Posts Tagged ‘T. S. Eliot’

Morning Coffee with Jesus, Thomas Jefferson & T. S. Eliot

October 11, 2018

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Open tomes piled high atop my desk signal a delight to my soul that I cannot explain.

I never go to bed without an hour or half an hour’s reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep.

Thomas Jefferson, 1819

Before retiring for sleep, Thomas Jefferson often read extracts from the Bible, and much has been written about the “Jefferson Bible” (of which I own a quality copy in hard back). His detractors whine about his Deist ideas that led him to excise the accounts of Jesus’ miracles from his Bible. But they don’t pay any respect to his scrutiny of the Gospels, impelling him to purchase copies of the Greek New Testament, Latin Vulgate, two English translations and another in French. Cutting apart the paragraphs, he glued them side-by-side in his book so that he could study and compare the passages in his personal study.

During seminary studies four decades ago, I enjoyed studying the Synoptic Gospel parallels, and purchased a Greek edition with them placed in parallel columns. Recently I have returned to studying them as I have had time, and have received much enrichment from the time spent there. This morning, I found myself before a significant pile of opened books from which I was taking notes, and thought of something from Thoreau’s Walden that always stayed with me:

That age will be rich indeed when those relics which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Dantes and Shakespeares, and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited their trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we may hope to scale heaven at last.

Right now, I am entrenched in the texts of the early ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. What has captivated my attention is the shock that both men made when they emerged from obscurity and delivered messages that resonated with the people in the surrounding villages. Over and over I read of the large multitudes that came from every quarter, all with this in common–they had profound needs. In a later passage when Jesus was criticized for associating with people of low quality, he responded with these words:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

Naturally, the crowds flocking to Jesus and John had profound needs. Those who were satisfied with their lot found no reason to leave their schedules to hear what the men had to offer. They were self-satisfied and felt no one had anything to offer them of any merit.

Our Fifty-Seventh Congress voted on May 13, 1902 to publish Jefferson’s notes, thus creating The Jefferson Bible. In 1904 a copy was distributed to each member of Congress. I dare say that if such a gift were offered to our current Congress that it would be casting pearls before swine. My sentiments about this body of elected officials sounds much like words often uttered by Mark Twain. In short, I write this: they have been given a serious responsibility to oversee the welfare of this nation, and from all that I can detect, they seem only interested in keeping their jobs, not doing them. After watching the Senate Judiciary Committee “perform” before live television recently, I concluded that they fit the description offered long ago by T. S. Eliot:

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rats’ feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar 

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion; 

T. S. Eliot “The Hollow Men”

I would not see any of this body of elected officials going out of their way to listen to quality words from Jesus or John the Baptist, because they apparently have all they need–an honorable occupation, along with the best benefits and health care, and no concerns about whether or not they do the right thing by the constituents who put them there.  The throngs who pursued Jesus and John long ago pursued them because they knew they were hollow men; they knew there was an emptiness in their lives that needed to be addressed. In response to this need, Jesus uttered the words as part of his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness,; for they shall be filled.

Paul Tillich wrote of three basic anxieties that plague humanity: fear of death, fear of guilt, and fear of meaninglessness. The last of those fears seems the hardest at times to address. A life without meaning. As T. S. Eliot described: “Shape without form, shade without color, paralyzed force, gesture without motion.” Throughout my life I have worried over such a state. But no longer. I am finding lately in my reading of the Gospel narratives a whole range of encouraging words directed at anyone feeling a sense of incompleteness. Taking a page from Thomas Jefferson, I have lately decided to engage in quality reading before turning out the lights at bedtime. Sleep comes better now. And then, waking refreshed, I gladly accept the gift of morning solitude to read a little further.

The Edom Festival of the Arts begins this weekend. Since I returned from Missouri, life got much busier with organizing, packing and loading for one of the best art festivals of the year.

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.

 

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The Intermittent Shadow

May 2, 2018

blog falls the shadow

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Words from T. S. Eliot flowed through my mind shortly after waking early this morning. I don’t pretend to know all the nuance of this great work of his, but I know what I feel as I respond to these words. Having just come off the best art festival of my career (Artscape 2018 at the Dallas Arboretum), I have a four-day interim before leaping into back-to-back art events (Paint Historic Waxahachie from Friday till the following Thursday; Art on the Greene the following three days). I depend on gaps like this four-day respite for rest, reflection and restoration. But alas, I am constituted in such a way that when I awaken with no appointments of deadlines, I feel that I have fallen into the nadir. I have to fight off feelings ranging from listlessness to laziness.

For years I have known the reality of these cycles of ebb and flow, of repose and activity. I have understood what’s been read of Jackson Pollock in Springs, Long Island, ceasing his activity after an immense output of work. He would wander the property smoking, lying in the grasses, thinking, waiting for the energy to return. I have understood Walt Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” fearing that his 1860 second edition of Leaves of Grass would fall flat and the literary public would label him as a pretender, a phony.

As for me, I just have to realize that the few days ahead are a gift for relaxing and re-tooling, not fretting over the possibility of losing my creative edge.  I tried this morning to get in some quality reading, but instead decided to resume a painting that I began en plein air recently while camping at Big Bend National Park.  It was ninety per cent completed, but I took a reference photo and decided to use the photo to complete it this morning. I posted the painting above, when it was near completion. As I worked on it, I recalled another portion of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”–

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Last night, I completed another work begun in Terlingua’s Ghost Town while I was at Big Bend. I have not been able to stop seeing in my mind’s eye the shell of the church perched on that rugged hill:

terlingua

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blot to remind myself 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.

 

 

 

Here We Go . . .

March 15, 2016

Here we go

An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative . . . to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.

Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man

This will be the third time I lead a watercolor workshop in the Corpus Christi area. And I just realized that my mental/emotional preparation has always been the same–to rise while it’s still dark, repair myself to the neighborhood Starbucks, sip my coffee, nibble at my sandwich, and scratch out on small pieces of paper the ideas beginning to percolate, hoping that they will resonate in a few hours when I face a room full of strangers who have trusted me enough–a stranger–to help them become better watercolorists.

I’m reading the Bible this morning. The opening verse in Genesis records that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” St. Augustine, poring over those words, concluded that the first thing God created was time. God, an ocean of eternity, pure Being, created time, and then simultaneously created space. Then God began organizing the space–dividing light from darkness, land from water–manipulating the space before him. Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell said that drawing was a way of dividing and organizing space; the artist manipulates space.

Twenty-seven verses into Genesis, the words testify that God finally created humans “in his own image.” The Imago Dei, image of God. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? When the first thing the Bible records about God is that he is a Being who creates, then creates humans in his own image, I like to conclude that humans were created with the essential capacity and will to create. We create because it is in us. Humans create, whether they be artists, laborers or executives–humans manipulate the space before them.

Does a bird singing in the morning realize the beauty of its song, or is the bird just doing what birds do?  Is a spider aware of the beauty and symmetry of the web it spins, or is the spider just doing what spiders do?  Why do artists create? Because it is in them; people are constituted to create.

I hope my workshop participants will appreciate that they will improve as artists by making art and more art. When one continues to create, s/he cannot help but to improve. Bach wrote a cantata a week in the service of the Church, and some of the pieces weren’t that good. But had he not had the courage to compose inferior music, he never would have gotten to the good work. Emerson said that the pump brings up the muddy water first, before the clear water follows. Likewise, writers and artists have to get the junk out on the paper before the good stuff follows. There is plenty of debris-clearing that precedes good art. T. S. Eliot created a great deal of good poetry, but also a great deal of bad poetry. But he created.  He is T. S. Eliot.  Artists create a large body of good work and bad work.  Artists create, period.

My hope (prayer) for this workshop is that I hand the artists several more tools for their toolbox.  Every workshop makes me a better artist, because I learn a great deal from the participants’ suggestions and techniques, and I hope they are learning more from the suggestions and techniques I offer in return–a gift exchange.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Evening at the Parisian Café

January 19, 2016

image

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement.  And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

T. S. Eliot, “Four Quartets

Today I finished reading one of the most satisfying books in a long time: Bernard Jacobson’s Robert Motherwell: The Making of an American Giant. The text is comprised of 120 pages of fine print, and I do not like reading fine print, but this was a genuine feast, begun Saturday and finished today (Tuesday). I simply could not put it down. I have been a devoted student of Motherwell’s life and work since the late 1980’s, and have chafed that there were no biographies written on him. Last year marked the centennial of his birth, so this book has come out, and another is coming out the first week in March, which I have already ordered pre-publication, compliments of Amazon.

I share almost nothing in common with Motherwell’s style of painting and collaging, but I absolutely love his writing, and he wrote prodigiously. The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell remains one of my favorite art texts of all time. I love his lifestyle which combined reading, writing, publishing, editing, teaching and making art across multiple genres. He was a contemplative, quiet man, and I have felt an affinity with his solitary side during my own hours of work and study. Nearly every day when my job is done, I retreat to my home and studio-my sanctuary. Tonight, as temperatures drop outside, I am enjoying this fireplace and re-reading all the notes I took in my journal from the reading of this excellent book. I posted the drawing of the tree above in a brief blog earlier this evening. I went to La Madeleine Cafe on the north side of Arlington to meet some kindred spirits, and got there a half hour early. So I took out my sketchbook, and with a cup of coffee at an outside table, did this 5 x 7″ drawing with great pleasure and gladness of heart. For years I have stared at winter trees, and questioned myself why I was not studying them with a pencil. Last November I got in the groove of this, and don’t want to get out, I enjoy the practice and discovery so much.

Once my friends arrived, we repaired ourselves indoors to the warmth of the cafe and excellent, spirited conversation. It has taken me decades to find such rich camaraderie and verbal exchange among artistic spirits. The French Impressionists had their Café Guerbois. Picasso and friends had their Les Deux Magots. The Ash Can School had 806 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. The Abstract Expressionists had the Cedar Bar in Greenwich Village. I myself have ached for an art cafe where I could show up once a week or so and just talk with other creative people, and finally I found a married couple who possess this overflowing zest for art, ideas, music, literature and film. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I could listen to their ideas all night. How marvelous to have this space on Tuesday evenings for sharing a table, cups of coffee, and an abundance of dreams. Thanks Z and Elaine. You are truly the best! I’m still buzzing with the things we talked about this evening.

Now back at home, I’m enriched in front of the fire with memories, a journal, good books and a glad heart.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

The Art that Lies Within

April 4, 2015
Trying to Bring the Art that is "In Me" onto the Paper "Before Me"

Trying to Coax the Art that is “In Me” onto the Paper “Before Me”

“Do you know that the Enright House is the most beautiful building in New York?”

“I know that you know it.”

“Roark, you worked in that quarry when you had the Enright House in you, and many other Enright Houses, and you were drilling granite like a . . .”

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Despite the many long hours devoted over the past three days to gathering tax data for filing, I’m still finding a little time to paint as well as read and write in my journal. I loved coming across this dialogue tonight between Dominique and her lover/adversary Roark. In the philosopy classes, I try to stress Aristotle’s notion of potentiality, namely, that the oak tree is already inside the acorn and it must come out. In theory I have always said this about art–the works are already inside us, waiting to be born. Michelangelo saw the human figure trapped inside the marble, and believed his only task was to extricate it. “The end is in the beginning,” said Anaximander, Aristotle, T. S. Eliot, and a host of other celebrated thinkers.

The Messy Studio, where Dreams Take Shape

The Messy Studio, where Dreams Take Shape

The gift of this day has filled me with a spirit of good will. Granted, I chafed at the long hours spent poring over spread sheets and receipts. But still, there were those sublime hours of reading and working on the watercolor. Even while working on taxes and reading from an excellent book, I kept the watercolor propped across the room from me, under a good clean light, so I could look up at it from time to time, and make decisions on the next step. I’m glad there is no deadline for its completion. The complimentary reds and greens are delicious to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the painting will take me tomorrow when the natural light returns through those windows.

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.

At the Still Point of the Turning World

January 17, 2015

At the still point of the turning world.  Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.

T. S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”

From the moment I awoke this Saturday morning, I saw my bedroom bathed in bright sunlight, and my blood was stirred by these sentiments gleaned last evening from T. S. Eliot.  Words for the Sublime will apparently never exhaust our vocabulary–God, Religion, Art, Spirituality,Truth, Enlightenment.  But since I’ve been meditating on Eliot’s “Four Quartets” I’ve been jolted by his hints of “those rare moments when eternity intersects the temporal continuum, while treating also the relations between those moments and the flux of time.”  And now, reading this poem that calls these sublime, transcendent moments “the dance”–what a word to describe the primal ecstasy I’ve known my entire life and have read with pleasure from the writings of Emerson, Thoreau and the British Romantic poets.

In Friday’s philosophy class, while contrasting Plato’s eternal with Aristotle’s movement, we pushed our research backward into the Presocratic fragments, and I chose to take my Heraclitus texts home with me to translate and to read essays on his work from Eliot and Heidegger.  For years I’ve played with the notion of flux in Heraclitus and the explanation that nothing in life remains constant, but recently I’ve been reading critical works pointing out his obsession to know the underlying unity beneath the flux.  As I spent hours yesterday and today translating ancient Greek texts discussing the source as well as the destiny of life, I found myself returning to T. S. Eliot repeatedly to read his comments that follow a number of Presocratic utterances–the end is already in the beginning.  At my current age, this resonates with me more than ever before.  I think that many of us during these senior years are puzzling out just exactly what our sense of purpose has been in this life, and how early we intuited that purpose.  As we take our retrospective looks at our personal odysseys, we tend to extract meanings to the things we’ve done and are now doing.  And I believe there is much reward in thinking over these things.

I apologize if these comments are scattered.  I’m still puzzlling it all out, and plan to continue in this endeavor.  So far, this is turning out to be one of my better holiday weekends on record, and I’m thankful for the time and space to read, reflect and write on these things.

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 Soothing Abyss

January 16, 2015
Beginning the 3-Day Weekend in the Quiet of My Study

Beginning the 3-Day Weekend in the Quiet of My Study

Tillich loved the “experience of the abyss,” or what he also called the “holy void.” . . . These terms refer to Dantean realms of semidarkness filled with chaos cloaked in mist and vapor, but–and this was most important–a chaos crying, like clay on the sculptor’s bench, to be made into form.

Rollo May, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship

Though my blog has lain dormant for the past week, my mind has not.  Daily it has surged with ideas, but a hectic schedule, accompanied by the tragic murder of one of our high school students, has kept me away from writing and composing my thoughts.  Now, the three-day weekend begins (Martin Luther King Day on Monday) and I’m ensconced in my study with no other interest but to think, to write, to blog.  Thank you, readers, for your patience with my hiatus.

At this point, I wish I had more substance to post.  My night of reading and reflection has not been linear.  All I can say is that my Philosophy class today focused on the work of the Presocratics, and ideas brought up in class clung to my memory, plunging me into an intense reading of T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” as soon as I got home from school to begin this three-day weekend.  Eliot’s poem led me to the Presocratic fragments of Heraclitus, which then led me to an essay by Martin Heidegger, which then led me to the Book of Ecclesiastes and translations from the Septuagint, which ultimately led me to this book on the life of Paul Tillich.  I previously thought that I would paint tonight–the watercolor brush has not been picked up in a week–but the ideas have been so rich and the search so invigorating that the hour is getting late, the coffee is tasting better, and I feel that I won’t leave the study to enter the art studio until sometime tomorrow.

I have had a rich correspondence the past couple of weeks with a blogging colleague whose work I greatly admire, Corey Aber (http://coreyaber.com/), and he has provided rich inspiration for my recent attempts to develop a clear philosophy or aesthetic summing up what I am trying to accomplish through my scholarship, painting and blogging.  If I don’t get something on the blog tonight, then I’m confident that I will get my words to fly in formation by tomorrow.  For the time being, all I can say is that I’ve been floating in a foggy abyss of ideas tonight and haven’t felt anything negative from the experience.  It’s nice not to have deadlines pending, and no school until the following Tuesday.  The contemplative life has been very pleasing to me tonight, and I am confident that it will continue.  I feel that there is something in this formless environment of ideas swirling about me this evening that I will be able to manipulate into some kind of meaningful formula.

Thanks always for reading.  I’ll return soon . . .

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Life Measured Out in Coffee Spoons

November 9, 2014
Preparing to Watercolor in the Man Cave

Preparing to Watercolor in the Man Cave

For I have known them all already, known them all: 

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,      

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

This Sunday has offered unparalleled leisure for me.  The 38-degree morning was cold enough to convince me not to emerge from beneath the quilts at 6 when my alarm went off.  Instead, I stretched and dozed a few more hours, then rose and treated myself to Belgian waffles, blueberries, bacon, juice and coffee.  It has been at least three years since I got out the Belgian waffle iron, and I hope to put it to good use during these approaching cold months.

The garage studio was still cold when I entered it, but I put on some layers and split my time between reading T. S. Eliot, Joseph Campbell, William Carlos Williams and studying the still life before me.  Finally, I decided to work on a small watercolor, using stretched 140-lb. paper about 10 x 14″.  After a week of looking at the objects, sketching them in charcoal, and thinking about the subject from a variety of angles, I decided to focus on the derelict Maxwell House coffee can against a dark background with a shock of the red-checkered table cloth showing.  This is taking plenty of time, because I’ve been working on a series of layered washes, letting each one dry completely before covering with a new wash.  I started with Transparent Yellow, then Aureolin, then Alizarin Crimson, then Winsor Green, then Winsor Orange.  After a few hours of letting those layers dry, and laying down washes inside the can and to the left of the can, I decided to work on some details.  I have a small portion of the red-checkered cloth started, as well as the colors on the coffee can.  I’m in no hurry.  I’ve spent a good part of this day listening to Andrew Wyeth interviews on a VHS tape, and am enjoying his insights.

Taking My Time on this Small Watercolor

Taking My Time on this Small Watercolor

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 Affirming Embrace of a Saturday Morning

July 26, 2014
Coffee: the Perfect Companion in the Art Studio

Coffee: the Perfect Companion in the Art Studio

For I have known them all already, known them all:–

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

July 26, 1992 marks one of the more perfect days of my earthly odyssey, especially when I measure out my life with coffee spoons.  That historic day was spent in Oregon, as I neared the finish of a blissful five-week seminar on the writings of Emerson, Thoreau and Margaret Fuller. To mark today’s anniversary, I’ve decided to begin with a cup of Hood River Coffee.  I ordered the beans from that company in Portland, Oregon, and was pleased to receive them on my doorstep yesterday.  This is only the second time in twenty-two years that I have ordered from them, but believe I’ll make a practice of it from here on out.  And today I will let the memories of Oregon, the mountains, the tall trees, the Pacific coast and the writings of those three bards flood my soul while I work on watercolor, read, scribble in the journal, and know from the heart the gratitude of feeling fully alive.

More later . . . thanks for reading.  It’s a beautiful Saturday in Texas.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.