In all studies we go not forward but rather backward with redoubled pauses. We always study antiques with silence and reflection. Even time has a depth, and below its surface the waves do not lapse and roar.
Henry David Thoreau, Journal, July 6, 1845
Now the best works of art serve comparatively but to dissipate the mind, for they themselves represent transitionary and paroxysmal, not free and absolute, thoughts.
Henry David Thoreau, Journal, July 14, 1845
This morning is a continuation of where I left off last night, staring at two recent paintings while writing in my own journal and reading the thoughts of the 28-year-old Henry David Thoreau from his journal, 170 years afterward, almost to the day. My amazement for the maturity of his young mind cannot be overstated. How tragic that his life ended at age forty-four. Living sixty-one years now, I am grateful still to have life and thoughts abiding within me, and still seek ways to express what’s inside me. These creative heroes from the past add a potent spark to my day-to-day life, and this morning I pause in gratitude that the young Thoreau left behind over four million words of publishable print when he passed. His ideas have enriched me so.
The first quote above is more primal than his famous Walden quote about time:
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its think current slides away, but eternity remains.
Having read and re-read Walden, I now find a stirring delight in reading these journal pages recorded while he resided in those woods, their primal utterance takes on a wilder side than the tamer, edited-for-publication sentences. Walter Harding once told us in a lecture that Thoreau revised Walden eight times before submitting it for publication.
The second posted quote, Thoreau’s statement about art, really holds my attention, and I’m not sure I’m interpreting it correctly. It is an isolated statement in his journal, separating two lengthy paragraphs of discussion on other matters. There is no context. From my personal background, I love reading it, because to me it contrasts visual and intellectual stimuli. Until I entered graduate school, I lacked the patience to study books slowly and methodically. Up until then, I was visual, requiring a quick pay-off, almost A.D.D. From graduate school until now, I have worked on both sides, the instant visual on the one hand, and the plodding page-after-page reading, note-taking, writing and revising, on the other. I love them both. And in this way, I agree with Thoreau, that the visual art hits quickly, whereas the reading requires time.
When I contrast the visual art with the literary or musical art, I like to look at it this way: reading, listening to music and watching a film all require time; you have to begin, go through the process, and get to the end. But art is instantaneous; you see all of it in the first glance. I like that. And then, having written that, art allows you to take a second look, a third, and so on. Art allows you to study, focus etc. But if you are not into that, then you can glance at it and move on. Hopefully though, it will stay with you, in your mind’s eye, and to it you will return again and again.
I hope this made sense. 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.
Tags: Henry David Thoreau