The Visitation

A Day to Re-Calibrate

Where “two or three are gathered together” the Gods flee away!

John Cowper Powys, A Philosophy of Solitude

This morning, the rain-soaked back yard shines in the northern light through the open blinds of my living room windows.  It is fifty degrees on this north Texas morning, and wet from the past couple of days of rain.  No sun is visible, and that makes the grey morning even more inviting for me.

Sickness has visited me, as is to be expected when one does too much and reposes too little.  Nevertheless, I had to rise at 6:00 this morning to place lesson plans on my desk for the substitute.  Returning home, I was unable to sleep further, so I put on the coffee, then printed watercolor images on one hundred greeting cards for my upcoming art festival.  I still have to print the one hundred texts on the backside, but I’ll do that later.  I’m weak now, and need some down time.

Relaxing into my reading chair with my second cup of coffee, I pulled at random from my bookcase a journal of mine from 2003 (I’ve been keeping them since 1986–over 120 volumes now).  For weeks I have been craving solitude, quiet reflective “me” time, some kind of quasi-religious “visitation” of the muses–anything to make me feel sublime and creative once more.  I have had little-to-none of that for weeks now, and I don’t like living this way.  There has been simply too much job-related responsibility and demand.

The fire fell when I read the following passage I recorded from 2003 (and have since forgotten completely!) drawn from a book I was reading at that time: A Philosophy of Solitude, by John Cowper Powys:

Only when the soul is alone can the magic of the universe flow through it.

It needs silence for the murmur of the long centuries to grow audible, for the mystery of the cosmic procession to make itself felt.

And this silence can be attained in the maddest hurly-burly of the most crowded city.  Material noises, material uproar, cannot interfere with it.

What destroys it are the crowd-thoughts, the vulgar clamour made by the thoughts that are no-thoughts.

Life is full of mysterious Presences voyaging to and fro; Presences that are god-like.  But these Presences can only be caught upon their airy journeys by minds that have learnt the secret of being alone.

To converse with the Gods you must become as the Gods; and this means that you must cultivate loneliness.  Where “two or three are gathered together” the Gods flee away!

I removed my glasses and simply whispered–“Wow.”  Then I drew out my pen and scribbled three pages of gratitude in my current journal.  What a rush!

In the midst of this Quiet, an idea began to form in my mind about my own watercolor approach, my own theory of aesthetics.  Over the past week, my Advanced Placement Art History classes have been trying to articulate the ancient Greek ideal of classical beauty as expressed in sculpture and architecture.  The exercise in that realm has provoked me to try and find out my own personal standard for beauty.  Finally this morning, something began to take shape and make sense to me:

What I love to do in watercolor composition is called “vignette” by some–I like to leave undeveloped, white areas around the perimeter of my paintings.  I often choose to detail my focal area with as much precision as possible, then as the eye moves toward the periphery of my composition, I choose to diminish detail and fade altogether into white borders.  I have often said that this is what our eye does–it focuses on one small area, while the surrounding areas go out-of-focus.  I have also read those who use the darkroom analogy of developing film–the image slowly emerges as it lays in the pool of developing flud.

Years ago, a judge who awarded Best of Show to one of my watercolors titled “Cold Desolation” noted that two of my watercolors in the competition featured surrounding white, undeveloped areas.  The judge expressed appreciation for this, saying that these undeveloped areas left room for the viewer to enter the composition with his/her own imagination free to complete the picture.

Cold Desolation

Cold Desolation

New Mexico Route 66

New Mexico Route 66

I realize now that my favorite way of doing philosophy is to enter into fragments of readings rather than complete systems, so that I may stir in my own ideas.  I prefer reading from the literary fragments of the Pre-Socratics, from the aphorisms of Nietzsche, Emerson and Thoreau.  I love reading from the Autobiography of William Carlos Williams.  I am able to move about and think freely within the poems of Walt Whitman.  How many times have I heard a guitar player express frustration when invited to jam with a band, only to find out that the band members filled up the music so completely that there was no room for him to insert a lead riff or lay in power chords–a great wall of sound, walling out any would-be musical intruders.

I think I may be on to something–I want to explore further this aesthetic theory of focal points and peripheral elision.  As my mind picks around among the truncated monuments, sentence fragments and musical phrases,  I hope to find a way to translate these ideas into a watercolor aesthetic.

Once again, drawing from Powys:

Thus in the first and greatest of all arts, the art of concentrated self-consciousness, the profit to be derived from the utterers of mystical “logoi’, from Heraclitus down to Goethe, is far greater than the value which accrues to us from any rounded and completed systems.

Thanks always for reading.  I hope this has made some sense.

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4 Responses to “The Visitation”

  1. lifeofawillow Says:

    Wonderful writing. Truly.


  2. drawdoodle Says:

    Found your blog thru google when I googled “best watercolor artists”or something like that and have been visiting off and on for 3 days..haha! Your students are very lucky to have you as their teacher….we all need real life mentors! And i understand your drive and passion to be in your studio. I’m a bit obsessed that way, but I find that it’s the ppl in my life that help me maintain that artsy- work balance. I need them. I love your writing and your art…would love to take an en plein air class from you one day! Just wanted to drop a line cuz this is such an interesting blog,Thank You!


    • davidtripp Says:

      Wow, your response could not have come at a better time, thank you. I am just now coming off an exhausting weekend and gearing up to return to the classroom tomorrow, and then I have to give a watercolor demonstration before an art guild tomorrow night. I’ve been struggling with self-doubt the past hour or two and have tried to find a way to settle down, focus on what I need to do tomorrow night, and just trust that I’ll do the best I can. You have no idea what a boost you just gave me. I appreciate your remarks very much, thank you.


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