Posts Tagged ‘Nietzsche’

Ruminations During a Three-Day Holiday Respite

September 4, 2016


I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

All good poetry is the overflow of powerful feelings . . . The imagination must learn to ply her craft by judgment studied.

William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads

The first key to writing is to write, not to think. . . . You write your first draft with your heart; you rewrite with your head.

Sean Connery, Finding Forrester

I awoke this morning to my blog alerting me that thirteen days have passed since my last post. That was not intentional, though unplugging for a season has its rewards, so argues William Powers in his excellent book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. 

Two weeks of high school are now in the books, and the three-day holiday weekend respite has been delicious so far. From the moment I walked out of the school Friday afternoon, my mind has been seething with memories of the past two weeks of classes–all of them invigorating. In the philosophy and art history classes, I’ve been employing Nietzsche’s model of Apollo vs. Dionysus, which he set forth in his 1872 work The Birth of Tragedy. In this work he argues that the creative life is a constant struggle between the forces of Apollo (order, structure, reason) and Dionysus (chaos, spontaneity, passion). As an artist I have grown to appreciate that attempt for balance over the years. I have posted quotes above from Nietzsche’s novel as well as Wordsworth’s theory of poetry and the excellent lines from the motion picture Finding Forrester. All creative attempts embody a shaky counterbalance of order and spontaneity, and I for one like to lead out with my passion, then let reason clean it up subsequently.

For the past several days, I have experienced a series of delightful explosions in my philosophy and art history classes as we have explored the thought and creations of the ancient Greeks. I have studied this material throughout most of my life, and believed I had it organized in a logical (boring) way in the form of “lesson plans”. But the students’ questions and my serious responses never follow the lesson plans, and I find that delightful, always. And I’m confident that many of the students do as well.  After all, the questions are theirs. Nevertheless, there remain those students who prefer to have everything laid out in logical order so they can study their material, write their essays properly (boring) and take their tests (boring) and see their scores (which to me are always imperfect indicators of their excellence in thinking). My sentiments are about as subtle as a freight train, yes?

So . . . I am using this three-day holiday to clean up my lesson plans and present a more orderly package next week. Meanwhile I will continue to explore this Apollo/Dionysus balance. I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible, a very sobering and deeply gratifying experience in thoughtful reading. My favorite character is Ada, a crippled teenager with deep thoughts, who experienced healing later in life.  Her creed was expressed as follows:

Tall and straight I may appear, but I will always be Ada inside. A crooked little person trying to tell the truth. The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to find out.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.




Words, Words, Words

August 2, 2016

T S Eliot complete scan (2)

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless 

As wind in dry grass

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Relaxing over coffee and books this morning, I found myself dragged into some deep sentiments while reading T. S. Eliot. In less than two weeks, I’ll return for a week of Inservice in preparation for a new school year. Throughout that week, words will fill the rooms in which we sit and listen, words that probably originated in Washington D. C., then filtered through Austin, Texas, then on to Arlington ISD, then to my high school, then to us educators.

Nietzsche pleaded for as few mediators as possible between the creating spirits and those spirits hungry to receive them. The more voices standing in the gap, the greater the distortion of the Word. As a solitary teacher, I am painfully aware of the fractures created in my classroom when the light of a Nietzsche or Emerson or Shakespeare passes through the prism of my being, breaking apart their precious insights into my own categories, thus weakening the impact.  I always hope that I can steer my students directly toward the geniuses as my art teacher steered me to Andrew Wyeth and Harold Bloom steered me to Shakespeare.

This summer has been a precious odyssey to me, with many valuable life lessons gleaned. I can only hope that this fall I will step into classrooms with some souls hungry to feed from life experience, and that I don’t find ways to fill the gap between the geniuses and the students with pedagogical debris.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.




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
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.

Ah, the Friday Night Blog . . .

November 22, 2013
Entrance to Edom Festival of the Arts

Entrance to Edom Festival of the Arts

Art is not to be taught in academies.  It is what one looks at, not what one listens to, that makes the artist.  The real schools should be the streets.

Oscar Wilde

I immediately acknowledge the legitimacy of Oscar Wilde’s perspective.  It is too late for me to put his theory into practice, as I earned my Bachelor’s in Art in 1976.  Since that year, I have held down several professions, and did not get back into the visual art world until the last couple of decades.  When asked whether or not I am “self-taught”, I hedge a bit.  I do have a four-year degree in the subject, have studied the masters seriously since that day, still immerse myself in art history, yet my search for a watercolor “style” is indeed my own private quest.  Following Walt Whitman, “you shall listen to all sides and filter them through yourself.”  I don’t want to label myself as “self-taught” as I have formally studied art at the university and received a degree.  Yet, I feel that I have arrived at my “signature” by my own choices.

I apologize at the outset of this blog, inviting any reader to stop at any time s/he feels so inclined.  I haven’t posted in many, many days, and have so much on my mind, that I am deciding in advance to talk about as much of it as I have the energy to do.

The promised cold front has arrived.  Temperatures have dropped to 34 degrees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and we’re covered in rain.  The coffee is hot and inviting, and I am trying to finish this second of a series of three 8 x 10″ watercolor sketches of the Edom, Texas business district.  I will travel there to The Shed Cafe one week from tomorrow, November 30, and spend the day as their resident artist for Art Jam.  I am struggling with this composition, having difficulty unifying the composition.  This could be a painting that I “lose”, but that happens in this enterprise, and I am not as uptight about losing a painting as I was a few years ago.   We’ll see how it shakes loose.  I still have some plans (tricks?) to apply to it.

Changing the subject–several days back, I came home from school, sat down to a late lunch, and turned on the DirecTV to scan movie channels, settling in on “Rain Man.”  I hadn’t watched the movie in well over a decade, and decided to watch what was in progress for as long as lunch lasted.  I was jolted by a shock of recognition as I watched the scene of the two actors in the phone booth, with the autistic Raymond agitating his brother who was trying to conduct business over the phone, reminding him that Judge Wapner was coming on in just a few minutes.  Suddenly he warned: “Uh-Oh, fart.”  I didn’t laugh this time, because I was staring at what stood behind the phone booth and parked car:

Scene from the Motion  Picture "Rain Man"

Scene from the Motion
Picture “Rain Man”

I had been there!  Cogar, Oklahoma!  Friends had taken me across the state years ago, to reminisce over a town where one of them had grown up.  We spotted this abandoned gas station, got out of the car and photographed it from a multitude of angles, thinking it was “Hopperesque” and perfect for one of my watercolor attempts:

Abandoned Gas Station in Cogar, Oklahoma

Abandoned Gas Station in Cogar, Oklahoma, 2006

I have painted this station in watercolor a total of three times since 2006:

"One Last Road Trip"

“One Last Road Trip” 2006

"Oklahoma Reflections (After Proust)"

“Oklahoma Reflections (After Proust)”

What a shock to go online and verify that this scene from “Rain Man” was shot in Cogar, Oklahoma.  And now, I have painted it three times.  The bottom painting sold back in 2007, the other two are still in my possession.  Now I am not sure if I wish to sell them!  I am filled with excitement, just seeing this scene play out in a Hollywood film, knowing that I visited that location unknowingly, several years after the film had been made, found the setting inviting, and painted it three times.

The past week-and-a-half in the classroom has had its rewards, almost daily.  Today one of my model high school students approached me at the door of my philosophy class at the beginning of school, and asked if I could count her absent.  She explained that she had called in her absence that morning because her mother was in the hospital, preparing to give birth.  “But I couldn’t miss today’s Nietzsche lecture!  I’ll go back to the hospital after this class.”  I told her that she modeled a genuine love of learning.  To say the least, I don’t know when I’ve felt better delivering a lecture, with that kind of anticipation expressed in advance.  And then, if that were not enough, I was asked to visit the UIL Ready Writing team over the lunch hour to give them a “crash course” on Western philosophy.  Talking to eager students for the duration of a lunch period about Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre was a genuine feast for me, and the students’ responses made me feel that what I did today mattered.  We never get too much of that in the public education milieu.  Those two experiences today will carry me much, much further, emotionally and spiritually, than documenting emails, phone calls and correspondence to parents or filing documents of lesson plans or meeting minutes for someone sitting in an office somewhere to check off a list.

Since my last blog entry, I have made two visits to the Dallas Museum of Art to study the Edward Hopper Drawing exhibit.  I’m still rocked by what I’ve seen there, his sketches, compositional studies and finished watercolors and oils.  I don’t recall ever seeing a museum exhibit that so studiously curated works of art in their planning stages from plein air sketches to journaled, notated compositional studies to the final framed piece.  Hopper was so studious in his work, and makes me want to do the same.  Perhaps future blog entries will reveal a new side of me, thanks to my heroic Hopper.

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.

Some Early Afternoon Watercoloring in the Man Cave

April 26, 2013
Painting in the Man Cave

Painting in the Man Cave

When one becomes totally absorbed in the painting, the painting has a relation to one which is extremely complicated and, I think, quite profound.

Barnett Newman

I echo the sentiments of Newman.  I cannot explain why “robin’s egg” blue has always held my attention, but from my earliest childhood memories, it was my favorite color, and I found myself staring at it, whether it was a chamber pot at my grandparents’ farm, a nest of robin eggs, a particular coffee mug on the grandparents’ table, the metal dipper that hung from their pump handle–I loved that color.  About ten years ago when I saw this pail, I knew I had to have it because of its color.

All day at school today, while leading discussions in philosophy over the writings of Nietzsche, or lecturing art history classes on the life and work of Willem De Kooning, my mind’s eye stayed on this “blue pail” painting lying on the drafting table in my Man Cave back home.  And alas, I had over two hours’ worth of appointments to tie me up after school.

Finally I got home and got to lay down some darker glazes on the background of this piece, darkened the insides of the pail, and took a shot at putting the grooves in the surface of the Coca-Cola crate, and then laying in the colors and script on the side of the crate.

I have a few more interruptions pending, but hope to return to the studio later this evening to see if I can kick this watercolor a little further down the road, so to speak.  There are plein air invitations pending for tomorrow, so I need to see how much studio time I can get put in over this weekend.

Thanks for reading.

Creating Watercolor Christmas Cards in the Man Cave

November 29, 2011

Christmas card workspace

It’s hard to find quality time to paint when school is in session.  Nevertheless, I retreated to my Man Cave (dirty garage!) immediately after school today to resume work on Christmas card #2.  Tonight, with the help of a dear friend, I plan to resume work on my “store” opening soon at  So, during this brief interlude between school and technical support, I find joy in painting once again.

Once this card is finished, I’ll post a tighter image of it and discuss what I’ve discovered in the process of rendering it.  As for now, all I can say is “Hurray for Prismacolor watercolor pencils”!  They are making the task go very quickly and efficiently.   It would be wonderful if I could finish this tonight, but I have my doubts.  Tomorrow my Philosophy class begins work on Nietzsche, and I still have plenty of prep work to do on him tonight after I finish work on Cafe Press.

What I am about to write may appear to have nothing to do with my painting, but I know in my heart that it does.  Yesterday I resumed my interior dialogue with some great minds that I had abandoned months ago.  The demands of my daily schedule, and certain priorities I had established simply pushed them out.  And to them I have now happily returned.

Since the 1980’s I have been absorbed with the history of ideas, and that particular discipline (I hope) has been able to rescue me from becoming too pedantic in the courses I teach.  I must say, with regret, that the abandonment of this fruitful dialogue more recently turned my high school courses into catalog summaries of the essential elements assigned to each discipline.  Since yesterday, I have worked to find my way back to the multidisciplinary path I once knew, and have come to miss.

My reading has been primarily in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” and “The Waste Land”.    But thanks to The Teaching Company, I have had the enriching experience of listening to VHS tapes and DVDs on Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition as well as An Introduction to Greek Philosophy.  I have been filled with lectures on the Presocratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle as well as Erasmus, Descartes and Spinoza.  Though I cannot describe how the fellowship of these thinkers has seeped into my painting, I can at least testify that they have soothed my mind and put me in a proper space for painting.  Hours pass by that feel like minutes.  I’m glad to be back once again in the company of these magnificent minds.

Thanks for reading.

A Close Second to a Parisian Sidewalk Cafe

February 24, 2011

Sidewalk Cafe Life at Eureka Springs

Texas temperatures are getting better–80 degrees and sunny today.  My garage has turned into an art studio/man cave for me, with a portable TV/VCR playing an assortment of tapes for my listening pleasure while I paint–lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams to name just a few.  I feel myself entering this composition that I’ve tinkered with for several months now.  I can almost hear the voices around the table discussing poetry, philosophy, theology, books–all the artistic elements that keep us alive and alert.

This setting is in downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where it was my profound privilege to teach a week of plein air watercolor classes for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.  It was my first time, and I have an application pending there now, hoping with all I have that there will be a class again this year.  My two favorite towns so far are Waxahachie, Texas and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for on-site watercoloring.  Both towns boast streets lined with Victorian architecture, flower beds, cute shops around the downtown district, and compositions for painting in any direction one looks.

This particular painting is huge by my standards–30 x 22″–and it involves elements that are outside my comfort zone–people and a myriad of details.  I have avoided genre painting for a number of years, realizing that there are countless artists “out there” who do it so exceedingly well.  But I recently read something from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau that convinced me to go for this: “There is always room and occasion enough for a true book on any subject, as there is room for more light on the brightest day, and more rays will not interfere with the first.”  All I had to do was substitute “painting” for “book,” and I got his point.  My contribution to this genre of painting will in no way diminish what has been done by others, and yes, there is room in this world of art for me to contribute as well.  So . . . with that in mind, I was liberated to go after this composition.

Today was quite a full day–high school classes by day, a trip to the veterinarian this afternoon, and a college class tonight.  But there is still time to engage in the arts, and I so love returning to my studio, even when the day has been filled with “work.”  Thoreau said (I believe in Walden) “To effect the quality of the day is the highest of the arts.”  That I must remember.  Though packed to the rim, today has nevertheless been “artful.”

Thanks for reading.  Talk to you again tomorrow . . .