Reveling in the Lost Beauty: Henry Miller’s Underrated Masterpiece

On a frosty winter day, I found myself on a subway in Manhattan, struck by the rarity of engaging conversation. A chance encounter led me to Sheila Pinkel, a delightful artist from the West Coast. We bonded instantly over our mutual adoration for the legendary Henry Miller, mourning the loss of his incredible, out-of-print reflections on life, aging, and money.

Sheila mentioned a book she had been searching for, Miller’s 1968 hidden gem, To Paint Is to Love Again. Intrigued, I obtained a surviving copy and was instantly captivated by the wonderful fusion of Miller’s poignant words and beautiful paintings. Delving into this treasure trove, I discovered the hidden artistic abilities of renowned writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Sylvia Plath, and William Faulkner.

In his characteristic style, Miller, a late bloomer in the art world, explores the essence of art and what it means to be an artist. He muses on the painter’s unique perspective, comparing them to scientists and writers who are skilled observers of the world’s wonders.

Miller dives into the question of what constitutes a painting, highlighting its varied interpretations and emotional impact. He challenges Tolstoy’s theory of emotional infectiousness, suggesting that the artist’s intent may not align with the viewer’s experience. However, he emphasizes that the artist’s genuine emotion serves as the lifeblood of art and a testament to the human spirit.

Reflecting on his own transformation as a painter, Miller shifts his attention to the profound beauty found in the ordinary. He discovered a newfound wonder in everyday objects, seeing them through the fresh eyes of an artist. Miller believes that genuine appreciation and attention can reveal the hidden stories and significance behind mundane items.

Unlike his lover Anaïs Nin, who advocated for change and detachment from objects, Miller cherishes the value of the old and worn. He sees himself as a well-used creature, appreciating the history and experiences that shape his character.

Miller, though hesitant to call himself a painter, finds solace in the art form during times when writing eludes him. Painting becomes a refuge, refreshing his creative spirit while he awaits inspiration for his writing.

In discussing the disposition of painters and writers, Miller witnesses a distinct contrast. He finds painters less consumed by their daily tasks, more in touch with the physical world, and more capable of using words poetically. He admires their ability to breathe life into their art through their multifaceted experiences.

Miller acknowledges the necessity of patrons and supporters who understand and appreciate an artist’s work. He believes that genuine love and encouragement sustain an artist more than material success or critical acclaim.

He urges young artists to focus on cultivating friendships and creating work from a place of conviction rather than fixating on commercial success. Miller values patience and fortitude, recognizing that true artistic fulfillment comes from doing what one loves rather than seeking external validation.

In Miller’s eyes, poverty and loneliness are constant companions of an artist, but they offer lessons in resilience and understanding. He shares a personal anecdote about a chance encounter with Attilio Bowinkel, an art shop owner who generously supported him during a difficult period. Bowinkel’s friendship and belief in Miller’s talent provided the boost he needed to navigate the artistic landscape.

To Paint Is to Love Again is a rare find that resonates deeply. Miller’s words and paintings possess a timeless allure that might inspire you to share this hidden gem with others. Let us treasure the beauty of art and embrace the genuine love that comes from within.

Henry Miller: 'The Hat and the Man'
Henry Miller: ‘The Hat and the Man’ (Collection of Leon Shamroy)

Seeing the World Through an Artist’s Eyes

Miller explores the art of observation and the unique vision of artists. He likens a painter’s fascination with the sitter’s face to his own captivation with everyday objects like a stain on the bathroom floor. Miller believes that true understanding surpasses mere visual appearance, revealing a universe of intricate elements.

Henry Miller: 'Man and Woodpecker'
Henry Miller: ‘Man and Woodpecker’ (Collection of William Webb)

The Emotional Spectrum of Art

Contemplating the emotional impact of art, Miller suggests that a painting’s effect may differ from the artist’s intention. He emphasizes the individual experience of viewers and the varied responses triggered by different artworks. Miller counters the notion of emotional infectiousness, asserting that an artist may not fully grasp the power of their creation.

Henry Miller: 'Street Scene: Minsk or Pinsk'
Henry Miller: ‘Street Scene: Minsk or Pinsk’ (Collection of Henry Miller)

The Joy of Wholehearted Observation

Miller recounts the profound shift in perception he experienced when he began viewing the world through the eyes of a painter. Everyday objects became a source of wonder and affection, inviting him to delve into their histories and associations. Miller describes the gratitude and newfound expressions he observed in inanimate objects, marveling at their capacity to inspire.

The Artist’s Multifaceted Spirit

Distinguishing between painters and writers, Miller suggests that painters possess a more vibrant and versatile spirit. He admires their poetic use of words and their immersion in the physical world. Miller believes that painters are less consumed by their craft, more open to diverse experiences, and often possess multiple talents.

Henry Miller: 'Girl with Bird'
Henry Miller: ‘Girl with Bird’ (Collection of Leon Shamroy)

The Freedom of Creation

Miller reflects on the psychological differences between painting and writing. He finds painting to be a liberating experience that rejuvenates him when writing becomes challenging. Painting allows him to detach from the pressures of the literary world and reconnect with his creativity.

The Beauty of Childlike Sincerity

Miller celebrates the sincerity and honesty found in the artwork of children. He admires their direct approach and the authenticity that emanates from their creations. Miller compares the childlike spirit to that of master artists like Paul Klee, who effortlessly combined poetry, mathematics, and observation in their work.

Paul Klee: Senecio
Paul Klee: Senecio (1922)

Embracing Learning Through Trial and Error

Miller embraces a trial-and-error approach to learning, acknowledging that each artist follows their own unique path. He underscores the importance of patience, fortitude, and understanding in the creative process.

Resisting Consumerism for True Artistic Expression

Reflecting on the perils of consumerism in the modern world, Miller questions the ability to find genuine love and inspiration amidst materialism. He emphasizes that the artist must be a true believer, dedicated to their craft without seeking external validation. Miller points out that navigating the art world demands more than skill; it requires sincere appreciation and devotion.

Henry Miller: 'A Bridge Somewhere'
Henry Miller: ‘A Bridge Somewhere’ (Collection of Howard Welch)

Giving and Receiving in the Art Community

Miller praises the power of giving and receiving in the art world. He suggests that artists should prioritize creating meaningful connections and sharing their work rather than fixating on profits. Miller believes that the act of creation should be driven by love and devotion rather than financial gain.

The Artistic Journey: Nurturing Conviction

Miller encourages artists to nurture their creativity and sustain their spirits despite adversity. He believes that success in art comes from cultivating patience, wisdom, and understanding rather than relying solely on innate talent. Miller advocates for valuing the journey and prioritizing genuine love for one’s craft.

Henry Miller: 'Clown'
Henry Miller: ‘Clown’ (Collection of Hoki Miller)

The Power of Friendship and Belief

Miller acknowledges the vital role of friends, supporters, and champions in an artist’s life. He highlights the transformative effect of having someone who understands and appreciates one’s work. Miller emphasizes the immeasurable value of genuine friendship and encouragement in the creative journey.

To Paint Is to Love Again is not just a book; it’s an invitation to embark on a journey of rediscovery. Miller’s words and paintings resonate with timeless beauty and wisdom. Unlock the hidden treasures within its pages and let the magic of art ignite your spirit.

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