I want to write to you- and I don't want to write to you, this evening. I can't tell which inclination will prevail in the end; probably the negative - at the end of eight or ten pages. [9/14/94]




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Anna brought to bear in her letters her considerable powers of perception on many subjects, including her work, her relationships, the state of the world, and her developing philosophy of life. Her voice is full of humor, striving to do and be good, and an acute appreciation of the foibles of her fellow humans. Her views on teaching art, the the crooked politics of Tammany Hall, an encyclopedic collection of contemporary writers and thinkers, and her brilliant and demanding mother, are expressed with precision, delight, and much self-doubt. Her struggle to achieve what she wanted to in her art is a frequent theme. She wrote to family members, but most often in her twenties and thirties to her friend, Annie Ware Winsor Allen. Excerpts from a selection of these letters can be viewed at the exhibition and a sample is included here.

[Excerpts from letters from Anna Richards Brewster to her friend, Annie Ware Winsor Allen 1893-1905.]

On Teaching Art
I should advertise a new method of teaching, in some fashion to inspire confidence; and as my desire would be, not for the educated persons which Mr. LaFarge’s course demands but for elementary pupils- for any kind of people- I might stand some chance of getting a few.

I should start these people-these girls of average intelligence and interest on something which was not too much beyond them, but which was complicated enough to be interesting. I should keep them interested in the thing at all hazards, and by any device possible. I should make them make groups of things, at the earliest moment- and if they couldn't do the things in combination, show them how to study each one separately with a view to the combination. I should keep their eye on the “pattern”-show them (and perhaps make them copy) Japanese drawings; draw with them, draw for them-photograph the thing; bring in good illustrations to suggest ways of [draw ]ing the lines and aspects they would choose.

I should tell them the truth about art, and about what they were doing; I should keep their minds stirred up, and alive; I should quote artists and pictures; I should foster their desire to “make a picture”. . . The sort of stuff people talk about the “noble ideal” prohibited[?] by girls who devote their lives to the making of bad life-studies, is most demoralizing. My students should learn the power to do something well! And they should be taught that life-studies are not an end, but a means.

. . . . I should go on with my own work with renewed courage, from such a contact with my fellow strugglers. What art students need is not less, but more, to think of- (and it is the same way with me) - they would be ever so much more prosperous, if they were not half allup most of the time- or worse-like the League Students, who relapse into silliness from want of something better to think of. It is no child’s-play- this childish depicting-it needs all the ingenuity and wide-awakeness which the enlightened mind can bring to it. . . . I do not undervalue severe education--close study is needful - - - but not as it is taught. I have seen the tragedy of the studios - and I believe it to be not necessary, so it grieves my soul. . . . (7/15/1893)

On Housekeeping
It is a mistake to discuss or even to mention Household Worries. It is a terribly bad plan, anyway, to exhibit - to harp on- the machinery of things. Of course no kind of work runs smoothly - of course materials are needed - but why should these necessities occupy one’s mind in season and out of season? Is there nothing else to talk about? Nothing in the world that is more worthy, more worth while or engrossing? Mother said, once: “But this is the way things are, my dear; - you are ignorant. Why, you will never see two or three housekeeping women together, who are not wailing in unison over the outrageousness of servants; the difficulty of keeping them; the bother of keeping things clean etc.” Then, the more shame to them, I should say. Nothing of that will help them to mind their business; they can only draw from that discouragement and appalled unfitness for what is to be done. It is, among French ladies, utterly bad form to refer to household machinery in any way. They do the work very perfectly; and then, because they refuse to make it all-important and absorbing by continual discussion, they have time, plenty of time and energy - (which the average housewife might not believe to be possible) - to think of other things.

There is something very pretty about this French custom, I think- Among the men, too, it is the same. They work like fiends, and then, on principle, throw it all aside and make believe that they are absolutely lazy and gay. We may not believe altogether in the French way of expressing this freedom from the spirit of drudgery; but surely the principle is a good one. The easier we make appear what we do, the easier it is to do. (6/5/1893)

On Japanese Art
I wonder if a part of the charm above all other work which Japanese work possesses, may not be due simply to the fact that it is foreign to us. I mean, the fact that it is the way of seeing things of a very different sort of men; rather than of men with so much greater power to give distinction to the objects they portray. Has Japanese art just the same kind of charm for the Japanese which it has for us? Are not their pictures more just as they see things than as we see them; so that they lose the joy of reconciling the picture with the fact? For us, since a chief joy. . . in art is the making the familiar world look remote and unfamiliar, the delicate Japanese character of any least line of the Japanese work easily fascinates -- It is difficult to decide, I think, how much distinction is really inherent in the work, and therefore valuable to us; how much is a merely factitious charm, and not a real elevation. There is much that is most real, I am confident; but I am inclined to suspect that it is less in such characteristics as are obvious to us, and copyable; as in the great identical principles which underlie Eastern and Western art alike. Easily we could adopt or adapt the Japanese styles and eccentricities ^”tricks of the trade”^ but the gain would be meretricious. (6/5/1893)

On the Difficulty of painting
I do not know-- I do not know -- It seems to me that my summer’s work, so far as I myself am concerned, is a total failure. I can see no more light ahead -- and I have the feeling that I shall see none; but work on blindly -- The problem of expression by art is not solved -- and I do not think it can be. No method of expression by the arts is tolerable excepting the highest -- I mean, nothing adequately expresses the sense of things -- and even that falls short. And it seems to me that a person is taking a great responsibility when they assume to live by work rather than being -- Mother says I am not fitted to be a “humanitarian factor” -- I don't doubt that -- a great philanthropist or prominent person in the line of conduct is an artist too. But I ought to work in a small way --just trying to nobly bear and glorify the common lot of man. We come very clearly and purely in touch with the infinite by the mere clasp of hands and meeting of eyes, I am thankful to know; without the intricacies of art. Loving kindness is within the attainment of everyone. Perhaps I am lazy -- But I know I should not shrink from the work of painting if I could see the glimmer of a gleam of a possibility of expression through it. . . (Sunday Evening, 7/1895)

On the Spanish-American War
As a deed of mercy to the Cubans certainly, the war does not seem to promise well. Of course the natural result is to starve the unfortunate people there: and the rebels themselves don't seem to welcome our interference - I think they do not greatly trust the U.S. promises not to annex. I don't doubt the individual high-heartedness of men enlisting (though I think a war to liberate New York from the oppressions of Tammany would be a nobler and more useful field of honour to enter) -- but I'm afraid there’s a good deal of bully and a good deal of grab in the casus belli as a whole. (5/27/1900)

On meeting other artists
[She and her work have been introduced to George Frederick Watts and she discussed the possibility of an invitation from Walter Crane] To receive recognition of persons of the grade of intelligence of Mr. Watts is, I perceive, my idea of “success” -- or rather, it is a proof of success- a proof that one succeeds in some measure in expressing oneself worthily. . . . The moral impetus one gets from even a little contact with real workmen such as these is invaluable. It is (so far as my work is concerned) my rightful milieu --- To have been a P.R. B. (Pre-Raphaelite Brother) to be a member of a confraternity of real people (real artists) would make advance possible in a way that it is not otherwise. The ordinary “art-atmosphere” -- of idealess art-students is worse than useless: it has always been repulsive to me. (5/27/1900)

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Anna Richards Brewster, American Impressionist
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