„The people I like to paint are “my people,” whoever they may be, wherever they may exist, the people through whom dignity of life is manifest, that is, who are in some way expressing themselves naturally along the lines nature intended for them. My people may be old or young, rich or poor, I may speak their language or I may communicate with them only by gestures. But wherever I find them, the Indian at work in the white man’s way, the Spanish gypsy moving back to the freedom of the hills, the little boy, quiet and reticent before the stranger, my interest is awakened and my impulse immediately is to tell about them through my own language— drawing and painting in color.
I find as I go out, from one land to another seeking “my people,” that I have none of that cruel, fearful possession known as patriotism; no blind, intense devotion for an institution that has stiffened in chains of its own making. My love of mankind is individual, not national, and always I find the race expressed in the individual. And so I am “patriotic” only about what I admire, and my devotion to humanity burns up as brightly for Europe as for America; it flares up as swiftly for Mexico if I am painting the peon there; itwarms toward the bullfighter in Spain, if, in spite of its cruelty, there is that element in his art which I find beautiful; it intensifies before the Irish peasant, whose love, poetry, simplicity and humor have enriched my existence, just as completely as though each of these people were of my own country and my own hearthstone. Everywhere I see at times this beautiful expression of the dignity of life, to which I respond with a wish to preserve this beauty of humanity for my friends to enjoy.
This thing that I call dignity in a human being is inevitably the result of an established order in the universe. Everything that is beautiful is orderly, and there can be no order unless things are in their right relation to each other. Of this right relation throughout the world beauty is born. A musical scale, the sword motif for instance in the Ring, is order in sound; sculpture as the Greeks saw it, big, sure, infinite, is order in proportion; painting, in which the artist has the wisdom that ordained the rainbow is order in color; poetry —Whitman, Ibsen, Shelley, each is supreme order in verbal expression. It is not too much to say that art is the noting of the existence of order throughout the world, and so, order stirs imagination and inspires one to reproduce this beautiful relationship existing in the universe, as best one can. Everywhere I find that the moment order in nature is understood and freely shown, the result is nobility;— the Irish peasant has nobility of language and facial expression; the North American Indian has nobility of poise, of gesture; nearly all children have nobility of impulse. This orderliness must exist or the world could not hold together, and it is a vision of orderliness that enables the artist along any line whatsoever to capture and present through his imagination the wonder that stimulates life.
It is disorder in the mind of man that produces chaos of the kind that brings about such a war as we are today overwhelmed with. It is the failure to see the various phases of life in their ultimate relation that brings about militarism, slavery, the longing of one nation to conquer another, the willingness to destroy for selfish unhuman purposes. Any right understanding of the proper relation of man to man and man to the universe would make war impossible.
The revolutionary parties that break away from old institutions, from dead organizations are always headed by men with a vision of order, with men who realize that there must be a balance in life, of so much of what is good for each man, so much to test the sinews of his soul, so much to stimulate his joy. But the war machine is invented and run by the few for the few. There is no order in the seclusion of the world’s good for the minority, and the battle for this proves the complete disorganization of the minds who institute it. War is impossible without institutionalism, and in-stitutionalism is the most destructive agent to peace or beauty . When the poet, the painter, the scientist, the inventor, the laboring man, the philosopher, see the need of working together for the welfare of the race, a beautiful order will be the result and war will be as impossible as peace is today.”
„Order is perceived by the man with a creative spirit. It is achieved by the man who sincerely attempts to express himself and thus naturally follows organic law.”
“Although all fundamental principles of nature are orderly, humanity needs a fine, sure freedom to express these principles. When they are expressed freely, we find grace, wisdom, joy. We only ask for each person the freedom which we accord to nature, when we attempt to hold her within our grasp. If we are cultivating fruit in an orchard, we wish that particular fruit to grow in its own way; we give it the soil it needs, the amount of moisture, the amount of care, but we do not treat the apple tree as we would the pear tree or the peach tree as we would the vineyard on the hillside. Each is allowed the freedom of its own kind and the result is the perfection of growth which can be accomplished in no other way. The time must come when the same freedom is allowed the individual; each in his own way must develop according to nature’s purpose, the body must be but the channel for the expression of purpose, interest, emotion, labor. Everywhere freedom must be the sign of reason.
We are living in a strange civilization. Our minds and souls are so overlaid with fear, with artificiality, that often we do not even recognize beauty. It is this fear, this lack of direct vision of truth that brings about all the disaster the world holds, and how little opportunity we give any people for casting off fear, for living simply and naturally. When they do, first of all we fear them, then we condemn them . It is only if they are great enough to outlive our condemnation that we accept them.
Always we would try to tie down the great to our little nationalism; whereas every great artist is a man who has freed himself from his family, his nation, his race. Every man who has shown the world the way to beauty, to true culture, has been a rebel, a “universal” without patriotism, without home, who has found his people everywhere, a man whom all the world recognizes, accepts, whether he speaks through music, painting, words or form.
Each genius differs only from the mass in that he has found freedom for his greatness; the greatness is everywhere, in every man, in every child. What our civilization is busy doing, mainly, is smothering greatness. It is a strange anomaly; we destroy what we love and we reverence what we destroy. The genius who is great enough to cut through our restraint wins our applause; yet if we have our own way we restrain him. We build up the institution on the cornerstone of genius and then we begin to establish our rules and our laws, until we have made all expression within the commonplace. We build up our religion upon the life of the freest men that ever lived , the men who refused all limitations, all boundaries, all race kinship, all family ties; and then we circumscribe our religion until the power that comes from the organization blinds and binds its adherents. We would circumscribe our music, we would limit the expression of our painter, we would curb our sculpture , we would have a fixed form for our poet if we could. Fortunately, however, the great , significant, splendid impulse for beauty can force its way through every boundary. Wagner can break through every musical limitation ever established, Rodin can mold his own outline of the universe, Whitman can utter truths so burning that the edge of the sonnet, roundelay, or epic is destroyed, Millet meets his peasant in the field and the Academy forgets to order his method of telling the world of this immemorial encounter.
I am always sorry for the Puritan, for he guided his life against desire and against nature. He found what he thought was comfort, for he believed the spirit’s safety was in negation, but he has never given the world one minute’s joy or produced one symbol of the beautiful order of nature. He sought peace in bondage and his spirit became a prisoner.”
„It seems to me that before a man tries to express anything to the world he must recognize in himself an individual, a new one, very distinct from others. Walt Whitman did this, and that is why I think his name so often comes to me. The one great cry of Whitman was for a man to find himself, to understand the fine thing he really is if liberated. Most people, either by training or inheritance, count themselves at the start as “no good,” or “second rate” or “just like anyone else,” whereas in everyone there is the great mystery; every single person in the world has evidence to give of his own individuality, providing he has acquired the full power to make clear this evidence.”
„Each man must take the material that he finds at hand, see that in it there are the big truths of life, the fundamentally big forces, and then express in his art whatever is the cause of his pleasure. It is not so much the actual place or the immediate environment; it is personal greatness and personal freedom which demands a final right art expression. A man must be master of himself and master of his word to achieve the full realization of himself as an artist.
That necessity is the mother of invention is true in art as in science. It is a question of saying the thing that a person has to say. A man should not care whether the thing he wishes to express is art or not, whether it is a picture or not, he should only care that it is a statement of what is worthy to put into permanent expression.”
„Every stave in a picket fence should be drawn with wit, the wit of one who sees each stave as new evidence about the fence. The staves should not repeat each other. A new fence is rather stiff, but it does not stand long before there is a movement through it, which is the trace of its life experience. The staves become notes, and as they differ the wonder of a common picket fence is revealed.”