Today, while painting my fingernails grey I thought about Robert Henri's words I read last night about brush strokes. My grey fingernail polish has a wide brush, by far the widest I've ever seen in fingernail polish. It covers a lot of territory and takes a different application technique than what I'm used to.
My copy of The Art Spirit is a secondhand book and in the margins the previous reader wrote "9 pages on the brush stroke." I think she or he was as surprised as I was. It's a lot of words on the topic and reading them can get a bit overwhelming if you're trying to follow them like a set of rules for painting.
But I imagine Robert Henri was having some fun in his exploration of the brush stroke. I mean truly, it reads a lot like a Dr. Seuss book.
Replace the word "fish" with "brush stroke" and you've got a very similar read.
And really, we can't expect to do anything specific with such wishy-washy advice as: "It is remarkable how many functions one brush can perform. Use not too many, but use enough."
"Dear Robert Henri, How many is too many?" You may ask.
Or you may ask:
"Was that too timid a brush stroke?"
If you're reading this section of his book as a prescription your going to go a bit nuts, because he says one thing and then he says, "The reverse is also true."
It really becomes a matter of - are you going to trust that you as an artist know what is best? That you and your brush strokes smoothed along the canvas of your life are going to say exactly what needs to be said - your truth in your distinct voice.
Because in the end after spouting his disgust over some of his least favorite strokes (icy, cold, hard, brittle, fearsome, apologetic - to name a few) he adds a perhaps. That "perhaps" extends a warm arm of inclusion and says, there may be a place here for you too. A place I've overlooked. A place where what I've said didn't account for your unique ability to take what is out of place and give it a place to belong.
What he is saying is YOU, as an artist, have the power of renaming, and if you want to waltz onto the canvas of your life and call it all good, well then it'll be as you say. You in your proper place (the place you currently are) become sheer beauty. A brush stroke that suddenly makes complete sense in that colour, in that location, because you owned it. And here we thought it couldn't be done.
Say, what a lot of fish there are. And artists. And brush strokes. (At least 9 pages worth.) And your mark, yet to be made, or if made, yet to be renamed as what it is - beautiful, gracious, strong.