Wandering Thoughts while Painting

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Making Headway with this Commission

No one can get anywhere without contemplation. Busy people who do not make contemplation part of their business do not do much for all their effort.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The morning started early this time, around 5:30. With my coffee, I tried to read from my “Bible” (Robert Henri, The Art Spirit), but found myself instead scribbling out a large number of pages in my journal. I recall Friedrich Nietzsche, as a classical philologist grieving for the scholar who could not think “unless he had a book between his fingers.” Nietzsche said that it was a tragedy to rise early in the morning with a mind fresh and ready for ideas, and to waste that time in other thinkers’ transcripts. I am convinced that if the nineteenth century had a problem with books standing between a thinker and his/her thoughts, today it is smart phones. Alain de Botton once said that the problem with our phones is not that we’re gaming too much, but that “they don’t allow us enough time with our thoughts.” Putting my phone on the shelf, I gave myself to good thoughts and good reading, knowing that whatever came to me over my phone could wait.

Probably the reason for my percolating mind this morning was reading Henri before bedtime last evening. I was captivated by his comments on the “powerful demarcation between the surface and the deep currents of human development.” In Platonic fashion, Henri divided the world between a surface, material realm and an underlying, foundational, spiritual one. Building on this scheme, Henri then divided artists between the two realms. Emerging from the world of the illustrator which he knew all-too-well, Henri argued that “the artist of the surface does not see further than material fact. He describes appearances and he illustrates events.”

Henri, as a sage, devotes a large section of his book The Art Spirit to inspiring artists to seek that underlying spiritual dynamic:

Event and upheavals, which seem more profound than they really are, are happening on the surface. But there is another and deeper change in progress. It is of long, steady persistent growth, very little affected and not at all disturbed by surface conditions. The artist of today should be alive to this deeper evolution on which all growth depends, has depended and will depend.

Aristotle pointed out two branches of knowledge: technē (from which we get technology) furnishes us the tools for our tasks, and sophia (translated “wisdom”) which is closer to the Delphic Oracle (“Know Thyself”), furnishing us with insight. It is this inner, self-knowledge that Aristotle said points us to the spirit of well-being or fulfilment (eudaimonia).

I have written about this in other blog posts but will write it again: I regard myself as a late bloomer, educationally. Throughout my public schooling, I lacked the maturity and discipline to apply myself to the school disciplines of study. The only skill I possessed was that as an artist, and fortunately those technical abilities (which I developed enthusiastically during junior and senior high school) landed me a scholarship to the university. At the university, I woke up to the world of ideas and could not satisfy my lust for learning. When my doctorate was completed, I did a swan dive into the classroom and remained for three decades. During these years in the educational crucible, I continued to study and reflect and examine the foundations for my artistic enterprise.

Now, retired, I find myself constantly making sketches of myself while in my element, seated, calm, and exploring my aesthetic world by making art, reading and writing out my thoughts:

Shultz reduced

 

This morning, while rendering this locomotive, I thought of Aristotle’s words, and decided that for me, technē could assist in portraying the “surface” of this painting, while hopefully sophia would percolate like my morning coffee, producing eudaimonia.

Thanks for reading, and please check out my website www.davidtrippart.com.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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