Thoughts on Thoreau and Gestalt

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There are many craftsmen who paint pleasantly the surface appearances and are very clever at it. There are always a few who get at and feel the undercurrent, and these simply use the surface appearances selecting them and using them as tools to express the undercurrent, the real life.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

This afternoon and evening were unusual in that I had nowhere to be, and nothing in particular to do–no meeting, no deadline, no mandate. Once the sun began sinking low, and the temperatures lingered around 70 degrees with cool winds blowing, I drove to my favorite local green belt, puchased coffee, and sat on a park bench with my journal, my copy of Henri’s Art Spirit and my own thoughts.

I have often thought about Henry Thoreau’s retreat to Walden Pond, what some scholars refer to as a Gestalt–his attempt to clear out his mental debris from a cluttered life in Concord that would not seem to settle down. I find myself often in that state of mind. I have only eighteen class days remaining before I cap a twenty-eight year tenure in the high school classroom. Retirement is nearly here, and frankly, I’m not sure what I am thinking, or if I am even thinking about it at this time. Yes, I have occupational plans already laid out for the next year, and no, I don’t feel that I am going to miss the high school classroom (certainly not the weekly schedule).  It’s just that I have a very full calendar now, with little time to stop and ponder what this is all about.

Tomorrow, after a full day of teaching, I’ll set up for Martin High School’s first carnival that will run from 4-8:00 p.m. I’ve been asked to set up a booth with my art, so I’ve chosen to sell greeting cards, prints and signed & numbered limited editions, everything running from $5 to 100. I’ve decided to donate 50% of all sales to our A.V.I.D. program with which I’ve been identified the past three years.

Saturday and Sunday will find me in Waxahachie, Texas to kick off the official start of Paint Historic Waxahachie. This plein air event will draw more than fifty painters from as far away as Houston to create as many paintings as possible during the following week. If possible, I will travel to Waxahachie daily after school next week (40-minute commute) to put in my part.  There will be a judging the following Friday, and then all paintings will go on sale through that weekend (May 13-14). So far I’ve managed five small watercolors of historic downtown Waxahachie. I’m not sure how many more I’ll manage this weekend and next week, but I’ll do as many as I am able.

Reading Henri’s work on the park bench this evening reminded me of what I’ve always wished to do–find a way to convey the undercurrents of life that I experience when looking at particular scenes that surround me. I want to know that I have skill to render subjects attractively. But much more, I wish to evoke an emotional response from my viewers, because an emotional impulse is what drives me to paint those particular subjects. The undercurrents of life that give those subjects meaning–those are what drive me to paint and seek an artful life.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to express.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


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