Robert Henri and Alfred Stieglitz are two of the most influential artists since the beginning of the 20th century. One realist painter, and one pioneering photographer, these two individuals have paved the way to the success of American art.
Both are great adversaries – admittedly or not – of the Academy and the ideology of the Gilded Age. Henri saw himself as the rescuer of American art from the controlling assessment of American culture and society of the Academy, while Stieglitz was appalled of the Gilded Age’s materialism and “cultural complacency”. Both also surpassed their roles as great teachers: Henri being a man of great magnetism and arguably the greatest single influence in American art; and Stieglitz on the other hand was even called by Marcel Duchamp a great man with great judgment and primarily a humanist.
Generally, both have a similar goal: the betterment of American art. But the specifics of the hows and the whys are not quite the same.
Henri was a believer of the power of mass media, which is not limited to magazines and newspaper, and that such is a necessity for an American artist in the modern art world. It is of no surprise that the Armory Show he led in February and March of 1913 in New York was an astonishing success. Stieglitz in fact did a one-man show of his prints in his gallery to see how it would measure up against a highly-publicized show. The pioneering photographer found it distressing that many attend such commercially-inclined exhibitions and having paintings and other works of art as material commodities and not as spiritual forces. It is to note that wife Georgia O’Keeffe once said that Stieglitz works were “aesthetically, spiritually significant.” Not to say that The Eight’s works were shallow, but Stieglitz’ works attempted to capture the poetic meaning of urban life, as compared to the Ashcan artists’ seemingly careless brushstrokes.
Henri believed that the integration of American art to American society is by placing the reality of the society in the artworks, and by exposing these works to all. Stieglitz felt the same but such integration should be an individual choice. What Henri was trying to achieve socially, Stieglitz was trying the same spiritually. As we can see in today’s situation, both are arguably successful.