Imagination is the air of the mind, in which it lives and breathes.
Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
Though this day was fraught with art-related business errands, the sweetness of Thoreau’s words stayed in my heart, and when finally the evening light faded, and the business ceased, I was afforded the satisfying sweetness of curling in a comfortable chair and reading further from this young man’s pen.
Waves of serener life pass over us from time to time, like flakes of sunlight over the fields in cloudy weather. In some happier moment, when more sap flows in the withered stalk of our life, Syria and India stretch away from our present as they do in history.
Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
As I scribbled in my journal, I thought about the life that I prefer (a quiet, contemplative one) and the one I often live (dashing from engagement to engagement to engagement), and realized that there does exist a life of the mind alongside the daily routine of industry. When I feel the frustration of checking off the bullet points of a daily calendar list of tasks, I must find a way to remind myself that the life of the mind is still possible in the midst of all this action. And then . . . there are those delicious hours like the ones I enjoyed this night, where it is possible to loosen those coils of tension while reading the serene sagacity of Thoreau’s musings. I love this notion of our world yielding itself as a canvas to our imaginations. I am still haunted by the story of the lonely poet Wallace Stevens while working at his insurance job:
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.
One thing that has not changed throughout my life is the conviction that the imagination is among the richest gifts life has bestowed upon us. Daily, I wonder if I am still not giving myself enough time to explore this gift. The notion of “genius” too often has been associated with I.Q., but I don’t buy that, and haven’t since I began teaching in 1985. I think genius is one’s courage to trust his/her innate curiosity, and like Emerson, I believe this gift of genius is the “sole estate” of every person.
I don’t know what diverted my mind to the sea shells, but while reading, my mind drifted to an abandoned practice that I had once found intriguing in the early 1990’s–back then I used to experiment with several different pencils when layering textures of the bark of winter trees. I decided to try this out on the sea shell. Positioning a desk lamp close to the shell, and placing it on a dark wooden box, I looked at the shell closely and tried to draw it with my usual HB pencil. After getting the basic contours down, I then decided to use a hard, sharp 8H pencil to cut into the drawing paper, and then skate over the top of the scribbles with a soft 6B pencil. The impressions from the hard pencil showed beneath the darkened smears of the soft one, and what emerged reminded me of some of the effects I admire so much in etchings and engravings from Renaissance and Neo-Classical works. This is my first attempt, and now I am excited to try it some more. I am feeling like the mad scientist in his laboratory, late at night.
Thanks for reading.
I make art in order to explore.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.