Posts Tagged ‘John Cowper Powys’

Clearing out the Debris

May 1, 2015
A Friday Evening Return to the Studio

A Friday Evening Return to the Studio

Only when the soul is alone can the magic of the universe flow through it.

It needs silence for the murmur of the long centuries to grow audible, for the mystery of the cosmic procession to make itself felt.

And this silence can be attained in the maddest hurly-burly of the most crowded city. Material noises, material uproar, cannot interfere with it.

What destroys it are the crowd-thoughts, the vulgar clamour made by the thoughts that are no-thoughts.

Life is full of mysterious Presences voyaging to and fro; Presences that are god-like. But these Presences can only be caught upon their airy journeys by minds that have learnt the secret of being alone.

To converse with the Gods you must become as the Gods; and this means that you must cultivate loneliness. Where ‘two or three are gathered together’ the Gods flee away!

John Cowper Powys, A Philosophy of Solitude

Tonight, as the sweet sounds of Bach fugues fill my chamber, I resolve in this blog not to discuss the past week, which consisted exclusively of grading and deadlines. I am just delighted to have finished shoveling all that debris out of the barn, and happy that I got to sit down to my watercolor before the daylight ended, and now my heart is filled with gladness at this delicious opportunity for reading and writing about things closer to my heart. I have a task to perform for tomorrow, but I anticipate it to be a glorious opportunity. The rest of this night is mine.

Recently, I re-read Anthony Storr’s Solitude and drew indescribable riches from those pages. Now I am re-reading the Powys book, and the words are coming to me in the fulness of time. I recall a proverb that said when the student is ready, the master will appear. Well, I have been ready all week, with the yammering sounds of voices about me throughout each day at work, and sitting down in the evening to complete assignments, unable to shut out the residue of all that yammering. Yet through the tumult, I have been teaching Nietzsche’s ideas to my philosophy class, and many of his writings have found ways to get next to my heart in the midst of all the hurly-burly.

When I finished my last task, about an hour ago, I drew out my journal and fountain pen, and wrote without stopping until five pages lay before me. And I felt that I was just getting started. Looking up at the watercolor across the studio, I realized the light was fading, so I gave myself thirty minutes to move it into the next stages. Once the light faded, it was back to the journal to write some more, and then I felt prompted to re-visit some journals of mine from recent years. Reaching back to 2013, I found a number of ideas recorded and since forgotten, and they are exactly what I needed for this day. The quote from Powys was the real capper. I felt “visited” and just sighed deeply with profound gratitude for that soothing feel. My breathing changed, and suddenly I realized: “O yeah. The Blog. It’s been awhile.” I feel it would have been fruitless to try and kick out some words during any of the recent days. It’s so rich, being back at this life that I love so much.

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.

The Visitation

November 6, 2013

A Day to Re-Calibrate

Where “two or three are gathered together” the Gods flee away!

John Cowper Powys, A Philosophy of Solitude

This morning, the rain-soaked back yard shines in the northern light through the open blinds of my living room windows.  It is fifty degrees on this north Texas morning, and wet from the past couple of days of rain.  No sun is visible, and that makes the grey morning even more inviting for me.

Sickness has visited me, as is to be expected when one does too much and reposes too little.  Nevertheless, I had to rise at 6:00 this morning to place lesson plans on my desk for the substitute.  Returning home, I was unable to sleep further, so I put on the coffee, then printed watercolor images on one hundred greeting cards for my upcoming art festival.  I still have to print the one hundred texts on the backside, but I’ll do that later.  I’m weak now, and need some down time.

Relaxing into my reading chair with my second cup of coffee, I pulled at random from my bookcase a journal of mine from 2003 (I’ve been keeping them since 1986–over 120 volumes now).  For weeks I have been craving solitude, quiet reflective “me” time, some kind of quasi-religious “visitation” of the muses–anything to make me feel sublime and creative once more.  I have had little-to-none of that for weeks now, and I don’t like living this way.  There has been simply too much job-related responsibility and demand.

The fire fell when I read the following passage I recorded from 2003 (and have since forgotten completely!) drawn from a book I was reading at that time: A Philosophy of Solitude, by John Cowper Powys:

Only when the soul is alone can the magic of the universe flow through it.

It needs silence for the murmur of the long centuries to grow audible, for the mystery of the cosmic procession to make itself felt.

And this silence can be attained in the maddest hurly-burly of the most crowded city.  Material noises, material uproar, cannot interfere with it.

What destroys it are the crowd-thoughts, the vulgar clamour made by the thoughts that are no-thoughts.

Life is full of mysterious Presences voyaging to and fro; Presences that are god-like.  But these Presences can only be caught upon their airy journeys by minds that have learnt the secret of being alone.

To converse with the Gods you must become as the Gods; and this means that you must cultivate loneliness.  Where “two or three are gathered together” the Gods flee away!

I removed my glasses and simply whispered–“Wow.”  Then I drew out my pen and scribbled three pages of gratitude in my current journal.  What a rush!

In the midst of this Quiet, an idea began to form in my mind about my own watercolor approach, my own theory of aesthetics.  Over the past week, my Advanced Placement Art History classes have been trying to articulate the ancient Greek ideal of classical beauty as expressed in sculpture and architecture.  The exercise in that realm has provoked me to try and find out my own personal standard for beauty.  Finally this morning, something began to take shape and make sense to me:

What I love to do in watercolor composition is called “vignette” by some–I like to leave undeveloped, white areas around the perimeter of my paintings.  I often choose to detail my focal area with as much precision as possible, then as the eye moves toward the periphery of my composition, I choose to diminish detail and fade altogether into white borders.  I have often said that this is what our eye does–it focuses on one small area, while the surrounding areas go out-of-focus.  I have also read those who use the darkroom analogy of developing film–the image slowly emerges as it lays in the pool of developing flud.

Years ago, a judge who awarded Best of Show to one of my watercolors titled “Cold Desolation” noted that two of my watercolors in the competition featured surrounding white, undeveloped areas.  The judge expressed appreciation for this, saying that these undeveloped areas left room for the viewer to enter the composition with his/her own imagination free to complete the picture.

Cold Desolation

Cold Desolation

New Mexico Route 66

New Mexico Route 66

I realize now that my favorite way of doing philosophy is to enter into fragments of readings rather than complete systems, so that I may stir in my own ideas.  I prefer reading from the literary fragments of the Pre-Socratics, from the aphorisms of Nietzsche, Emerson and Thoreau.  I love reading from the Autobiography of William Carlos Williams.  I am able to move about and think freely within the poems of Walt Whitman.  How many times have I heard a guitar player express frustration when invited to jam with a band, only to find out that the band members filled up the music so completely that there was no room for him to insert a lead riff or lay in power chords–a great wall of sound, walling out any would-be musical intruders.

I think I may be on to something–I want to explore further this aesthetic theory of focal points and peripheral elision.  As my mind picks around among the truncated monuments, sentence fragments and musical phrases,  I hope to find a way to translate these ideas into a watercolor aesthetic.

Once again, drawing from Powys:

Thus in the first and greatest of all arts, the art of concentrated self-consciousness, the profit to be derived from the utterers of mystical “logoi’, from Heraclitus down to Goethe, is far greater than the value which accrues to us from any rounded and completed systems.

Thanks always for reading.  I hope this has made some sense.