The Brotherhood

Realist painter Robert Henri called the communion of connoisseurs “The Brotherhood.”

The Thought Police would insist we re-label that “mystical bond,” but let’s allow Henri to slide. What he had to say is too important to get hung up over one Victorian-era word.

According to Henri, The Brotherhood comprises “mysterious bonds of understanding and of knowledge” that link its members “for all time”—no matter their age, weight, race, gender, class, religion, ability, nationality, or party preference. Members of The Brotherhood, moreover, “know each other, and time and space cannot separate them.” All are pathfinders, and leavers of breadcrumbs for others to follow.

“All any man can hope to do is to add his fragment to the whole,” he wrote. “No man can be final, but he can record his progress, and whatever he records is so much done in the thrashing out of the whole thing. What he leaves is so much for others to use as stones for step on or stones to avoid.”

All hobbies—be they birding, biking, breadmaking; gardening, juggling, fly-fishing; sailing, surfing, or scuba-diving—have a way of building camaraderie; but none, it seems to me, build it as strongly as art-loving. And none so completely disregard the hobbyists’ social standing and demographics. You find that same feeling of authentic democracy—of “we’re all in this together”—only in recovery groups like AA, where there’s only the “program.” No one is an individual and every man is an Everyman.

“The Brotherhood is powerful,” Henri writes. “It has many members. They are of all places and of all times. The members do not die. One is member to the degree that he can be member, no more, no less. And that part of him that is of The Brotherhood does not die.”

It’s cool to be a connoisseur.

Above: “The Cathedral.” Bronze by Auguste Rodin.