I’m reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit. David Lynch points to it often as having been pivotal in his own development as an artist, though he admits not having re-read it since his youth.
Henri was an art teacher. This excerpt is from an address he made to students of the School of Design for Women in Philadelphia in 1901:
I know men who were students in the Academie Julian in Paris, where I studied in 1888, thirteen years ago. I visited the Academie this year and found some of the same students there, repeating the same exercises, and doing work nearly as good as they did thirteen years ago.
At almost any time in these thirteen years they have had technical ability enough to produce masterpieces. Many of them are more facile in their trade of copying the model, and they make fewer mistakes and imperfections of literal drawing and proportion than do some of the greatest masters of the art.
These students have become masters of the trade of drawing, as some others have become masters of their grammars. And like so many of the latter, brilliant jugglers of words, having nothing worth while to say, they remain little else than clever jugglers of the brush.
I’ve been thinking about craftsmanship versus artistry, the skill of expression versus having something worthwhile to express. I tend to emphasize the former over the latter myself and this passage is an excellent reminder of the need for balance.