Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Lord Tennyson’

Extracting Art from the Land

June 5, 2015
A Quiet Moment Before the Last Day of School

A Quiet Moment Before the Last Day of School

But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,–

“I am monarch of all I survey

My right there is none to dispute.”

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Today is the last day of school. Grades are being finalized, reports submitted, textbooks inventoried, classrooms cleaned, debris carried to the trash, and of course my mind is hours south of here. I am not looking across a classroom of desks, but across an expanse of the Gulf to the distant, shimmering horizon. As I put away the art history texts, I don’t see the masterworks of the centuries, but watercolors of foliage, sand and water, waiting to be born.

This morning, before the students arrived, I drew my tattered copy of Walden from my bookbag, a volume that has traveled the world with me since I purchased it at Oregon State University in 1992, and turned to the passage posted above. In every plein air encounter, I think of these words, and the humor of silently drawing off something from the land while no one else has an inkling of what I am doing. With all the talk we hear of our plunder of non-renewable resources, I at least know that I am not taking anything from the land that I survey, nor am I leaving any trash for someone else to pick up when I walk away. The encounter is always quiet and serene, and the only thing that changes going forward is my life. Tennyson said it well:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

I am preparing to take all the students of last year with me into the future, and soon I will add the Laguna Madre to my personal constitution. And hopefully, art will continue to be made.

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.

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A New Chapter. A New Dream.

January 19, 2015

Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds

Barnett Newman

The statement above from Barnett Newman drew a good laugh from me, seeing that I’ve been focusing on trying to establish some kind of working theory of aesthetics to understand better what I’m trying to do as a painter.  My sentiments have been close to his, as I’ve painted for years, not feeling bound by some kind of aesthetic code.  Still, I’m interested in listening to theories on aesthetics, and still am trying to come up with a statement of my own.  Rising at 6:00 this morning, I was delighted to enter my study and begin work afresh, knowing there is no school until tomorrow.  And as I thought of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, my thoughts drifted toward the power that drives revolutionary figures such as he and the other heroes we teachers salute as we enter the classroom daily, holding up to our students the leading thinkers of our civilization who have had the courage to make their ideas known.

A couple of years ago, I began organizing my computer files around ideas about art and what goes into making it.  I smilingly filed these under “Notes for a Book,” not taking myself seriously as one to publish an actual book.  But early this morning, I took a new turn: rather than try to write a book, I re-entered those files today with a mind toward organizing them into lectures, public speeches and essays with a mind toward publishing in magazines or journals, or giving some public talks on these matters.  At the very least, they could be served up as fodder on this blog, or become teaching units in my classroom at school.  At this time, I can say it felt good to see the first two pages of text rolling off my printer, knowing these were my words, my ideas, heaped and composted over the past couple of decades, compliments of all the great minds I’ve been privileged to read and hear.  Perhaps Tennyson was onto something with his line from “Ulysses”–I am a part of all that I have met.

The morning has been a very rewarding one, thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myselrf that I am not alone.

Meditations Ranging from Tennyson to the Venerable Bede

June 18, 2014
Small Collage Study of Charles Dickens

Small Collage Study of Charles Dickens

Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the sorm of spring, not afraid that afterwards summer may not come.

Rainer marie Rilke

I have spent a goodly portion of today in a state of suspended eudaimonia, an excellent spirit of good will.  I cannot explain how these feelings emerged, but I accept them as a legitimate gift.

Summer school began yesterday.  And in my senior years, I confess that there emerges all those usual possibiliites to waterski over this sumer task, after all, it’s summer school.  These are seniors.  The subject is British literature.  How many teenagers are going to be serious in such a study?  Yes, those feelings are real.  But I could not take the task lightly.  I had not soaked myself in the British tradition for a little over a year.  Instead of pulling out all the old, worn lesson plans, I dove into the texts with a renewed sense of anticipation.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

I chose this time to introduce the course on the first day with Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Victorian sage, rather than Beowulf.  And when the moment arrived to lecture on Tennyson’s life and contribution, I felt that unexplainable joy of standing in that room as a connection, a conduit, joining that beautiful sage to the imaginations and sentiments of these high school seniors.  The students asked questions.  They answered questions.  The offered follow-up observations.  In short, they engaged.  And then they wrote essays from the heart, essays I read with bosom-swelling joy.

I don’t always know this kind of success.  How precious it was this time to read written confessions from young, engaged minds, acknowledging with Ulysses that “I am a part of all that I have met.”  And how touching to hear their affirmations after reading “In Memoriam: A. H. H.”  When students admit that it is “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” I can think of no higher affirmation of the educational process.  Listening to them musing after today’s lecture that no one ever gets anywhere in life by quitting, by folding their cards and saying “life isn’t fair” moved me.  One by one, they observed that Tennyson had been dealt a poor hand from the start, but he got where he did by playing his hand, again and again, willing to try again after each loss, and ultimately to win.

This afternoon, my heart was so flooded by the student responses on day two, that I could not simply dash through my old materials on the Venerable Bede.  I sat at my writing desk for hours, until the material became new and fresh to me, again.  I read, I wrote, I re-wrote, I tweaked previous talking points and lecture skeletons on Bede and his Ecclesiastical History.  And then I got stung again:

You are sitting feasting with your eldermen and thanes in winter time; the fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging; and a sparrow flies swiftly through the hall.  It enters in at one door and quickly flies out through the other.  For the few moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm, it flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm and into it again.  So this life of man appears but for a moment; what follows or indeed what went before, we know not at all.

No doubt much of this afternoon’s enthusiasm in the study was due to my revisitation of studies I pursued during my seminary days of the 1970′s and 80′s.  But it was new today, because I am not the person I was in the 70′s and 80′s.  This is a new era, a refreshingly new chapter.  The text cited above from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History recalled a text I encountered during my dissertation days, nearly thirty years ago, from the Wisdom of Solomon:

All of them passed like a shadow and like a fleeting rumor; like a ship traversing the heaving water, of which, when it has passed, no trace can be found, no path of its keel in the waves.  Or like a bird flying through the air; no evidence of its course is to be found–but the fluid air, lashed by the beat of pinions, and cleft by the rushing force of speeding wings, is traversed.  And afterward no mark of passage can be found in it.  Or as, when an arrow has been shot at a mark, the parted air straightway flows together again so that none discerns the way it went through.  Even so we, once born, abruptly came to nought and held no sign of virtue to display . . . 

Dinnertime arrived, and I was too “wired” to retreat to the kitchen.  Instead I drove to Stovall Park in south Arlington, surprised by rainfall and cool, strong winds that pushed the thermometer down to 79 degrees.  I sat in the shelter of the pavilion, enjoyed the outside with its smells of a freshly-washed landscape accompanied by whispers of the wind and my own soul fluttering its wings of genuine happiness and contentment.  I dont’ even know how long I stayed there, but I filled pages of my journal and read with delight some pages from Julia Cameron’s Finding Water and Anthony Storr’s Solitude.  

With a quickening pulse, I push out the paragraphs on this blog, grateful to have some kind of an outlet for an event today of which no one else knew.

Thanks for reading,
I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to keep from being completely alone.