Posts Tagged ‘Dionysus’

Ruminations During a Three-Day Holiday Respite

September 4, 2016

archaic

I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

All good poetry is the overflow of powerful feelings . . . The imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

The first key to writing is to write, not to think. . . . You write your first draft with your heart; you rewrite with your head.

Sean Connery, Finding Forrester

I awoke this morning to my blog alerting me that thirteen days have passed since my last post. That was not intentional, though unplugging for a season has its rewards, so argues William Powers in his excellent book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. 

Two weeks of high school are now in the books, and the three-day holiday weekend respite has been delicious so far. From the moment I walked out of the school Friday afternoon, my mind has been seething with memories of the past two weeks of classes–all of them invigorating. In the philosophy and art history classes, I’ve been employing Nietzsche’s model of Apollo vs. Dionysus, which he set forth in his 1872 work The Birth of Tragedy. In this work he argues that the creative life is a constant struggle between the forces of Apollo (order, structure, reason) and Dionysus (chaos, spontaneity, passion). As an artist I have grown to appreciate that attempt for balance over the years. I have posted quotes above from Nietzsche’s novel as well as Wordsworth’s theory of poetry and the excellent lines from the motion picture Finding Forrester. All creative attempts embody a shaky counterbalance of order and spontaneity, and I for one like to lead out with my passion, then let reason clean it up subsequently.

For the past several days, I have experienced a series of delightful explosions in my philosophy and art history classes as we have explored the thought and creations of the ancient Greeks. I have studied this material throughout most of my life, and believed I had it organized in a logical (boring) way in the form of “lesson plans”. But the students’ questions and my serious responses never follow the lesson plans, and I find that delightful, always. And I’m confident that many of the students do as well.  After all, the questions are theirs. Nevertheless, there remain those students who prefer to have everything laid out in logical order so they can study their material, write their essays properly (boring) and take their tests (boring) and see their scores (which to me are always imperfect indicators of their excellence in thinking). My sentiments are about as subtle as a freight train, yes?

So . . . I am using this three-day holiday to clean up my lesson plans and present a more orderly package next week. Meanwhile I will continue to explore this Apollo/Dionysus balance. I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible, a very sobering and deeply gratifying experience in thoughtful reading. My favorite character is Ada, a crippled teenager with deep thoughts, who experienced healing later in life.  Her creed was expressed as follows:

Tall and straight I may appear, but I will always be Ada inside. A crooked little person trying to tell the truth. The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to find out.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

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Finished the Route 66 Gas Station Watercolor

February 23, 2012

Abandoned Gas Station in Robertsville, Missouri

Despite another night’s restless sleep, I somehow found the energy and enthusiasm today to push out the remainder of this watercolor and declare it a fait accompli.  As stated in prior posts, the abandoned service station is located at Robertsville, Missouri, west of St. Louis near historic route 66, six miles southwest of Pacific.  I created an earlier version titled “Cold Desolation” which is a frontal view of the station.

Though my body is ragged from lack of sleep, I feel compelled to write about this satisfying day in the classroom.  My topic in regular Art History covered the Neo-Classical, Romantic and Realist periods of European and American painting.  As I lectured through these areas, I found my personal life and my art connecting more intimately with these periods than ever before.

The Neo-Classical era of painting, corresponding with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, focused on discipline, precision, draughtsmanship and composition.  It was an era of painting beset by rules and clarity of presentation.  Speaking of my own artistic endeavors, I have always been more of a draughtsman than a painter.  My painting professor from Vienna always told me that I created “colored drawings.”  I suppose that has something to do with my settling on watercolor as a means of expression, since I pursue it as an extension of drawing, and while creating a composition such as the one just posted, I feel that I am drawing 90% of it, and making an effort to paint the rest.  Moreover, as I worked at this piece, I was constantly stepping back to view it from a distance and make decisions concerning contrast, area of focus, warm vs. cool colors, and high vs. low intensity.  Compositional questions dogged me throughout this work.  So yes, I feel a Neo-Classical strain as I work at my art.

After the Neo-Classicists had their day in court, the pendulum swung to a movement we call Romanticism.  This group of painters rejected the structural “Apollonian” disciplines and rule-following of the classical style, and preferred instead to explore the spontaneity, the dark side, the emotive side of the human experience.  Dionysus seems to be the patron deity of this movement, as Goya, Gericault and Delacroix launched excursions into the turbulent side of life.  When I showed my students the watercolor and pencil rendering of the ruins of the Medieval cathedral at Tintern Abbey, by Joseph Mallord William Turner, I tried to convey to them the dual sense of loss and presence one can feel when regarding an abandoned subject.  My own company Recollections 54 (http://recollections54.com) focuses on abandoned subjects, and the more I study and paint them, the more I feel that dual experience.  I was glad when school finally ended today.  I was ready to re-enter the garage studio and finish this painting, seeking to inject into it some sense of loss, abandonment and opportunities missed.  I feel the Romantic strain when I focus on these kinds of subjects in painting, and I know the overwhelming feelings expressed by Wordsworth in his “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.”

Realism followed on the heels of the Neo-Classical and Romantic movements.  G. W. F. Hegel has left us with a philosophy of history that focuses on dual movements (thesis and antithesis) that become locked in dispute, and when a resolution arises that somehow finds a consensus between them, we call it a synthesis.  That is what the Realist school of painting seemed to do.  The artists could acknowledge that life contains rules and structure on the one hand, and the opposite extreme of romance and risk on the other, but life for the most part is Aristotle’s Golden Mean between the extremes.  Life involves going to work everyday, paying bills, eating, sleeping, and navigating through the extremes of success and failure.  The school of Realism wants to show slices of everyday life as they really are.  They thought history was for the past and romance was for dreamers.

Sometimes, I feel that my paintings reflect more the school of Realism than that of the Classics or Romance.  They are paintings of bland, dull, quiet, discarded subjects from daily life that the majority will pass without a look.  And the more I labor to turn them into works of art, applying disciplinary compositional techniques (Neo-Classical) or injecting them with drama (Romantic), the more I come away saying, “These are just subjects from the real, gray world, nothing more.”  Interestingly enough, I have never been able to separate my art from my profession, any more than one can separate the creation from its creator.  The reality is that I am a public schoolteacher, often with ideas and talk that exceed my accomplishments.  That alone could render me a Realist.  But my final word is this–I am, in the final word, an unfrustrated artist who always finds the act of creating a source of genuine joy and satisfaction, even when the work of art falls below expectations.  Like a satisfied fly fisherman returning from the stream with an empty creel who says, “It was still beautiful being out on the stream, breathing, relaxing, and listening to the 4-count rhythm of my fly casting.”

Another watercolor in the hopper.  A very satisfying day in the classroom as well as in the studio.  And a chance to think through some large issues that inspired the genius of Enlightenment thinkers and artists.  Thank you for reading and taking time to share this one with me.