Archive for February, 2017

Late Night Stolen Moments to Paint

February 28, 2017

I am aware that it has been quite some time since I have posted to the blog, but daily school requirements have been staggering, and my head is barely above the water, it seems. However, I did want to take a moment and post this in-progress watercolor that I started over a week ago. Tonight I spent more time working on the figure, which is another selfie, and quite frankly, I am very much out of my element when I try to paint people in watercolor. So, I proceed very slowly.

I am feeling pretty good about the way this painting is progressing, and hope that I can continue to chip away at it even if for less than 30 minutes per day.

Thank you for reading.

Advertisements

A Quiet Afternoon for Reflection

February 22, 2017

hamlet

Latest 20 x 16″ Watercolor in Progress

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

After hours of house cleaning and domestic chores, I was ecstatic to find a block of a few hours to paint late this afternoon before dashing off to an evening commitment. Because of an impending One-Man-Show, I have had this desire to return to a Blues theme for a new series of paintings. This one is barely off the ground, and already I’m second-guessing the composition. When such happens, I choose longer gaps for merely staring at the painting from across the room, rather than going full steam ahead.

As I drew and painted and stared for long periods from a distance at this piece, I listened with delight to some YouTube book talks given by William Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  This book has changed my life profoundly, convincing me that I don’t have to blog daily, and don’t need to live a life chained to my smart phone, anticipating the next alert.

This evening, I will present a brief talk at a monthly gathering that we call “the Salon.” This is a small group of people I adore who love to discuss ideas once a month. Most of the group is retired, having formerly worked in education, industry, politics and journalism. The topics are always approved in advance, and last month I volunteered to lead a discussion over William Powers’s book.  Hoping that none of the salon participants will look at my blog before this evening, I’ve decided to go ahead and post the substance of my presentation.

Thanks for reading . . .

Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age[1]

Shelley listened to an interview on NPR with author William Powers who had just published Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  She purchased two copies, giving one to me.  Henry David Thoreau, in the “Reading” chapter of his book Walden, writes: “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”[2]  Over the span of my life, only a few books have marked new eras, and this book is one of them.  At any age, it feels gratifying, to think of turning a corner or opening a new chapter.

Hamlet’s BlackBerry, offers these words: “The simple act of going out for a walk is completely different today from what it was fifteen years ago. Whether you’re walking down a big-city street or in the woods outside a country town, if you’re carrying a mobile device with you, the global crowd comes along”[3]  I found this passage very confrontational to me personally.  It brought my attention to how obsessed I had become to being “connected” digitally, because of a smart phone that was continually beeping, always alerting me to my blog, facebook, emails and text messages—my life was being chewed up chasing all these prompts, and it took this book to point that out to me.

I am not sounding a negative note for our improvement of technology, this digital age. Technology has transformed my teaching in the high school classroom as well as teaching online at the university.  Technology has connected me to the art and business world.  Computers are wonderful as are smart phones.  But there are two elements attending this digital age that run counter to my idea of a quality life—one is the fast pace, and the other is the emphasis on connecting all the time with others.  The fast pace disregards the importance of time to mature ideas; the social connection neglects the importance of solitary space and depth to find oneself.

I am quoting a chapter title from the Powers book: “Digital Busyness is the Enemy of Depth”.  The point he makes is that when we spend our lives surfing the Internet, flitting from site to site, platform to platform, screen to screen, we are not experiencing the depths of life, but merely skimming over the surface of the media.  In 1963, Paul Tillich addressed the fortieth anniversary of Time magazine, pointing out that America “was a free society, to be sure, but one without depth: its ceaseless expansion, whether into outer space or on the production line, had created an almost irresistible temptation on the part of everyone to produce in order to produce still more.  Tillich exhorted the producers of cultural goods to stop moving in this one-dimensional direction—to come to a halt in order to ‘enter creation and unite with its power,’ in short, to add the vertical line of depth to the horizontal line of extension.”[4]

In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig pleaded for a more contemplative life, and wrote: “What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua—that’s the only name I can think of for it—like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.  The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement.  Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep.  The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks.  In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated.  “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.  I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.  . . .   Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of  its own internal momentum.  Some channel deepening seems called for.”[5]

A major argument proposed by this book is that digital connectedness sacrifices depth.  One does not contemplate the qualities and meaning of life when clicking on links and flitting from headline to headline, text to text, opinion to opinion. It seems that the only motivation for such a lifestyle is to feel connected to humanity.

Well, I don’t believe that being connected to others is the sole quality of life. In Anthony Storr’s book Solitude, the noted psychologist maintains that Sigmund Freud shifted clinical opinion toward the emphasis of social relations as a measure of human quality. Storr argues for the merits of solitude, that an intrinsic outlook does not mean that the individual is lacking in human quality. In today’s world, so much emphasis has been placed on connectedness that many feel they are inadequate or uninteresting if they do not continually post on facebook or Twitter, or find someone to call or text on their smart phones.  Many feel chained to chat rooms and blogs on the Internet, convinced that the more connected they are, the more well-rounded and healthy their lives are. William Powers urges: “However, the external validation provided by incoming messages and the number of times one’s name appears in search results is not as trustworthy or stable as the kind that comes from the inside.”[6] I would also point out a relatively new best-seller by author Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Is the fear of disconnecting a fear of loneliness or is it really the fear of irrelevance?  When I became immersed in my blog activity, I first regarded my daily posting as a matter of discipline, convincing myself that if I held myself to a daily deadline, like a newspaper journalist, that I would improve my disciplinary lifestyle in other areas as well. As time went on, however, I confess that what drove me was not a sense of discipline and self-worth, but rather the fear that I would become irrelevant and eventually forgotten, if I did not keep the blog fires burning by daily shoveling fuel into it via a new post.

The heart of this book argues that our age is not unique with the conflict between social connection and solitude, between speedy technology and plodding contemplation.  The author writes compelling chapters covering Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Henry David Thoreau and Marshall McLuhan. What these great figures share in common is living in an age of technological advance with its temptation for speed, and they used it where it was beneficial, but refused to abandon their contemplative natures.  They consistently maintained that technology and shortcuts would not rule their lives.

In addition to the chapters of Powers’s book, I would suggest some of the New Testament Gospel accounts concerning words and practices of Jesus of Nazareth.  His words from John’s Gospel:  “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  Think on those things for a moment: there are forces that try to steal from our lives—all we have is a measure of time, and whatever is taken is never recovered. Jesus said the thief takes, but he has come to offer abundance. Think about that rhythm—losing and gaining. And let me share a few examples from the life of Jesus that illustrate these rhythms.

After a full day of pouring out his life for the crowds in Capernaum, Jesus rose the next morning seeking restoration.  He departed for a solitary place, and there prayed. When his disciples finally caught up with him, they said, “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!”[7]  But of course.  That is why he left; he had already given, and now it was time to recover.

This rhythm of public ministry and private retreat is a thread running throughout the Gospel narratives. Jesus did not hesitate to urge that practice upon those whom he loved. There is a time for pouring out our lives, and there is a time to restore.  When his apostles finished their first preaching tour, they came back to him overflowing with success and enthusiasm.  They had given, and they were enthusiastic, but exhausted.  His words: “Come aside with me to a solitary place where you can rest awhile,” because there was so much coming and going that they could not even stop long enough to eat. [8]

When Jesus went to Bethany to visit in the home of the sisters Mary and Martha, Mary sat at his feet with the other men, transfixed by his spoken words.  Martha was prattling about the kitchen. “Jesus!” she urged, “Don’t you care that I have no help in here?  Tell my sister to come and help!”  His answer: “Martha.  Martha.  You are distracted over many things.   One thing matters.  Your sister has chosen that one thing, and it will not be taken away from her.”[9]

When the digital age distracts us to follow the myriads of links, meetings and tasks throughout each day, then we should remind ourselves of this: You are distracted, harassed by many things.  One thing matters.  Don’t let them take away from you that one thing.  It is O.K. to disconnect from this connected world from time to time and find yourself in the quiet gaps of solitude.

I believe that this rhythm of social and private has kept me alive and vital over twenty-eight years in a public classroom.  Yes, I have known burnout, but I also have known how to recover.  I have witnessed complex changes in technology and social networking and I have always heard that call for acceleration.  But that is not my life.  I still live for the reflection, the quiet, the delicious moments of solitude.  And I always seek for ways to make time for those things that matter the most.  All we have is a measure of time.  Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right when he wrote: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

 

               

[1] Presented at the North Arlington Salon, February 22, 2017.

[2] Henry David Thoreau, Walden (New York: Penguin, 1983), p. 153.

[3] William Powers, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (New York: Harper, 2010), p. 15

[4] Wilhelm Pauck, Paul Tillich: His Life and Thought  Volume 1: Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1976),  p. 274

[5] Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: Morrow Quill, 1974), pp. 15-16.

[6] Powers, p. 46.

[7] Mark 1:35

[8] Mark 6:30-32.

[9] Luke 10:38-42.

Not the Rooftops of Paris, but Dark and Rainy Nevertheless, and Quite Good

February 20, 2017

 

grandma

Second Day on a 20 x 16″ Watercolor

But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the litle oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.  I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Waking early this morning to a dark and rain-soaked world, I was glad not to go to work but to do as I please for the entire day.  Late last night I had begun work on a new watercolor of a Blues theme that I used to pursue fervently, but had stopped doing in recent years.  Soon I’ll release details on a new One-Man-Show that has been offered me, and I would love to complete some Blues art to hang in this venue.  I chose as a backdrop for the painting my grandmother’s abandoned house.  Then I took some selfies in my backyard, holding my late uncle’s pre-World War II Gibson archtop guitar.  I have high expectations for this composition and have already enjoyed a full morning of layering washes and drybrush details into the piece.  I’m taking my time with it.

As I worked, I dialed up on Netflix “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.”  When I’m painting, I love listening to movies, documentaries, and YouTube lectures.  They keep my mind engaged. And as this film rolled, my mind went back to some intense reading I enjoyed a few winters ago: Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Carlos Baker’s Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story.  And as I worked, I thought of all those times when I’ve struggled over whether to make art, read, or write when I had time to myself.  This weekend has produced another one of those environments for me that I love so much–what Paul Tillich referred to often as “creative eros”, an urge to create, period.  And when I find myself unable to resolve whether to paint, draw, read, write, or just sit in a comfortable chair with coffee to think and do nothing else–I realize that life could not possibly be better.

desk

Working on a New Lecture Series

Just before the weekend arrived, I discovered that among the post-retirement options offered to me this coming fall is a chance to teach Ethics at the university for the first time. Pulling from my shelf a volume from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I was surprised to find myself absorbed in a very lengthy History of Ethics article.  This came as a surprise because I seldom find myself interested for very long in an encyclopedia entry, particularly one that goes on for page after page after page, four columns staring back at me every time I turn the page.  But this article has really taken me in new directions.  For decades I have been interested in the history of philosophy, but usually focused on metaphysics and theories of knowledge, never ethics.  Now, as I read the ethical portions of these philosophers and schools, I am amazed at the new ideas I’m grafting onto the structures already learned.  The new directions are quite exciting.

Reading this article has also led me back to a famous book that I have never successfully stayed with over the decades: Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be.  Now, having read twenty-seven pages and scribbling out a pile of notes, I feel that I am finally into this book as well. The reading of just these two sources has already produced pages and pages of journal entries, paragraphs, diagrams and illustrations of new ideas waiting for further development.

creel-redone

“Thinking About the Next Catch”

Last night I received my email notification that the piece pictured above has been accepted to show in the 32nd Annual Texas & Neighbors Regional Art Exhibition to be held at the Irving Arts Center April 29-June 3. There were 585 pieces juried, and 75 selected.  Over the years, I have visited this show and always wished to participate, but continually missed the application deadline.  Thanks to an artist friend, I met the deadline this year, and now am very happy for this opportunity of hanging one of my pieces with works selected from Texas and several neighboring states.

The weekend has been full and rewarding.  Thank you 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.

Warm Thoughts Following the Retreat to the Wilderness

February 13, 2017

finished-2

Pleasurably Wrestling with Heidegger’s Being and Time

There are times when thought elbows her way through the underwood of words to the clear blue beyond.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, December 12, 1837

After an arduous week of school chores, I lit out of town late Friday afternoon for my three-and-a-half-hour drive into the country to stay in my favorite getaway spot. I truly believe my heart rate changes the moment I drive up to this place, and my breathing comes easier. Words cannot encapsulate what I felt as I spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday in the quiet of this remote countryside.

I managed finally to finish my reading of Goethe’s Faust, loving every line of text. After that, I turned to Heidegger’s Being and Time, and this book is always a struggle for me, but I believe worth the trouble. I turned to this book because I was smitten with Thoreau’s words that I read from his journal while I was in the midst of this weekend withdrawal. I see Thoreau and Heidegger both as lovers of words, their origins and their possibilities. Hans Georg Gadamer testified that Heidegger could trace the etymological “arteries into the primal rock of language.”  Heidegger said that “language is the house of being.”

Among the many facets of language, one element that intrigues me is the elusiveness of thought when we try to attach words to it.  George Steiner, in his introductory book on Heidegger, wrote: “The letter kills the spirit. The written text is mute in the face of responding challenge.  It does not admit of inward growth and correction.”  In Faust I found the same message this weekend: “The word dies when we seize the pen.”  I always find myself halting when I try to describe the sensations I experience when I’m deeply moved by the printed text.  And so, I labored over Being and Time, enjoying what portions of it I could understand.

Returning to my self-portrait, I managed to finish it Saturday evening, and put it on facebook. The response has been overwhelming, so I guess I did O.K. with this effort. I’m wondering whether or not to enter it into competition as shows are rapidly approaching this spring.  There also seems to be interest in limited edition giclee prints. Perhaps I’ll go that route.  I’m still contemplating.

finished

I’m feeling warm thoughts this evening, because I’ve received word recently of a new gallery opening and the prospects of my having a one-man-show there in the not-too-distant future.  I’ll release details if this opportunity actually materializes, and it appears that it will. I’m extremely happy with the possibilities, and already have a number of new paintings in my head, waiting to be born. I cannot thank my dear friends enough for all the encouragement and inspiration they provide. This weekend could not have been more pleasurable.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Retreat to the Country

February 11, 2017

“Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.”

Henry David Thoreau, Journal

Blogging from my phone is ponderous, but I wanted to share with my readers and friends a delicious slice from my weekend retreat. I’ve read ravenously from Thoreau and Heidegger, churned out pages of journal scribblings, and finally completed my “selfie” painting on location that I’m titling “Heidegger’s Hut”.

Thanks for reading.

A Satisfying Return to the Studio Tonight

February 6, 2017

tripp-1

tripp-2

Die Zeit ist kurz, die Kunst ist lang. (Time is too brief, though art’s forever.)

Goethe, Faust

The soft darkness and stillness of this night welcomed me back to my abandoned studio. There have been too many lengthy lapses in creative activity, thanks to school-related tasks that have driven me far from my element, and I chafe at the realization that the “system”, while crowing about “what’s best for the students” never considers the value of an instructor’s personal enrichment. To me, the development and enrichment of the instructor is by far the best gift to offer students.  Way back in 1995, The National Endowment for the Humanities granted twenty-five of us the last of the Teacher-Scholar Awards (Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” killed the program). The award was a one-year funded sabbatical leave of absence, grounded in the philosophy that teachers are better for their students when they are granted time off for educational advancement, scholarly study or personal enrichment. In twenty-eight years, I am glad that I had that one year to re-tool and re-think what I was trying to do in the classroom. I am aware that many are quick to retort that teachers have summer vacations, but that didn’t begin happening to me until two years ago–I always taught both semesters of summer school, hence no summers off from the classroom. I have been a year-round teacher until recently.

But that’s not why I’m pausing to write this night!  I was fortunate to finish tomorrow’s classroom preparations with enough of an evening before me to re-enter my studio and resume work on two abandoned watercolors. I believe I have finished the still life of the doorknob and Indian corn.  I only needed about an hour to stitch up some details on that large painting that had annoyed me. As for the smaller one of myself in the chair, I’m getting closer to finishing it out as well.  I’m still working on me, as well as the objects surrounding me, and feel that I need one or two more sessions in the studio before I can call this one complete. I am particularly fond of working on the small composition because it was born in the cozy quiet of the store I so love to inhabit when I can get out of the city for a weekend. Every time I peer into this picture, I feel myself back in the store, back in the quiet, back in the cozy embrace of a good life.

I still have not completed my reading of Faust, because I continue to pause, underline, highlight, scribble in my journal, and muse over the power of his words. When I read this line that time is brief and art is forever, my soul feels soothed. Art for me is a sanctuary. One of the portals outside the Saint Louis Art Museum reads: ART STILL HAS TRVTH. TAKE REFVGE THERE. That quote from Matthew Arnold has nourished me throughout the years. My heart vibrates when I think of the kindred spirits I know personally who enrich themselves with creative endeavors–writing, making art, playing a musical instrument, or just reading for pure pleasure and enrichment. When we are allowed quiet evenings to engage in these pursuits, we are wealthy indeed.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Passing Through Portals

February 1, 2017

blog-door

. . . Albrecht Dürer, did after all make the well-known remark: “For in truth, art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” “Wrest” here means to draw out the rift and to draw the design with the drawing-pen on the drawing-board. But we at once raise the counterquestion: How can the rift be drawn out if it is not brought into the open region by the creative projection as a rift, which is to say, brought out beforehand as strife of measure and unmeasure? True, there lies hidden in nature a rift-design, a measure and a boundary and, tied to it, a capacity for bringing forth–that is, art.

Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”

In the darkness of the night, I trained a light on the aged door of the store where I resided for the weekend, and another light on my easel. Working in the stillness of that environment, I felt a depth of feeling and connection with my childhood overnight stays at my grandparents’ farm–nights spent lying awake, staring at the door knob and locking system dimly present in the quiet night. Musing over what lurked on the other side of that door became a lifetime fascination from me.

As I wrestle with this lengthy and cumbersome essay from Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”, and make use of his distinct vocabulary, I gather a new idea from his philosophy that my process for making art involves a struggle between my world of memory and the earth which yields up the objects I encounter. As I mingle my memories with my vision of these objects, a work of art emerges.

Painting through the night at the store, and later with re-visits and revisions of this painting, I mused over the portals of my past and the ones that lie in my present and future. Robert Motherwell and Henri Matisse wrote eloquently about “open door” motifs in their bodies of work. As I wrote in an earlier blog, I am considering a series of paintings of antique doors that I have acquired over past years, hoping that some significant ideas and symbols might emerge from these attempts.

The idea of “portal” has kept me preoccupied lately. My eye is a portal, through which passes this fascination of the ancient door allowing access into the next room, the next chamber, the next chapter. And as I move through my life, I am passing through portals, from one world to the next. This lifetime odyssey has passed through countless doors, most of them fascinating.

frame-door-cropped

And so, with a heart exhilarated with anticipation, I approach my next attempt at making art.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.