No One Suspects the Days to be Gods (Emerson)

March 5, 2015
Fresh Snowfall at Dawn

Fresh Snowfall at Dawn

As you learn to follow ideas along, to process those ideas into music or paintings, you start to realize that the issue whether you are talented enough or good enough is no longer relevant. Following your ideas and creating art is just what you do.

Ian Roberts, Creative Authenticity

With pure joy and anticipation, I awakened without an alarm at 6:50. Last night I had already been notified that there would be no school today, due to icy road conditions. I greeted the dawn with a heart brimming with joy and could not make the coffee or get into my favorite reading chair fast enough. While cozied up to Annie Dillard’s Living By Fiction, I looked up in thought, and realized I was gazing at a cluster of leaves dangling in morning sunlight just outside my living room window. I couldn’t stop admiring the organic pattern of the cluster against the bright wintry sky, and suddenly recalled stories I had read yesterday of how Leonardo da Vinci and Henri Matisse focussed on a single leaf or cluster of leaves, and then did studious drawings and painting of the design. My watercolor supplies were nearby, so on impulse I pulled out the basic tools, and, sitting in my reading chair, sought to render quickly and repeatedly what I was staring at outside my morning window.

In a few moments, the sun faded, the leaves lost their illuminative quality, and the moment was gone. I also realized, as the sun was devouring the freshly fallen snow, that by mid-afternoon, only water would be standing in my backyard. This reminded me of what we discussed in yesterday’s A. P. Art History classes while studying the Dutch Baroque still life paintings and the vanitas theme. The seventeenth-century Dutch, with their newfound wealth, were accumulating property faster than ever before in their history. Yet their sober-minded Calvinist culture reminded them that material goods pass away like the morning cloud, as does life.

The vanitas them in Dutch still life painting is named after a famous passage from Ecclesiastes 1:2 — Vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes.” (Latin Vulgate), translated: “‘Vanity of Vanities!’ says the Preacher.” This biblical book meditates on the passing away of all things connected to this physical world.

This Pieter Claesz painting is replete with objects depicting the passing of time, loss and death. The newly-rich Dutch Calvinists were painfully conscious of this. However, when carefully assembling a collection of possessions and then rendering them into art, they found a way to relay the story of the one who possessed all this, long after s/he exited the earth’s stage.

I took this opportunity to explain to the students the ground of my own passion for rendering watercolor still lifes. Projecting the image below, I urged them to try and memorize every object in the assembly before moving on to the next slide.

Fishing Memories

Fishing Memories

After a moment, I then projected this story I composed:

He’s No Longer Here 

When the neighbors hammered the padlock off the deceased man’s fishing shed, they peered inside the darkened room with sadness at the world of memories their dear friend had left behind.  Guarding the assembly from its high perch, the kerosene lantern called to memory nights spent on the Mississippi River dikes, waiting for catfish that would find their way to the Griswold skillet.  The Canada Dry crate was the old fisherman’s stool for the nightlong vigils. 

Bass fishing featured the Garcia Mitchell open-faced reel and the vintage wooden plugs for the area lakes and ponds.  In his retirement years, fly fishing took over, and the old man delighted in the long road trips in his Dodge pickup to the Colorado Rockies where he would not be heard from for weeks at a time.. The battered suitcase was his lifelong road companion, as was the dark leather knapsack that he bought from an old leathershop on the dusty streets of Athens during his European excursions.  

The old man had not been heard from for more than a week, and the inquiring neighbors were saddened to enter his home and find him in his final resting place—his favorite recliner in the small front room of his ramshackle house.  His cup was still half-filled with the Dining Car Coffee he relished throughout his years working on the Frisco railroad.  Now, only his possessions remained to tell his life’s story.

The notion of memento mori, to me, does not have to be limited to death; the sentiment of loss can also be tied to a loved one who has moved on. Another still life of mine attempts to relay that story:

Moving On

Moving On

And here is my story:

The young man was up late again, bedding down in the store room of the old filling station.  He had closed the place at dark, but was too engrossed in his college studies to pack up the books and head for his garage apartment in the next county.  So, with the owner’s permission, he would spend another night in this shack, amidst the smells of gasoline, oil, pit grease and the grime that had built up over two generations.  The Texaco station was anchored on historic Route 66 in an obscure town east of Amarillo, Texas.  Interstate commerce had all but obliterated the sleepy town, and as soon as this fellow graduated from the community college, he would depart as well.  The local townspeople and patrons had no knowledge or regard for the things that stirred the soul of this young man.  His volumes of Thoreau, Frost, Whitman and Twain had opened to him worlds beyond this community.  And his few camping possessions stored in this room (Griswold frying pan, stove top percolator, kerosene lantern, Maxwell House tin) were the tether that kept him bound to the wild.  He would be packing up his gear in a week and leaving without notice.  It was time to emerge from this cocoon and embrace the world that was calling out to him.

This day, though not yet half-over, has seemed to be filled with gods. The quiet time and space for reading, reflecting, writing and making art has been a soothing balm for my own weary soul. This Gift has been easy to embrace.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Ringing the Bell for Recess!

March 4, 2015
A Cozy Night in the Studio

A Cozy Night in the Studio

As I ponder’d in silence,

Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,

A Phantom rose before me with distrustful aspect,

Terrible in beauty, age, and power,

The genius of poets of old lands, 

As to me directing like flame its eyes,

With finger pointing to many immortal songs,

And menacing voice, What singest thou? it said,

Know’st thou not there is but one theme for ever-enduring bards? . . .

Walt Whitman, “As I Ponder’d in Silence”

At 8:50 this evening, the joyful message arrived: “Due to inclement weather, classes tomorrow are cancelled!” I felt like an elementary student when the recess bell rings. Two days ago, I scratched out some time to play with and blog my “Harold and the Purple Crayon” watercolor sketch, and just ached to return to the studio yesterday, but too much school stuff intervened, and next thing I knew, the hour was late and I had to retire to bed. Today was a grueling A. P. Art History stretch of classes. But now, I’m free again, a sailor on a 24-hour pass! A student sprinting toward the swing set!

For a few days, I’ve wanted to begin a series of charcoal sketches of a bust I own of Democritus. He sits peering at me through the darkness, just outside the pallor of my desk lamp late nights and pre-dawn mornings. And as I study, I’m always conscious of his presocratic contribution toward the discussion of what lies at the core of Being. The Greek word archē is difficult to translate with facility. We use it to form words like archaeology, architect, archbishop, etc. It refers to the chief, the source, the head, the first. The presocratic thinkers debated among themselves as to what it was that lay at the headwaters of all that Is.

The Whitman poem has haunted me recently, because he felt the chill from the witnesses of antiquity looking over his shoulder when he struggled to give birth to something sublime through his verses. I also feel that shudder when I’m thinking in solitude, writing in my journal, reading pensively, or leaning over a drafting table trying to carve onto the surface of paper some kind of image in the name of Art.

As temperatures outside slide into the 20’s and snow fills the black night sky, I’m delighed to be inside with coffee, my books and art supplies, the sounds of Mozart’s String Quartets coming from my turntable, and a heart filled with gratitude.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal whenI feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Crayon was Waiting this Morning

March 3, 2015

image

What a strange event this morning. Rising again at 5:00, believing a Quality morning beckoned, I crossed the dark and raining parking lot of my school in the predawn, and looking down at the steps, saw this crayon! I brought it inside, and now begin another amazing day.

Reaching for the Purple Crayon

March 2, 2015
An Attempt to Color My World

An Attempt to Color My World

The mind fits the world and shapes it as a river fits and shapes its own banks.

Annie Dillard, Living By Fiction

With these words, I drifted off to sleep around 1:00 this morning, knowing I would have only four hours of less-than-quality sleep. Nevertheless, when I rose at 5:00, I had Annie’s words still in my heart, and reached for a children’s book that I did not discover until only a few years ago: Harold and the Purple Crayon. I felt my pulse quicken as I re-read the text of this young lad creating his own environment, and I then determined that this would be an artful day. I would go forth and color my own world. I have a great job, I believe in what I do, and a wonderful perk of teaching is the daily invitation to create quality in life as you pass in and out of the classroom.

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. . . . The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

By 6:00, I was seated in the back of my darkened classroom, delighted with the cold, wet winter pre-dawn, and reminded that two winters ago I sat in this same place at the same hour and read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Stirred by the remembrance of Hemingway’s cold mornings spent in the rooftop Parisian apartment where he worked at perfecting his craft, I went to work on the first draft for this daily blog.

Once the students arrived around 7:30, the work day began, and it was a quality one for me. In A. P. Art History we looked at the Dutch and Flemish Baroque, focusing on Rembrandt and Rubens, then in Regular Art History we resumed our study of Leonardo da Vinci. I continued to draw new ideas concerning these creative spirits, not only from my own studies but also by well-placed queries from my engaging students. Together we worked at coloring this day.

Tonight was Open House. On a forty-degree rainy winter’s night, I knew not to anticipate large crowds. Three parents arrived to chat with me during the first ten minutes of the hour-long session, and that was that. Seated at my podium, I took out my draft of this blog and continued to push it along. Reflecting over a day that held plenty of creative surprises, I mused over all the people I’ve met throughout my life who hate their jobs, their daily routines. As for me, there have been some low moments over my twenty-six-year tenure as a teacher, but I can overwhelmingly testify that it has yielded a life overflowing with reward and daily creative opportunity.

Open House Night

Open House Night

Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, began working on his second novel that would be titled Something Happened. After working on it for ten years, he had yet to finish and publish the novel, and in an interview, all he could say of the work was: “I’m about two hundred pages in, and it’s about this guy–but I don’t know much about him–I know he has a job, but I don’t know what it is, or what he does. He has this family, but I don’t really know who they are or where they live, I don’t even know his name. He just goes to work and he comes home, and that’s about all.” That interview prompted me to purchase Something Happened, and my heart cried as I read the story of this man’s empty life, and how it reminded me of so many with whom I’ve visited throughout the years–successful people who felt empty, people who learned the art of making a living, but still didn’t know how to live.

I am writing this tonight to anyone out there who finds life empty and woefully short on meaning. It doesn’t have to be that way; you have the power within your own mind to create a meaningful, artful life. You have all the resources within your grasp. You have the purple crayon.

You are more than your daily job.

You are more than a member of your nuclear family.

You are more than a resident in your surrounding neighborhood.

You are Harold, and you wield the purple crayon. Go forth and color your world as you see fit. If today was a pale, colorless day, tomorrow does not have to be a repeat performance.

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Ongoing Search for Creative Alchemy

March 1, 2015

I am witnessing a unique physiological phenomenon: John Shade perceiving and transforming the world, taking it in and taking it apart, re-combining its elements in the very process of storing them up so as to produce at some unspecified date an organic miracle, a fusion of image and music, a line of verse. . . . Shade’s poem is, indeed, that sudden flourish of magic: my gray-haired friend, my beloved old conjurer, put a pack of index cards into his hat–and shook out a poem.

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

A veritable bouquet of benefits sprouted from this snowbound weekend. Perhaps an early spring is on the way after all. I’m posting two watercolors that just sold over the past few days. I always take pleasure in selling my original work, but it is so much sweeter when I know the patrons as friends, and these two paintings now belong to two quality men who have brought much more than money into my life. Visiting with them has reminded me of my first love: seeking ways to blend disparate elements of this world into some kind of original artistic composition, an alchemy if you please. My passion for flyfishing made possible the two watercolors posted above. But there is so much more to this complex life than flyfishing.

Preparing for tomorrow’s A. P. Art History session on Dutch and Flemish baroque art spurred my return to a fresh study of Peter Paul Rubens. Already I have enjoyed drinking from the fountains of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and when I came across the words posted above, I was reminded of Rubens’s rich tapestry of interests: the Greek and Latin language, classical philosophy and sculpture, Renaissance drawing and painting, travel, connecting with several dozen artists who were masters of various media. All this, accompanied by my privilege of writing a letter of recommendation for an amazing art student from my past, now accepted into the American University of Rome (wow, she will have access to those wonderful works copied by Rubens shortly after he became a master at age twenty-one).

I’m sincerely hoping to have some time tomorrow to return to the studio. After a weekend of listening to classical music, translating portions from ancient Greek and Latin texts, practicing some sketching of human anatomy, and reading from Nabokov, Annie Dillard and William Carlos Williams, I am ready to make some visual art. The hiatus has been too long. Fortunately I completed the last of my grading around 2:00 this morning, and feel that an albatross has been cut loose from around my neck. Hopefully, I’ll face a more positive fate than Coleridge did.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Good Day for Nesting

February 28, 2015
Still Grading, but in a Better Location

Still Grading, but in a Better Location

Right now, here in Paris, we have seven different nests. That’s not counting our old water mill, two hundred miles from Paris. I spend half my time rousting out, fixing up, furnishing these nesting places.

Rats’ nesting’s what it all is; can’t seem to keep myself from burrowing, digging in; always stuffing bits and pieces into one corner or another.

William Wharton, Scumbler

The Winter Wonderland! A second consecutive day,snowbound in Arlington, Texas (strangest of places for this to happen). Untold blessings have unfolded in this experience, probably the greatest was fulfilling this desire for nesting. Possessing zero skills for interior decorating, I nevertheless love the ongoing process of creating nests throughout my home. Today saw the emergence of several more reading nooks, small libraries, cozy corners with reading chairs and lamps, along with some alterations to my art studio and music rooms. Finding just the right niche for guitars, amps, drafting tables and writing desks has added to the pleasure. Though I still have this grading albatross about my neck, I find now a more suitable place to carry out my onerous task.

The stereo that has lived in the garage studio for a few years now has been moved to my living room, and what a delight I found in getting reacquainted with my old Pioneer turntable! About ten years ago, I received this second-hand turntable as a gift from my brother, and once word got out that I was saying Yes to vinyl, many friends starting unloading their collections on me, and I in turn began visiting vintage vinyl stores in Fort Worth, Arlington and St. Louis. This resulted in a shelf with a couple of hundred albums, many of which I have not yet heard. Today I put on Stephen Stills, Manassas (I have no idea who gave it to me, but I never took it out of its cover till now) and WOW! What an incredible sound! The turntable has spun all afternoon as I’ve revisited Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and a stack of Jazz albums awaits. At least I can grade to music well into the cold night.

My new reading nooks have been outfitted with Annie Dillard’s Living by Fiction and Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire. These wonderful creative spirits have provided wonderful, cozy company when I’ve taken breaks from the grading nemesis. The music studio has also provided a healthy diversion from a humdrum kind of task-driven day. The acoustic and electric guitars compete for my attention now, but that’s a good thing. So much music waits to be explored. I actually started writing a new composition of my own a few days ago and am glad to see it gaining momentum.

O.K., this has been a nice change of pace. Papers wait to be graded. Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

What is Quality?

February 28, 2015
Greek for "excellence"

Greek for “excellence”

The school was what could euphemistically be called a “teaching college.” At a teaching college you teach and you teach and you teach with no time for research, no time for contemplation, no time for participation in outside affairs. Just teach and teach and teach until your mind grows dull and your creativity vanishes and you become an automaton saying the same dull things over and over to endless waves of innocent students who cannot understand why you are so dull, lose respect and fan this disrespect out into the community. The reason you teach and you teach and you teach is that this is a very clever way of running a college on the cheap while giving a false appearance of genuine education.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Texas ice and snowfall accumulation managed to eliminate the first two days of school this week, and ended today’s at noon. I took my philosophy class out into the courtyard for a few minutes, because they wanted to see the fat snowflakes filtering through the pines. As they pranced about in the winter wonderland, I looked at this pristine sheet of white on one of the benches, and decided to write in Greek uncials the word we translate as “excellence.” It’s a word that has driven me for years, elusive in its scope, yet always attractive with its possibilities.

I posted the Robert Pirsig quote because for a week now I’ve been dulled and neutered, not so much by teaching, but by grading, and I’m still not out from under the pile. But I resolve to blow away the last bit of grading this weekend so I can figure out where I am and what I want to do next. Leisure has been out of reach, and purpose has been even further, and I feel a deep dissatisfaction with this (no, I don’t want to post a whiny blog!). All of this is just to say: I’ll revisit quality this weekend in my art, my reading, my writing and my music. I’ve been bereft of quality due to a plethora of tasks, deadlines, responsibilities, etc. It’s time to get back to things that matter.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A New Greeting Card

February 23, 2015
My Latest Greeting Card

My Latest Greeting Card

Spurred by depression, they strove to create imaginary worlds. to compensate for what was missing in their lives, to repair the damage they had suffered, to restore to themselves a sense of worth and competence.

Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return to the Self

Having a day off has been filled with reward, especially with the icy conditions making travel unwise. It has been the perfect day for staying indoors with coffee, books, music and an opportunity to turn to artistic pursuits. After hours of grading, I pushed aside the papers and returned to re-reading a favorite book of mine by Anthony Storr. This book has probably helped me more in my study of artists, philosophers and poets throughout history who have turned to their craft as a means of finding some measure of coherence in a world they found largely unsatisfying. I don’t count myself among them, but still I love to retreat into my private world of ideas and see what I can put on paper with words and images.

Returning to my studio I have attempted to complete a couple of still lifes begun weeks ago. Though my fly fishing still life may not be finished, I decided to go ahead and compose a written piece about it and create a new greeting card (it’s been months since my last card was printed). Above I’ve posted a picture of it as it stands now. I’m inside of a month from returning to the art festival circuit so I’m starting to feel the push to get some new merchandise ready for display and sale.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

jkljlj

Astonished at a Painting of an Apple?

February 23, 2015

apple

With an apple I will astonish Paris.

Paul Cezanne

I will admit I have yet to understand Cezanne’s sentiment in that statement. Paris and the rest of the world would be astonished at his innovative style and the way he ushered in a new century of modernist painting, but I’m still not sure how he believed his work on the apple would create astonishment. Nevertheless I have wanted to watercolor an apple for years and finally got around to attempting it this winter, and hope to continue improving in that subject. The garage has felt progressively colder the past three hours I’ve been at work there, so I’ve decided to return to the warmth of my house and spend the rest of the day “nesting” (and grading) inside. I’m glad I worked up the initiative to enter the garage and attempt to get the watercolor groove back. Perhaps I’ll get some more accomplished at my living room drafting table. We’ll see. At any rate, this has been an excellent start to the day.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Gratifying Return to the Watercolor Studio

February 23, 2015
Return to the Garage Studio in Winter

Return to the Garage Studio in Winter

Abstraction’s original meaning is “to select from,” in the Latin; though I will not say, as is so easy for defenders of abstract art, that consequently all art is abstract because all art is selected; this is simply to win a dialectical point–in the Socratic sense of dialectical. Au Contraire. What is selected is selected on the basis of the most concrete, personal feeling.

Robert Motherwell, October 1959

With today’s school closure, I just learned that the grading deadline has been extended an extra day. With a shout, I returned to my garage studio that I had not visited in nearly a month. Yes, it is 28 degrees outside and ice has covered everything, but this electric space heater works in the garage, two still life arrangements are still set up out here, and the paintings have been waiting my return. So far, I have spent all my time this morning darkening this fly fishing composition over more than 50% of its area, making the background darker and deepening the tones of all the middle values, leaving the highlighted areas untouched. The overall look of the painting has changed profoundly to my eye, but I like the change, and there is certainly no going back. I’ll let it dry out awhile and then return for another look. Meanwhile I have other paintings in progress that have languished for weeks. I’m ecstatic now for this opportunity to get back to them.

Motherwell’s argument posted above has been buzzing in my head today while working on this still life, trying to bring it to fruition. One of my high school art teachers, Mr. Scucchi, was always trying to get me to understand this–no matter how naturalistic my style in rendering subjects in paint, the quality of the composition would always come down to abstraction, particularly to selection. I tried to listen, but didn’t really come to appreciate this until much later. My college painting professor, Dr. Unger, also urged this lesson upon me. Both instructors are now deceased, and I regret that I cannot tell them personally that I now get it, and wish I could tell them directly. I’ll always be grateful for their patience and belief in me as I struggled with these matters. Lingering over this still life today has drawn me closer to their spirits and I’ve enjoyed this feeling of kinship. In many ways, their spirits hover about my work.

What a wonderful way to spend a day off. Incidentally, I still graded for two hours this morning, and will do quite a bit more today. But what a joy knowing that the deadline is no longer tonight.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


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