The great departure

“The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture — however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high-functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state.

These results, however crude, become dear to the artist who made them because they are records of states of being which he has enjoyed and which he would regain. They are likewise interesting to others because they are to some extent readable and reveal the possibilities of greater existence.


If a certain kind of activity, such as painting, becomes the habitual mode of expression it may follow that taking up the painting materials and beginning work with them will act suggestively and so presently evoke a flight into the higher state. There are artists who find themselves always at the easel saying that they want to be there, tools in hand; in the saddle urging on the great departure.

Contemplative appreciation of a trace; a picture, hearing music, observing a graceful gesture, may cause the spirit to flame up. We care for and treasure the traces of states of greater living, fuller functioning, because we want to live also, and they inspire to living. That is the value of “a work of art”. The traces are inevitable. The living is the thing.


In all times, as in our times, the domination of the world has stood the enemy of the artist — the one who would live. The demand to pass juries, to make the acceptable, the salable, fighting off the wolf from the door, obtaining of medals for the weight they have in waging the social war; all these things, certain and terrible in their exactions, have held the slave with his eye on the by-product, and the by-product has suffered, for the by-product cannot produce itself.”

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit