Aesthetics is for me like ornithology must be for the birds.
Barnett Newman, Abstract Expressionist painter
. . . all that can be said of Friendship, is like botany to flowers.
Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
I could not have planned a more gentle morning, sitting in a comfortable chair, reading Thoreau, as the dawn light finally broke through my living room windows. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers has not been a fast read for me; I began this book years ago, and keep it bookmarked. I thought I would complete my reading at last when I was on assignment in the Texas Laguna Madre. But I still lack about seventy pages before finishing it. The reading of Thoreau’s Journal has certainly cut into my progress over the past few months.
I’ve posted the quotes above, because Thoreau’s remark reminded me of something I had gleaned from the painter Barnett Newman years ago, and the sentiments are certainly mine: I have always felt lacking as a theorist, but competent as a practitioner, especially in the realm of the visual arts. I could probably say the same about human relationships–I should be the last one to consult for advice on maintaining successful ones. But that is another story.
As I read from Thoreau, my eye drifted to the antique table beside me, strewn with shells and carcasses gathered from my stay on the island last month. And I realized that I had yet to try and sketch that nickel-sized fiddler crab, though everything else on the table–blue crab, assorted sea shells and Mermaid’s Wine Cup–had been attempted repeatedly over the past month. I enjoyed the quiet interlude of sketching, though the creature emerged on the paper, looking like a giant dog tick. The catfish skull proved to be rather challenging as well. Still, the drawing was enjoyable, and as I drew, I continually thought on this notion of aesthetics–what is it exactly that makes visual art attractive? What is it that holds the viewer’s attention, giving rise to some kind of emotional response? I still flounder in the midst of those questions, like a child treading water in the deep end of the pool, on the edge of panic. I feel comfortable with the elements and principles of design, and many of those are intuitive with me, emerging naturally as I draw and paint. Composition just seems to happen organically as I work (feeling that I am actually at play). But aesthetics still cripples me, when it comes to articulating what is pleasing about art. I’m just glad it doesn’t hinder me from making art, and certainly does not diminish my joy in the process. Still, I wish I could sit in some kind of Parisian Cafe setting and hear other artistic spirits talking over these matters. I love solitude, but crave conversation in areas such as this.
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.