On good and great art – thoughts by Yehudi Menuhin

Have you ever read the book ‘Conversations with Menuhin’? The collection of informal, fascinating conversations in which the famous violinist, conductor and teacher Yehudi Menuhin talks about himself, is not just a book about making music. It is – as the Evening Times called it – ‘a rewarding lesson in humanity’.

I have been fascinated with the chapter about the purpose of the arts, particularly the following quote, which I would like to share with you today:

“There is an indefinable element which transforms, makes a work of art beautiful, and in its own way, perfect. (…) But the crucial difference between good art and great art – whether in literature, or music, or painting, or sculpture – is to be found in the quality of the original inspiration. The inspiration of genius is more deeply experienced, has greater unity, and is more far-seeing. The workmanship of genius has a natural sense of proportion; speaks of human elegance and understanding; and deeply touches our own life, thoughts, and dreams.”

When was the last time you dove into the arts and let yourself be inspired?  Visited a museum, went to the opera, explored local galleries, listened to music with your eyes closed, cried and laughed reading an outstanding novel? Why the arts? Because – as Auguste Rodin once said – “the main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”


Robin Daniels: Conversations with Menuhin. First Futura Publications Edition. 1980. p. 108/109


‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri

'Fog at Mt Doug' by D. Herold / Copyright 2013

The following quote by famous American artist and great teacher Robert Henri came to my mind when I was hiking up Mt. Doug at 6 am the other day. It was indeed a start into a day beyond the usual…

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.”
Robert Henri (1865 – 1929)

Henri’s book ‘The Art Spirit’ embodies the entire system of his teaching, presenting his essential beliefs and theories.  The American painter George Wesley Bellows called it ‘one of the finest voices which express the philosophy of modern men in painting’.  For me, it has been a constant source of inspiration.

Robert Henri was considered one of America’s greatest art teachers, painters, head of The Eight and the style of painting, which was referred to as the Ashcan style of art. The Eight was a loose association of artists who protested the restrictive exhibition practices of the powerful, conservative National Academy of Design. Through the years Henri studied at several institutions and become a renowned artist, art teacher and author (The Art Spirit). Many of his paintings have been acquired by private collectors and museums, amongst them the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art.

Homer, William Innes. Robert Henri and His Circle. Ithaca, 1969.
– Kwiat, Joseph J. “Robert Henri’s Good Theory and Earnest Practice: The Humanistic Values of an American Painter.” Prospects 4 (1979), 389 – 401.
– Perlman, Bennard B. Robert Henri: His Life and Art. New York, 1991.

Photo credit: ‘Fog at Mt Doug’ by D. Herold / copyright 2013