Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Museum of Art’

Only the First Movement

June 27, 2014
Art, Music, Writing, Scholarly Activity--all Struggling for my Attention Tonight

Art, Music, Writing, Reading and Reflection–all Struggling for my Attention Tonight

The original idea, the sketch, which is so to speak the egg or embryo of the idea, is usually far from being complete; it contains everything, which is simply a mixing together of all parts. Just the thing that makes of this sketch the essential expression of the idea is not the suppression of details, but their complete subordination to the big lines, which are, before all else, to create the impression. The greatest difficulty therefore is that of returning in the picture to that effacing of the details which, however, make up the composition, the web and the woof of the picture.

Eugene Delacroix

Ah, Friday night at last!  I bid a cheery “Hello” to any blog readers still checking in to see if anything is happening in my corner of the world.  I have barely kept my nose above the flood of torrential waters this past week.  So much has come my way, and I am still trying to sort out and shape these ideas into something beautiful.   In a nutshell, I did make the drive south to the Lighthouse Coffee Bar in Midlothian, Texas last Friday night, and listened to a young singer-songwriter sharing his art on the guitar.  I sat in the back of the audience, and began drafting words for a song of my own.  In all my years, I have composed only one complete song for my guitar that I consider okay, so I thought it time to give birth to another.  What I scratched out at the table a week ago I’ll post at the end of this blog.  It is a rough draft, of course, but I am grateful for the Friday night experience that inspired me to give this a try.

Monday morning I had to rise at 5:30, catch a commuter train, and roll to Dallas for the first of a three-day Institute.  The program I will begin this fall at school is AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), and I fully believe in the principles undergirding this endeavor.  I will have one or two classes of 11th-grade AVID students and am thus required to train for what I will teach/mentor this fall.  The commuter train experience was perfect for me–always a thirty-minute ride making it possible to read from Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.  The contrast of Thoreau’s quiet, sage-like manner over against the bustle of a convention hotel overrun with thousands of educators created a great theater for this three-day week.  I met some of the most precious souls I’ve known in years during these sessions, and miss them all already.  Their students are so blessed to spend time with the likes of them.  The general public (and especially state legislators) have no idea of the passion and good will that floods the hearts of public school teachers who live to improve the lives of students entrusted to them.  Genuine teaching is indeed the pouring out of a life, the opening of a vein, and so few of the “leaders” of our society who spend so much time in front of the microphones and TV cameras, flooding our airwaves, know anything of such sacrifice.  I receive so much more in fifteen minutes over a cup of coffee from an enthusiastic public school teacher, or from the pages of Thoreau, than I could possibly get from hours of listening to the braying of a popular radio talk show host during drive time or words from a sanctimonious legislator during prime time TV.

Thursday marked my return to the summer school classroom and Shakespeare.  The bard is (for me) the highlight of the senior English curriculum.  So I was enriched, spending five hours immersed in his soothing literary waters, always grateful to have quality seniors in my room during the summer, instead of the indolent that often enter the schoolroom to re-take a course already failed once.  As soon as I exited the schoolroom, I received a call from Trinity Arts Guild in Bedford, a fascinating group of artists that featured me for a watercolor demo last fall.  They want to schedule me for a weekend watercolor workshop perhaps as early as this fall.  The details we discussed by phone excited me to the core, and now I have that element to add to my growing list of interests.

Following Thursday’s school, I was invited to join three beautiful people (all retired educators that I have know for decades) to return to Dallas and spend the afternoon and evening at the Dallas Museum of Art.  After three consecutive days of commuter train experience, this time it was nice to carpool with folks I know.  On Thursdays, the museum is open till 9:00 at night.  We perused in delicious silence the current exhibit: “Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World”.  To date, I have not given a fair amount of space in my Advanced Placement Art History course to the Islamic tradition, and I guarantee that will change this fall.  What I gleaned from this current exhibit was a marvelous reinforcement of the ideas I had taught in the past, with amazing illuminating examples that really captured my attention this time.  Part of this evening’s activity has been given to reviewing notes from past lectures and powerpoints and inserting details I gleaned from the museum exhibit.

After a lovely time strolling the Klyde Warren Park north of the museum (above R. L. Thornton freeway), we decided to re-enter the “art cathedral” and visit the permanent collection.  To our surprise, a preview was offered to museum members of the exhibit opening Sunday: “Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cezanne.”  From the moment we entered those galleries, I was stung in much the same fashion as I had been in recent months from my repeated attendance at the “Hopper Drawing” exhibit.  I will be returning to this exhibit many, many times this summer and fall, grateful for my museum partnership that allows me to park and view the collection at no charge.  I could not begin tonight to describe how my heart warmed as I gazed at drawings and watercolors by David, Gericault, Delacroix, Degas, Cezanne and many, many other giants of art history.  And the supporting texts were as equally rich as the works of art themselves.  Part of my reading over the past months has been from the Journals of Eugene Delacroix, and I could not believe the quality of the drawings selected from his hand to hang in this show.

While at the museum, my cell phone vibrated, and lo and behold, an art sale was transacted while I stood in that museum’s corridors.  That business took a chunk out of today, but I am always thankful for a sale.  Seated at last in my studio after a week’s hiatus, I am filled tonight with a spirit of good will, of delightful eudaimonia, and am happy for the quiet space in which to compose and share these musings.  Much more will follow as I sort out all the ideas that filled my journal during this past week’s daily travels and conferences.  Taking the opening Delacroix quote seriously, I am trying tonight to shape and structure some kind of aesthetic creation over these fundamental ideas that flooded my consciousness this past week.  I close with a draft of the song I am trying to compose, that began exactly a week ago tonight:

Only the First Movement

Leaning closely over the table

Peering at the horizonless mess

The pencil carving out all the boundaries

Separating form from the formless.

How does the artificer do that?

Easier on paper than life’s skies.

On paper he does.

In life he tries.

Schools taught him to use tools,

But never to create.

Churches tried to teach how to live.

But only taught what to hate.

He can only start the first movement.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.

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Oracular Moments with Emerson

February 9, 2014

Small Watercolor Sketch of Yesterday's Lunch Outside the Art Museum

Small Watercolor Sketch of Yesterday’s Lunch Outside the Art Museum

Reference Photo

Reference Photo

We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight.  But the Genius which according to the old belief stands at the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday. . . . We are like millers on the lower levels of a stream, when the factories above them have exhausted the water.  We too fancy that the upper people must have raised their dams.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

I awoke this morning, feeling rather dull and sluggish.  There was no real reason for that–I didn’t exactly overdo it yesterday, and thought I had gotten plenty of sleep.  I rose from bed anyway, chalking it up to “aging” and tried to smile about it.  I made coffee and sunk into a comfortable chair to cozy up with words from Emerson.  It was Sunday, and I needed a Good Word.  He didn’t disappoint.  The selection I posted above came from an Emerson who felt his creative spirit sagging after years of explosive thinking and writing.  And with genuine wisdom, he addressed that sobering feeling of creativity leveling off.

For years I have been conscious of the ebb and flow of a creative life, and have tried not to let the barren stretches bring me down.  There are many ways to re-tool, to refresh, to trim one’s sails to catch the breezes once they blow again. And so, when I read the above passage, I laughed out loud, shook off my doldrums, and set about the task of getting tomorrow’s classes ready for school so I could pick up the brush again.

I have been so timid about rendering people in watercolor.  Figure drawing has always been difficult for me, and trying to render humans in watercolor even more intimidating.  But as I viewed the Edward Hopper collection over the past couple of months, I realize that some of his small renderings of people in watercolor and charcoal were not all that splendid.  So, I’ve decided I’m going to go after this subject and see if I can pull it off.  If I cannot do it with this one, I’ll do it with the next, or the next.  I’ll get it.  I’m starting with a small, modest-sized watercolor sketch, to see how I do with people.  And I’m intrigued by this new direction, not tired (wink).

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.

A Saturday Afternoon with Edward Hopper

February 8, 2014
Sketching from the Hopper Collection

Sketching from the Hopper Collection

People say, “It is only a sketch.”  It takes the genius of a real artist to make a good sketch–to express the most important things in life–the fairness of a face–to represent air and light and to do it all with such a simple shorthand means.  One must have wit to make a sketch.  Pictures that have had months of labor expended on them may be more incomplete than a sketch.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

This past month, I have taken more advantage of my local art museum’s offerings than previously.  The Edward Hopper exhibit has offered excellent schooling for me, as I admit with regret that I have never been a disciplined sketcher.  This current exhibit focusses on the preliminary sketches that led up to the masterpieces of Hopper that I have admired for so many decades.  I have forced myself to go to the museum again and again, to sketch, and sketch some more, study the results, and return to sketch some more.  I’m hoping that it will alter my studio approaches in the future.

Today the museum offered a workshop–Sketching Like Hopper.  I reserved a spot and showed up gladly.  Here, I have posted a pair of my charcoal sketches of his work.  I have always liked Robert Mothwerwell’s observation, “Drawing is a way of organizing space.”  In this pair of sketches, I focussed on the geometric shapes that made up Hopper’s compositions, then tried to put in the darks, middle tones and light areas, saving the details for last.

I emerged from the museum to a fifty-degree day, a nice respite from the string of frozen days experienced lately.  The food trucks lined the park north of the museum, and the experience of a Reuben sandwich in the sunlight was a deliciouis one.

Thanks for reading.

Lunch Outside the Dallas Museum of Art

Lunch Outside the Dallas Museum of Art

A Quiet Weekend–Quality Time to Listen to the Sages

February 1, 2014
Relaxing and Sketching at the Dallas Museum of Art

Relaxing and Sketching at the Dallas Museum of Art

[James] Joyce served my purposes then and now.  If you have taken on the adventure of modernism as I have–and the history of it–there have to be a few prophets to help you when you get discouraged.  You go back to them for reinforcement.

Robert Motherwell, Collected Writings

His soul had arisen from the grave of boyhood, spurning her graveclothes.  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable.

James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

By the time Friday afternoon arrived, I was thoroughly beaten down and discouraged from a grinding, thankless week in school.  I drove straight to the Dallas Museum of Art, convinced it was time to repay myself for enduring what I endured.  As soon as I entered the sweetness of the Edward Hopper Drawing exhibit, I knew I had entered a sanctuary.  Finding a padded bench, I sat for a few minutes, exhaled, then drew out my sketchbook and began working on thumbnails of Hopper’s figures.  Figure drawing has always been my Achilles heel, and I was determined to stay away from the comforts of architectural rendering and just stick with the human figure, trying again and again and again, until I had filled a page.  Long before the page was filled, I knew I had been restored.  So, I went on and filled a second page, then later began a third.

Going next to the museum café, I ordered a Starbuck’s coffee and sat sipping it while enjoying the view of downtown Dallas through the enormous windows.  Once the coffee was drained and a few more notes scribbled into my journal, I wandered upstairs and drifted slowly through the dark galleries of Central and South American Art.  Before I knew it, the time had arrived for the museum to close.  I headed for a warm home, restored and satisfied.

Rising today after a good night’s sleep, I determined that I was just going to sit, read, scribble in my journal, and think.  It was Saturday, and for the first time in weeks, it seemed, there was nowhere I had to be.  Why not just make a day of it?  After several years, I finally completed my reading of The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell.  This is not to say that I am a slow reader, or that I did not enjoy this artist’s mind.  On the contrary, I cannot read Motherwell quickly, because he makes me pause, again and again, ponder, take notes, cross-examine, and shake my head in wonder.  What a marvel of an artist, philosopher, writer and romantic!  I was truly saddened when I turned the last page, and seeing Appendix A, realize that I had completed the volume.  I did not just read from this book today–I also read several more chapters of Edward Hirsch’s The Demon and the Angel, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Mary Ann Caws’s Robert Motherwell: With Pen and Brush, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Circles.”  And of course, I continued to sketch.

The communion of this day was the sweetest I have known for awhile. I wholeheartedly agree with Motherwell when he testifies that an artist needs some prophets to offer encouragement now and then.  And my greatest encouragement as an artist comes from the “dead men”.  I chafe every time I hear someone scoff at those who draw inspiration from books instead of from live company.  Frankly, I do not find myself surrounded by the likes of Hopper, Wyeth, Motherwell, Emerson, Tillich, et al.  And those men (to me) are not dead, but encourage me daily in this enterprise.  Every time I find myself second-guessing my abilities or strategies, I return to the volumes and the museums and listen and view what these men have to teach me.  They are finer than any graduate school I have had the privilege of attending, and I shall forever remain grateful for the ways they have enriched my life and given me hope and encouragement.

As this Saturday night draws to a close, I am holding out hope that Sunday can offer more of the same.  I would cherish a full weekend, bathing in the aura of the arts.  This has been a true delight.

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.

Out of the Cloister and into the Stream of Humanity

January 18, 2014
Sketches in the DMA Gallery during a Poetry Reading

Sketches in the DMA Gallery during a Poetry Reading

Beauty suspends the desire to be elsewhere.

Ken Wilbur

I could not have asked for a more beautiful, satisfying Friday.  Somehow, I was awake by 5:15 a.m., and ready to scamper to school for a day of art history.  All of my classes spent the entire period examining the life and art of Robert Motherwell and the Greenwich Village culture in which he thrived.  I had an amazing lunch hour, spent in the company of this amazing nucleus of students whose lives overflow with the arts.  I always miss them before the door closes behind the last one.  This evening, I met with a gathering of artists and community art lovers to discuss ways to develop a cultural district in our town.  I felt for the first time in my life like I was connected to others much in the same way the Eighth Street Club launched the Abstract Expressionist painters in Greenwich Village.  Granted I spend most of my after-work hours in solitude, today was a good day to be surrounded by people.

Following this evening’s community meeting, I decided to return to the Dallas Museum of Art for the second night in a row.  Tonight was the monthly “Late Nights”–the museum stays open till midnight, featuring festivities of live music in the cafe, lectures in the auditorium, and poetry readings in the gallery where the Hopper Drawing exhibit is hung.  I spent the entire night perusing every gallery throughout the museum, the same as I did last night.   All of it was beautiful.  And the crowds were enormous, like a weekend shopping mall–only this was a multitude of art lovers.  And a sweet multitude it was.

In the gallery, actor Lydia Mackay was reading poetry inspired by Hopper’s work, including Joyce Carol Oates’ “Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, 1942.”  As her lovely voice filled the chamber, and museum visitors milled about, listening, I took a seat in the back corner and sketched the environment until the reading was over.  Figure drawing is my Achilles’ heel–I haven’t devoted Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” to the discipline, so I struggle still.  But boy, did I enjoy the process.  I enjoyed looking at every person drifting through the chamber and did all I could to capture gestures, postures, figure lines.  And I felt complete.

I’m glad I chose to stay up late, despite the early, early beginning to this day.  At least tomorrow (oops! today!) is Saturday, and there will be no alarm clocks driving me from my bed.

Thanks for reading.  I’m still vibrating from this delicious day and night.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Art of Conversation

January 16, 2014
Thumbnail Sketches from the Edward Hopper Exhibit

Thumbnail Sketches from the Edward Hopper Exhibit

A Second Page of Sketches of Hopper Compositions

A Second Page of Sketches of Hopper Compositions

Sketching from the Museum's Permanent Collection

Sketching from the Museum’s Permanent Collection

True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one’s self; and, in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions.

Joseph Addison, The Spectator, no. 1, March 17, 1711

After a challenging day in the classroom, I was gifted with enriching conversation over lunch and coffee with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years.  It was great catching up on old times and talking in depth about values that have mattered to both of us.  I was so thrilled with the respite.  Following that enriching conversation, I headed east into Dallas.  The Museum of Art is open until 9:00 p.m. on Thursdays, so I thought I would get my “Hopper fix.”  This time I took a pencil and made a series of thumbnail sketches and notes in my journal.  As the night unfolded, I alternated three separate excursions through the Hopper gallery with side trips through the European, American, Meso-American, African and Far Eastern exhibits.   I took my time, and the longer I strolled the galleries, perusing the works, the more I became aware of how my breathing changed and how sweet the environment became.

What I was not prepared for was the engaging conversations that occurred with three of the guards overseeing the Hopper exhibit.  I am not used to museum guards having anything to say, but this trio was absolutely stunning in their depth of knowledge and appreciation for Hopper and their enthusiasm for art in general.  I didn’t want to leave.  And frankly, I cannot wait to return to the Dallas Museum of Art for the chance of conversing with them further.  I wish I could give them a “shout out” on this blog, but I feel I need to protect their identities, so . . . if any of you read this, THANK YOU for an enchanting conversation.  I think you are a wonderful asset to the museum and a reason why it has become a much more enjoyable environment for art lovers to come and spend an evening.

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.