The Creative Spirit – Everybody Can Play

“Cool Blues”
©2020, Molly Larson Cook
36″ x 24″
Acrylic on canvas


Where does it come from – the art impulse?  Out of all the things we can do, what is it makes us pick up a crayon or a pencil, a paintbrush, pen or stick of charcoal to record one thing or another that we see or imagine?

I don’t have the answer.  I’m just asking the question, because that impulse has been around for a very long time – thousands and thousands of years.

I turned for some kind of insight to Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit, a book that is always at the top of my reading stack for Henri’s philosophical wisdom and for the technical advice he offers to the working painter.

His opening statement matches so well my own idea of “art.”

“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. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature…Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible.”

I find that last line particularly appealing.  For me, it’s not only about art, but about life.  Let’s not close the book too soon.  Let’s think outside the box, live and pay attention to all the pages we can!

I like, too, Henri’s further thought about how the art spirit is manifested – or not.

 “Museums of art will not make a country an art country.  But where there is the art spirit there will be precious works to fill museums.
Better still, there will be the happiness that is in the making. Art tends toward balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living–very good things for anyone to be interested in.”

Henri was a painter himself and spoke in much of the book from a painter’s point of view.  But he was also a teacher and opened the door to creativity in many ways.

For him, and for me, the gardener who creates a beautiful garden is as much an artist as the painter or photographer who captures the garden on canvas or film.  The baker who creates a scrumptious and beautifully decorated cake is welcome to call herself an artist in my book.

The mechanic who tunes my car to run without a whimper and keeps it running that way is at the top of my personal list of “artists.”

Any seamstress who can sew a truly fine seam, a handyman who knows exactly how to fix the leak or the crooked table leg, the poet who can bring us to tears or great joy, the window washer who never leaves a streak – all artists.

And, it goes without saying that the musician who perfectly improvises a mesmerizing jazz solo gets all the kudos.

This doesn’t mean a person has to do everything well.  As Rollo May pointed out in his fine book, The Courage to Create, someone who writes beautiful poetry may be “a menace on the assembly line.”  It’s good to know what we do best.

So long as we are willing to keep the book open, to look for more pages, and find ourselves among those pages, the art spirit will be alive and well.

With paint, paper, pen, pennywhistle, hammer and nails, ballet slippers or tap shoes, sugar and flour, spade and seed, the art spirit will be strong, striving for balance and order, making good decisions and growing.

In other words, no matter what hell is being wrought on us at the moment, if we keep ourselves together in the art spirit, the kids will be okay!





3 thoughts on “The Creative Spirit – Everybody Can Play

  1. I learned much of this in Maine where there are no writers with a capital W or artists with a capital A. And where the guy who fixes your car is top of the heap. I also studied in New York with Edward de Bono, father of a lot of creative problem-solving books who also believed art had a broader interpretation. Art, after all like music, is mostly a matter of creative problem-solving. Same as playing an oboe! Moll

  2. After spending many agonizing hours in art classes in grade school and junior high, I am glad to see the more expansive interpretation of what is art.

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