Posts Tagged ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’

Reading is not a Wasted Activity

January 2, 2016

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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.

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Drawing into the Night

December 30, 2015

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You are an artist, are you not, Mr Dedalus? said the dean, glancing up and blinking his pale eyes.  The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.

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

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

Ovid, Metamorhposes–(“And he applied his spirit to obscure arts.”)

This evening, I’ve been in a James Joyce mood.  I read his Portrait of the Artist back in 1988, when I was working nights as a dispatcher for the Fort Worth Police Department.  I would begin teaching that fall, and I never forgot the ideas Joyce instilled in me, particularly with this autobiographical creed.  I wish to read the work again in its entirety–I have re-read large portions of it throughout the years since I first read the entire work.

The Ovid quote that opens Joyce’s book haunts me, as did my first encounters with Andrew Wyeth art.  I’ve never been able to explain what it is that I see in particular subjects that is “beautiful” or why the subjects hold me the way that they do.  I have stared at winter trees, stripped of their foliage, since 1969 when I first saw the Andrew Wyeth drawings, drybrush sketches, watercolors and egg tempera pieces.  In recent weeks, I’ve been doing drawings of trees from life, then when they were no longer available, drawings from my drawings.  This morning I was enchanted by a tree in the winter light just outside my living room window, and I drew it with a great sense of well-being.  Tonight I’m drawing it again, using my first drawing as a model.  I also photographed the tree twice today, and plan soon to do drawings from the photo.  In time, I plan to switch to watercolor to see how well I can handle these subjects in color.

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.

Flying Beyond the Nets Tonight

December 15, 2014

Monday Night in the Studio

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes. (“And he applied his spirit to obscure arts”)

Ovid, Metamorphosis VIII, 188

With this inscription, James Joyce opened his credo, titled A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  Identified as Stephen Daedalus, he took upon himself the identity of the Greek mythic hero who designed the labyrinth in Crete for King Minos, only to be imprisoned in that same labyrinth to keep the secret of its construction secure.  In the Ovid text, Daedalus pondered his fate until he realized that Minos, despite all his micromanagement, could not control the air, the atmosphere separating Crete from the freedom of the surrounding milieu.  So “he applied his spirit to obscure arts” and with his cunning, created the wings that would allow him and his son Icarus to escape the labyrinth.  As James Joyce surveyed the antiseptic influence of Irish nationalism and the Jesuit training that sculpted his youth, he inserted the following words into a discussion between Stephen Daedalus and one of his comrades in the novel:

The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of.  It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body.  When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight.  You talk to me of nationality, language, religion.  I shalll try to fly by those nets.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays Stephen Daedalus as a precocious youth in Jesuit school who grows up to become a young scholar who would ultimately reject taking the orders of the Jesuit priesthood and instead pursue the career of a writer, even if it meant having to leave Ireland to live in Paris.  Invoking the cunning of the heroic Daedalus, he offered the following manifesto to his trusted friend:

Look here, Cranly, he said.  You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do.  I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do.  I wll not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use–silence, exile, and cunning.

. . .

I set out this evening to work in the garage studio, and was experiencing some satisfying breakthroughs in this watercolor excursion.  As I worked, I was suddenly alerted to a very liberating and affirming word posted on Facebook by one of my former students finishing her semester at the university.  The verbal bouquet swept me off my feet as it spoke glowingly of how I had influenced her in the classroom during her high school years.  She will probably never know the power of the words she posted, or how they gave me the needed wings to fly this evening.  Realizing that I could not paint any longer, I laid down the brush and pursued something that had been on my mind anyway–to sit in the newly-furnished room in the back of my house with a pile of books, my journal, this laptop and my mind with the freedom of time and space to explore these Daedalus matters that have occupied my imagination since Thanksgiving break.  One of the problems we face in formal education involves those moments when we get stunned by some epiphany, the bell rings, we go to another class and are forced to change the subject.  We are not granted those vital spaces of soak time or intellectual composting. Those problems occur outside the classroom as well.  Life happens, and frequently we are covered up by daily domestic or business tasks that prevent us from thinking about life and where we are going as we try to navigate.  Tonight, I decided to sit quietly in the back room and let my thoughts move.

The garage studio will still be ready and waiting when I return.  But for now, I have a pile of books at my elbow, a steaming cup of tea filling this room with pleasant aromas, and a serene and grateful heart.  I owe this former student a great debt of gratitude for giving me wings tonight.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Still Wrestling with the Notion of Epiphany

December 14, 2014

 

Getting a Better Grip on this Still Life in Watercolor

Getting a Better Grip on this Still Life in Watercolor

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

Today started out a bit rough because I was still physically and mentally exhausted from the national conference I attended the past three days in Florida.  Changing time zones twice within the three days, accompanied by all-day meetings and not enough sleep at night, along with long flights taxed me more than expected.  I slept in till 8:30 this morning, and decided after showering and putting on coffee that I would read and record ideas in my journal until I broke this feeling of lethargy.  I chose three different staging areas in my home set up as cozy little reading and writing nooks, and kept an eye on the clock so as to change locations on the hour.  It worked.  By the time I finished my third “session,” I was ready to re-enter the garage studio and resume work on the still life begun last week.  The indolent spell had been broken.

James Joyce remains my all-consuming interest in literature.  I’m enjoying a book about him authored by  A. Walton Litz, checked out from our school library.  I read the biographical chapter, along with the ones on Portrait and Ulysses.  Over Thanksgiving I had re-read almost in its entirety Joyce’s Portrait and have become fascinated with his theories on aesthetics.  I must admit that I have never myself worked out a comprehensive theory of aesthetics.  But noticing that Joyce could not cast off his Jesuit training when it came to structuring his novels, I acknowledge that I have not cast off my own seminary training when studying academically or pursuing the arts. Litz observed that Joyce, upon renouncing his training for the prieshood, turned to a priestly life in the arts, and that his aesthetic theories focused on “epiphany, the moment when spiritual reality is manifested in artistic form, just as the incarnate Word was revealed to the Wise Men.” Moreover, he stresses that Joyce’s Jesuit training continued to serve his writer’s craft, because the training was directed toward methods rather than content.  The Jesuit General in 1892 defined Jesuit education and training as directed toward the mind, and that the essence of the training lay in the “form” or “spirit of the system,” not the specific subject matter.

In recent conversations with friends, I have confessed that my own lifestyle could be deemed “religious” because I still experience epiphany from a myriad of sources.  In my earlier days of the ministry, I sought such experiences solely from my study of the Bible and I earnestly pursued such experiences.  In these later years, I note that epiphany comes to me when it comes, without my having to jump-start the experience by setting up some kind of program.  I find much satisfaction in this.

The still life arrangement has been a struggle with me, until tonight.  I’m not sure what happened.  Maybe I just did not have enough going on in the painting until tonight, or maybe I just found some important keys in the decisions I made a few hours ago (I determined that I needed to explore more contrast, both in value as well as the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors). All I know is that I have taken my readings and notes on Joyce today very seriously, and have continued to stare at this congeries of objects assembled in my garage, wondering how to make them “fit” into a pleasing composition on my paper.  I’m starting to like what I see now.

I regret laying down the brush but the hour has passed 11:00 and I have to rise at 6:00 to start another week of school. I close by inserting this composite sketch I did of Joyce back around 1987:

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Closing Out a Weekend of Joyce Literature and Watercolor Experiments

December 7, 2014
Closing Out a Weekend in the Studio

Closing Out a Weekend in the Studio

The poet, through his command of words, is a mediator between the world of ideas and the world of reality.

Harry Levin, Preface to Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

I’m feeling the fatigue stemming from a weekend of scrutinizing, drawing and watercoloring still life objects.  But my heart is filled, and the words of James Joyce have been a soothing balm for my soul.  I would like to have gotten further into my watercolor, but I took my time, and built up quite a few layers, darkening the background on the righthand side of the composition.  The doorknob and surrounding wood has been fun to work on, and from time to time I’ve used pencil, eraser, straightedge and circle templates to lay out the other objects.  This is going to be a 16 x 20″ watercolor and I’m excited about the prospects.

The Beginnings of the Watercolor

The Beginnings of the Watercolor

Time now to bed and a decent night’s sleep for tomorrow’s school hours.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember. 

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Absorbed into the Artwork

December 7, 2014

Finally Breaking Ground on the Watercolor Still Life

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.

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

This sweet passage from Joyce’s novel describes the Saturday and Sunday mornings I experienced.  I would probably know such sentiments on weekdays were it not for a 6:00 alarm alerting me that I have sixty minutes to get out the door en route to school.  The fortune was mine today to spend the majority of my life in this garage studio drawing, revising, laying down my first layers of watercolor wash, and finally detailing some small areas.  I am falling headlong into this painting, and regret that I’ll have to call it off before long so I can begin my work week.  This weekend has been a Gift though, and I don’t mean to complain.  The temperatures today have remained chilly, the atmosphere outside dark and dim, and the coffee has stayed hot throughout the day.  I couldn’t have asked for a better script.

My Jumbled, Tangled Work Area

My Jumbled, Tangled Work Area

While working, I have listened to some old VHS tapes of Joseph Campbell discussing the writings of James Joyce. Though I myself have never fabricated and layed out a suitable aesthetic, I so enjoy listening to the discussions and theories of others concerning art.  Last week over lunch I was thrilled at the back-and-forth between myself and an alert student as we tried to hammer out some kind of feasible explanation of what exactly “art” is.  I often hear others say that aesthetics occur when we feel “held” by the object, when we linger.  Beauty suspends the desire to be elsewhere (I read this somewhere, it’s not my line!).  All I do know is, I enjoy making art, and unlike fishing, when I get skunked, I’m still in good spirits about the enterprise.  There is nothing like engaging in the task of making art, and this day has given me the opportunity. I remain grateful.

Thank you for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.