Tam Gan, 1914
The Failure of Sylvester, 1914
The Beach Hat, 1914
In my generation of art students, Robert Henri's “The Art Spirit,” was required reading. Henri was a leading member of the Ashcan School and one of the most influential artists and teachers in American art of the early 20th century. His philosophical and practical musings were collected by former pupil Margery Ryerson and published as "The Art Spirit" (1923), a book that remained in print for several decades. The spirit of his ideas are still important to artists today:
"It is harder to see than it is to express. The whole value of art rests in the artist's ability to see well into what is before him."
"Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life's experience."
"Paint what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what is real to you."
"Different men are moved or left cold by lines according to the difference in their natures. What moves you is beautiful to you."
"There is only one reason for art in America, and that is that the people of America learn the means of expressing themselves in their own time, and their own land."
A dozen of Henri’s oil paintings from his 1914 visit to California are on display at the San Jose Museum of Art. Portraits of everyday working people, including Indians, African Americans and newly arrived immigrants from China and Mexico, are on exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art. “Robert Henri’s California Portraits: Realism, Race and Region, 1914-1925” runs through Jan. 18 and gives an artist’s view of an anti-immigrant period in California history marked by exclusionary laws and discriminatory legislation. The pieces came to San Jose from the Laguna Art Museum.
Henri considered himself a progressive and celebrated California's increasing diversity but modern eyes may see differently. Pretty Chinese girls and almost stock cartoon portraits of a young African-American boy spell racist to us today; but when looking at his art, as with any artist, it's important to consider the time and place as well as the the artist's intent.
Robert Henri’s California Portraits: Realism, Race and Region, 1914-1925: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, until 8 p.m. third Thursdays. Through Jan. 18. $5-$8; 6 and under free. San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St. www.sanjosemuseumofart.org. (images courtesy of the SJMA)
More weekend picks at: http://www.examiner.com/article/san-jose-museum-of-art-dickerman-prints-koch-gallery-treasure-island-lecture