Nostalgia for Image

Sissy in Yellow by Robert Henri

“… for the great function of the image is to be a kind of detector of infinity… towards which our reason and our feelings go soaring, with joyful, thrilling haste.” (Andre Tarkofsky, Sculpting In Time, p.109)

Death makes one aware of beauty. Loss of a person in all their unique magnificence, shows one where beauty lies- deep in the heart and soul. We have such a longing for beauty which partially in itself is unattainable. Beauty and sorrow are intertwined. One says, “yes” to the beautiful, but knows that it is bound to time and it will not last. This unattainable longing for beauty, those images that speak personally to one’s heart, is at the center of our being. The soul yearns for beauty and imagination. It longs for that mirror that reflects its unique soul. “The need for beauty may be one of the soul’s most vital needs. Without beauty the soul would shrivel away.” (Cobb, Archetypal Imagination, p.62)

All true images are born from within, manifesting their form to one who is open to receiving it. It calls for a deep connection to one’s inner life as well as to the world. When what is within and without come together an image is born that acts as a guide both to the artist as well as the viewer. Rumi states, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Image gives a voice and form to one’s inner experience and becomes the “equivalent” to this experience.This equivalent speaks of how one sees the world and transforms it into a soul image. This personal self discovery carries within it an experience felt by “everyman”.

The photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, created a series of photographs of clouds titled, “The Equivalents”. This title speaks of image- the clouds, with their symbolic patterning across an abyss of sky, touch a deeper part of ourselves. The images need no explanation. They are transformative because Stieglitz presents us with not just the objective form of the cloud but how he felt about it. They bring to the foreground those things that are on the very edge of consciousness.

“Nature is not something that can be seen by the eye alone- it lies also within the soul, in pictures seen by the inner eye…”

Edvard Munch

When the image is whole it calls forth an assent from the artist as well as the viewer. This assent obliges the artist to “service” this image and bring it forth into the world to the best of his ability. Even if his ability to craft the image well is flawed the image if attended to will supply the means for its expression.  Robert Henri firmly believed that once the image presented itself, the inventiveness of the artist would find the means or the technique necessary for its expression. The artist is the one who discovers and crafts the image not only with inventiveness and skill but with love and devotion.


Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

One thought on “Nostalgia for Image”

  1. In French Lieutenant’s Woman, when Charles is speaking to the doctor about his problem with Sarah in the doctor’s warm, firelit room/study after they have talked over brandy and cigars, Charles looks out the window at the wild sea in the dark with civilization at his back and the writer (Fowels) comments that everyone is a poet but poets speak in words.

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