Archive for April, 2015

When the Muses Whisper in the Night

April 12, 2015
Making Decisions for an Approaching Art Festival

Making Decisions for an Approaching Art Festival

That part of us that creates best is not a driven, disciplined automaton, functioning from willpower, with a booster of pride to back it up. This is operating out of self-will. You know the image: rising at dawn with military precision, saluting the desk, the easel, the drawing board . . . 

Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. . .

True, our artist may rise at dawn to greet the typewriter or easel in the morning stillness. But this event has more to do with a child’s love of secret adventure than with ironclad discipilne. What other people may view as discipline is actually a play date that we make with our artist child: “I’ll meet you at 6:00 A.M. and we’ll goof around with that script, painting, sculpture . . .”

Our artist child can best be enticed to work by treating work as play.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way 

Julia’s words here resonate with my adult life in ways that put a genuine spring in my step tonight. This blog has been virtually writing itself since Saturday evening, which didn’t actually end until I treated myself to breakfast at IHOP at 4 a.m. and then staggered wearily to my bed. Over the past few weeks I have felt imprisoned as I’ve gathered, sorted and inputted into the computer a year’s worth of receipts, records and figures to file my taxes. I was so beleaguered with all those details that by the time I finished and filed yesterday, the first thing I did was organize and record everything from the first quarter of this year. I’ll be damned if I ever let myself get caught like this again. I could report tomorrow to file my 2015 taxes if the period ended today. Working on taxes was grueling labor and required unfaltering discipline (because I wasn’t doing it throughout the year). But for me, reading, journaling and painting are play time, and though I have friends who have called me “disciplined” I see no discipine here–this is fun. This is recreation, and I love it.

I begin this post with the photo above, as I’ll be participating in a local art festival next weekend, and the time has arrived to gather my collection and make some decisions as to what to display in the booth and what to leave at home. A few paintings will need to be completed and matted, it appears. It felt great to look over my recent body of work once again, and pick up the brush to resume painting. It felt good to draw again, dream again, visualize again.

Reading and Writing Journal Reflections for Pure Pleasure

Reading and Writing Journal Reflections for Pure Pleasure

After a few hours of painting and planning, I then left the studio behind and retired to my recently reconfigured room down the hall to resume reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. This novel really engaged me a year ago, reading a copy from my school library. This past Christmas I purchased my own and have been taking heavy notes and recording countless observations from the text. I hold little in common with the writer’s philosophy, but this fiction story shows an outstanding knowledge of modern architecture, and the intrigue of the plot I find very gripping. As the night moved on, my imagination was unhinged and I truly enjoyed thinking over some of the excellent sentences recorded. Julia Cameron certainly called it right, when she spoke of these sessions as “play.”

Drawing Near the End of Another A. P. Art History Term

Drawing Near the End of Another A. P. Art History Term

My A. P. and Regular Art History classes are moving into their final grading period, so this evening I’ve returned to reading and planning the final sessions. The twentieth century has always fascinated me, and I like rising to the challenge of presenting the myriad of complex and short-run theories that stormed through that era. Tomorrow we will resume surrealism and I love talking about psychic automatism and how Roberto Matta passed that love on to Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists. I never know exactly how to convey to the students my deep love for the contributions of Motherwell. No one would see any visual symptoms of his art in my own creations, but his passion for study and writing are matters I feel on the deepest level. He remains one of the very few artists I know who was passionate about the writing and ideas expressed by James Joyce,calling him the “Shakespeare of modernism.” He said Joyce gave him the impetus to paint, and he has done the same for me. One of many reasons I love the study of art history is because the discipline frequently takes me into the realms of philosophy and literature.

Wading Through Several Decades of Journals

Wading Through Several Decades of Journals

Last Thursday, during a break from my lecturing, I picked up a stack of my old journals, and leafing through them, was surprised again and again to read observationss I had written so long ago that I no longer recall even thinking them. Sometimes I worry about that, wondering if aging is already causing me to lose vital memories. Thank God the journals served as nets for trapping some of these ideas in flight. But how exactly I can recall and organize things written across more than 130 volumes dating back to 1987 I have yet to determine. I would love for my collection of journals to serve as maps for organizing wonder. As they are, they present a lengthy chronological highway of disjointed details. Nevertheless, like old friends in conversation, they kept me company last night and into the wee hours of the morning over coffee until I decided to go for breakfast.

Back to Studio Work Sunday Afternoon

Back to Studio Work Sunday Afternoon

Reading portions of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town has induced me to return to some photos taken long ago of an old farmhouse I occupied back in 1987. These photos were taken within the last ten years, showing a structure ready to collapse. The interior is no longer inhabitable, but the century-old house was still livable for me in the late 80’s. The memories of living there, while I was in the dissertation phase of my Ph.D. studies, are sweet mingled with bitter. Nevertheless the worthier ones make me want to paint the house and land again, hopefully reviving some Proustian thoughts that deserve to be revisited. Perhaps in a later blog I’ll talk more about those things, as this painting grows.

muse 6

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.

Still Musing Over the Abandoned Gas Station

April 6, 2015
Making Some Final Decisions on this Composition

Making Some Final Decisions on this Composition

I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I laughed out loud when I read the above portion from Thoreau’s Walden yesterday. He’s convinced me that it is O.K. to talk about myself on the blog. I will present Thoreau to my Philosophy class after we finish Emerson’s work, which began today.

I’m posting the picture of my watercolor as it stands now, though not too much has changed since yesterday’s work. I’ve enriched the colors on the right pump more, and began detailing the left pump. More color was added to the shadowed portions of the station wall as well. I’m beginning to tinker more with colored pencil over my watercolor, as I purchased a set of 36 Prismacolor Verithin pencils. I used these several years back, but my supply has dwindled to less than a dozen short pencils, so I thought I would replenish my colors and see how they work over the dry watercolor. I’m also experimenting with graphite pencil in the grass while the paint is still wet, and so far, I like what’s emerging from this endeavor.

I spent the evening giving art lessons to a pair of precious friends that I don’t get to see nearly as much as I wish. Though it took me out of the studio for a few hours, I wouldn’t have traded my evening with them for anything. Thanks friends! You know who you are, and I hope you know how precious you are to me.

Thanks for reading, and thank you, Deanna, for making my art world much, much better this past week!

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Saddling Up the Academic Donkey to Ride Back to School

April 5, 2015
Working to Distribute the Darks and Lights

Working to Distribute the Darks and Lights

I do recall one time when I got to know him a little better, he called me in the office one day and he says to me, “Brownie,” he said, “Can you give me your idea of what imagination is?” And I said, “No I don’t have any idea.” He said, “Well, why don’t you think about it a couple of days and come back and we’ll talk about it.” But he never brought the subject up again. I’m very thankful, too.

Lynn Brown Jr., recalling a conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while working at Hartford Insurance Group.

Easter morning found me engulfed in a fifty-degree dark and rainy environment. Putting on the coffee, I sat down with an open journal and began reading selections from Anthony Storr’s Solitude that I had marked from earlier readings. As Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E Flat played in the background, my reading pointed me toward Willam Wordsworth’s “Prelude”. From earlier bouts of teaching English, I had read about “Prelude”, but with the work being of such great length, I had never gotten past the first page or two. Noting its autobiographical character, I moved to the Conclusion, then began to work backward, reading Book Fourteen. The segment paying tribute to our twin inseparable gifts of Imagination and Intellectual Love penetrated to my core the way I wish all reading would. I could hardly breathe as I read the following section, again and again:

         This spiritual love acts not, nor can exist

Without imagination, which in truth

Is but another name for absolute power

And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,

And reason, in her most exalted mood.

This faculty hath been the feeding source

Of our long labor: we have traced the stream

From the blind cavern whence is faintly heard

Its natal murmur; followed it to light

And open day; accompanied its course

Among the ways of Nature; for a time

Lost sight of it, bewildered and engulphed;

Then given it greeting as it rose once more

In strength, reflecting from its placid breast

The works of man, and face of human life;

And lastly, from its progress have we drawn

Faith in life endless, the sustaining thought

Of human being, Eternity, and God.

Imagination having been our theme,

So also hath that intellectual love,

For they are each in each, and cannot stand

Dividually.—Here must thou be, O Man!

Powers to thyself; no Helper hast thou here;

Here keepest thou in singleness thy state;

No other can divide with thee this work;

No secondary hand can intervene

To fashion this ability; ’tis thine,

In the recesses of thy nature, far

From any reach of outward fellowship,

Else is not thine at all.

William Wordsworth, “Prelude” Book Fourteen

Those precious words washed over me in the dim light of this rainy morning, and whispered comfort to my soul throughout the day. And now, at the opposite end of the day, seated next to my studio windows admitting the waning remnants of the late afternoon light, I read again this marvelous oracle. Imagination and Intellectual Love are offered to us as inseparable abilities, and no one else can work these powers for us–if they could, then the gifts would not be ours.

Throughout this day, as I continued to work on the watercolor posted above, I thought about my own personal history, revisiting and interpreting the unfolding of those years in much the same manner as Wordsworth in his own personal Prelude. I thought of my own childhood, nurtured in solitude as I was the oldest of my siblings by four years, not living in a neighborhood where children were available nearby to play. When I entered school, I did not know how to bond with the other strangers in class who already knew each other from kindergarten or church. I the stranger never sought a way to fit in with the crowd already familiar with itself. Daydreaming supplanted the teacher’s voice on a daily basis. Because I had artistic skills, I was provided encouragement and instruction to grow in that craft. Higher education showed me how to stock a toolbox with a variety of academic skills. The teaching profession in the decades following provided a daily laboratory for the construction of ideas, enabling me to build pyramids of truth and cathedrals of thought. In every stage of my life, two inseparable companions, Imagination and Intellectual Love, have affirmed me and given me the strength to explore these creative corridors. I’m grateful for this splendid Easter Day offered as a Gift to my existence. Thinking back over the years, meditating over this marvelous oracular text, and gazing at a painting under construction have worked together to build a beautiful day.

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to

            heaven;

 And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to aery nothing

A local habitation and a name.

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

That if it would but apprehend some joy,

It comprehends some bringer of that joy . . .

William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

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.

The Art that Lies Within

April 4, 2015
Trying to Bring the Art that is "In Me" onto the Paper "Before Me"

Trying to Coax the Art that is “In Me” onto the Paper “Before Me”

“Do you know that the Enright House is the most beautiful building in New York?”

“I know that you know it.”

“Roark, you worked in that quarry when you had the Enright House in you, and many other Enright Houses, and you were drilling granite like a . . .”

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Despite the many long hours devoted over the past three days to gathering tax data for filing, I’m still finding a little time to paint as well as read and write in my journal. I loved coming across this dialogue tonight between Dominique and her lover/adversary Roark. In the philosopy classes, I try to stress Aristotle’s notion of potentiality, namely, that the oak tree is already inside the acorn and it must come out. In theory I have always said this about art–the works are already inside us, waiting to be born. Michelangelo saw the human figure trapped inside the marble, and believed his only task was to extricate it. “The end is in the beginning,” said Anaximander, Aristotle, T. S. Eliot, and a host of other celebrated thinkers.

The Messy Studio, where Dreams Take Shape

The Messy Studio, where Dreams Take Shape

The gift of this day has filled me with a spirit of good will. Granted, I chafed at the long hours spent poring over spread sheets and receipts. But still, there were those sublime hours of reading and working on the watercolor. Even while working on taxes and reading from an excellent book, I kept the watercolor propped across the room from me, under a good clean light, so I could look up at it from time to time, and make decisions on the next step. I’m glad there is no deadline for its completion. The complimentary reds and greens are delicious to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the painting will take me tomorrow when the natural light returns through those windows.

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.

Sentries in a Quiet Space

April 3, 2015
Abandoned Gas Station,  Revisited

Abandoned Gas Station,
Revisited

Today we do not know how much we owe to Shakespeare. His work is no longer confined in his writings. All literature has been influenced by him. Life is permeated with the thoughts of Plato, with the thoughts of all great artists who have lived. If you are to make great art it will be because you have become a deep thinker.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I could not have scripted a better Good Friday, rising at daylight and getting many domestic, business and bookkeeping chores accomplished as well as finding some quality time to focus on this watercolor with no classes to teach or meetings to make. As the hours stretch deeper into the night, I am now filled with a deep sense of satisfaction, sipping my coffee, listening to Mozart’s Symphony 34, and poring over this watercolor to discern what to pursue in the morning when the natural light returns. This is one of those times I’m choosing not to paint under house lights. The northern lights bathing this watercolor over the past week have given me a different perspective of the dynamics of watercolor on paper.

The Henri quote above resonates with me. Throughout my schooling, I was a plodder when it came to thinking, often considering myself inferior to my peers. None of it came easily for me. By the time I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I had acquired an unquenchable curiosity and could not seem to learn fast enough. None of that has changed over time. For a number of years, I have mused over developing some kind of theory, a personal aesthetic to guide my art endeavors. I have created and organized a myriad of files on art theory, mingled with my own essays on the subject, and can honestly say I feel no closer to figuring it out than I did five years ago. I just love to watercolor, and when I’m focused on a subject, eveything else seems to melt away, most of all time. And as I paint, ideas emerge from the gloom and comingle with others. I love thinking over things I have read in philosophy, theology, literature and art history. And I love the feel of my mind moving through those subjects unbridled as the brush continues to work its way over the surface of the painting. Sometimes I fantasize that the two sides are playing off of each other.

I am referring to his pair of abandoned gas pumps as “sentries” because I see a certain personality, or demeanor in their posturing. And I’m trying to find a way to make a pleasing complementary color scheme with the green foliage behind the red staging area. I’m still not sure if I’m going to keep the Texaco oil can that I inserted on a whim in the window (I still laugh as I recall N. C. Wyeth taking Andrew’s brush and scrubbing out an unnecessary object in his painting under construction, brusquely saying: “You don’t need that.”). And there are still matters to figure out with the shadows and contrasts, as well as the balance of warm and cool colors. All kinds of technical details crowd into my consciousness, but I feel that in the end all that is going to matter is whether or not this painting finds a way to resonate with an audience, beginning with me. These are good things to ponder, and I’m glad I still have a couple of days in front of me this weekend.

Thanks for reading. And speaking of such, I haven’t gotten to read all day. I shall attempt that now.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Delicate Balance Between Inspiration and Composition

April 2, 2015
Pushing a Little Further with the Lexington, Texas Gas Station

Pushing a Little Further with the Lexington, Texas Gas Station

There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual–become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.

It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.

At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it. We would continue to hear it. But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song. Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold, material intellect.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The week has been a trying one, as I have found myself daily fighting for just enough time to touch a few brushstrokes to this painting that wants to be born. Two days of school were given to state-mandated testing (each day consisting of five straight hours of testing, followed by two abbreviated classes). I came home totally wiped out each time, barely able to struggle to the drafting table and look at this gas station painting. Lesson plans were needing to be written for the following day, and stacks of tax data piled on my tables needed consolidating. Other domestic responsibilites needed tending as well. It’s not been an easy week to pursue creative bliss.

Yet I could not stop thinking of this abandoned gas station that caught my attention last year on one of my trips to the Texas coast, and I’ve stopped and looked at the site on every trip since. The scene resonates with me, and I really want to create a work to reflect my feelings and memories for such places as this. WIth the Easter holidays now upon us, I have three days before me, replete with chores that cannot be bypassed. But I anticipate I’ll find ways to put in more focused work on this composition.

I posted the meditation above by Robert Henri, because as I grow older I become more conscious of this struggle between inspiration and compositional, artistic control. I don’t anticipate I’ll solve all these issues in my lifetime, but I do enjoy facing up to the challenge.

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.