Altar Building

Early Sunday Morning in the Studio

Early Sunday Morning in the Studio

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

—Introibo ad altare Dei. (I’ll approach the altar of God)

James Joyce, Ulysses

A friend whom I highly respect yesterday jestingly referred to me as “the James Joyce of watercolor.”  I liked the sound of that, but know in my heart that I’m not worthy of it.  Joyce laid out his credo in the introduction to his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, quoting from Ovid’s Metamorphosis:

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

The words are translated “And he applied his spirit to obscure arts.”  I personally stand in awe of all the creators of our past who have pushed the boundaries into new frontiers for the arts we enjoy so much.  As for me, I still feel that I am the student, the technician, yet still I read in wonder the penetrating discussions of those who tried to get to the bottom of aesthetics, and recently Joyce has held my attention in this regard.

Joyce opened Ulysses (opening my blog above) with words that many interpret as his way of parodying the Roman Catholic mass.  I was not brought up a Catholic, and I’m not making fun of any religious institution with this blog.  I was a pastor long ago, and though I no longer practice that as a profession, my “spiritual” side has not diminished–I still approach what I do with a deep sense of devotion and passion.  Entering the studio on Sunday morning, of all days, was just as precious as any other day or night that I have approached this “altar.”  I may be reading too much into their biographies, autobiographies, or journals, but I really believe Twain, Hemingway, Joyce, Frost and a host of others approached their writing desks with a sense of awe of the sublime, a sense of spiritual depth, that they were not mere technicians or salespersons hawking their products.  I believe they felt something that goes beyond words, and that is what happens to me when I study, write or enter the studio to create art.  I’m moving into another dimension, and love it so.  I am approaching the altar in a spirit of worship, expectancy.  I recall an argument in a Sinclair Lewis novel I read decades ago, and loved, Arrowsmith:

You think Gottlieb isn’t religious, Hinkley.  Why, his just being in a lab is a prayer.

The med students were arguing over the religious state of a German scientist who would not engage in the compulsory chapel practices of the medical school.  The young Arrowsmith knew that the man was not orthodox, but devout in his pursuit of the truth through his medical studies.

I doubt that I’ll ever be able to convey the wealth of good will I experience in the quiet moments of solitude when I’m searching out the sublime.  This morning, before returning to work in my studio, I came across these words in my re-reading of Thoreau’s Walden:

We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.  A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.  Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.  The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervis in the desert.  The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day,  hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can “see the folks,” and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate, himself for his day’s solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night, and most of the day without ennui and “the blues;” but he does not realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.

It’s been a quiet Sunday, but it isn’t yet noon.  I can only hope for more quiet as the day unfolds.  The freedom to pursue these matters engaging my mind and spirit have made it a very enriching day so far.

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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