Creative Eros, Ebbing and Flowing

Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am full of thoughts, and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to-morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”

Emerson has been a polestar for me since my first year as a teacher. I still remember my liberation the day I read “Circles” and came to understand his sensitivity to the natural ebb and flow of the creative lifestyle. From that day forward, that idea has been brought to my attention repeatedly, reading it in the poetry of Walt Whitman and in the interviews of a number of twentieth-century painters. Long ago, while in the ministry, I learned that parishioners often deceived themselves, believing they could receive the gift of perpetual spiritual bliss. In my years of teaching, the question was repeatedly put to me–how can one sustain a high level of creativity? From the days of reading this Emerson essay, my answer has been the same–one cannot sustain that peak of spiritual bliss or creative eros. Life moves in circles. We require intake if we are to output. We must inhale in order to exhale. We must rest in order to exert. The ocean ebbs and flows. These rhythms are natural and inevitable.

I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly tried to cheat the natural order. I know the stories of creative spirits taking amphetamines in order to sustain creative exploits for up to 72 hours without sleep. I have always been alarmed at that thought. In my years as a graduate student, I recall drinking coffee and swallowing No-Doz tablets in order to stay up an entire night typing a paper to meet a deadline. But I believe I always returned to my bed the following evening. I never thought it possible to sustain beyond that. Besides, if staying awake were the only prerequisite for creative eros, then the chemical answer would suffice. But the reality is, excellent sleep, diet and exercise can still yield a day of zero creative eros, despite the peak physical condition.

Creative eros comes and goes. For a number of weeks I have faithfully shown up at my studio daily to read, reflect, write and paint. There have been some good moments, but nothing to write home about (hence the recent blog hiatus). But this morning, when I awoke, the fire was lit—I’ve been in the studio the entire day, spreading my attention across five watercolors. In earlier years I would have been concerned about A.D.D., but I think I am just interested across several subjects today, and have enjoyed grazing from more than one pasture. Reading has been rewarding as well, though usually I pick up a book while waiting for a watercolor to dry. When working on a number of them, I just move from one painting to the next, not requiring a book for those drying periods. Still, I’ve been nourished by Hemingway, Zola, Emerson, and have been spending quality time in a number of Andrew Wyeth books. A splendid day.

All of these are still in progress, but I’m in no hurry. The process has been most engaging. 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.


5 Responses to “Creative Eros, Ebbing and Flowing”

  1. gaiainaction Says:

    ‘I blog to remind myself that I’m not alone’ I really like that, maybe that is what we are all doing and so it is lovely to get feedback. I’ve really enjoyed your post, I too like Ralph Waldo Emerson.


    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you for posting! Making art has always been a solitary enterprise, but even more so now that we’re stuck inside with all this social distancing. Always glad to meet someone who appreciates Emerson!

      Liked by 1 person

      • gaiainaction Says:

        The pleasure is mine David but yes we are all rather spending more time on our own these days. It’s interesting what creativity it brings out in us.


  2. Dian Darr Says:

    I love the ideas in “Circles.” Sometime we just live with too much pressure to be perfect- to perform. It really helps to understand process in our lives! Love this blog entry!


    • davidtripp Says:

      This is a subject I want to continue addressing. I may be finding it easier at my age to accept shortcomings, knowing I am still alive and there are opportunities to improve. Contrary to what my friends think, I am not all that hard on myself–I always know that I can do better, and don’t get as upset with myself as I did when I was younger.


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