Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Goldberg’

Contemplation and Composting

February 23, 2014
My 'Classroom.  A Theater of Dreams

My ‘Classroom. A Theater of Dreams

No one can get anywhere without contemplation.  Busy people who do not make contemplation part of their business do not do much for all their effort.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

For anyone who reads this, I greet you on this Sunday afternoon, wishing you the best of all possible days.  I’m happy beyond words to shed the last of my lingering frailties from my recent week-long illness.  I did manage to get back to class the last three days of this past week, but felt wiped out after the first class of each day.  It has taken so long to feel fully functional.

Currently I’m working on a commission promised some time ago, and don’t feel comfortable posting the in-progress work online.  I will probably post it when it is completed and delivered.  I finally got down to business on it yesterday, meticulously drawing out all the details (it is an architectural piece).  Today I am chipping away at it, waitng for momentum to catch.  So far, it isn’t happening, but I’m patient, feeling good and confident.  The movement will come when it comes.  Meanwhile, I’m alternating my concentrated painting and detailing with readings from Robert Henri, scribbling in my journal, and just thinking in a relaxed mode.  Outside I can see the bright sunshine and a day building toward 70 degrees, but I don’t feel the compulsion to leave the work table and dash outdoors.  All this has been good.  I am just grateful to have a full weekend without scheduled engagements.

I posted a photo of my classroom, because this year it has been a beautiful place to spend my workdays.  No doubt I have posted in the past much grousing on this blog about the wingnuts, details and paperchase deadlines constantly flung at us teachers, but I don’t want to give the wrong impression–every class this year is filled to overflowing with beautiful, eager, receptive young minds, and they have been my life’s blood through an otherwise impossible and difficult school year.  As long as I am surrounded with intellectually hungry students, then the real joy of education blossoms daily, and I do indeed enjoy the teaching, the interacting.  I always have.

I wanted to post the Henri quote about contemplation, because that is at the heart of my lifestyle when I am at my best.  Granted, I often tilt to the sedentary excessiveness, and do not find delight in that.  But when the thinking is good, the reading is good, and the writing is good, I enjoy life to the max, and I am deeply grateful today for the space to pursue precisely this.  I like to consider the composting metaphor alongside the contemplative posturing.  “Composting” I got from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.  She writes of our life experiences forming an intellectual compost heap over time, a veritable rich source for writing and expressing our sentiments artistically.  Throughout my life, I have drunk deeply from the springs of theology, philosophy, literature and art history.  In the spirit of Robert Henri, I have stuck with the call to “join no creed, but respect all for the truth that is in them.”  And at this stage of my life, I am still combing through these treasures, searching for some kind of style, some sort of meaning, some kind of artistic identity, not for the museums, not for fame, not for wealth, but simply for the sake of accomplishing something sublime while I’m living out my life on this planet.  Responding to the call of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, I want to create something beyond myself, something much greater than myself, as all generations of creators before me have managed to do.  I don’t want to be the first stage of an ebbing tradition.  Whitman wrote that “the powerful play goes on” and we are invited “to contribute a verse.”  I just want to make a contribution that matters.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never
     forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

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.

Composting Ideas Between Paintings

May 16, 2012

Sifting Ideas Between Paintings

This is a comfortable interim for me.  The school year is winding down, grades are pretty much settled, all my students are passing, and we see no need for stressing between now and final exam days.  I am about a week-and-a-half away from my next art festival, and once that day arrives, I will enter a 10-day marathon of art events and school closures simultaneously.  I will try to be as discerning as possible during that grind in order to avoid tragedy.  My gradebook is caught up, and daily I make sure all the latest entries are in place before I come home.  I have also begun cleaning out my classroom and disposing of all materials so that I can walk away on the last day.

Memorial Day weekend will kick off a three-day art festival at the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington, coinciding with the opening of their 2012 concert season.  That weekend will also kick off the Paint Historic Waxahachie ten-day event.  Waxahachie will be a day event, Levitt will be evenings.  I plan to do both over the weekend.  Then when school re-opens for the final week, I will work school by day, and Waxahachie by afternoon and evening until dark.  It should be interesting.

Between Ezra Pound and Natalie Goldberg, I am drawing plenty of inspiration right now.  Much of what I glean for painting ideas comes from writers.  I’m pleased to learn that Robert Motherwell and Edward Hopper also turned to literary works for inspiration to paint.  Ezra Pound launched “Imagism” (using the term for the first time in 1912) as a new movement in poetry that called for “direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.”  William Carlos Williams also wrote in Paterson: Book I–“Say it!  No ideas but in things.”  Edward Hopper made no apology for avoiding abstraction in his painting, saying “I choose to work from the Fact.”  As for myself, I believe that objects contain the stuff of revelation in them.  I am probably closest to the New England Transcendentalists who proclaimed that for every physical object, there is a higher spiritual corollary.  Emerson built his essays on this bedrock, and Thoreau lived out his Walden experiment as an exercise in it.  So also, I choose to paint subjects that point to themes of my growing up that have come to mean a great deal to me.

Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, has a chapter titled “Composting” that sums up much of what I feel about my experiences in choosing subjects to paint–“It takes a while for our experience to sift through our consciousness. . . . Hemingway wrote about Michigan while sitting in a cafe in Paris.  ‘Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.'”

Goldberg referred to this latent period of sifting as “composting.”  To quote her further:

        “Our senses by themselves are dumb.  They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies.  I call this ‘composting.’  Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil.  Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.”

Composting New Ideas in the Studio

I compost my ideas by drawing.  I wish I had the beginning of a new painting to post to this blog, but right now, I’m reading, sketching and looking through my photo files for ideas for the next painting.  I’m sifting out my world as captured on camera, earlier sketches, and dozens of plein air watercolors, waiting for the next idea to blister to the surface of my consciousness.  Something will come soon, I’m sure.  I’m going to close this entry with one of my favorite passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar.”  He of course is referring to the writer, but the artist fits this mold:

“The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again.  It came into him life; it went out from him truth.  It came to him short-lived actions; it went out from him immortal thoughts.  It came to him business; it went from him poetry.  It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought.”

Thanks for reading.