An Experiment in Psychic Automatism

March 27, 2015
An Experiment in Psychic Automatism

My Afternoon of Psychic Automatism

Psychic automatism offered Motherwell a means of countering his will. Doodling thus represented for him “a process in which one’s whole being is revealed, willingly or not.” Later, after he read a useful book on the subject of children’s art, he replaced the term “doodling” with the more accurate “artful scribbling,” but the effect was the same. It was not a style, but a method that tapped deep roots and became a means of access, a way of getting to the authentic self, the preconscious. He liked Saul Steinberg’s designation of it as “the brooding of the hand.” 

Edward Hirsch, The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration

After two consecutive days of horrendous grading (the bane of my teaching profession), I found myself too wiped out this afternoon to pursue a studied watercolor, or even to read a book. I’ve been focusing on Robert Motherwell for a couple of days now, especially his early journey into surrealism and his theories of psychic automatism. I’ll write more of this when I’m not so wiped out. I really need to retire to bed, as the day has been exhausting.

Being unable to focus my mind the way I prefer, I decided to follow Motherwell’s lead and just “let go” as my high school art teacher continually urged me to do.  I laid out twelve large sheets of paper, mixed several colors of ink, drew out a large watercolor brush, and let my hand doodle over each page without any sense of a priori judgment. I just let the hand move, and watched what happened, deciding each time when to stop and move on to the next space. After setting them aside and gazing at them from a distance for awhile, I then decided it was time for my 2-mile exercise walk, and away I went. I have not looked at the ink doodlings since, choosing only to post this picture of what I did late this afternoon in a drowsy fog.

More on this later.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Every Day a Hook, a Mantra, a Rai·son d’ê·tre

March 26, 2015
My Newly-Furbished Working Space at Home

My Newly-Furbished Working Space at Home

If you can’t find your inspiration by walking around the block one time, go around two blocks–but never three.

Robert Motherwell

At the close of each day, I find myself scribbling in my journal, and smiling inwardly at a TV show long ago that I refused to watch–Doogie Howser, M.D. I seem to recall that he closed his episodes with a computer diary that he pecked at before going to bed. Oh well, I’ve done that since the 1980’s in my handwritten journals, but I owe this practice to Henry David Thoreau, not a fictional TV character.

I don’t have any art work to post from today, as it has been covered up in grading and school administrative details. However, as the day unfolded, I realized that it is my daily practice to find something, anything, to serve as a “cause” for the day. A reason to exist. Something toward which to strive. A mantra, if you please. So . . . as I finished my second class, the idea dawned on me to convert my third bedroom at home (which is always getting junked up) into yet another working space–a space to dream, to create, to read, to write, to work on art projects. It took awhile to carry out and store all the debris, but the photo above shows what I carried in and what I put on the walls. This is the right side of the room. The left side, which I worked on some time ago, is below:

Left-Hand Side of my New Working Space

Left-Hand Side of my New Working Space

Once everything was in place, I rewarded myself with an hour of reading and writing while sunk into a comfy sofa. Robert Motherwell and James Joyce provided my mental and aesthetic stimulation for the day, amazing me with their remarkable erudition and creative eros.  My artistic style has never approached that of Motherwell, but I love his mind, his command of language, and truly enjoy looking at his art. My complete collection of Motherwell books were stacked on the study table, and I perused them for an entire hour, before leaving for my daily two-mile exercise walk. As I read and recorded my observations, I looked occasionally to see what was before me now,a more pleasing environment:

The View from the Sofa

The View from the Sofa

I am not trying to make a mountain out of a mole-hill; I feel badly that I allowed a valuable room in my house to fill up with debris and become a storage unit. Now I can live here, work here, relax here.

Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting to report today. But this was my mantra for the day, my highlight of the day. And I can now close on a positive note.  More and better tomorrow, I trust.

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.

Plein Air Painting and Thoughts from an Ancient Chinese Canon

March 25, 2015
Winter Tree Study in Stovall Park

Winter Tree Study in Stovall Park

The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If he does not see anything within him, he should give up painting what he sees before him.

Caspar David Friedrich

Though we travel the world to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today, while re-reading the Six Canons from Xie He, a sixth-century critique of art from a Chinese thinker, I thought upon the first canon: Engender a sense of movement through spirit consonance. One interpreter renders the final item “spirit resonance” or “vitality.” It was said that the Chinese critics thought if a work of art did not contain “spirit resonance”, then there was no reason to spend any more time looking at it. I decided to ponder this while taking my exercise walk tonight, and take my supplies with me just in case. As I strolled Stovall Park, I came across this bare-bones winter tree waving in the rising winds signaling a possible storm. I set up an easel, the storm moved around me, though there was some drizzle (it’s watercolor, so no bother), and after thirty minutes I decided to stop with what I had. Just as last weekend, when I gazed into the tree tops at Richard Greene Linear Park, I found myself attracted to the movement of the limbs in the crown of the trees, gently dancing in the high winds. This is a study I want to pursue further, as I have never been satisfied with my tree studies in paintings. For most of my life, I have admired the anatomy of trees in winter, with all their contours exposed, and wished to capture them on paper. Finally I’m getting around to trying more than just once or twice. I cannot explain my connection with nature, but I’ve always been moved by Emerson’s words from his first book Nature:

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

Stopping after 30 Minutes

Stopping after 30 Minutes

I am not a horse person. I do not ride. But I’m always amused that when I set up an easel adjacent to an empty pasture, it doesn’t stay empty very long. I don’t pretend to know horse psychology, don’t know if they expect me to feed them, reach out to them, or if they’re just curious at the new side show. But I do love their company, and think few animals are more magnificent than horses.

One Should Never Paint Alone

One Should Never Paint Alone

Thanks for reading. It’s been another good day and night.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Late Night Ruminations Concerning Artistic Authenticity

March 24, 2015
Staring at Watercolor Sketches Late at Night

Staring at Watercolor Sketches Late at Night

see in painters prose writers and poets. Rhyme, measure, the turning of verses which is indispensable and which gives them so much vigor, are analogous to the hidden symmetry, to the equilibrium at once wise and inspired, which governs the meeting or separation of lines and spaces, the echoes of color, etc. . . . But the beauty of verse does not consist of exactitude in obeying rules, when even the most ignorant eyes see at once any lack of attention to them. It resides in a thousand secret harmonies and conventions which make up the power of poetry and which go straight to the imagination.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, September 19, 1847

In my art history classes, we are neck-deep in the opposing theories of the Neoclassical and Romantic painters of the 18th and 19th centuries. I never really know just how much of this content (if any) resonates with my students, but it makes my blood pump hotter, and quickens my pulse. This debate is not merely academic with me, as the personal matters extend all the way back to my college days over forty years ago. In those days, I was tagged as Neoclassical, though they used a different vocabulary to describe my work then.

The debate divides painters between the drafting, compositional, structural ones (Neoclassical) and the painterly, organic, emotional ones (Romantic). I have always been tagged with the former–I draw, I structure, I try to discern rules for quality compositions when I make art. My college professors said my oil paintings were “colored drawings.” They were right. In the ensuing years, I have found my niche in watercolor because I regard this medium as an extension of drawing, and it feels natural to me.

But now in my senior years, I feel things more deeply, embrace beauty more passionately. And when I regard my own work, I continually wonder how one finds the key to creating art for an emotional response rather than a rational one. I find some comfort in reading that Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper struggled with the same sentiments. They feaered that label of being “illustrators” and “technicians” rather than artists.

Another Exercise Walk Yields a Winsome Subject

Another Exercise Walk Yields a Winsome Subject

When I took my exercise walk this evening, I was held by the attraction of this magnificent tree glowing in the setting sun. As I gazed at it, charged with emotional energy, I thought of my own recent attempts to render trees in watercolor. And I wondered what it would take to raise the quality of such paintings from the standard of illustration to one of beauty. How could I learn to paint trees with a druidic feel, rather than illustrative, such as one finds in an encyclopedia?

My apologies if this entry comes across as rambling. But this is where I am tonight, and I’m fascinated with these conflicting notions that have coexisted in the art world for centuries.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

Rebuilding My House Afresh

March 23, 2015
A Walk in the Cool of the Evening

A Walk in the Cool of the Evening around Stovall Park

 . . . put no trust in any thought that is not born in the open . . . 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Reader beware: With this blog entry, I’m filling in the gaping chasm of the past couple of weeks.

The past two weeks have kept me, for the most part, on the road and out of my house. Hence, the blog hiatus. But now I’m clawing my way back to the life that eluded me. Most of the past two weeks have been good, indeed sublime. But I have missed the sweetness of solitude and stillness. This evening the weather was so delicious that I dropped all my school work, pulled on my walking shoes and drove to the nearest park for a leisurely two-mile stroll. Nietzsche certainly called this one right: there is indeed an invigorating pulse to the kinds of thoughts we produce when we are ambulatory and feeling physically stretched. As I breathed the clean air, thought better thoughts, and considered the possibility of working this exercise into a disciplined routine, I remembered, “Oh yeah, the Blog.”

When spring break commenced two weeks ago, a high school friend whom I last saw in 1972 contacted me, purchasing one of my watercolors.The timing could not have been better. I chose to drive the painting to St. Louis to deliver to him personally, and visit my parents for the first time since Christmas. The windshield time from Fort Worth to St. Louis was soothing to a great degree, as I chose to drive through the cool moist night, arriving about 8:00 in the morning. Visiting with my family and then seeing my high school comrade for the first time in over forty years was unspeakably wholesome. I wish I could have chatted with him for a week, as age had not subtracted from him one iota of his mental quickness and interest in the same matters of life that keep my attention.

Cedar Two

Cedar Two

Cedar One

Cedar One

While in St. Louis, I attempted a pair of plein air watercolors of a cedar growing adjacent to my parents’ driveway. It had been awhile since I had done this kind of watercolor sketching, and the time spent working on these gave me a deep-seated sense of satisfaction.

Bowman Gallery

Bowman Gallery

Driving back to Texas, I allowed myself one day of rest before hitting the road again, this time south to the Gulf. The small town of Portland, just east of Corpus Christi, is where the Dinah Bowman gallery is that carries some of my work and invites me on occasion to do a watercolor workshop. Nine enthusiastic students were awaiting my arrival and we spent two days together in perpetual wonder. I am still moved by what I saw of their creations.

Watercolor Workshop

Watercolor Workshop

The two days were splendid, as we worked together, exploring watercolor and talking of its possibilities. My former student Mike Catlin now manages the gallery and is the one who brought me into their fold. Dinah is a very well-connected artist in the artist and university circles in south Texas and her energy and ideas kept my head spinning. I was sorry to have only two days to invest in that territory, as so many artistic possibilities thrive there.

Returning to Arlington, I resumed high school and college duties, and devoted every hour of the evening till midnight, getting ready for a major festival: Art on the Greene, held at Richard Greene Linear Park in north Arlington.

My Booth at Art on the Greene

My Booth at Art on the Greene

The weather for this Friday-through-Sunday festival sucked beyond all description, with heavy rains and cold weather soaking the park Friday and Saturday, successfully driving away nearly all the potential patrons. Sunday was a better day, weather-wise and patron-wise, but not enough to make up for the dreary pair of days preceding. I did manage a pair of plein air watercolor sketches of winter trees as I sat outside my booth with nothing better to do.

First Plein-Air Watercolor Sketch

First Plein-Air Watercolor Sketch

2nd Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Second Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Watercoloring never ceases to bring me abundant pleasure, and I never tired of focusing on the trees towering above me, thinking of all those splendid Andrew Wyeth drybrush studies that have always peaked my enthusiasm.

A new week has commenced today, and with it another series of grading deadlines, meetings, and professional development requirements. Tomorrow will be a strenuous day with two meetings added on to the normal teaching schedule. Scheduling disasters such as that leave me in a grouchy mood, but I figure if I get enough sleep tonight, having exercised pleasantly with the evening walk, that I may perhaps be sufficient for tomorrow’s demands.

Closing Out a Beautiful Night in my Favorite Spot

Closing Out a Beautiful Night in my Favorite Spot

Thanks for reading. I anticipate that I’ll be more consistent in blogging this week.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

“Rain Air” Replaces Plein-air

March 21, 2015

image

My second attempt at Plein-air watercoloring was aborted by a rain storm. It’s hard to stay motivated at an art festival when weather chases the patrons from the park.

Practicing Some Plein Air Sketching at the Festival

March 21, 2015

image

Still Tugging at the Strings

March 11, 2015
A DailyExercise

A Daily Exercise

T R U T H

How the devil do I know

if there are rocks in your field,

plow it and find out.

If the plow strikes something

harder than earth, the point

shatters at a sudden blow

and the tractor jerks sidewise

and dumps you off the seat–

because the spring hitch

isn’t set to trip quickly enough

and it never is–probably

you hit a rock. That means

the glacier emptied his pocket

in your field as well as mine,

but the connection with a thing

is the only truth that I know of,

so plow it.

“Truth” by James Hearst

My head is finally beginning to clear after a frenetic series of days. I was thrilled to make a sale of one of my watercolors to a friend I’ve known from high school, living in the St. Louis area. My parents and siblings still live there, so I packed my Jeep and departed Saturday night, driving the entire night, to get there, deliver it, and enjoy my family. But business has also called me back to Texas, so I rose early Tuesday and drove back (about 10.5 hours each way). During all that windsheld time, followed by quality conversations with my family whom I see so infrequently, there has been plenty of time to think about what drives me the most–the creative process. I strove to practice creative endeavors while away, and continued that today, despite a busy schedule.

While in the St. Louis area, I attempted a pair of plein air watercolor sketches of a cedar growing up beside my parents’ driveway.

Cedar One

Cedar One

Cedar Two

Cedar Two

No matter how crushed my schedule, I really enjoy drawing out the simple watercolor supplies and working on fast sketches such as these. I’ve never felt that I express this properly, but there is a connection I feel with the subject I’m trying to capture, a relationship so to speak. I know I cannot reproduce the object with photographic accuracy, but that’s not what this is about. I’m simply trying to capture its essence, to record some kind of recgonizable representation of what lies at the center of my visual focus. And that relationship, that feeling, is what I enjoy so much, even if the painting or drawing turns out crappy. I would be lying if I said I fished all day and had a wonderful day, soaking up the environment, even if I never got a strike. When I’m “skunked’ fishing, I don’t call it a good day. But I do have a good day–every time–when I’m painting or drawing, even if the piece of art doesn’t work out. The finished result never rises to the excellence of the experience, no matter how fine the finished piece may look. And I am so fascinated with drawing and painting that I stare at passing landscape and objects as I drive, figuring out compositions that would make the objects into decent art.

I posted James Hearst’s poem at the top, because that theme has been running through my consciousness throughout this harried day of packing and organizing for a watercolor workshop I’ll teach soon. Recently I have made myself a promise that a day would not go by without my practicing my guitar and my art. Too many times I’ve griped about not being better at what I do, knowing full well that I will not get better, without practice, without daily application, without study, without discipline. Talent alone will not cut it. I’ve always known that, though I have not always practiced it. I am always running into people who call themselves frustrated artsists or musicians. Yet these frustrated folks never practice their craft; they only complain about being frustrated. I know there is no royal road to improvement. In spite of a harried stretch of recent days, I took my guitar and art supplies with me and got them out daily, telling myself I have no excuse and need to stop griping. The “connection” with a thing is the only thing we can know, so we should “plow it.” So today, I have plowed, with guitar and watercolor brush, even though I had a million details to tend surrounding the business I’m trying to run.

Thanks for reading. I’ll keep plowing.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Plein Air, Second Version

March 10, 2015

image

A Leisure Plein-air Afternoon

March 9, 2015

image


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