Posts Tagged ‘Emerson’

A Quiet, Reflective Afternoon

August 17, 2016

baroque cat

Baroque Still Life of Rich Foods and Sleeping Cat

Emerson lived for ideas, but he did so with the reckless, headlong ardor of a lover.

Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire

Good afternoon from a dark, rain-soaked Texas afternoon. After weeks of triple-digit temperatures, my home territory has been soaked in rain for three days running, and forecasts say it could last a few days more. The darkness of the afternoon provides quite a respite for my weary soul, having just finished my third day of Inservice in preparation for the opening of a pair of campuses. My college began its first day today, and high school will open Monday. Meanwhile, we educators are slogging through hours and hours of daily meetings. Thursday and Friday “promise” to be uninterrupted days spent in our classrooms putting things in order, and of course, the building will be open Saturday if we need still another day to get ready.

Time has not allowed me the luxury to paint at all this week, so instead of my recent watercolor activity I’ve chosen to post a photo I took recently while dining quietly one afternoon at the College Street Pub in Waxahachie. The temperatures that afternoon hovered around 103 degrees, and the floor fans on the porch were doing their best to cool off the patrons. I could not resist pointing my camera phone at the slumbering cat stretched out on one of the cafe tables. I was reminded of a Dutch still life composition of objects assembled to depict the good life as well as the notion of vanitas. 

While reading last night, I came across this line concerning Emerson that I posted above. The Richardson biography I read when it was a brand new publication, then alas, someone stole the volume out of my classroom about ten years ago. Having just purchased a new one, I have to read it once more, and underline once again the passages that resonate with me. I felt genuinely exposed when I read the author’s assessment of Emerson’s passion-driven life of the mind. I know the pain associated with having lived such a life, and am more conscious than ever of others I have hurt in the past as I’ve charged full-bore along such a path. One hates to come into the senior years with a sense of regret, but indeed I look back and regret that there are things I cannot re-do. When I approach my Philosophy class this coming semester, I think I’m going to explore some of these character issues from an existential framework. Jean-Paul Sartre argued that our character is the sum-total of our decisions in life: the good, the bad and the ugly.  We are what we have made ourselves to be, nothing more, nothing less. I wish someone would have talked to me of such matters when I sat at a high school desk. Maybe the teachers did, and I was just too indolent to listen. I don’t know. Now it’s my turn to talk to the next generation, and I’m grateful to have the chance once again this semester to try and get it right.

Looking back over this post, I fear it sounds more pessimistic than I feel right now. I’m tired from the three days of meetings, but not morose, not depressed. With a little rest, I anticipate I’ll regather some energy to face what lies ahead, grateful that I still have a few days . . .

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to know.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Musings on the Storm-Free Area and the Chambered Nautilus

July 24, 2014
Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth's Scat Jazz Lounge

Large Watercolor in Progress of Fort Worth’s Scat Jazz Lounge

There is a great virtue in such an isolation.  It permits a fair interval for thought.  That is, what I call thinking, which is mainly scribbling.  It has always been during the act of scribbling that I have gotten most of my satisfactions.

William Carlos Williams, Autobiography

Kerouac escapes this encircling loss in the act of writing.

Howard Cunnell, “Fast This Time: Jack Kerouac and the Writing of On the Road

The past few days, because of my understanding that Jack Kerouac was fascinated with Melville’s writing, I turned to a copy of the original scroll of On the Road and have been reading introductory articles on the manuscript, and re-reading portions of the Tom Clark biography of Kerouac.  Many agree that his longing for the American road was a response to his sense of loss due to the breakup of his family life (death of brother and father along with his own early divorce). Thoreau himself intimated that his move to Walden Pond was a search for something lost.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove, and am still on their trail.  Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to.  I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

For most of my life, I have been enthralled with the sense of the personal odyssey, and have myself benefited from many American road excursions.  But honestly, at this juncture in my life, I don’t really need the road; I have memories, photos and journals that pull up the past as often as I choose.  But I am pursuing the odyssey of the mind inside my newly reorganized home, and enjoying what feels like limitless space and extensive free time.  I think what I have been seeking recently is what the German scholars of the nineteenth century called a Sturmfreies Gebiet, storm-free area.  This was sought by Descartes, Hume, Emerson, Thoreau, Tillich, Kerouac, and a host of our revered luminaries, a storm-free area where one is safe to come to some sort of self-understanding.  William Carlos Williams found great satisfaction scribbling thoughts and poetic fragments on his prescription pads while on the road to make house calls, or pounding the typewriter in his office when patients weren’t lined up and waiting.

While pondering these matters over the past couple of days, I happened across “The Chambered Nautilus,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Though I’ve read this piece several times throughout my life, I never really “got it” until this evening, when it washed over my soul with fresh revelatory power.  Having grown up in the shadow of the Prostestant pulpit, I came under the conviction quite early in life that there is a power in that word, that oracle that comes when the hearer is ready, when the teachable moment has arrived.  When the student is ready, the master will appear.  I guess I was ready this evening.  I had decided to go to a local Starbuck’s with an armload of books and my journal, and sit in the outside cafe with some iced coffee and a sense of anticipation that something could happen.  It did.

“The Chambered Nautilus” is Holmes’s meditation of a mollusk that has died and can no longer expand its chambers.  They now lie open to him, and he gets a sense of its developing natural history by examining the chambers in the house it’s left behind.  As I pored over these words, my soul poured out nine handwritten pages in my journal.  What a rush!  It led me to Emerson’s essay “Circles” and to Whitman’s poem “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  I felt my entire being stirred from within as I felt the cooling carresses and kisses of the evening winds sweeping across the nearby prairie and across my cafe seating area.  It was truly a delicious night.

Now, back at home, I feel my heart stirred with gratitude at this gift received this evening, and in the spirit of the chambered nautilus, I wish to continue expanding new chambers in my existence as I continually read new things, think new thoughts, and try to figure out this wondrous gift called Life.

Oh yeah, the painting!  Posted above is what I worked on after summer school and before the oracle stirred me at Starbuck’s.  I finally got some texturing accomplished on the right side with the bricks, and tried to scratch in some grooves to show the lines of the bricks.  I then turned my attention to the sign, carefully painting in the red fluorescent tubing within the letters, along with the shadows cast and the brackets securing them.  This of course took a great deal of time, but I am in no hurry with it.

And now, I still have to continue working on material for this new online Logic course I’ll teach this fall at a nearby university.  The things I’m learning in that area are also opening up a new chamber of thought within me, and I’m grateful for that as well.  I’m delighted that this mollusk hasn’t yet perished.

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.


Setting Our Sails to Catch the Wind

February 3, 2014
3 x 4' Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

3 x 4′ Acrylic Painting in Martin High School Library

Thoughts let us into realities.  Neither miracle, nor magic, nor any religious tradition, not the immortality of the private soul, is incredible, after we have experienced an insight, a thought.  I think it comes to some men but once in their life, sometimes a religious impulse, sometimes an intellectual insight.  But what we want is consecutiveness.  ‘T is with us a flash of light, then a long darkness, then a flash again.  The separation of our days by sleep almost destroys identity.  Could we but turn these fugitive sparkles into an astronomy of Copernican worlds!

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Inspiration”

For a couple of days now, I have had the luxury of lingering over good books, scribbling out a few journal ideas, and making some stabs at some sketches.  And today I even broke the surface on a watercolor that had hardened from neglect over the past couple of weeks.  It was nice to pick up the brush again, feeling it had been ripped out of my grasp by an unforgiving work routine replete with deadlines and demands.  Every time I swear “Never again,” it somehow happens again.  Believe me, I don’t ask for it.

I cannot say that I have accomplished inspiring results, or that I have felt the winds of inspiration.  But I believe those breezes will stir again.  I am old enough now not to despair as I had in earlier years, when spiritual barrenness seemed to set in.  Perhaps my antidote for such despair comes from experience, or even from reading the works of former creators who chafed when they felt that inspiration had fled them.  Emerson’s “Terminus” comes to mind, as also Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”

Emerson encouraged the 1837 graduating class of Harvard with his commencement address, knowing they would go out into the world and face those times when inspiration cools.  He told them that they could always find their tonic in books:

Books are for the scholars’ idle times.  When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men’s transcripts of their readings.  But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,–we repair to the lamps which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is.

(“The American Scholar”)

During spells of creative barrenness, I have found solace in contemporary works, like a pair of books by Julia Cameron: Finding Water: The Art of Perseverence and The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  Recently, I have also found genuine warmth in The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art.

For a number of years now, I have tried to keep my skills and aesthetic sensitivities sharp, always looking for ways to improve my craft.  From my youth I was aware of possessing a talent for visual art, but figured out years ago that talent is worthless without development and discipline.  Furthermore, if I am not producing art, who gives a hoot about whether or not I have talent?

The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything.  And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.

You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good . . . 

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: On the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING

I read years ago in an issue of Newsweek an article about creative geniuses, asking where are the Einsteins and Picassos of today.  The article pointed out that geniuses created a large amount of good work and a large amount of bad work–they just created, period.  I have never forgotten that.

Currently,  I am inspired to create, indeed am salivating at every opportunity to create.  But I cannot say that my results have been inspiring.  No worries though.  I’ll get it back.  The winds will blow again.  Meanwhile, I’m just trying to keep my sails adjusted, so as to catch those winds once they blow my way again.  Incidentally, I like to post current photos of my work, when I think it is good.  Since recently the stuff is not looking so hot, I’m posting a golden oldie.  This is one of about a dozen or so 3 x 4′ acrylic on canvas pieces I created years ago to hang in the library of the high school where I teach.  The librarian of that day requested a series of “book cover” canvases, asking me to design each cover instead of copying one that was already published (and copyrighted).  Here is how I would have designed a cover for Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, had a publisher asked (and paid) me.

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.


An Escape to the Small Town

December 1, 2013
Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of the Edom Business District

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of the Edom Business District

He talked about himself and said he didn’t feel he was creative anymore and that it was probably because he was secure, and he asked me how I felt, and I said hat I wasn’t creative since I was shot, because after that I stopped seeing creepy people.

Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, August 29, 1979

I awoke at 9:39 this morning, glad for one morning of “sleeping in” since school dismissed for vacation last Tuesday.  I have risen about daylight every morning because there was much to do and because I wanted a quiet “morning watch” to give a measure of Quality to my daily life.  But I got in late, late last night from Edom, Texas.  I set up my display at 6:30 Saturday morning, and shut it down at 9:00 p.m.  The two hour-plus drive home left me in shambles.  Now, a good night’s rest, followed by a steaming mug of coffee has me sitting up in bed, catching up on correspondence that has piled up the past 48 hours, reading some quality books (sampling diaries and journals from Warhol, Delacroix and Thoreau–strange bedfellows to be reading while I’m still in bed).

I have always been amused at Warhol’s wry comment about his creative juices drying up after his tragedy because he cut off the “creepy people” from his daily social life.  And I’m always interested in the topic of creativity ebbing and flowing.  I still re-read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way because I’m interested in the issues of “blocked arrists” though I haven’t felt blocked in years.  I first came to peace with this issue when I read Emerson’s “Terminus” and Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  It was then that I realized that creativity and stagnation are a natural cycle.  We cannot avoid them.  They are as natural as inhaling and exhaling, intake and exhaust.

I have endeavored for years to stoke fires and keep creative fires burning.  I sincerely believe that my biggest obstacle has been an employment issue–I have taught full-time and part-time simultaneously for a number of years now, and often sign a summer teaching contract, so I don’t fit that mold of “public school teacher” whom the general population thinks works only 8-9 months out of the year.  I am a year-round educator working under two contracts.  About three years ago, I decided to stop using this as an excuse for not putting out much art work.  If art truly is my life, then I must fight to live.  And when I made that commitment three years ago, my artistic output increased from ten-to-fifteen watercolors per year to over a hundred (though of course, some of them are small 8 x 10″ “sketches”).  I make art year round, because I feel that I must “make something” daily, and I do.

Yesterday turned out to be a fine day at The Shed Cafe in Edom, Texas.  I was invited to be their feature artist during the commmunity’s Art Jam.  When the afternoon sun broke out, I walked away from my indoor display and took up a position on the front porch where I could see down the main drag.  The fall colors were still rich enough for me to attempt this plein air watercolor sketch while enjoying the live acoustical performances at the other end of the porch.  As I was nearing the finish to the sketch, I looked up and to my surprise saw two of my favorite students–twins that take my Advanced Placement Art History course and are quite prolific in making their own art, along with their mother and father.  Their mother is also an accomplished artist and photographer whom I met and became friends with last year while she was student teaching in our school.  The family had spent Thanksgiving with relatives in Tyler, Texas, and stopped on their way back to Arlington to see the Art Jam.  I cannot adequately express the heartfelt thanks I feel when I see friends at an art event so far away from home.  Their company, conversations and patronage touched me profoundly.  Not long after they had departed, I was surprised also by a visit from a watercolorist who participated in a couple of my workshops at Star Harbor over the past two years.  She had seen in an advertisement that I was going to be at this event, so she took time out of her schedule to drive up to Edom and renew our friendship.

As the night came on, and I began breaking down my show, a patron came and began looking through my scattered crates, found this watercolor and purchased it.  I’m always glad when a fresh painting finds a home so soon.  As it turns out, she and her family came from Fort Worth, so they drove even further than I did to attend the event.  Her young son is an aspiring oil painter of amazing skill.  I was delighted at the opportunity of looking at images of his work that he had on his phone, and closing out a quality day with meaningful conversation over making art.  Every time I meet a kindred spirit such as this, I feel that my own life has extended.  To me, nothing in life is more sacred than creation, and I cannot have enough conversations with others about the creative act.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alond.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Meditation on the Seasons of Creativity

November 25, 2012

Christmas Card Workspace in the Man Cave

Good morning from the “bedroom’ studio of Arlington, Texas.  I confess that I have posted a year-old photo of what I was creating during the Thanksgiving Break last year.  I plan to return to the “Man Cave” studio later in the day to paint.  Currently, I am propped in bed with coffee, two slumbering Shih-tzu dogs, one cat and a large pile of volumes and journal.   And life is pensive but serene.  My breathing is slower and easier.

Let me open by saying I am not sure where this blog entry will take me this time.  It may be a stream-of-consciousness, with little-to-no-editing, but I’ll take my chances.  I am in bed with a large volume of Henry David Thoreau journals (the Harvard volumes 1-7, 1837-1855 are in one immense tome) and reading pensively his entry of June 20, 1844:

If we only see clearly enough how mean our lives are, they will be splendid enough.  Let us remember not to strive upwards too long, but sometimes drop plumb down the other way, and wallow in meanness.  From the deepest pit we may see the stars, if not the sun.  Let us have the presence of mind enough to sink when we can’t swim. . . .

When the heavens are obscured to us, and nothing noble or heroic appears, but we are oppressed by imperfection and shortcoming on all hands, we are apt to suck our thumbs and decry our fates.  As if nothing were to be done in cloudy weather, or, if heaven were not accessible by the upper road, men would not find out a lower.  Sometimes I feel so cheap that I am inspired, and could write a poem about it,–but straightway I cannot, for I am no longer mean.  Let me know that I am ailing, and I am well.  We should not always beat off the impression of trivialness, but make haste to welcome and cherish it.  Water the weed till it blossoms; with cultivation it will bear fruit.”

I love reading words of wisdom that address our cycles of creativity and un-creativity, our highs and lows, our energy and our inertia.  When I was younger, I was frustrated by those times of famine, when I was not “on” creatively.  I think I was “saved” by essays of Emerson and poems of Whitman that addressed those cycles as natural.  (most notably Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life”).  We inhale, we exhale.  We intake, we exhaust.  We inspire, we expire.  Emerson wrote that it comes into us as life, it comes out of us as truth.

I could describe my current moment as low, as lethargic, as uninspired, as inert.  But the reality is, I am taking in sublime thoughts from Thoreau, from Emerson, from Whitman . . . and I am pushing them back out, distilled by my ever-emerging philosophy.  Sitting up in bed, surrounded by an untidy house and slumbering critters, I am setting a course for today’s navigation (the Hebrew word translated “wisdom” is chochma–“the helmsman, or art of steering.”  I am plotting a course with mandatory stops in Romanesque Europe (A. P. Art History for tomorrow) and Act I of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (English IV).  Beyond those towns, who knows?  Maybe a return to my watercolors (I think I hear the longhorns shuffling around in the garage, they must be getting restless).  But whatever occurs along my way, I am anticipating another good journey today.

Thanks for reading.

Return to the Man Cave

October 28, 2012

A Peek at the Refurbished Man Cave

“A man must keep a little back shop where he can be himself without reserve. In solitude alone can he know true freedom.”

Michel de Montaigne

Finally, after months of formidable Texas heat, I am permitted to return to my abandoned Man Cave!  The space in the garage had become so run down during the hot months, that it took a good part of Saturday evening and Sunday to render it habitable.  I moved in this evening and christened the space by grading senior English tests (ugh!).  Now that those have been laid aside, I have returned to some subjects that I left behind with my Philosophy class last Thursday, namely Descartes’ discovery while in the stove, and the notion of great thinkers withdrawing in solitude when they had matters to sort out (we discussed Jesus, Emerson, Thoreau, Hume, Nietzsche and a host of others).  This evening I thought I would spend a little more time with Montaigne and Benjamin Franklin before calling it a weekend and working on a decent night’s sleep.  I’m grateful beyond words for the museum, the painting time, some major house cleaning, and above all, reclaiming my Man Cave for the coming winter.  This weekend has been sublime, and I look forward to the next one.

Thanks for reading.

Strawberry Fields Forever

October 31, 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever

Leaving school this afternoon, I drove my Jeep out into a beautiful world, awash with Texas sunny skies and temperatures at 71 degrees with cool breezes filling the air.  I slipped a Beatles Anthology CD into my player and listened to the three different renditions of Strawberry Fields Forever.  I felt a sense of sadness, realizing that I miss John Lennon more now than I did in the immediate years following his untimely death.  Maybe I lacked maturity in those days, but his death was a sensationalist event in the media and I never really felt the sense of sorrow and loss until much later.  Now, I have trouble listening to Imagine and Strawberry Fields.  As the song played, my mind’s eye was filled with this image from Stovall Park in south Arlington, Texas.

I drove to the park, got out of my Jeep and walked to this location, and as I gazed at the tree in the late afternoon sun, the muse whispered sweetly and gently into my ear, and I knew I had to give it a shot.  I must say the muse was with me this time, as I felt genuine joy working on the piece, though I only lingered 45 minutes over it.  I was intrigued with the darkness and density of the tree, with the sun behind it, and the contrast of the yellow, sunlit leaves in particular places.  I also felt stirred at the dark lavenders and crimsons I sensed in the sprawling shadows beneath the spreading tree.  The only part at which I labored the most was the dark density of the body of the tree top, trying to find the right kind of blue tones to put into the shadows.  I’m not sure that I got it right, but I think I have improved over past attempts at painting trees en plen air.  I hope I can find a way to do it tomorrow as well.  My dreaded 4-class school schedule will hold me until nearly 3:00, but maybe I can get away quickly enough to capture the afternoon light again.

Thanks for reading.

Creating New Worlds

September 23, 2011

Early Morning in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Alas, I did not manage to begin a new watercolor today.  I try to start something new and fresh daily, but this day was given to matting, shrinkwrapping and labeling watercolors for the upcoming art festivals.  I will be participating in four art festivals over the next five weekends (not this weekend, fortunately).  I found a closet-full of forgotten work that never had been matted, so there went my day.  I still have plenty to mat tomorrow as well.

Taking a breather late this afternoon, I was delighted to return to an Emerson biography I read and loved a decade ago: Emerson: The Mind on Fire, by Robert D. Richardson, Jr.  This magnificent bard had the following to say regarding Napoleon Bonaparte:   Napoleon’s glory “passed away like the smoke of his artillery, and left no trace.  He left France smaller, poorer, feebler than he found it.”  On the other hand, Emerson wrote of Goethe that he stood “for the class of scholars and writers who see connections where the multitude see fragments, and who are impelled to exhibit the facts in order, and so to supply the axis on which the frame of things turn.”

As an artist and educator, I take delight in these sentiments.  The world’s eye (through the media) remains focused on individuals who sometimes create and heal, but oftentimes spread destruction across our world.  But in the quieter corners of this environ are souls who actually try to create, heal and thereby leave this world in better shape than they found it.  I don’t pretend to be one who does great things.  But I do take satisfaction in knowing that over the past 2 1/2 decades I have tried to grow students’ minds to think better, more responsibly, and to instill a sense of pride and ability to create a better world than the one that greets us.

At this juncture in life, I am certain of fewer things than what I thought 2 1/2 decades ago.  But I do possess a renewed resolve to create images reflecting the better parts of my daily environment.  The image posted above was one I captured early one morning in Eureka Springs, Arkansas last June.  I had risen at sunrise and descended to the lowest parts of that sleeping town, and came across this abandoned structure that exuded so much charm and beauty in the morning light.  As I worked on it in watercolor en plein air, I kept wishing that I had studio space inside!  I pictured how lovely it would be to step out on that porch with a cup of coffee and say “Good Morning” to a world full of promise, a world waiting to be healed, a world waiting to be re-made in a better image.

To me, mornings that begin with making art are better than mornings that do not.  Hopefully I can create a better morning tomorrow.  Thanks for reading.