Setting Our Sails to Catch the Wind

3 x 4' Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

3 x 4′ Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

Thoughts let us into realities.  Neither miracle, nor magic, nor any religious tradition, not the immortality of the private soul, is incredible, after we have experienced an insight, a thought.  I think it comes to some men but once in their life, sometimes a religious impulse, sometimes an intellectual insight.  But what we want is consecutiveness.  ‘T is with us a flash of light, then a long darkness, then a flash again.  The separation of our days by sleep almost destroys identity.  Could we but turn these fugitive sparkles into an astronomy of Copernican worlds!

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Inspiration”

For a couple of days now, I have had the luxury of lingering over good books, scribbling out a few journal ideas, and making some stabs at some sketches.  And today I even broke the surface on a watercolor that had hardened from neglect over the past couple of weeks.  It was nice to pick up the brush again, feeling it had been ripped out of my grasp by an unforgiving work routine replete with deadlines and demands.  Every time I swear “Never again,” it somehow happens again.  Believe me, I don’t ask for it.

I cannot say that I have accomplished inspiring results, or that I have felt the winds of inspiration.  But I believe those breezes will stir again.  I am old enough now not to despair as I had in earlier years, when spiritual barrenness seemed to set in.  Perhaps my antidote for such despair comes from experience, or even from reading the works of former creators who chafed when they felt that inspiration had fled them.  Emerson’s “Terminus” comes to mind, as also Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”

Emerson encouraged the 1837 graduating class of Harvard with his commencement address, knowing they would go out into the world and face those times when inspiration cools.  He told them that they could always find their tonic in books:

Books are for the scholars’ idle times.  When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings.  But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,–we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

(“The American Scholar”)

During spells of creative barrenness, I have found solace in contemporary works, like a pair of books by Julia Cameron: Finding Water: The Art of Perseverence and The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  Recently, I have also found genuine warmth in The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art.

For a number of years now, I have tried to keep my skills and aesthetic sensitivities sharp, always looking for ways to improve my craft.  From my youth I was aware of possessing a talent for visual art, but figured out years ago that talent is worthless without development and discipline.  Furthermore, if I am not producing art, who gives a hoot about whether or not I have talent?

The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything.  And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.

You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good . . . 

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: On the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING

I read years ago in an issue of Newsweek an article about creative geniuses, asking where are the Einsteins and Picassos of today.  The article pointed out that geniuses created a large amount of good work and a large amount of bad work–they just created, period.  I have never forgotten that.

Currently,  I am inspired to create, indeed am salivating at every opportunity to create.  But I cannot say that my results have been inspiring.  No worries though.  I’ll get it back.  The winds will blow again.  Meanwhile, I’m just trying to keep my sails adjusted, so as to catch those winds once they blow my way again.  Incidentally, I like to post current photos of my work, when I think it is good.  Since recently the stuff is not looking so hot, I’m posting a golden oldie.  This is one of about a dozen or so 3 x 4′ acrylic on canvas pieces I created years ago to hang in the library of the high school where I teach.  The librarian of that day requested a series of “book cover” canvases, asking me to design each cover instead of copying one that was already published (and copyrighted).  Here is how I would have designed a cover for Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, had a publisher asked (and paid) me.

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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4 Responses to “Setting Our Sails to Catch the Wind”

  1. drawdoodle Says:

    Hi David, all I can say is synchronicity…you see…tomorrow I have a post scheduled about my recent creative book stash and you’ve quoted from a few in my collection. I think these ebbs are good for us….I think there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes..inside us. After all we can’t be “on” all the time, we aren’t robots! Any way, glad I stopped by today….please check out my blog post tomorrow at….if you have time 🙂


  2. Xraypics Says:

    A couple of lessons for me in there – thankyou. Tony


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