores as if pulled by a magnetic force.
There are still some segments of the museum and publishing world that perceive me as “just” a blogger, an amateur with nothing to offer in regards to insight. I recently read a piece on Jacques Barzun, the prolific author on art, culture, and history and all-around polymath, that reminded me that the Latin root of “amateur” is “amare” (“to love”). Too many think that the root of “amateur” is “to bungle miserably.” If amateur could just lose that bad connotation, people might actually take a risk and pursue something they love, even if they’re not a “professional,” whether it be golf or writing about art history.
As in sports, professionalism in academics, especially those dealing with the arts, can lead to a distancing from the human element. I saw that firsthand in literary criticism, one of the reasons why I didn’t pursue that field beyond graduate school. Thanks to the blogosphere, the tide is turning. In all fields of thought, amateurs are letting their voices be heard. The quality, of course, varies, but the spirit is strong.
“Honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond”—if you have those qualities, you’re overqualified in my humble opinion.