Posts Tagged ‘Friedrich Nietzsche’

The Fallacy of Bohemian Romance

July 25, 2022

We will all return to the Bateau-Lavoir. We were never truly happy except there.

Picasso to André Salmon, 1945

Last night was not good. Unable to sleep, I sat up in bed with a stack of my old journals and decided to read myself to sleep. I read my entire 1987 journal, January-December. That calendar year remains undoubtedly the worst year of my life. The details don’t need to be shared. I only write about this because I cannot stop thinking about a book I finished reading months ago that still remains with me almost daily: Miles J. Unger’s Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World. The premise of the book shares with us something I had already heard repeatedly:

Picasso, by this time aged sixty-four, successful and wealthy, was still unsatisfied with life and with his art. He longed for the “bohemian” years spent living at the Bateau-Lavoir, when he felt the tip of his aesthetic and daring spear was sharper than it had become in the mature years of his success. At the Bateau-Lavoir, he suffered hunger and poverty, and the general public snubbed his art. I recall reading Ian Roberts in his book Creative Authenticity where discusses the “Van Gogh syndrome”:

Perhaps we think that to be a real artist we need to endure great suffering and despair.

I reject this romantic attachment to the notion of the “starving artist”, the “misunderstood, tortured genius.” As a student of art history, I failed to find suffering and torture among the likes of Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and Robert Motherwell. I don’t believe a genuine artist has to pay his/her dues in suffering and rejection. I find it more realistic to admit that the world will do just fine without our artistic creations; the world doesn’t need our offerings. Personally, I take more delight in the process of making my art than the transaction of selling it.

1987. The blackest year of my existence. I graduated with my Ph.D. in the summer of that year. That fall, I resumed my duties as an adjunct instructor at a reputable university for the third consecutive year. I found a place to live and work. I returned to making art, something I had stopped doing eleven years earlier, due to the years of graduate study and demands in another field. Those facts remain the few high points of 1987. But life on the broad scale was unspeakably miserable, and I had no idea what direction my life was going to take.

I found solace in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as his biography. I recognized a tortured soul, and felt he was a kindred spirit. Late at night, alone, poring over his words, I felt as though he were present in the dark, cold garage apartment with me. I painted a tribute to him that meant more to me than anything I owned at the time, and I enjoyed sitting in my dwelling and looking at it. Nietzsche suffered severe migraines since childhood and was extremely nearsighted. By the time he wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he was three-quarters blind. But he loved to write, and would often push himself at the writing table for eighteen hours a day.

Toward the end of 1987, I determined that I would make art regardless of its success or failure; I would make art because it was in me, and if it ever stopped driving me, I would walk away from it. But like the prophet Ezekiel, I have continued to feel the sensation “like a sword in my bones”; I cannot lay down the brush any more than I could lay down a book and stop reading.

1987. In the yard of my Fort Worth garage apartment, proud of my new painting
31 years later, happily reading inside the relic of a Fort Worth historic church

In the fall of 1988, I began teaching full-time, and eventually life improved. I found a new purpose in relating to students on a daily basis. I loved the subjects I was assigned to teach. And I continued to make art and become more prolific. By the year 2010, I was cranking out a minimum of 100 watercolors a year, and have continued in that habit. And yes, life has found purpose, my art has sold successfully, and I look back from time to time to my own bohemian, Bateau-Lavoir existence of 1987. But, unlike Picasso, I don’t miss it one whit. I don’t waste a second pining for a return to such days. I’m grateful to live an existence where I can do as I choose and not ask anyone’s assistance or permission to do so.

Some of my paintings are still dark, but I myself am no longer dark. May the life of 1987 never return,

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


Sunday Morning in the Redlands Hotel

November 7, 2021

Admiring and Sketching the Carnegie Library, and Reading . . .

But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.

Quote from the film American Beauty

To pick up the scent of what would nearly finish us off if it were to confront us in the flesh, as danger, problem, temptation–this determines even our aesthetic “yes.” (“That is beautiful” is an affirmation. . . . The firm, mighty, solid, the life that rests squarely and sovereignly and conceals its strength–that is what “pleases“, i.e. corresponds to what one takes oneself to be.

Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche.

What a lovely Sunday morning! 46 degrees and sunny in downtown Palestine. Early this morning, Paula Cadle and I donned warm layers and stomped all over downtown, marveling at the low-angle sun carving out the facades of historic buildings lining the streets. The coffee took the chill out of the air as we walked and talked. Now, after breakfast, I hear the soft conversations of Sandi and Paula in the dining room of suite 207 as I sit in the bedroom and admire the lovely views of Sacred Heart out one window and the Carnegie Library out the other. The beautiful sunlight and the cold shadows of these historic architectural monuments just knocks the wind out of me, and I sketched a clumsy version of the Carnegie in my journal before settling into my Heidegger volume on Nietzsche. Aesthetics has always choked my own limited vocabulary, but what I’ve been reading from Heidegger, Nietzsche, Schiller and Kant recently makes me wish I could just lay aside the university and gallery responsibilities for a few weeks and months and try to put down in my own words just what exactly it is that art does to my soul.

Yesterday’s Art Walk is in the books, and we will hold our next one December 4. November 19 kicks off our Polar Express season at the Texas State Railroad here in Palestine. The Palestine-to-Rusk excursion train will turn into the Polar Express sensation. Sixty room reservations have already been made here at The Redlands Hotel and I’m preparing to bring out my own Christmas offerings for the new season approaching.

So far, I have framed five of my 5×7″ prints of watercolor Palestine trains in 8×10″ frames I sell at $50 each. We’ll be bringing out more work in the weeks ahead. As for Paula Cadle, she sold a ton of pottery the past couple of days, but is leaving behind a substantial display ripe for the picking! The Gallery has never been brighter in color than it is right now.

Sundays are quiet in downtown Palestine, and the respite is good for us. Later today we’ll had back to our Arlington homes, but for now we’re going to enjoy the quiet.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Shaking Off Post-Travel Lethargy

May 2, 2020

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

Having arrived back in Lubbock at 2:30 a.m. recently after pulling a loaded trailer through the night, I still find myself shaking off the cobwebs of unusual working and sleeping patterns. We have been moving things from Lubbock to Arlington in stages, and at this age find ourselves lacking the energy we knew ten-to-twenty years ago. Hence another blogging hiatus.

Rising early this morning, I went into the kitchen to engage in my customary ritual of grinding coffee beans in an antique hand-crank grinder. As I cranked the handle, I envisioned that I was turning the flywheel of my imagination in hopes of turning out a meaningful sentence by the time the coffee was French pressed and poured. It didn’t happen. So I pulled a few of my recent books from the bag and commenced reading for inspiration.

In a recent blog, I shared my interest in re-reading a most engaging biography on Thoreau, authored by Robert Richardson Jr. His dedication page honors W. J. Bate “who teaches that ‘in and through the personal rediscovery of the great, we find that we need not be the passive victims of what we deterministically call “circumstances.”. . . But that by linking ourselves . . . with the great we can become freer–freer to be ourselves, to be what we most want and value.'”

Reading the dedication spurred my memory to something I read years ago from the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his Untimely Meditations he advanced a particular discipline of historical study that he labeled “monumentalistic.” This particular method concentrates on past heroes in order to confront contemporary mediocrity with the possibility of greatness.

My personal reading preferences shifted to biography right after I finished my doctoral dissertation in 1987. Still uncertain of my career path, and weary of the technical reading I had pursued for over ten years, I suddenly found myself curious about the lives of intellectual heroes who had inspired me through their creations. And as I read the lives of these giants, it suddenly occurred to me that they at one time had been young men no better than I. Emerson wrote it better than I, so here he is . . .

Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books.

That particular insight set me free to pursue my own path, chart my own course, carve out my own destiny. The journey has taken many detours throughout the decades, but my most recent endeavor has been to write the story of Hank and pour in as much richness as I can recall from my own personal journeys as well as those shared by my friends. Hopefully I’ll be able to create and illustrate a character who is a mirror to many of our own lives.

Traveling and moving lately has made it difficult to spend quality time in the studio, so reading has been my source of inspiration, as well as much writing. New Hank stories have been composed and soon I plan to put them out on the blog, hopefully with new paintings to match.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Finding the Seam

March 6, 2016

Finding the Seam

My Watercolor from Several Years Back

I admit that this is highly unorthodox, but I’m going to post the talk I’m planning on giving before the Samaritan Sunday School class at the First Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas later this morning (hoping that none of the class members will find and read this in advance). This is a class of adults that I came to love deeply about twenty years ago when I was asked on a number of occasions to speak before them.  They even invited me to attend a weekend retreat at Lake Murray Lodge in Oklahoma, serving as a conference speaker.  The memories of them have always been rich, even though we drifted in different directions over the past decades. Recently they found me again and invited me back last Sunday.  Today I will close out my series with them.  Thanks for reading:

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back.

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast.

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.       
Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots as it cuts through the banks, I hear Maclean’s words coming back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all.

What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness.

Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow.

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.


[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.

Rebuilding My House Afresh

March 23, 2015

A Walk in the Cool of the Evening

A Walk in the Cool of the Evening around Stovall Park

 . . . put no trust in any thought that is not born in the open . . . 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Reader beware: With this blog entry, I’m filling in the gaping chasm of the past couple of weeks.

The past two weeks have kept me, for the most part, on the road and out of my house. Hence, the blog hiatus. But now I’m clawing my way back to the life that eluded me. Most of the past two weeks have been good, indeed sublime. But I have missed the sweetness of solitude and stillness. This evening the weather was so delicious that I dropped all my school work, pulled on my walking shoes and drove to the nearest park for a leisurely two-mile stroll. Nietzsche certainly called this one right: there is indeed an invigorating pulse to the kinds of thoughts we produce when we are ambulatory and feeling physically stretched. As I breathed the clean air, thought better thoughts, and considered the possibility of working this exercise into a disciplined routine, I remembered, “Oh yeah, the Blog.”

When spring break commenced two weeks ago, a high school friend whom I last saw in 1972 contacted me, purchasing one of my watercolors.The timing could not have been better. I chose to drive the painting to St. Louis to deliver to him personally, and visit my parents for the first time since Christmas. The windshield time from Fort Worth to St. Louis was soothing to a great degree, as I chose to drive through the cool moist night, arriving about 8:00 in the morning. Visiting with my family and then seeing my high school comrade for the first time in over forty years was unspeakably wholesome. I wish I could have chatted with him for a week, as age had not subtracted from him one iota of his mental quickness and interest in the same matters of life that keep my attention.

Cedar Two

Cedar Two

Cedar One

Cedar One

While in St. Louis, I attempted a pair of plein air watercolors of a cedar growing adjacent to my parents’ driveway. It had been awhile since I had done this kind of watercolor sketching, and the time spent working on these gave me a deep-seated sense of satisfaction.

Bowman Gallery

Bowman Gallery

Driving back to Texas, I allowed myself one day of rest before hitting the road again, this time south to the Gulf. The small town of Portland, just east of Corpus Christi, is where the Dinah Bowman gallery is that carries some of my work and invites me on occasion to do a watercolor workshop. Nine enthusiastic students were awaiting my arrival and we spent two days together in perpetual wonder. I am still moved by what I saw of their creations.

Watercolor Workshop

Watercolor Workshop

The two days were splendid, as we worked together, exploring watercolor and talking of its possibilities. My former student Mike Catlin now manages the gallery and is the one who brought me into their fold. Dinah is a very well-connected artist in the artist and university circles in south Texas and her energy and ideas kept my head spinning. I was sorry to have only two days to invest in that territory, as so many artistic possibilities thrive there.

Returning to Arlington, I resumed high school and college duties, and devoted every hour of the evening till midnight, getting ready for a major festival: Art on the Greene, held at Richard Greene Linear Park in north Arlington.

My Booth at Art on the Greene

My Booth at Art on the Greene

The weather for this Friday-through-Sunday festival sucked beyond all description, with heavy rains and cold weather soaking the park Friday and Saturday, successfully driving away nearly all the potential patrons. Sunday was a better day, weather-wise and patron-wise, but not enough to make up for the dreary pair of days preceding. I did manage a pair of plein air watercolor sketches of winter trees as I sat outside my booth with nothing better to do.

First Plein-Air Watercolor Sketch

First Plein-Air Watercolor Sketch

2nd Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Second Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Watercoloring never ceases to bring me abundant pleasure, and I never tired of focusing on the trees towering above me, thinking of all those splendid Andrew Wyeth drybrush studies that have always peaked my enthusiasm.

A new week has commenced today, and with it another series of grading deadlines, meetings, and professional development requirements. Tomorrow will be a strenuous day with two meetings added on to the normal teaching schedule. Scheduling disasters such as that leave me in a grouchy mood, but I figure if I get enough sleep tonight, having exercised pleasantly with the evening walk, that I may perhaps be sufficient for tomorrow’s demands.

Closing Out a Beautiful Night in my Favorite Spot

Closing Out a Beautiful Night in my Favorite Spot

Thanks for reading. I anticipate that I’ll be more consistent in blogging this week.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


January 7, 2015

Quiet Time in the Studio after the First Day of School

Quiet Time in the Studio after the First Day of School

He fumbled for some sheets of clean paper, forgetting where he kept them.  He had to write the editorial that would explain and counteract. He had to hurry. He felt he had no right to any minute that passed with the thing unwritten.

            The pressure disappeared with the first word he put on paper. He thought—while his hand moved rapidly—what a power there was in words; later, for those who heard them, but first for the one who found them; a healing power, a solution, like the breaking of a barrier. He thought, perhaps the basic secret the scientists have never discovered, the first fount of life, is that which happens when a thought takes shape in words.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Throughout this day, I have been fumbling with words to couch the ideas tumbling about in my harried mind.  It was the first day of the spring semester, and a good one for me.  The three art history classes were huge, but we managed to study our content and struggled to organize it into meaningful structures. Today our key word in art history was axiology, the Greek term for the study of values. A close study of this word reveals the word logos for word, subject, study, etc. and the word axios from where we derive ideas like axis, axle, etc. The students had to stretch their imaginations to grasp this concept. As one looks at the hub, or center of the turning wheel, and realizes that it is the hub that creates the movement, the rotation, so also values are what move people and move cultures. We spent some time discussing the core values of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and finally the early Christians (today’s focus was on the first few centuries of Christian art). And I tried to prod the students toward the larger question of what values move our lives today. What exactly is it that drives us? What is the nature of our motor? What force lies at the core of our everyday behaviors and aspirations?

As the day progressed, I kept thinking about the notion of tributaries and how our scattered thoughts appear as tributaries, teasing us with the possibility that there is a common source from which they’ve sprung, or a destination to where they are all converging as a delta. And I wondered about what it is exactly that lies at my own core? What is my base of operation? What moves me? And of course, with a brand new semester of philosophy dawning tomorrow, I find myself thinking about the source and the destination. What exactly is my ultimate value, and does it lie at the beginning of my action, or does it stand at the goal and pull me toward that destiny? Currently, there are so many ideas, like tributaries, fighting for my attention daily, even hourly, and I am now wondering what exactly lies at the core of all this.

As I turned to the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, I found this from an 1873 essay of his:

That my life has no aim is evident even from the accidental nature of its origin; that I can posit an aim for myself is another matter.

Later, in his seminal work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he recorded these words in the prophet’s sermon:

The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it.

Currently, I am looking for a source to unite the scattered streams of ideas that I have accumulated with interest throughout my years, and hoping at age sixty that my intellectual soil is still fertile enough to grow this new tree (ugh! that’s an unattractive mixed metaphor!).  Oh well, this is a blog, right?  Let’s try this one again: I’m hoping to unite these tributaries into a single source, the seat of my values (better!). And when it comes to values, I have thought in recent years that I may uncover the ultimate meaning of all this as I pursue the making of art.

Oh yes, the painting above.  Most of what I’ve been hammering out in today’s blog has been clattering in my mind since I returned to my cold garage studio this afternoon (27 degrees is cold by Texas standards–glad I have a decent electric space heater to help me here).  I’m finding a genuine delight as I tinker with this watercolor and am really trying to give it daily attention now.  Today, I sketched in the hinge on the left-hand side of the screen door, then laid my first wash of shadow behind the door to make a dark frame on the left side of this composition.  My plan is for this to be the darkest part of the picture. I then laid some shadows to the left of the pail. I re-worked the shadows beneath the apples and laid some new washes on the shaded side of the apples themselves, relying for the most part on Winsor Violet. I peeled away quite a few layers of masquing to reveal where I want the scratches to show on the surface of the wooden floor beneath it all. Finally, I flooded the pail with water and began darkening and texturing the exterior of it and tried to define the ridges around the side as well as at the base of the pail. To someone looking at this painting since yesterday, perhaps it isn’t changing much. But I can see a world of difference emerging from the details, and hope that all these “tributaries” will unite to create an attractive painting ultimately.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am never quite alone.

Walking in the Cool Dawn

October 19, 2014

In the Morning, After the Walk

In the Morning, After the Walk

When a traveler asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answerd, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

This morning was a one-of-a-kind, considering I had trouble sleeping throughout the night.  Before dawn, I arose, found out it was 59 degrees outside, and decided to greet the Texas morning with a brisk two-mile walk through the sleeping neighborhood.  Words cannot record the delicious aspects of this encounter.

Returning to my study, I pulled Thoreau’s Natural History Essays from my shelf, and read an essay I hadn’t read since I studied at Oregon State University in the summer of 1992.  Where did all that time go?  Nietzsche always told his readers never to trust thoughts that were not born out in the open air, while walking about.  He is right.  I have spent the duration of this morning in the study, writing with delight the thoughts and observations that surged through my conscious being as I sauntered across my neighborhood.  More to come later . . .

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.

Getting Lost in the Shadows of Watercolor

April 14, 2014

Working the Shadows and Parked Vehicles

Working the Shadows and Parked Vehicles

Drawing is a way of organizing space.

Robert Motherwell (I think!)

The paper is the atmosphere in which the watercolor breathes.

(author unknown!)

I open tonight’s blog with two questionable quotes.  The first I am relatively certain came from Robert Motherwell, my idol of Abstract Expressionist thought and erudition.  But tonight I have been unsuccessful in tracing it to him.  The second quote came from an artists’ magazine I read back in the 1980’s, before I actually made watercolor a serious pursuit.  I have never been able to forget it.

Both of these quotes are swimming in my consciousness as I work on this piece tonight.  Temperatures outside are dropping to the point that I decided to don a heavy sweater rather than turn up the thermostat.  I am sitting adjacent to an entire wall of northern windows, and I feel the freeze warning that has been forecast throughout the day.  The chill is reminding me of the cold December morning that I walked the streets of Hermann, Missouri and took the photograph for this composition.  There was such a clarity of light that morning that I knew would be conducive for watercolor–I love the clear, sharp, cold light of a winter’s day and have worked hard to get that atmosphere into this painting.  I love what watercolor paper lends to the atmosphere of a landscape painting.

As for the drawing/organizing space principle, I have been handcuffed, trying to render the shadowed facades of this row of storefronts adjacent to a line of parked vehicles.  The Motherwell quote surfaced, and I decided to break the shadows into rhythms of geometric configurations, alternating warm and cool colors as I filled in the spaces.  I feel the way I did in high school when we painted large nonrepresentational acrylic-on-canvas compositions.  We were challenged to experiment with the combinations of warm and cool colors and seek some kind of pleasing balance.  That is what I am attempting to do here.  I have no serious aspirations to copy the myriad of representational images in my small photograph.  We’ll see how it turns out.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else.  At any rate, I am enjoying this evening in the studio.

This is probably all the painting I’ll be able to post this evening.  I still have work to do on a Nietzsche lecture for tomorrow morning’s Philosophy class.  I cannot seem to create a lifestyle with a singular focus–there is always another task to perform.  I love reading, writing and talking about Nietzsche.  But I also love watercolor.  With tonight’s limited time, I need to find a way to address both.

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 Cold, Rainy Afternoon in the Studio

April 14, 2014

Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

Quiet Retreat to the Watercolor Studio

At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen.  It fills us with surprise.  We marvel at it.  We would continue to hear it.  But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song.  Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold, material intellect.  It is aristocratic and will not associate itself with the commonplace–and we fall back and become our ordinary selves.  Yet we live in the memory of these songs which in moments of intellectual inadvertence have been possible to us.  They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

The day has been physically and intellectually dreary.  Forty-four degrees, dark and rainy outside.  Indoors we have studied A. P. Art History, focusing on the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement fueled by World War I.  George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and Ernst Barlach all served in the German army during that Great War.  They entered as enthusiastic patriotic idealists, exited as horrified, burned-out and disillusioned artists.  As we looked upon their paintings and reflected on the writings of Nietzsche that transformed the world views of the young soldier Otto Dix, as well as the chaplain Paul Tillich, I felt the cold of the outside gripping my own artistic sensitivity.  The longer we looked at these works and talked of the war’s atrocities, the more I wished to retreat to my studio and revive the song that has stirred my heart recently, encouraging me to paint and explore beauty.

The first thing I did when I got home to my studio was put on a fresh pot of coffee to help stave off the cold and wet climate that settled into my bones and offset the dark gray world peeking through the miniblinds of my studio windows.  Then I tilted the surface of my drafting table and settled into drawing, erasing and re-drawing the details in the shadows of the buildings lining the winter streets of Hermann, Missouri.  Slowly, the depressing themes of the morning studies melted away and I was once again looking upon a beautiful watercolor world, unscarred by war and destruction.  The winter atmosphere in this painting is cold and hazy, but within my soul, I feel a clarity and sense of color and warmth.  I still need to add more layers of shadow to the areas on the lower left of this composition, then along the facades of the stores facing the street.  This is going to take awhile, it appears.  But I have time, and renewed energy.  Making art today has lifted me from the despairing subjects of the morning classes.  Once again, I am grateful for that gift.

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.




Today, I Proudly Accept the Liebster Award

May 7, 2013

Not long after the midnight hour, I discovered that I had been nominated for the Liebster Blog Award, and wish to express a heartfelt “Thank You” to Zeebra Designs & Destinations ( for this honor.  I have been a follower of this site for awhile now, and marvel at the energy this creative artist exudes in day-to-day designing.

Contingent to accepting this award, I have been asked to submit five random facts about myself:

1. I turned 59 years of age April 20, and though I have a Ph.D., I regard myself as a “gray spirit yearning in desire to follow knowledge like a sinking star, beyond the utmost bound of human thought” (“Ulysses”).

2. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Art in 1976, but went to work in various professions, from pastoral ministry to law enforcement and ultimately to part-time university and full-time public school teaching.  I returned to art in the late 1980’s and chose to focus on watercolor, the medium I loved the most, but could never seem to master.  My guiding spirits are Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer and J. M. W. Turner.

3. I am an avid fly fisherman, wishing I could live in the Colorado mountains.  My breathing changes the moment I step into a crystal clear mountain stream, and see rainbows and browns lying in the current, watching the bugs go by.  When a trout rises to sip at my dry fly, my pulse flutters.  I don’t know how many times I have read the novella A River Runs Through It, or how many times I have watched that film.  There is nothing like fly fishing in a mountain stream.

4. I perpetually suffer from Wanderlust.  I love going on road trips, have read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road at least once all the way through, and could not begin to count how many times it has been read to me (I have the 10-CD set on audiobook, and I play it on long road trips).  My lifestyle is to take my watercolor supplies on the road and record the places I go, the things I see, in watercolor.  I am an avid plein air painter.

5. I love to read and keep a journal.  As a teacher for twenty-four years in Philosophy, Art History and the Humanities, I have always had a Faust-like obsession to search out everything that is out there, to pick the minds of the best writers and thinkers throughout the centuries.  I love reading Greek and translating the ancients.   I love American literature.  I love poetry.  I love the essay.  My patron saints are Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Carlos Williams, Henry David Thoreau, Friedrich Nietzsche and Paul Tillich.

Five questions to answer:

  1. What 3 words best describe you?  driven, multi-interested, curious
  2. What is your most prized possession?  my Martin D-35 dreadnought acoustic guitar
  3. If you had 10 minutes to evacuate your house what 5 things would you take with you (not including family members or pets)?  My five best framed watercolors (the only possessions that could not be replaced)
  4. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?  When you entered this life, you were dealt five cards.  You played the hand you were dealt the best you could.
  5. What is the one food item you can’t live without?  Sorry.  I just can’t take that question seriously.

My nominations for the Liebster Blog Award are:

These are the five bloggers who really keep my work going, in addition to the five nominated already by zeebra designs.

I apologize that I don’t have new artwork to post today.  It was a four-hour state-mandated testing day at school today, followed by two hours of regular classes.  It wiped me out (again).  We’ll do this every day this week.  This afternoon when I got home, all I felt like doing was rearranging and reconfiguring my man cave, getting it ready for the next watercolor composition.  I hope to have that one set up and ready to paint by tomorrow afternoon.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.