Archive for the ‘journal’ Category

A Life of the Mind

September 14, 2017

Blog Thursday

Morning Meditation over the Journals of Eugene Delacroix

Blog Thursday 2

Working on Watercolors as the Dawn Breaks

There, seated on a bench, I started to jot down in my notebook some reflections similar to those that I am tracing here. . . . I cannot and must not live in any other way than through the mind; the food that it demands is more necessary to my life than that which my body calls for.

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, July 14, 1850

Finally, a genuine “off” day between college lecturing. After the third week of the semester, I finally have my ducks in a row so that on the days I don’t have class I can actually spend my hours doing what I feel is most central to my life–reading, writing in my journal, blogging and making art. Tomorrow’s college lecture is ready so I don’t have to fret over those details.

I rose at 5 a.m., with a sense of joy and anticipation. Following breakfast, I found myself in the watercolor studio picking at a composition I had been working on the night before. I now have three railroad watercolors in progress, and am happily moving to and fro among them. By 6:15, I decided to break from the painting and retreat to my study to continue my reading from Delacroix’s journals. I laughed out loud when I read the passage posted above, because I have felt foolish keeping a handwritten journal religiously since 1985, and still scribbling in it almost daily, then occasionally writing a blog from what I’ve already written in my journal. And here, I find Delacroix admitting the same thing–keeping a notebook, then re-writing, editing what he first wrote as he transfers it into the journal now published. From time to time, I wonder if I should print out all my blog pages, then wonder if that is really necessary, since I’ve already recorded most of this stuff in my handwritten journals.

I have always loved this notion of “the life of the mind” and am gratified this morning to read Delacroix expressing the same sentiment. I’ve always feared that it sounded arrogant to say that I live a life of the mind, perhaps even foolish and impractical. But it’s accurate. Forty years ago this fall, I embarked on the life of the mind when I entered graduate school, thrilled at the daily pursuit of the history of ideas, and over these decades, reading has been my food, and attempting to express my ideas by making art and standing to deliver in classrooms has been my exercise.

On Monday evening, I will stand before the Society of Watercolor Artists in Fort Worth for the purpose of doing a watercolor demonstration. To describe this event as daunting is a gross understatement. I’ve known of the assignment for a number of months, but still, the anxiety of standing and delivering amidst a body of seasoned watercolorists keeps my inner doubts churning. At any rate, I’m preparing daily now to have something (hopefully) worthy to say and demonstrate when that hour arrives. Wish me luck!

Much of what I express on these blog pages is being shaped into the coming presentation. So, again, I thank all of you for your reading and your responses.

Until next time then . . .

I paint in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Advertisements

The Sublime in the Pre-Dawn

September 6, 2017

Hegel

Like a bird which alights nowhere, but hops perpetually from bough to bough, is the Power which abides in no man and in no woman, but for a moment speaks from this one, and for another moment from that one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I could not resist pushing aside my morning’s work for a moment to hang out another blog entry. While looking for an Emerson reference to illustrate one of my points in this morning’s lecture, I came across this one that I underlined in my book about a week ago and forgot, until this morning’s reminder. What a wonderfully poetic way to describe what I’ve known for decades–that the “power” of ideas is always flitting from one voice to another, and we can never pin it down in one place to stay put for us to dissect. I recall the theologian Karl Barth saying that attempting to describe God was like painting a bird in flight; you can only follow it with your eye.

My semi-retirement rhythms have found a nice pattern, despite the flitting of ideas from branch to branch. I’m teaching a course at the university that I’ve never taught before, yet as I research the themes necessary, I continually uncover thinkers I have studied over the years, and synthesizing my old knowledge with the new discussions keeps me fresh (I hope) and certainly enthusiastic. My pattern has emerged thus: I teach on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:00 and 10:00 (same course, twice). Preparing one fifty-minute lecture every forty-eight hours has not been as difficult as I had imagined. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do this over the past twenty-eight years. My routine has been to write out the lecture and power-point it the night before. Then, rising at 5 a.m. the morning of, I go over it one more time, always refining, consolidating, rewriting, cutting, adding . . . with coffee steaming in my mug. By the time class arrives, I am ready and enthusiastic. I cannot express the contrast of this newly-found university freshness and joy against the high school treadmill of a four-or-five subject load, Monday-through-Friday delivery, with grading and paperwork and deadlines stacked atop all that. I had no idea how difficult my past was. I know I am older, but feel much, much younger now. The feeling of hope and enthusiasm often borders on euphoria.

I have always enjoyed working at my desk, when I knew that I could put quality time into the work. My routine now often entails extensive reading and note-taking through the daytime hours. As night descends, I draft the lecture on the laptop, then reshape it in a powerpoint presentation. Later, as I sleep through the night, I believe that my mind has its way of composting all the raw materials I have poured into the class lecture. Rising at 5 a.m., knowing that I have another four hours before class time, I re-open the lecture, and as I re-read it, I find all kinds of ways to tighten it up with revisions, and the structure of it firms up. All the while, I find myself smiling inwardly, enjoying the work as it grows in me.

Today we focus on Machiavelli and Hobbes, and I’m using the philosophical framework of the later Hegel to package the discussion. I’m loving this because the final form of my lecture is not copied and pasted from someone else’s textbook, yet the subject I’m covering is congruent with the chapter of assigned reading from the class text.

HegeTeaching-1024x668

Cartoon of Hegel lecturing his students

Before my re-writing session this morning, I found this image on the Internet that I have enjoyed over the years, printed it and placed it in front of me as I worked.

The light is finally coming up at my window, reminding me that it is time to finish up my classwork and get to the university. I have a job to do, and I am loving it.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Warm Thoughts in the Cold Dawn

August 8, 2017

COLD COLORADO

It is language that tells us about the nature of a thing, provided that we respect language’s own nature. In the meantime, to be sure, there rages round the earth an unbridled yet clever talking, writing, and broadcasting of spoken words.  Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man. Perhaps it is before all else man’s subversion of this relation of dominance that drives his nature into alienation. That we retain a concern for care in speaking is all to the good, but it is of no help to us as long as language still serves us even then only as a means of expression.”

Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking”

This morning, a romantic notion drove me out to the deck of this Colorado cabin to watch the dawn break, read from Heidegger and record in my journal. But once I came across the passage posted above, the 46-degree dawn convinced me to withdraw into the warmth of my kitchen, pour a second cup, shake off the chill and focus on what I believe to be a genuine oracle.

Since the second week in June, I have been mostly on the road, traveling Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and now Colorado. I have never stayed longer than two weeks in any residence. In the Heidegger essay “Building Dwelling Thinking”, he discusses the nature of dwelling, what constitutes an architectural dwelling, how the dwelling shapes the one inside, and more profoundly the nature of language as the “house of being.” Language shapes us rather than vice versa.

During the Summer of ’17, my mind has not stopped questioning, probing the power of language and how it shapes us, the role it plays in carving out our character. In my journal I continually write, “What exactly am I?” “What word organizes my character?” “What kind of a human being am I, precisely”? Continually, I have probed language, seeking to divine the kinds of words necessary to help me understand what this is all about. I absolutely love living the retired life, but now that there is not a job to demand where I am to be and when, I am intrigued at this notion of living life and enjoying this precious Gift.

I took editorial liberties with the quote posted above, choosing to render in bold the sentence that seized my imagination, and striking out the one word I believe no longer describes today’s public discourse. For those of you who know me, I disdain most of the language that shapes today’s popular media, both televised and social. My blog is posted on a number of outlets, including Twitter, but I refuse to send 140-character tweets because one person has given that outlet its current identity, and I choose not to be identified among those participants.

I take language seriously, and I take character seriously. My precious friend Wayne White, also a blogger, shares my sentiment about the blog: we wish that readers would feel positive and whole when they read us, not visceral and angry.

So, as I close, I invite you to consider the following:

Sneering does not require depth of character or skill.

Being angry does not make you special or unique.

Cheap talk, especially insults, does not build a more meaningful life.

What exactly are you? What kind of footprint are you leaving day-by-day, as you travel this life? What do you really wish to be? What words shape you?

Thanks for reading.

 

Working Sometimes from the Fact

November 17, 2016

20161116_100144

I can’t work completely out of my imagination. I must put my foot in a bit of truth; and then I can fly free.

Andrew Wyeth

It was 85 degrees in north Texas yesterday, November 16.  I have been impatiently waiting for fall weather and winter to follow.  One of the reasons is that I enjoy so much gazing at winter trees with their core anatomy on view.  Leaves, like clothing, conceal the tree’s essence, and I regret that living in the southwest, I see the bare trees for such a short span of the year.

I have posted the Andrew Wyeth quote because I feel those same sentiments.  Beginning last winter, I drew trees in pencil, rendering them as accurately as I could see them.  I know that Wyeth and Edward Hopper said that in later years they could work out of their imagination, no longer requiring the “fact” in front of their eyes for scrutiny.  I am not there yet; if I try and draw or paint something that I am not looking at, then it comes out looking like a cartoon or cheap illustration.

The tree above, I guess, is a hybrid.  I began drawing it from life Tuesday evening, as I awaited my artitistic friends for our weekly gathering at the cafe.  I didn’t get very far before they arrived.  So, I finished the drawing yesterday, using my imagination rather than a reference photo.  I’m satisfied with the result, and am now ready to move on to the next tree.  Unfortunately I spend my workdays indoors in an interior room without windows.  So I’ll have to wait . . .

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Quiet Within

November 9, 2016

Alone with my Books

I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it.  There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within, so long as fear and desire are not at loggerheads, so long as meanness and extravagance are not at odds and harassing each other. For what is the good of having silence throughout the neighborhood if one’s emotions are in turmoil? 

Seneca, On Noise

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

It’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.

Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

I am nearing the end of a string of delicious hours in the quiet of my study tonight.  My reading has been broad, but probably the best moments were spent in William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  Thanks to one of his chapters, I’ve returned to reading Seneca, and tonight uncovered a lovely article written by Jennifer Bowen Hicks: “Whispered Wills and Words That Bleed: On Transparency of Thought in the Essay” (http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/craft/craft_hicks38.html).

An evening like this was long overdue.  The value of the lessons from Hamlet’s Blackberry, for me, is impossible to exaggerate.  Time is too precious to spend abundantly on the Internet and social media.  As Powers argues, flitting from link to link eliminates real depth from life, from introspection.  Every four years, I manage to get pulled into election chatter, and in the final months devote what is no doubt hundreds of hours to reading articles on the Internet and listening to news outlets.  Then the election comes and goes and I come away feeling I need a serious bath, a cleansing.  On this, the day after, I have stayed away from social media almost entirely–almost.  And now I am retreating to the wilderness to find that sanctuary I have been missing.  I need to recharge some batteries and reset my compass.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.

Proverbs 23:7

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Afternoon Thoughts

September 5, 2016

As the sleeper hovers between consciousness and dream, a shadowy thought emerges from the twilight gloom, sharpens eventually to a silhouette, takes on color and finally assumes three-dimensional form, yet casts from itself a second shadow.

–my own words

Pausing on this final afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend, I take full delight in writing out my ideas, happy that space has been given for quiet solitude. Grateful to re-visit early scraps of thoughts hastily scribbled in old journals. Happy to re-read handwritten notes poked into dented manila folders running back to the 1980’s. In doing this, I recall a Whitman poem where he sensed a specter rising before him and gesturing toward his manuscripts, perhaps mocking his efforts. I knew of such days when I mocked my thoughts as shallow and immature. Today however, I feel little such humiliation while reading half-baked thoughts from my past. Granted, the stuff I wrote thirty years ago lacks the growth of what I am capable of composing in my older years, and why shouldn’t it? We grow up. Life files off many of our sharp, brittle points, replacing them with better-rounded, more durable surfaces. Still, it is exciting to find those occasional recorded thoughts from earlier days that still pack a punch of authenticity today. And as we continue to revisit our earlier dreams, we oftentimes find intriguing shadow-twins emerging next to them. And in these shadows we find new adventures waiting, new ideas worth exploring.

Thanks for reading.

So, why do you think that is ever going to change?

February 21, 2016

image

Today has been a day for cleaning up many unfinished art projects and sorting out new ideas for the studio. I have begun a new watercolor of an old subject I did years ago (twice) and am excited about its prospects. I am unable to post it because it is so pale with preliminary washes that no reader would be able to discern the subject yet. Soon, I hope!

My dear poet friend Stacy published on her blog this morning and knocked the wind out of me. I am posting the link below.

https://stacycampbell1010.wordpress.com/

Later in the day, over coffee, we discussed this thing about being “blocked.” I know all-too-well the moments when I’m wondering just what to tackle next in my painting, accompanied by the self-doubt that is convinced that my efforts will fall short of my aspirations.  And as I read Stacy’s post repeatedly, one idea rose to the surface–a guitar master once listened as his student complained that he heard the music better than he was able to make it come out of his fingers. The master asked, “And why do you think that is ever going to change?”

That is exactly the point. My thoughts are always better than my expressions, whether they be public discourse, playing guitar, singing, writing, making art, even journaling. My expression never reaches the quality of my idea. My works of art never reach the level of Art. I suppose the sooner we accept that reality, the easier it will be to pick up the pen or brush or musical instrument.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Saturday Ruminations

February 20, 2016

image

He continues to inspire people to make art out of the substance of their daily lives, rather than to seek out special ‘artistic’ subjects. He continues to inspire ordinary people to break out of the narrow confinements of lives they have beeen handed down.

Steve Turner, Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster

It seems unfair to awaken at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, but at least I used the time to finish reading the Jack Kerouac biography I just cited above, spend some time scribbling in my journal, then making a stab at sketching one of my favorite spots for flyfishing–the Brazos River below Possum Kingdom dam, where they release rainbow trout every winter. I took a photograph of my favorite Highway 16 bridge the last time I went there, and since I got totally skunked, catching zero trout, I thought I may as well attempt some sketches of that gorgeous environment.

Sketching brightens my disposition, and I needed that this morning. Reading details of the closing decade of Kerouac’s life always saddens me. He didn’t manage to publish On the Road until 1957 and then eleven years later he was dead. That final decade was tragic beyond words, as recognition for his literary work finally came while his spirits tanked. He lacked the disposition to savor being a public figure, and writing no longer brought him bliss.

I like the observation that Turner drew near the close of the biography, and I love the challenge of creativity just as much as I love people who respond to that challenge. Recently, I have felt pain as I have read one account after another of a famous creative spirit who could not continue to thrive creatively when the fame set in. Often it was because they were stripped of their environment of solitude that was necessary for creative exploits. Added to that was the pressure to sustain a particular style or signature that fed the public but no longer intrested the creator. That often proved a no-win situation. If they continued in the style, they were unhappy, feeling that they were doing hack work to satisfy the market. If they did indeed pursue new stylistic avenues, the public rejected it, wanting the familiar trademark stuff.

I have always savored the remark made by Robert Motherwell in an interview concerning the life choices of the Abstract Expressionist artists before their work was discovered: “If no one gave a damn about what we did, why not do whatever we wanted?” That is the kind of felicitious artful lifestyle that appeals to me–being able to do what pleases oneself without having to worry about the market. I have not expressed enough gratitude for my having a steady job throughout my adult life that supports what I do in the creative realm. I can succeed or I can fail at my art, but at least I can continue to earn a living and not have to ask anyone to support what I do.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Reading is not a Wasted Activity

January 2, 2016

image

Mother indulgent. Said I have a queer mind and have read too much. Not true. Have read little and understood less.

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

Decades ago, a relationship ended between a young lady and myself shortly after she announced to me that I read too much, and reading is boring.  I never once looked back with regret on that broken engagement. And I suppose that for as long as I live, I will hear someone express the sentiment that reading is a waste of time and energy.  I could not disagree more vehemently. It has been reasoned to me that I read because I am a teacher.  Not true.  I am a teacher because I read–that was the order in which my life events progressed.  I became a lover of ideas, books were a major source for those ideas, and teaching became a natural forum for me to express what I read.

Why do I read?  For a variety of reasons, all of them defensible.  But fundamentally, reading makes me think. Reading engages all of me. When I linger over lines from Shakespeare or James Joyce, I have to work at understanding, and when the meaning finally rises to the surface of my consciousness, amazing things begin to happen.  The new thought dredges up other coinciding memories from past experiences and ideas from other sources.  And slowly a new skyscraper of truth is erected.   My city of ideas has enlarged and my own being has enlarged. I am a transformed person, with renewed energy to live life and to create new possibilities. The process of reading is like no other–there is a depth of excavation, followed by the laying of a new foundation, followed by the construction of a new structure that is then added to an expanding city of thought–a philosophy still under development.

These events do not happen when I am scanning newspaper headlines, staring at a news broadcast, sitting in a room full of chattering people, or jumping from link to link on the Internet. They do not happen there.  They happen in the soft confines of my reading chair before the fire or in the corner of my study, at my writing desk.  Reading, for me, is always time and energy well-spent.

2015-12-19-16.35.37.jpg.jpeg

A Sacred Space Where Word and Image Can Merge

July 30, 2015
Combined Text and Image in Drawing

Combined Text and Image in Drawing

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Thanks to comments from my blogging friend Tony, and encouragement from Dinah Bowman, I’ve decided to explore further the possibility of sketchbook/journal art, allowing my thoughts to nestle alongside the images I attempt to draw and paint. For decades, this is how my mind has operated when imagination forms words and pictures. And yet, I can recall only Leonardo da Vinci among the artists who combined his sketchbook with his journals, the words meandering around and into his drawn images. For a number of years as an art teacher in public schools, I tried to establish this practice among my students, without success, as far as I could determine. A couple of years ago, a very gifted pair of twins in my A.P. Art History class daily sketched and wrote out their ideas in Moleskine journals, and seeing them do that inspired me to do it, from time to time, but not with consistency. Funny–I’ve had no problem maintaining journals and blogs without a break, but the sketchbook aspect just never seemed to stick with me. At any rate, I did buy a sketchbook a few weeks ago, when my last Moleskine journal was completely filled. And I have done more drawing in this sketchbook, though I frequently tear out the pages (hence the one posted above). I am determined to find my way in this endeavor.

My blogging friend Tony wrote, asking if I had the three pages presented in an earlier blog prepared for posting and reading. I did not. But a phone call to Dinah resulted in her sending me the images via email (she lives eight hours away, and now has my Laguna Madre portfolio for framing) and I am all-too-happy to post them this morning, Thank you for asking, Tony. These are for you. And Dinah, Tony and I both thank you for taking the time to photograph and send these.

.

This is the very first watercolor I attempted while on the island in the Laguna Madre. Once completed, I disliked it, thinking it far too pale and devoid of contrast. Nevertheless, it was the first, and has been selected to be in my show this coming October. I like Dinah’s idea of adding my journal entry to the bottom. The plan is to float this watercolor sketch/journal entry in a frame, instead of cropping it with a mat as one would with a traditional watercolor.

This was watercolor number four, completed at the end of the first day of my island stay. Currently, the plan is to float this one in the frame as well, leaving the crimped edges with the staple holes showing (I had this one stretched over canvas stretchers while painting it).  When I stopped painting it (the evening had arrived and the light vanished) there was a considerable amount of negative area occupying the top half of the surface, and my idea was that it could nevertheless be cropped and matted, and presented as a vignette with a halo of light around the borders. Dinah suggested that I insert my journal entry onto this one as well–one of many reasons I am so glad for my obsessive/compulsive habit of keeping journals.

I have an interview later this morning with a free-lance journalist. He wants to write a column for the September issue of Arlington Today magazine about my Artist-in-Residence experience. This has been a gift that keeps on giving, and I am so thrilled at everyone who has reached out to me, allowing me to share this story. Daily, I am writing and revising my materials covering this Artist-in-Residency, hoping that a book could emerge. I have only published articles in magazines, but never wrote or illustrated an actual book. Now I am hoping I can carry out such a project, and as I proceed, I am looking for ways to combine my writing, drawing and painting into an acceptable art form. I thank you, my readers, for all your positive comments that encourage me to stay on this path.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.