Ideas Surging during Class Preparations

Prepping for tomorrow’s watercolor class

The first principle announces that “spirit consonance” imbues a painting with “life’s movement.” This “spirit” is the Daoist qi, the breath that animates all creation, the energy that flows through all things. When a painting has qi, it will be alive with inner essence, not merely outward resemblance. Artists must cultivate their own spirit so that this universal energy flows through them and infuses their work.

Marilyn Stokstad, Art History

I seldom work on my art at night, but I have a watercolor class to teach tomorrow at Arlington’s Show Me the Monet gallery from 2-5:00. We’re going to render the historic stable that housed Royal Ford, a prize racehorse. The structure is on the campus of Arlington Baptist University, and Sandi and I strolled the place in the early evening a few weeks ago to take pictures of the subject.

photo of the Royal Ford stable, Arlington Baptist University
Sketchbook page

I opened a small sketchbook at the table tonight and worked out a quick drawing, using the Blackwing Matte pencil I’ve come to enjoy using while journaling (I feel a spiritual connection, knowing the pencil was used by Chuck Jones when he created Bugs Bunny, along with writers including Steinbeck and E. B. White as well as composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein).

As I sketched, the mere mechanics of drawing soon gave way to spiritual musings and I found my mind drifting back to ideas I had studied years ago involving the sixth-century Chinese thinker Xie-He and his Six Canons for Painting. The first principle involves “spirit consonance” and refers to the spirit that animates the work of art. This I find hard to describe in words. It reminds me of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road when he tries to relay his experience of listening to a musician who had “it.”

“Now, man, that alto man last night had IT–he held it once he found it; I’ve never seen a guy who could hold so long.” I wanted to know what “IT” meant. “Ah well”–Dean laughed–“now you’re asking me impon-de-rables–ahem! Here’s a guy and everybody’s there, right? Up to him to put down what’s on everybody’s mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets it–everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it’s not the tune that counts but IT–” Dean could go no further; he was sweating telling about it.

All my life I have loved making art. And when I am not making it, I am thinking about it and always looking at the world for possibilities to draw or paint. But when I sit down to create a piece of art, I am always second guessing what exactly I am doing. I have been trained extensively in the mechanics, and I have practiced the mechanics. But I know that “art” is more than the mechanics. Much more.

I am nowhere near the musician that I am the artist. I love my Martin D-35 guitar, and love the way it sounds. I was first taught the guitar basics when I was in fifth grade. I know how to play the guitar. But I know that when I play, I am obsessed with the “correctness” of my playing. I understand the chords, the notes, the fingerpicking patterns. But I feel that I play with the sensitivity of a machine. I can listen to another play an instrument much inferior to my own Martin, and yet the sounds that emanate from the instrument can bring tears to my eyes. That musician has IT. I don’t.

Visual art I know much better. But when I am making art and watching what emerges from my pencil, or flows out from my brush, I feel that there are those times when the only thing occurring is the mechanics, the correctness of my techniques. But then there are those other moments . . . moments when the picture seems suddenly to take on a life of its own, seems to be painting itself, and I feel that I am a passive instrument in the hands of a superior spiritual force. In moments such as that, I draw or paint, feeling I could do no wrong. In moments such as that, I’m not aware if I am making art for a matter of minutes or engaged for hours. Time elides. And there is no sufficient way to describe that experience. It happens with me sometimes with the guitar, but very rarely. I feel that dynamic much more when drawing or painting.

As I re-read this, I feel somewhat embarrassed. I will probably have enough mental editors in place tomorrow that I won’t babble and scare my watercolor students. But I do hope that somehow I can instill in them that there is more to watercoloring than learning techniques. My wish for anyone who endeavors to make art is for him/her to know the ecstasy that comes from being seized with a dynamic that transcends technical methods.

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.

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “Ideas Surging during Class Preparations”

  1. sienablue Says:

    I don’t know if I will ever get into that state while painting. I haven’t had enough formal training to even master the basics. Once, fleetingly, I felt it while playing a Mozart piano sonata many years ago. I was pregnant at the time, so I don’t know if that gave me a tap into some other soul’s spirit consonance. That was my firstborn and he is not musical. The second son is a fine musician. I am sad to say I barely touch the piano now.

    Interestingly, one of the Tai Chi masters, Cheng Man Ching, may have had the secret to maintaining spirit consonance across many skills.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: