Archive for August, 2018

Morning Coffee with Dave & Ezra

August 31, 2018

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Relaxing in a Coffee Shop with Ezra Pound’s Literary Essays

There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this brief recapitulation and retrospect.

In the spring or early summer  of 1912, ‘H. D.’, Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon the three principles following:

  1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

. . .

It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works. 

. . .

To begin with, consider the three propositions (demanding direct treatment, economy of words, and the sequence of the musical phrase), not as dogma–never consider anything as dogma–but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it is some one else’s contemplation, may be worth consideration.

Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”, in Pavannes and Divisons, 1918

I have returned to Ezra Pound because of recent reading of Hemingway and poems by William Carlos Williams. When I taught English long ago, I learned that Imagism was a popular movement in literature that has been associated with these writers and others. Williams was famous for saying “No ideas but in things.”

At any rate, while on a road trip yesterday that lasted for hours, I enjoyed what I refer to as “windshield time”–allowing thoughts to drift through my mind while watching the landscape drift by. I thought of Hemingway’s early writings from Paris (I referenced this in my last blog) when he settled on the notion of beginning with one true, direct sentence, and building from there. I then recalled that Pound laid down the three principles I’ve just posted above, about the necessity of addressing something directly, with as few words as possible, and following a musical phrase rather than a metronome. As I drove, I thought about the possibility of applying this literary theory to visual art. Why not give it a try?

At one point, I saw a high rocky mesa along the highway, and on impulse, did what I frequently dream of doing–pulling the Jeep over, getting out my art supplies, and attempting to paint/sketch the landscape en plein air. I decided to address the same principles I recalled from Pound’s theory of Imagism in writing–approach the subject directly as observed, use as few strokes of the brush as I can get away with, and not follow pre-set rules of sequence.

Setting up the easel, I decided to render the mesa first, with quick broad strokes of neutral color, then move to a foreground tree later, and finally lay in the sky (I have had so many “arguments” with other artists who insist that a legitimate landscape always begins with the sky). As I worked quickly (spent only about 30 minutes in the 97-degree heat), I recalled these principles of Ezra Pound, and smiled to think I was applying his literary criticism to plein air painting.

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Pleasures of a Road Trip–Stopping on Impulse to Paint

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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Morning Coffee with Dave & Ernest

August 30, 2018

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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.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I felt that unusual sense of being “blocked” creatively this morning, perhaps because I have finally completed a watercolor that has been front-and-center of my studio attention since mid-summer. Now it is time to move on to the next. In the past, I have avoided these kinds of feelings, because I generally have several pieces in progress, so that I never find myself with nothing in front of me. But this time, with school starting up, I finally came down to one large watercolor in progress, and never started any others, choosing instead to bring this one to a close. The feeling of closure is excellent, but then again, starting a brand new piece with no others alongside it is daunting. The first revolution of the wheel takes the most energy, as I’ve been told.

I have commissions waiting, but feel that I need to push out something creative, and regain that momentum. So. There it is. I am unsure of what to pursue next. I am not as uptight about this state as I was in my earlier years; I suppose experience reminds me that I have seen this many times, and I have always managed to start a new circle. At any rate, this is the reason I pulled A Moveable Feast from the shelf. I am inspired by Hemingway’s reassuring words that if we have created before, we shall create again. All we need do is start with what we know.

I have my final Logic class just around the corner, and then I sail into a four-day weekend, thankful that Labor Day has arrived. I have no class to teach until the following Tuesday. And I intend to do something creative during that hiatus. As I think of the new project, I’ll think of the Hemingway context of the quote above: him sitting before the fire, squirting orange peels to make it flare up as he figures out what to do next in his creative pursuits.

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.

Morning Coffee with Dave & Martin

August 29, 2018

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To be old means: to stop in time at

          that place where the unique

          thought of a thought train has

          swung into its joint.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

My morning watch was filled with the warmth of Heidegger’s poem “The Thinker as Poet.” Over the past two years, I have taken that piece with me to the Colorado mountains and read it again and again, letting the words wash over my soul. I love having the quality time for thinking that has been provided me in this life of semi-retirement. I spent the best part of today with “Z”, a Czech friend I have only known a few years, and don’t seem to spend enough time with in conversation. Today, over coffee, we had a genuine heart-to-heart about this deep-seated joy we know when ideas come in our quiet, reflective hours. Z shared with me some of his own writings of late, and I hope to God he finds a way to publish his work. The world needs more good meditations to read and ponder.

In our conversations today, we mused about how we find ourselves during our senior years organizing our ideas into clusters, and how satisfying it is when a particular idea finds its place in our scheme, when the idea finally joins the train and swings “into its joint.” This metaphor from Heidegger has been a card I’ve enjoyed playing of late.

I believe I have finally finished the commission that I began earlier this summer. I was hoping to have it complete by the beginning of school. It just took a little longer.

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Thanks for reading.

I paint because it helps me to think.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog knowing that I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave and Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 28, 2018

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Reading Emerson’s “Experience” Essay this Morning

Underneath the inharmonious and trivial particulars, is a musical perfection, the Ideal journeying always with us, the heaven without rent or seam. Do but observe the mode of our illumination. When I converse with a profound mind, or if at any time being alone I have good thoughts, I do not at once arrive at satisfactions, as when, being thirsty, I drink water, or go to the fire, being cold: no! but I am at first apprised of my vicinity to a new and excellent region of life. By persisting to read or to think, this region gives further sign of itself, as it were in flashes of light, in sudden discoveries of its profound beauty and repose, as if the clouds that covered it parted at intervals, and showed the approaching traveller the inland mountains, with the tranquil eternal meadows spread at their base, whereon flocks graze, and shepherds pipe and dance.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Years ago, while in the pastoral ministry, I set aside time in the mornings, when the mind is freshest, and lingered for as long as my schedule would allow, studying the Bible, pondering its message, hoping to draw insight for the day and for life in general. When I learned the languages in later years, I spent countless hours translating the scriptures and seeking application for daily living. When the pastoral ministry ended, and a teaching career commenced, the practice continued, but the reading was broader. Now, semi-retired, the custom is still with me, and I rejoice that I am not having to write a sermon or a lecture, but can merely scribble notations in my daily journal and seek some guiding thought for the day.

Emerson’s description of such meditation is far more eloquent than I have ever been able to put into words. I share that faith of his, that beneath jumble of life’s details are harmonizing forces that sustain the world. And I love his description of drawing close to that source of wisdom, how the message dawns slowly as though clouds were withdrawing from the source of light. What I love about reading is that shared communion, the reader drawing close to the writer and feeling that warmth of wisdom as well as experiencing a glow of illumination. Emerson has been one of my many guiding forces since I entered the teaching realm in the mid-1980’s.

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Working to Finish this Commission

Today is a special day also because I found some space in my day to pick up the brush and resume work on this piece that I began in the heat of the summer. I’m moving more slowly now as I decide what to do in adding further detail, as well as deciding what to leave alone.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

Morning Coffee with Dave and Abraham Heschel

August 27, 2018

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Heschel and The Torah

It is the sense of the sublime that we have to regard as the root of man’s creative activities in art, thought and noble living. Just as no flora has ever fully displayed the hidden vitality of the earth, so has no work of art ever brought to expression the depth of the unutterable, in the sight of which the souls of saints, poets and philosophers live. The attempt to convey what we see and cannot say is the everlasting theme of mankind’s unfinished symphony, a venture in which adequacy is never achieved. Only those who live on borrowed words believe in their gift of expression. A sensitive person knows that the intrinsic, the most essential, is never expressed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

This book by Heschel was a real treasure I found at Half-Price Books two summers ago. The only reason I pulled the volume off the shelf was because I recognized the name, invoked on the first day of class in Hebrew Prophecy, when I was studying at the seminary. The Professor read an extensive quote from Heschel, and I promptly went to the campus bookstore to purchase volume one of his work titled The Prophets. It proved to be a very technical book that I found useful in my studies way back then. But this current volume that has kept me company for two years now certainly provided a compelling word for me during my morning reading.

I lack that scholar’s eloquence when I try to describe my own pilgrimage. To put it succinctly, when I was a child, I pursued art because it was the only talent I possessed. Art was the only way I could gain entrance to a university. Once I “grew up” (I was a very late bloomer), I tumbled headlong into the study of ideas, falling profoundly in love with scholarship and the power of the word. After fourteen years of earning degrees, I picked up the pencil and brush again, and not only discovered that I had solid thinking behind my “talent”, but a reverence for the power of art that I had not acknowledged throughout the years of my youth. Even during my years of undergraduate study (majoring in art) professors would occasionally refer to art as having a “religious” foundation, and I only scoffed in immaturity, because my only notion of “religion” was liturgically based, and I thought art was a “worldly” or “arrogant” endeavor.

All of that changed after my personal “earthquake” in 1984, that I won’t go into at this point. All I wish to say, is this: following my personal crisis, I slowly moved into that circle of art as a religious instinct. And Heschel uttered with genuine erudition my heartfelt belief about art emerging from a sense of the sublime. And I am on the same page as he is, in admitting that this sublime “power” is never fully released in the finished work of art. No human can harness completely that divine force and reveal it to the viewers.

Along with reading Heschel, I am also chipping away at the Hebrew text of the Genesis creation account. I will always be grateful to the seminary for training me in Hebrew, and though my skills are clumsy now compared to back then, I can still work with the language. I am most intrigued with the first two verses in Genesis, reading about the earth as a chaos of unformed matter, and I shudder when I translate that the spirit, or wind of God “brooded over the face of the waters.” And then God spoke, and the world began to organize. In a series of words, the world began to shape with opposing forces: light and darkness, day and night, water and land, etc. Later, the Greeks would coin this word “logos” that we like to translate “word.” But this particular word points to a gathering, and organizing, a pulling together. My feelings intensify when I think of the artistic process–organizing, separating, identifying, coordinating–all the things described in the account of God creating a cosmos. When the Genesis narrative states that God created people in his own “image”, I tend to think that that “image” is one of a creator. An artist is a creator, and in that endeavor is most like the divine. Michelangelo believed that when he made people from marble, that he was doing something comparable to God’s act.

This is why I falter when I try to explain to others the profound feelings I undergo when I am drawing or working in watercolor. There is a primal force urging me forward in this endeavor, and I never feel that I rose to the intensity of that primal force when I view my finished works, no matter how good I think they may be. The act of making art, to me, is always much, much more than the satisfaction of looking at a finished piece.

Hopefully, I will have a chance to pick up the brush later today. I still have some college work to complete before class tomorrow, but I feel the itch to explore these new techniques in rendering trees that began several weeks ago.

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One of my Colorado tree experiments

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Joseph Mallord William Turner

August 26, 2018

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A Relaxing Morning in a Remote Place

With dark shadows cast across the lives of his family and friends, the compulsion that drove Turner to paint hardened into something closer to insularity. Turner’s own career was marching forwards. He reduced his exposure to domestic life to its most basic function, the environment in which he slept, or ate, otherwise keeping it distinct from the professional life that so engrossed him.

Franny Moyle, Turner: The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J. M. W. Turner

My intention was to spend the day in the country. And I did indeed spend most of the morning on the porch of this special place, enjoying my coffee, quality reading, and a magnificent spread of land under the east Texas sunny skies. Some events arose, however, that made it necessary for me to return to the gallery, and that is why I am able to post this blog after all (I do enjoy being off the grid when I go to this special retreat, however).

So, before I return to the wilderness, let me write a few quick words about the wonders of this Turner biography that I am reading. In 1794, Turner made a plein air watercolor tour that led him to “experiment with an emotive and dramatic response to scenery.” As I read these portions describing how he stepped into that experimental stage of painting romantic landscapes that would eventually help shift the French painters to Impressionism, my heart was stirred by a recent experience in Colorado. Having come to a dissatisfaction with how I rendered trees in watercolor, I spent a day throwing caution to the wind, using pigments I seldom use, and allowing for a great deal of spontaneity and chance by working with wet paper and unconventional tools. This ushered me into a new era, and I wish next to do some plein air sketches of landscape, applying some new techniques learned from another artist friend. It won’t be long before the fall foliage begins to emerge, and I want to be ready to try some things never tried before.

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A Recent Experimental Sketch

Since high school, I have been amazed with Turner’s atmospheric techniques, even more than those of the French Impressionists. I am now hoping with the reading of this biography to learn more of his approach to paintings. I read somewhere that he created some 19,000 watercolors in his lifetime. If that is accurate, then I have new incentive to generate more pieces.

The afternoon is growing late, and I have quite a drive ahead of me to get back into the country.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with James Joyce

August 25, 2018

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Happily Back in the Gallery this Morning

Towards dawn he awoke. O what sweet music! His soul was all dewy wet. Over his limbs in sleep pale cool waves of light had passed. He lay still, as if his soul lay amid cool waters, conscious of faint sweet music. His mind was waking slowly to a tremulous morning knowledge, a morning inspiration. A spirit filled him, pure as the purest water, sweet as dew, moving as music. But how faintly it was inbreathed, how passionlessly, as if the seraphim themselves were breathing upon him. His soul was waking slowly, fearing to awake wholly, It was that windless hour of dawn when madness wakes and strange plants open to the light and the moth flies forth silently.

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Well, I wish it had been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. To get this out of the way quickly–a slab leak flooded my house this past week, and so I have not been able to blog for all the time demanded for shutting off the water, removing soaked carpets and pads from several rooms and shop vacuuming water off all the floors, consulting a plumbing company, and then dealing with insurance adjusters. With no water supply, I fled to the country, and have so missed this wonderful hideaway that dear friends have always made available to me. It has been about fifteen months since I last stayed here, and so this morning was the most serene I have known in an entire week. Coffee on a porch outside a vintage store (the residential part is where I have been privileged to reside) has been a soothing balm, a total contrast from the events I fought all last week.

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Morning Coffee in my Favorite Hideaway

Without an alarm, I still woke before 7:00 a.m., just as the dawn was breaking over these east Texas skies. I couldn’t brew coffee quickly enough, wishing to dress and get out into the morning sun. The colors embroidered across the grasses danced between the warm yellows and cold blue-greens. I understood Cezanne’s perpetual frustration at not being able to capture that scintillating vibrancy on his canvases.  This has eluded me in watercolor as well. But still I search . . .

I am writing this at night now, having spent the entire day and evening in The Gallery at Redlands. It has been a satisfying day, visiting with patrons and Palestine friends. I also managed to catch up on all the college work that piled up while I was fighting the flooding issues back home.  I will be unable to post tomorrow, as I will return tonight to the place pictured above in the country where I am completely off the grid. Even the cell phone service is shaky. But that is OK. I need the quiet.

I have often wished I could describe the delicious sensation of waking after a successful night’s sleep the way James Joyce recorded it (posted above). The zone between deep sleep and wakefulness is a realm where creativity is frequently spawned, for me. I welcome it.

An enchantment of the heart! The night had been enchanted. In a dream or vision he had known the ecstasy of seraphic life. Was it an instant of enchantment only or long hours and days and years and ages? 

The instant of inspiration seemed now to be reflected from all sides at once from a multitude of cloudy circumstance of what had happened or of what might have happened. The instant flashed forth like a point of light and now from cloud on cloud of vague circumstance confused form was veiling softly its afterglow. O! In the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh. 

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

In 1988, I read for the first time James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I was working 9-1-1 for the Fort Worth Police Department, and there were long stretches in some of the night shifts when calls were few and far between. Being tethered to the headset and computer, a dispatcher/call-taker cannot get up and move about. So, during those slack hours, I chose to read. This book was truly a revelation to me, a remembrance of my religious and artistic childhood, two sides that would not reconcile. No man can serve two masters, it has been said. For years I was an artist. Then for years I was a minister and divinity student. When I worked for the police department, I was neither. Reading this volume caused me to sit straight up in my chair most nights on the console. By the time the volume was finished, I knew what I was going to do. I was going to be a teacher, and seek to be an artistic one at that.

And now, thirty years later, I still think back over those night shifts, and over the delicious Joycean mornings waking to a world of wonder and brilliance. I wish all people could know and experience this level of beauty.

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Palestine’s Oxbow Bakery

I am proud also to announce that this watercolor found a home tonight. It has been a splendid day and evening.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Evening(!) Coffee with Dave and Robert Motherwell

August 22, 2018

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One might say that the triumph of modern artists in our society has been the capacity to protect one’s own modes of being. These modes may be well or sick or both, I do not precisely know; but you must recognize that to choose a mode of existence within modern society, and to be able to maintain it, is a considerable accomplishment. It is as though a few gifted children were able to outwit the adult world and protect their own felt necessities.

Robert Motherwell, “Lecture with Charles R. Hulbeck”

The French mathematician Poincare said, “Thought is only a flash between two long nights.” Artists work by these flashes of thought.

Robert Motherwell, “Symbolism”

I had to leave very early this morning to tend a number of university details before my class, and the blog was unfinished. So here it is . . . . I hope this “morning coffee” theme is working O.K.  I thought of it Tuesday morning, August 14, while still away from my home. Since that day, I have been on a routine of reading every morning, early, for inspiration, starting a blog draft of my reading, and launching it the day after, in hopes that letting the ideas “compost” twenty-four hours could lead to something more significant to share. I got out of my routine today, because I was off to school much earlier than usual, then much unscheduled business crashed in on my day, and now I find myself still looking at this Motherwell draft begun yesterday morning right after launching the Cezanne blog.

I do enjoy the quiet of the night, when the rest of the world has seemingly gone to bed and no one is trying any longer to get my attention.  I wish I could paint in my studio, but extensive home maintenance is holding my days hostage lately, and I just wish to get on the other side of it as quickly as possible. And, of course, the first week of college also involves much problem-solving as I settle in with new groups of students and get the subjects rolling down the track. Perhaps next week I’ll find myself in a workable routine again. I have largely missed my life, my “mode of being” today.

The main thing I wish to write tonight is this: Motherwell has held my undying respect since my first year of teaching in 1988. When I recognized the depth of his scholarship in addition to his painterly output, I just wanted to live his kind of dream. He served on twenty-seven college faculties throughout his career, wrote and published heavily, and was in great demand as a public speaker. I have always loved his erudition, and  when I learned that he was perpetually conflicted between his library and his studio, I knew him to be a man after my own heart. I wish I could have sat down and had chats with him as a friend. His quote about the artist’s “modes of being” that I posted above to introduce this blog continues to abide with me; I love living the artist’s contemplative life, love living the dream. Every morning I awake, expecting an Oracle, anticipating inspiration from some divine source, and I am seldom disappointed. This to me is the Life of the Mind.

“Well, to me, James Joyce is the Shakespeare of modernism.”

Robert Motherwell, interview

I was amused to learn that Motherwell had a copy of Ulysses in every room of his house, and he was constantly picking up the book to read at random, having already read the text once in its entirety. To date, I am halfway through the book, and have yet to draw the depths of inspiration from the volume that Motherwell did, but I’m still hoping . . . Motherwell’s devotion to Joyce did lead me to A Porrait of the Artist as a Young Man. That volume I have read twice, and it is that volume that I continue to pick up at random and read with great pleasure; I just don’t have a copy in every room of the house yet.

The hour is drawing late, so I’ll close this one, and thank you for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal, feeling alone.

I blog, knowing I am not alone.

 

 

Morning Coffee with Dave & Paul Cezanne

August 22, 2018

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Within the painter, there are two things: the eye and the mind; they must serve each other. The artist must work at developing them mutually: the eye for the vision of nature and the mind for the logic of organized sensations, which provide the means of expression.

Paul Cezanne, quoted in Emile Bernard in “Cezanne’s Opinions,” 1904

Throughout my life, Cezanne’s work washed over my consciousness in successive waves. I was introduced to his work while taking art history as a senior in high school, and recall those days of fixation on one of his Card Players paintings:

cezanne card players

Continuing my study of art history into the college years, I became more aware of his still life arrangements.

cezanne still life

But while teaching the Humanities in my early years as a teacher at Lamar High School, I twice visited the Barnes Foundation while it was traveling, first to the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and later to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. It was during that exhibition that I was smitten for the first time by the work of Cezanne, notably because of this piece:

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I was smitten because the oil colors were so rich that the painting, ninety years later, still appeared wet. I also was amazed because I recognized some kind of Arcadian presentation, unlike the natural plein air landscapes or studio nudes of the Impressionist painters of his company. I then wondered what exactly was going on in Cezanne’s imagination to frame such a presentation.

Throughout the nearly three decades of teaching art history in high school, I never gave Cezanne the attention he deserved. I was honest with my class, explaining that he had many theories going on throughout his life, and I never quite understood them, aside from the popular explanations of his attempting to find a relationship between form and color. I believe in that regard I was more honest and direct than Hemingway was in his early Paris years as an emerging writer:

. . . I could walk through the gardens and then go to the Musee du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I went there nearly every day for the Cezannes and to see the Manets and the Monets and the other Impressionists that I had first come to know about in the Art Institute at Chicago. I was learning something from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. 

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I have laughed so many times over that passage! I scribbled in the margin of my book: “and you STILL are not articulate enough to explain it!” As for my teaching, I didn’t try to explain what I did not comprehend about Cezanne’s theories. And I will not attempt that this morning. Rather, I just want to share what his work and ideas have come to mean to me in my own pursuits.

Since retiring, I have taken up a number of famous artists in my leisure, grateful for the time and space now provided me to read quietly, reflectively, and not have to scurry about writing lectures and meeting three classes every day. I have taken up Motherwell, Rothko, Newman and Cezanne in these past two years, and poured countless hours into reading their interviews, biographies, criticisms, and poring over their images. Other artists will follow, I am sure, but I chose these particular individuals because they were serious, independent thinkers, not just skilled painters. And the Cezanne quote that opens this blog this morning has arrested my attention. As an artist, I have tried in recent years to focus my mind as well as my eye on the task of painting in watercolor. In studying the works of great artists, I have always been enamored with their talents, but their serious thoughts and constructions of theories have been just as fascinating to me.

While discussing three different ways of studying history in his Untimely Meditations, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expounded his preference for the “monumentalistic” approach which concentrated on past heroes in order to confront contemporary mediocrity with the possibility of greatness. That has been my practice since finishing graduate school, to fasten my attention on great figures of the past in order to better myself. I like that the graduation exercises are called “Commencement” because I truly believe that a person’s real education commences once s/he crosses the threshold of the stage, diploma or degree in hand. And since my commencement, I have continually sought out the words of visionaries, all the time feeling that I was climbing the mount and approaching the temple to consult the Oracle.

Late in life, after his first one-man show, in 1895, at the age of fifty-six, things began to change. Awestruck young artists would make their way to Aix, as if on a pilgrimage, to seek him out and hear him speak–and if they were very lucky, see him paint. As accounts of these meetings began to leak out, so the word spread. The sayings of Cezanne circulated like the fragments of Heraclitus.

Alex Danchev, Cezanne: A Life

It was not until I read this biography this summer that I learned Cezanne was a serious scholar, rising at 4:00 a.m. and entering his studio by 5:00 to read for at least two hours before going out to paint. He was classically trained, and loved translating Greek and Latin texts. I was fascinated to read of his fixation on Virgil and Horace, and his ability to quote them in their original tongues, from memory. As a lover of Greek, I had always hoped that my hours spent translating would in some way feed my artistic eye as well. Now, I receive encouragement to continue from Cezanne.

During my senior years, not only have I fastened my attention on the words of famous artists, seeking some kind of Oracle to direct my own efforts, but I have also returned to nature to look at it with fresh eyes in an attempt to come up with a theory or method to capture what I see and place it on paper. I was delighted to read Cezanne’s encouragement to study the masters but always give priority to nature:

The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read. We should not, however, content ourselves with retaining the beautiful formulas of our illustrious predecessors. Let’s take leave of them to study beautiful nature, let’s undertake to disengage our minds from them, let’s seek to express ourselves in accordance with our personal temperaments. Time and reflection, moreover, modify vision little by little, and finally comprehension comes to us.

Paul Cezanne, letter to Emile Bernard, 1905

As he discussed his pilgrimage to Cezanne’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence and his trek to Mont Sainte Victoire, Martin Heidegger remarked: “These days in Cezanne’s home country are worth more than a whole library of philosophy books. If only one could think as directly as Cezanne painted.” While traveling to New Mexico and Colorado this summer, I managed to finish the book Cezanne: A Life, by Alex Danchev. And it was Cezanne’s influence that moved me to spend an entire day on the cabin deck in South Fork, Colorado and do nothing but study and experiment with watercolor, rendering the evergreen trees that were bathed in that splendid Rocky Mountain atmosphere.

I painted “on the motif” (Cezanne’s favorite expression about painting en plein air). And as I gazed at the evergreens in the changing light and intermittently fed the birds and chipmunks that gathered on my deck, I eventually developed some experimental steps to painting trees as I had never tried before in watercolor. Below is the page of my journal that I scribbled on August 5 at 2:34 p.m.:

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s painting 6

s painting 4

s painting 1

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Because Cezanne was absorbed with blue pigments in his rendering of atmosphere, I experimented with blues that I had not used with much frequency before: Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Blue (Red Shade), Indanthrene Blue, Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Prussian Blue, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Antwerp Blue and Payne’s Gray. Previously, I had only worked with blue in my skies, and a little with color mixing. But I had never worked so much with blues in and around my green palette. I was truly in a different zone, and now that I have returned to Texas, am looking forward to experimenting further with this.

I just finished my first day in Logic class, and so marks the transition into my university duties. I have three courses this semester, but two are online, so I won’t have to invest as much in travel time and lecture writing. I believe focusing on logic will be a good thing, as I work to organize my mind as well as my eye and continue in this artistic enterprise. Reading always thrills me, but so does picking up the brush.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Morning Coffee with Dave and Waldo (again)

August 21, 2018

logic

The middle region of our being is the temperate zone. We may climb into the thin and cold realm of pure geometry and lifeless science, or sink into that of sensation. Between these extremes is the equator of life, of thought., of spirit, of poetry,–a narrow belt. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I simply cannot read an Emerson essay quickly; his layers of eloquent prose enrich me so that I have to pause often, reflect, scribble in the journal, and continue on. I would love to linger longer over this bard’s writing this morning, but it is the first day of class for me at Texas Wesleyan University, and I have to drive over to the campus to meet my new students. This semester offers much better than what I’ve known from past decades: As a high school teacher, I taught six classes of four different subjects over a course of a two-day cycle, with classes numbering as many as thirty-five students each. As an Adjunct Professor, my class today will consist of ten students, and I have only two other classes, both online–one with twenty-two and the other, fourteen.

Logic is the class I meet today, and those who know me are no doubt chuckling. One side of my brain has dominated throughout my educational career, and it wasn’t the linear one. I was invited to teach this subject over ten years ago, and it has been hard work for me the whole way, because I just am not naturally built this way. To use Emerson’s metaphor, I have had to be forced into the upper regions of mathematical precision and analysis. My comfort zone has been the arts and humanities in the lower, sensual realm. But thanks to the university’s assignments throughout the years, I feel that I am moving closer to the equator and learning to balance analytics with feelings.

John Locke defined logic as the “anatomy of thought.” I have always been smitten with that idea, and will try again this semester (both in class sessions along with online sessions in my other section) to nurture the students in the search for understanding the structure of our language and arguments.

Gotta run to class! Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself i am not alone.