Posts Tagged ‘Friedrich Schiller’

Socrates Knew that He Didn’t Know

January 3, 2021
Looking Forward to Occupying Studio Eidolons Later Today

Reason indeed demands unity, but Nature demands multiplicity, and both systems of legislation lay claim to man’s obedience.

Friedrich Schiller,, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Fourth Letter

I recall how flummoxed we all felt sitting in a doctoral seminar years ago when Professor W. D. Davies held up a monograph that all of us had read and deeply admired for its scholarly erudition. The professor said: “The conclusions are so clear and simple that I cannot bring myself to accept them. Nothing is simple.” A few years later, while taking a walk, another dear friend and mentor, Dr. L. Robert Stevens mused: “In a world so complex, I am convinced that it is far easier to be wrong than right.”

Now, reading Schiller’s maxim above, the words of these reflective men re-visit me forty years later. Something in our nature compels us to make sense of our complicated surroundings, and then our simplifications become canonical to us. The reason I am pondering this matter is because I have started out this New Year convinced that if I am to continue to grow in my watercolor pursuits, then I must adopt the perspective of the curious, inquisitive student in the laboratory rather than the seasoned teacher in the classroom. Being now retired, I am happy not to be called upon daily to set forth propositions that I thought were churned out by boards and committees to satisfy testing standards. I found little satisfaction over the years knowing that if I simply put numbers in the spreadsheets for grades by deadline, that I had done my job satisfactorily. Believing that educational quality could not be quantified, I remained bothered that students’ successes would depend on the damned numbers more than thoughtful letters of recommendation.

What is on my mind this morning is this: I will soon be teaching on Watercolor Wednesdays again in Arlington, Texas. And my method will be to line up steps for students to follow as they attempt to paint selected compositions in a three-hour period. I have never had a problem with that. My problem is the suspicion that I am following my own steps, convinced that the pattern is adequate for its particular subject. I don’t want to do that any longer. The next painting I pursue, once I am back in my own studio (today is a travel day–at least six hours on the road before home is reached once again), I intend to tackle a familiar subject but to try and paint it as if it were my first attempt. When I taught phenomenology, I told my students that epoché was the suspension of judgment, one’s willingness to put preconceived notions back on the shelf in order to approach a subject with more openness.

Schiller argued that nature represented multiplicity while our reasoning faculties demanded simplicity. As a teacher, I always understood the necessity of breaking complicated issues down to simpler steps for students to absorb. But I also tried to urge them that the issues were always more complex than the way we presented them. So also in making art–we approach the complexity with simpler steps, but must always admit that more is required if Quality is to be approached. So . . . in the future when I teach, I’ll try to urge my participants to stretch beyond the steps I present, to dare to explore, to stretch, to expand the possibilities.

The story is told that Socrates, when questioned whether or not he was the wisest in the land, answered this way (I paraphrase): I did not consider myself the wisest, so I went about seeking counsel from others considered wiser. When I asked about issues I did not understand, I listened to their answers and soon concluded that they didn’t know either. However, they were convinced that they did in fact know. So, I suppose that alone makes me the wisest in the land; I know that I don’t know, whereas they continue not to know that they don’t know. To know that you don’t know is the beginning of knowledge.

Beginning this New Year, I acknowledge that I know less about making art than I thought I knew in the past. With that mindset, I am ready to explore and learn. I’m excited to find out what can be discovered in the days ahead, and grateful I still have the ability to pursue this passion.

Thanks for reading, and please follow your bliss in this New Year stretched out before you.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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The Compulsion to Make Art in the New Year

January 2, 2021

But it is just this technical formulation, which reveals the truth to our understanding, that conceals it once again from our feeling; for unfortunately the understanding must first destroy the objects of the inner sense before it can appropriate them. Like the chemist, the philosopher finds combination only through dissolution, and the work of spontaneous Nature only through the torture of Art. In order to seize the fleeting appearance he must bind it in the fetters of rule, dissect its fair body into abstract notions, and preserve its living spirit in a sorry skeleton of words.

Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man

Beginning of a snowy evergreen composition

Day two of our new year finds me in a hotel room attempting an 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of snowy evergreens. I completed a composition similar to this a few Christmas seasons ago in a hotel after I had photographed a stand of trees at the edge of the snow-covered parking lot visible outside my window. This morning I felt the compulsion to repeat the endeavor. Sometimes I do grieve when a watercolor sells so fast that I didn’t have time to look at it and absorb it. The painting above went out the gallery door pretty quickly.

I’m trying to re-read some texts that I enjoyed last Christmas season concerning aesthetics. As I’ve told friends repeatedly, I worked on my skills as an artist for years but focused exclusively on the technical aspects of painting. After a few decades of teaching art history and repeated readings of Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit, I have developed a fascination with the topic of aesthetics, and have thoroughly enjoyed the letters of Friedrich Schiller written to a friend around 1795. For the immediate future, I will attempt to steer a careful course between the technical and the philosophical aspects of making art and see where the conversation takes me.

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.

A Dusting of Snow

December 30, 2020
Morning in Lubbock, Texas

There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual–become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. . . . 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.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

Good morning from Lubbock, Texas. We drove out here yesterday with temperatures at 70 degrees. This morning it is 30 with a dusting of snow. The spirit of Christmas abides with me still, and the snow certainly aids and abets it.

New Mexico Pinon Coffee with Journal, Books and Cards on Standby

I am glad that New Year’s Eve is still a day away; that special day is usually given to serious reading, reflection and writing. Today I want to make art. Before we left yesterday, Dick Blick delivered these Strathmore Watercolor Cards to my doorstep. I’ve waited a month for them as they had to be back ordered. So . . . I now have a year’s head start on my next batch of Christmas cards.

I appreciate the responses that yesterday’s blog drew. One of the readers actually requested that I address further this notion of religion and art being essentially the same. I acknowledge that I feel clumsy with my words when trying to discuss this, but I am thrilled to try . . .

The Robert Henri quote above describes my sentiments much better than I feel capable of doing. When I say “religion” I am not referring exclusively to Christianity (I always tried to be up front about that in my philosophy classes). I am referring to the numinous experience in general. Merriam-Webster online covers that word quite well. The first definition of numinous I don’t find helpful. But #2: “filled with a sense of the presence of divinity: holy”, and #3: “appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense: spiritual.” These statements, to me, nail it.

Since childhood, I have experienced Emerson’s transcendental sentiment, that there is much more to life than what our five senses reveal and our words capture. And for most of my life, the avenues of religion and art were the ones I pursued to enjoy this realm. But, as Henri pointed out (and also Proust), the more we attempt to capture this prize, the more quickly it evaporates. Nevertheless, that does not prevent us from trying. It certainly does not deter me.

Among the books I’ve selected to bring along for our Lubbock adventure, I’ve included Friedrich Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters and Friedrich Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. I am anticipating genuine pleasure as I linger over these texts in the coming days. Now, I am ready to drag out the art supplies . . .

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.

Promising First Day of a New Era

January 1, 2020

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Sketching and Taking Notes from Schiller

I awoke to a sweetness in the air, 2020 already hovering in the early morning as a harbinger of new possibilities. While waking slowly, I began turning over in my imagination some new attempts at watercolor sketching en plein air during these winter months. I rose from bed and retrieved some files of summertime sketches, including one of my favorites below:

nature

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch in 11 x 14″ white mat

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Photo taken of winter fields in Dickens, Texas

While traveling over the Christmas holiday, I frequently photographed barren stretches of land that take me back to primal memories of Andrew Wyeth drybrush sketches that my art teacher showed me in ninth grade. I still am studying these earth tones and textures, puzzling how to interpret them on paper without presenting a boring composition.

wyeth-flock-of-crows

Andrew Wyeth, “Flock of Crows”

In all my years of making art, I have turned many corners and known many satisfactions over pieces I’ve created. But this Wyeth drybrush watercolor and pencil study still remains for me the Gold Standard of watercolor landscape. To this day I have not been able to view this original work; the only times it has been on display at a major Wyeth retrospective, I was unable to travel to the site and see it for myself. It remains on my bucket list. I am keeping this image before me as I study the photograph from Dicken’s, Texas. The time has probably arrived for me to attempt a winterscape such as this.

Later, while reading over coffee this magnificent book by Schiller, I came across the following passage:

Nature may touch our organs as vigorously and variously as you please—all her diversity is lost upon us, because we are looking for nothing in her but what we have put there, because we don’t allow her to come forward to meet us, from without, but rather strive with impatiently anticipating reason to go out from within ourselves to meet her.

Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, Thirteenth Letter

Reading this piece resulted in a shock of recognition; in a recent public lecture, I drew the following words from Peter London’s Drawing Closer to Nature:

Go into Nature raw and simple and just sit quietly doing nothing other than allowing Nature to become accustomed to your presence.  Soon enough, often just beyond what you had taken to be the threshold of your patience and perception, Nature steps forward and begins to reveal its features to you. Rush it and you will never see it. Grab for it and it will give you nothing of its real self, only what you set out to grab.  But wait a while longer, and the place begins to breathe audibly, to creep and flutter, beat, to speak in a thousand ways.  You listen.  That is today’s conversation.

O.K., I believe I am ready to begin a new painting . . .

Thanks for reading, and please check out my website www.davidtrippart.com

Shultz reduced

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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