Plein Air Painting and Thoughts from an Ancient Chinese Canon

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.

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2 Responses to “Plein Air Painting and Thoughts from an Ancient Chinese Canon”

  1. createarteveryday Says:

    The horses respond to your gentleness and appreciation for them. Love that Emerson quote. And really enjoying your journey with your artwork. (Oh, if I could paint and draw like you! But that’s a discussion for a different day.) Another terrific post. Thanks for sharing it. It’s almost Friday!


    • davidtripp Says:

      What a nice thing to say, thank you. The horses always appear gentle to me, and I love being near them. I don’t know how to respond to your druid question of yesterday, except to say I’ve always loved the sounds of wind in the trees and felt Emerson’s sentiment about their acknowledgment of my presence. Thank you for your compliments about my art – I love making it, but it never reaches my expectations.

      Liked by 1 person

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