Archive for September, 2016

Suspended between Wordsworth and Pink Floyd

September 9, 2016

gas-closeup

Remains of a Gas Station near Brookfield, Missouri

passenger

Remains of a Passenger Rail Car in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb.

Friday night has arrived, the week in school has been deeply rewarding, watching classrooms filled with students enthusiastic about pursuing new ideas. Evenings have been given to watercolor activity, and I’ve posted a pair that were inspired by some of my summer travels. Memories associated with these two images are so thick tonight, it seems I have to brush them away from my face so that I can breathe.

Tonight, a deep feeling has overcome me. I’ve returned from a funeral visitation. One of my precious students has lost a father unexpectedly, and her mother is a colleague of mine who has always been a generous resource when needed. Driving home, I listened to “Comfortably Numb” and the words I’ve posted really went deep into my heart. Once I was home again, I dug up Wordsworth verses, including “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” I have felt an intimate kinship with this poet when he speaks of childhood memories that have their ways of sweeping over us during our more pensive moments. And like Proust, he urged that those feelings were worth remembering, even when fleeting, and even when we cannot put our finger on what it is exactly we feel we have lost along the way. Again Thoreau’s haunting words of losing the horse, the bayhound and the turtledove come back to me tonight. I don’t think I’m sad. But something is stirring deep within, and I’m trying to find a way to express it. I’m glad the weekend has arrived and I can walk away from my regular schedule for a couple of days.

Thanks for reading.

Studio Sanctuary

September 7, 2016

studio

It is very well to copy what one sees. It’s much better to draw what one has retained in one’s memory. It is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.

Edgar Degas

Finally, FINALLY I am afforded the opportunity to return to the studio! I’m in my third week of a new school year and have managed to do plenty of pencil sketching in my journal the past few days, but I have had an uncontrollable itch to pick up the watercolor brush. So, when I saw a gap in my schedule this afternoon, I charged full-bore into a 20 x 24″ stretched paper surface and have felt such a rush of eudaimonia throughout this afternoon and evening.

My subject I recognize as an abandoned filling station I photographed this summer, I believe in the vicinity of Brookfield, Missouri on Highway 36. About a month or so ago, I did a small watercolor of a brightly-colored restored gas station further east along that same stretch of highway that friends had pointed out to me.

station new

Painting from last summer near New Cambria, Missouri

My current project will have far less color, just a white frame building with all its signage and pumps removed. Still, the sprawling highway alongside the abandoned structure has such an Edward Hopper kind of feel, and I have always loved his painting titled Gas. 

gas

Edward Hopper, Gas

Most viewers with whom I’ve spoken are fascinated with the solitary man at the pumps. As for me, I’ve always been more interested in the white frame building, the pavement, and a dark forest framing the composition. When I drove across Missouri last summer and saw the remains of that gas station to my right, I knew I had something very near to my recollection of a Hopper composition.

studio-2

The evening has also been delicious because of the quiet time and space to work on my art history for tomorrow. With each passing day, I am getting more attached to my students in the three A-Day art history sections. I am trying something new this academic year, and so far I’m pleased with how it is working. For about four years now, I have been hammered by “experts” that collaborative learning is the wave of the educational future, and that we should be forcing the students into such groups to enhance their learning. This is completely counter to the way I learned during my significant years, and cuts against the grain of how I am comfortable teaching. I have heard the scoffers ridiculing the lecture format, referring to it as the Dark Age of schooling. I couldn’t disagree more. For one thing, when I lecture, I continually throw questions out on the floor to engage students willing to engage, and for the most part they are willing. Last year, I almost completely abandoned the lecture format in favor of group learning and discussion, and I found the year among the most dissatisfying in my nearly three decades of experience.

This year I have compromised, working earnestly to cut each ninety-minute class period into collaborative portions, in additon to lecturing portions as well as time for independent work with chrome books or smart phones. Each session still has a thesis, and I don’t lose sight of the goal. But I am very pleased to watch how these classes have developed. For instance, in my last session, our focus was on early dynastic Egypt, and we studied three select sculptures from the day’s unit. And as the three figures were examined, I sought a healthy balance of independent computer research, group collaboration and lecture. And once the ninety-minute period was completed, the students not only were exposed to the historical background and technical vocabulary of those three pieces, but when prompted by me to connect with what they had worked on during the first two weeks, there emerged from the discussion allusions to the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic eras of Greek art, along with ideas from Heraclitus, Parmenides and Plato. In further discussion, ideas were dropped as well from the lives of Isaac Newton, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. That provided quite a rush for me, and I hope it did for them as well.

It’s been a great week, and I’m so pleased to be making art again. Thanks for reading.

 

 

Afternoon Thoughts

September 5, 2016

As the sleeper hovers between consciousness and dream, a shadowy thought emerges from the twilight gloom, sharpens eventually to a silhouette, takes on color and finally assumes three-dimensional form, yet casts from itself a second shadow.

–my own words

Pausing on this final afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, I take full delight in writing out my ideas, happy that space has been given for quiet solitude. Grateful to re-visit early scraps of thoughts hastily scribbled in old journals. Happy to re-read handwritten notes poked into dented manila folders running back to the 1980’s. In doing this, I recall a Whitman poem where he sensed a specter rising before him and gesturing toward his manuscripts, perhaps mocking his efforts. I knew of such days when I mocked my thoughts as shallow and immature. Today however, I feel little such humiliation while reading half-baked thoughts from my past. Granted, the stuff I wrote thirty years ago lacks the growth of what I am capable of composing in my older years, and why shouldn’t it? We grow up. Life files off many of our sharp, brittle points, replacing them with better-rounded, more durable surfaces. Still, it is exciting to find those occasional recorded thoughts from earlier days that still pack a punch of authenticity today. And as we continue to revisit our earlier dreams, we oftentimes find intriguing shadow-twins emerging next to them. And in these shadows we find new adventures waiting, new ideas worth exploring.

Thanks for reading.

Finding Sanctuary Inside a Coffee House

September 4, 2016

coffee tree

Tree Sketch from inside the Coffee House

That’s what depth comes to, really, taking all the stuff your mind has gathered in its travels back inside, to sort through it and see what it all means.  To make it your own. The only way to cultivate a happy inner life is to spend time there, and that’s impossible when you’re constantly attending to the latest distraction.

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry

Late into Saturday night, Shelley Allison and I rode the new Dallas Streetcar to the Bishop Arts District in South Oak Cliff. Finding a relaxing space inside Espumoso Cafe, I opened Hamlet’s Blackberry and re-read the Marshall McLuhan chapter. I took heart in reading that McLuhan was not a linear thinker, preferring a more “mosaic” approach to presenting his ideas. Thinking back over three decades of classroom activity, I confess that I was never known for systematic and linear thinking myself. It’s probably too late to change that now.

During this holiday weekend, I have enjoyed the slower pace and the broader space to think through some matters worth thinking through. One idea that assesses my past is encapsulated in the quote posted above. While I don’t regard myself as a deep thinker, I nevertheless know that I have taken the contemplative life seriously at least as early as my college years, perhaps even sooner. Throughout my student as well as teacher life, I have found no satisfaction in bell schedules, deadlines and large group discussion formats that hindered rather than enhanced thinking. I have always known myself as an introvert, suited better to quiet spaces and sufficient time to work on ideas that matter. My years as a graduate student provided those spaces and times, and I have missed those kinds of work schedules since I graduated in 1987.

High school schedules separate subject matter by bell schedules, with less than ten minutes to transition from one class to the next, and transition the students must. For thirty years I have deplored that format, though forced to work within it. As a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Rollo May frequently strolled the neighborhood park after lecture classes under the theologian Paul Tillich, so he could think deeply, sorting out the content of those life-changing truths delivered in the lectures. On occasion, I myself have skipped particular convention sessions, because a joint-session orator would rock me with his/her public address, and I knew I had to find a quiet space in a lobby or coffee shop in order think through, sort out, and apply the notes I had scribbled hastily as the address was delivered. That activity was far more sacred to me than going into the next session to pursue a new topic, thus shelving the precious words just delivered.

In my personal life I have always read, indeed devoured books by the stack. This is more easily done during summer recess than during academic semesters. Now that I am entrenched in a new semester, I refuse to stop reading outside of class, and refuse to let my job push out this sacred activity of thinking in quiet spaces. Fortunately, I have one ninety-minute planning period per school day where I can pursue this ativity. And I’m even more thankful for this current gift of a three-day weekend to pursue my passion. During times like this, the smart phone is turned off and put away, and the laptop stays home. Thank you, William Powers, for getting my attention last year, convincing me of the value of unplugging from time to time. Social media can wait.

Thanks for reading.

Ruminations During a Three-Day Holiday Respite

September 4, 2016

archaic

I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

All good poetry is the overflow of powerful feelings . . . The imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

The first key to writing is to write, not to think. . . . You write your first draft with your heart; you rewrite with your head.

Sean Connery, Finding Forrester

I awoke this morning to my blog alerting me that thirteen days have passed since my last post. That was not intentional, though unplugging for a season has its rewards, so argues William Powers in his excellent book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. 

Two weeks of high school are now in the books, and the three-day holiday weekend respite has been delicious so far. From the moment I walked out of the school Friday afternoon, my mind has been seething with memories of the past two weeks of classes–all of them invigorating. In the philosophy and art history classes, I’ve been employing Nietzsche’s model of Apollo vs. Dionysus, which he set forth in his 1872 work The Birth of Tragedy. In this work he argues that the creative life is a constant struggle between the forces of Apollo (order, structure, reason) and Dionysus (chaos, spontaneity, passion). As an artist I have grown to appreciate that attempt for balance over the years. I have posted quotes above from Nietzsche’s novel as well as Wordsworth’s theory of poetry and the excellent lines from the motion picture Finding Forrester. All creative attempts embody a shaky counterbalance of order and spontaneity, and I for one like to lead out with my passion, then let reason clean it up subsequently.

For the past several days, I have experienced a series of delightful explosions in my philosophy and art history classes as we have explored the thought and creations of the ancient Greeks. I have studied this material throughout most of my life, and believed I had it organized in a logical (boring) way in the form of “lesson plans”. But the students’ questions and my serious responses never follow the lesson plans, and I find that delightful, always. And I’m confident that many of the students do as well.  After all, the questions are theirs. Nevertheless, there remain those students who prefer to have everything laid out in logical order so they can study their material, write their essays properly (boring) and take their tests (boring) and see their scores (which to me are always imperfect indicators of their excellence in thinking). My sentiments are about as subtle as a freight train, yes?

So . . . I am using this three-day holiday to clean up my lesson plans and present a more orderly package next week. Meanwhile I will continue to explore this Apollo/Dionysus balance. I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible, a very sobering and deeply gratifying experience in thoughtful reading. My favorite character is Ada, a crippled teenager with deep thoughts, who experienced healing later in life.  Her creed was expressed as follows:

Tall and straight I may appear, but I will always be Ada inside. A crooked little person trying to tell the truth. The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to find out.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.