Posts Tagged ‘Caspar David Friedrich’

Plein Air Painting and Thoughts from an Ancient Chinese Canon

March 25, 2015
Winter Tree Study in Stovall Park

Winter Tree Study in Stovall Park

The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If he does not see anything within him, he should give up painting what he sees before him.

Caspar David Friedrich

Though we travel the world to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today, while re-reading the Six Canons from Xie He, a sixth-century critique of art from a Chinese thinker, I thought upon the first canon: Engender a sense of movement through spirit consonance. One interpreter renders the final item “spirit resonance” or “vitality.” It was said that the Chinese critics thought if a work of art did not contain “spirit resonance”, then there was no reason to spend any more time looking at it. I decided to ponder this while taking my exercise walk tonight, and take my supplies with me just in case. As I strolled Stovall Park, I came across this bare-bones winter tree waving in the rising winds signaling a possible storm. I set up an easel, the storm moved around me, though there was some drizzle (it’s watercolor, so no bother), and after thirty minutes I decided to stop with what I had. Just as last weekend, when I gazed into the tree tops at Richard Greene Linear Park, I found myself attracted to the movement of the limbs in the crown of the trees, gently dancing in the high winds. This is a study I want to pursue further, as I have never been satisfied with my tree studies in paintings. For most of my life, I have admired the anatomy of trees in winter, with all their contours exposed, and wished to capture them on paper. Finally I’m getting around to trying more than just once or twice. I cannot explain my connection with nature, but I’ve always been moved by Emerson’s words from his first book Nature:

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.

Stopping after 30 Minutes

Stopping after 30 Minutes

I am not a horse person. I do not ride. But I’m always amused that when I set up an easel adjacent to an empty pasture, it doesn’t stay empty very long. I don’t pretend to know horse psychology, don’t know if they expect me to feed them, reach out to them, or if they’re just curious at the new side show. But I do love their company, and think few animals are more magnificent than horses.

One Should Never Paint Alone

One Should Never Paint Alone

Thanks for reading. It’s been another good day and night.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Personal Questions about Style and Technique

March 3, 2014
Recent 8 x 10" commission completed

Recent 8 x 10″ commission nearing completion

The man who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime he may have something to express, will never have the technique of the thing he wishes to express. . . . The technique learned without a purpose is a formula which when used, knocks the life out of any ideas to which it is applied.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

A considerable stretch of days has elided since my last blog post.  Art history has held my focus for nearly a week now, as I’ve sought to strengthen my Advanced Placement classes during this stretch of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical units.  A Vincent Van Gogh biography has also kept me engaged, with attempts to rewrite stronger Post Impressionist units for my regular art history students.  All of this has been most enjoyable and restorative for me personally.

In addition to the classroom preparations, I have spent quality time in my watercolor studio.  I have posted above the last picture I took of a commission I finished last week (but forgot to photograph the completed work, which has already been delivered).  The larger 20 x 20″ composition of Hermann, Missouri I have also resumed, but so far have only some vague “blocking” to show for my efforts–large washes that don’t photograph too well at this point.

For several weeks now, I have been focussing on matters of style vs. technique.  Last week, while teaching a watercolor workshop to art educators, I realized that my objective was to help them load their “technique toolbox” so they would have a number of options to explore while experimenting with the watercolor media.  As it turned out by a show of hands, none of them considered themselves watercolorists, and they were present to give it their first serious stab.  I am always more than happy to demonstrate various techniques I have picked up over the years from my own reading, attending of workshops, and serendipitous moments.

Style is another thing.  I don’t want to say I am obsessing over this, because I don’t believe that I am.  But at this point in my life, after years of enjoying the watercolor experience, I still have no clear sense of identity, or style.  For awhile I worried that I was just illustrating, but thankfully I read enough about Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth to learn that critics accused them of being mere illustrators, and they themselves worried about that.  So, I no longer wonder or fret about illustrating and whether or not it labels my style.  But still, I would like to obtain a notion of what I actually am accomplishing in my watercolor output.  I want to be able to talk about it, to understand it, to be able to share some sense of vision.  For years, friends have told me that they recognize my “signature style” and that makes me laugh, because I myself cannot see it.

I love this statement from Friedrich:

The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.  If he does not see anything within him, he should give up painting what he sees before him.

Caspar David Friedrich

I honestly cannot say that I “get” this, but I do know that I have a passion to make art, and that I want to explore watercolor further, that after all these years, I feel that I have gotten nowhere near the bottom of it, and that indeed I never will.  But I still want to dig deeper.  And as I dig, I hope to find out more about myself and what I am trying to accomplish in this enterprise.  There is no doubt something “within me” that pushes me to paint what is before me.  But that inner life, or style, is what I am still trying to understand and articulate.  In this past year, I have become much more interested in reading art history, biography and interviews with the great artists throughout history.  When I read their words, I feel that I am entering into a Great Conversation over the arts, and cannot wait to hear more.  And what makes the experience so lovely is the reality that I am not doing this to earn a grade, or another degree, or even to earn accolades as some sort of Super Teacher–I am doing this for my own enrichment and personal growth.  And I hold out hope that these great creative spirits will aid me in my own personal quest for a sense of style.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry if this meditation is wandering and incoherent.  I am still searching . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.