Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses’

Depth

May 10, 2016

Joyce

Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences.  The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Precisely in proportion to the depth of mind from which it issued, so high does it soar, so long does it sing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”

Late last night, while trying to read Ulysses, I came across the above passage and just had to close the book and my eyes for a spell.  I needed some kind of epiphany, coming off a scintillating week of plein air painting activity in Arkansas and re-entering my high school to face a pile of work from my weeklong absence.  It was like plunging into a warm summer pond after leaving a sauna.  I had no idea how a single Monday could suck all the creative aspirations out of me, but I guess that is how the daily job can be.  Today is better, because I’m feeling the inspiration once again that fueled my desires last week.

I have an incredibly busy two weeks facing me before I leave for another round of art festivals and plein air workshop activity.  There is so much preparation that goes into leaving for these activities, and I enjoy most of those details, especially the anticipation of the events.  But at the same time, I have this need to stop, rest, contemplate, and make new art.  I have always believed that quality art comes out of the depths, and for me there is no depth when I am covered up in social encounters.  The book I read last year that has come to mean so much to me, Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers, urged to the reader that depth is sacrificed when one’s life is immersed in social media.  I could not agree more.  The art events that have enveloped me the past several weeks (with more to come) have taken me to the heights, but alas, I am not making art, not exploring new frontiers, and feel that a significant part of me is drying up.  I’m glad that I know how to fix this; I just need to find a way to adjust my daily calendar in order to get back to drawing and painting.

I apologize if this has come out as a “whiny” blog (I detest those!). I suppose that what I’m putting  out there right now is more of my private journal musings.  But still, there may be many of you who need to read these kinds of things, so thanks for reading.

I paint in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Saturday Art

January 9, 2016

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Perhaps tomorrow (Sunday) I will find more quality time for blogging. Today I have cleaned house thoroughly, read prodigiously, and worked on three watercolors (that hopefully I’ll post tomorrow) and barely got underway this drawing of the tops of winter trees in my own backyard,

The day has been a delicious one with temperatures hovering in the forties and then the thirties.  Tonight they are expected to dip into the twenties. The fireplace has burned all day, lending a pleasing ambiance to the living room and studio. And my reading from James Joyce’s Ulysses and Harold Bloom’s The Daemon Knows has refreshed my soul.

Thanks for reading.

The Dawn has a Pulse

January 4, 2016

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When one reads these strange pages of one long ago one feels that one is at one with one who once . . . 

James Joyce, Ulysses

Today marks my return to school, though students do not arrive for two more days. Monday and Tuesday are designated for work in the classroom and attending meetings. With a 33-degree temperature outside, I knew my room would be frigid, but I am layered up and my mind has finally percolated along with fresh coffee, and ideas are flowing.

I awoke at 5:00, and decided not to come to the classroom till 8:00. The hours spent at my writing desk proved fruitful as I continued to read from James Joyce and write in my journal. I love this writer’s love of language and his playful manipulation of it. He already has me laughingly describing my attempts that don’t hit the mark.  Now, when a watercolor or drawing doesn’t reach my standard, I can say that I “almosted it.” I like that better than “blew it” or “failed”. Last night I posted on the blog a failed watercolor attempt and only captioned “Oh well.”  I now think “almost” would have been more fitting.

On a more sobering note, my reading of Ulysses is dredging the silted-up canals of my own personal history, and the debris rising from the dark floors to the surface of these brackish waters of my surroundings holds my attention now. And I am grateful for this opportunity to evaluate and recalibrate where my life is going. Though my biological years classify me as a senior citizen, I am at heart still a schoolboy, only now I am more engrossed in these daily lessons. I know the idea of a New Year is manufactured, but I’ll still take it seriously. This is a New Era, a New Chance, a Fresh Chapter. A New Resolution.

When I rose from my desk to leave for school, I was shocked at what I saw out my bedroom window–a blue/lavender sky with a network of winter trees lacing the horizon. Last week, while at breakfast with my dad at Dave’s Diner in High Ridge, Missouri, I saw that same network of winter tree branches against a morning sky and thought “What a watercolor that could make, if done properly”. So, this morning at my school desk, I am trying. And I certainly don’t have an algorithm for painting winter trees, but I’m chipping away at this small composition with sincere delight, while listening to an excellent PBS “Voices and Visions” documentary on the work of Ezra Pound. I’m so glad I’m not teaching today. There is so much waiting to be discovered.

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.

 

Happy New Year 2016

January 1, 2016

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Don’t mope over it all day, he said.  I’m inconsequent.  Give up the moody brooding.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Good day, Dear Friends, and Happy January 1, 2016.  One of my New Year resolutions was to work on art every single day of 2016.  Halfway through my morning, while reading from James Joyce, I suddenly said to myself “Oops!  Haven’t done the art thing yet!”  So, I returned to my favorite tree next to my living room and gave it another shot above. I guess I don’t have much to say about this one except that I turned the art wheel of momentum one more revolution.  May it continue.

I may be returning to this blog later today–I woke up to this wonderful morning and immediately began composing a short story about my late Uncle Paul, experiencing deep cathartic feelings from the experience.  I don’t want to put it on the blog until I have it completed and (hopefully) polished.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

The Purity of the Winter Morning Light

December 31, 2015

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Introibo ad altare Dei (I will go to the altar of God).

James Joyce, Ulysses

This entire serene morning was spent in front of the fireplace, and I read slowly the first twenty-six pages of Joyce’s Ulysses while enjoying the delicious warmth and sounds of the fire.  My only break from reading was to draw again the tree outside my living room window.  The winter light is so clear and crisp, and the sun was out for the second consecutive morning, lighting up the tree in contrast from its dark background.

living room tree

I’ve placed this 5 x 7″ drawing in an 8 x 10″ mat and have placed it on the market for $40.  As I continue the practice, I’m growing more comfortable to rendering tree bark in graphite, and am already looking forward to the next try.

Listening to Youtube documentaries last night on James Joyce put me in the mood to re-try Ulysses before the fire this morning.  I had never managed to get past the first dozen pages without losing interest, and don’t understand why I’m finding it more readable now.  Joyce’s grappling with his Jesuit past parallels my own coping with my Southern Baptist roots.  I suppose that is a start.  But there is much more–I really enjoy the musicality of Joyce’s language when I am alone and reading aloud.  Harold Bloom reminded me of the importance of hearing quality literature, not just reading it.  After twenty-six pages, I am stunned at the artistry of Joyce’s writing, and this makes me want to take my own writing more seriously.

James Joyce also has much to say to anyone who would follow his/her artistic bliss.  He himself fought through so many snares (he called them nets) as he sought to fly above the standard literary canons of his day.  I’ve always been aware of the snares, but I feel that my own are more internal–that I have to fight through personal laziness and lethargy and moodiness rather than interference from outside, social forces.  In my later years, I’m more conscious of the energy required to create consistently.  I’m working on that.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to understand.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Extracting Art from the Land

June 5, 2015
A Quiet Moment Before the Last Day of School

A Quiet Moment Before the Last Day of School

But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,–

“I am monarch of all I survey

My right there is none to dispute.”

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Today is the last day of school. Grades are being finalized, reports submitted, textbooks inventoried, classrooms cleaned, debris carried to the trash, and of course my mind is hours south of here. I am not looking across a classroom of desks, but across an expanse of the Gulf to the distant, shimmering horizon. As I put away the art history texts, I don’t see the masterworks of the centuries, but watercolors of foliage, sand and water, waiting to be born.

This morning, before the students arrived, I drew my tattered copy of Walden from my bookbag, a volume that has traveled the world with me since I purchased it at Oregon State University in 1992, and turned to the passage posted above. In every plein air encounter, I think of these words, and the humor of silently drawing off something from the land while no one else has an inkling of what I am doing. With all the talk we hear of our plunder of non-renewable resources, I at least know that I am not taking anything from the land that I survey, nor am I leaving any trash for someone else to pick up when I walk away. The encounter is always quiet and serene, and the only thing that changes going forward is my life. Tennyson said it well:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

I am preparing to take all the students of last year with me into the future, and soon I will add the Laguna Madre to my personal constitution. And hopefully, art will continue to be made.

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.

Daily Life of the Mind

March 31, 2015

Cluttered Corner of one of my Studio Spaces

Cluttered Corner of one of my Studio Spaces

Sentences are strewn around like forgotten laundry, images are piled up like last week’s dishes. Lyrics end like the half-opened magazine on the bathroom floor.

Kit Rachlis, describing Neil Young’s songwriting

My daily life of the mind falls somewhere between James Joyce’s Ulysses and James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Wallter Mitty. I wake up, expecting a mantra, and it usually presents itself politely somewhere between the shower and kitchen. As the day unwinds, visual and auditory stimuli come tumbling in and insert themselves into certain mental niches, attempting to give some kind of shape and meaning to my day. I assumed all my life that all people live that way day-to-day, but now I think maybe not. I find this amusing (sometimes) because I think there would be some who think that a public school teacher does the same thing every day and experiences the same routine–walking the halls and standing in front of classes spewing verbiage. Not me–there are too many things clattering around inside my mind looking for a place to find meaning. The jumbled picture posted above is probably an accurate visual record of the kind of mind I carry about on a typical school day. It is unfortunate that the work area of my desk looks similar to that.

Continued Work on the Gas Station

Continued Work on the Gas Station

Today was art history–Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. As I moved the students through the theories of these artists, especially Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne, all I could think of was the gas station watercolor at home awaiting my return. Several Gauguin and Cezanne observations were waiting to be put into practice once I got back to my life’s passion.

When the late afternoon sun cast its bright light through the windows on the north side of my studio, I put Eric Clapton’s Backtrackin’ LP on the turntable (old Slow-Hand turned 70 yesterday!) and cranked up the volume. Leaning over the drafting table, I found myself overflowing with gratitude that Clapton at 70 and I at 60 are allowed to continue doing what we love to do most–create art. As I began chipping away at this composition, my mind drifted back to images, smells and sounds that I knew when I was growing up in smaller towns. Grown men coming to work everyday to do what they had been trained to do–pumping gas, checking oil, changing tires, providing basic engine repairs. I heard in my memory those clanging bell cables announcing a car’s entrance to the pumps. I heard once again the clunk of Coke bottles dropping in the vending machine chutes. I saw the cigarette and candy machines inside hte office and heard the ringing of the cash register and the thump of the cash drawer flying open. Throughout the day, the hypnotic highway noise had its way of dulling the senses in the hot, drowsy summer air. I remember the smell of gasoline, oil and grease. I could close my eyes and see once again the grimy red shop towels hanging from the pockets of the mechanics and grease monkeys, and could hear once again the slamming of the car hood after the oil and radiator were checked. Nearby the air compressor hissed, while tools and tire irons clanked loudly as they were dropped to the concrete. Walt Whitman could write a poem “I Hear America Singing.” I can still hear the gas stations singing in middle America.

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 New Chapter. A New Dream.

January 19, 2015

Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds

Barnett Newman

The statement above from Barnett Newman drew a good laugh from me, seeing that I’ve been focusing on trying to establish some kind of working theory of aesthetics to understand better what I’m trying to do as a painter.  My sentiments have been close to his, as I’ve painted for years, not feeling bound by some kind of aesthetic code.  Still, I’m interested in listening to theories on aesthetics, and still am trying to come up with a statement of my own.  Rising at 6:00 this morning, I was delighted to enter my study and begin work afresh, knowing there is no school until tomorrow.  And as I thought of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, my thoughts drifted toward the power that drives revolutionary figures such as he and the other heroes we teachers salute as we enter the classroom daily, holding up to our students the leading thinkers of our civilization who have had the courage to make their ideas known.

A couple of years ago, I began organizing my computer files around ideas about art and what goes into making it.  I smilingly filed these under “Notes for a Book,” not taking myself seriously as one to publish an actual book.  But early this morning, I took a new turn: rather than try to write a book, I re-entered those files today with a mind toward organizing them into lectures, public speeches and essays with a mind toward publishing in magazines or journals, or giving some public talks on these matters.  At the very least, they could be served up as fodder on this blog, or become teaching units in my classroom at school.  At this time, I can say it felt good to see the first two pages of text rolling off my printer, knowing these were my words, my ideas, heaped and composted over the past couple of decades, compliments of all the great minds I’ve been privileged to read and hear.  Perhaps Tennyson was onto something with his line from “Ulysses”–I am a part of all that I have met.

The morning has been a very rewarding one, thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myselrf that I am not alone.

Cutting Through Two Days of Fog

December 10, 2014

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.

Graham Greene

We don’t experience much fog in Texas weather, but the past two mornings have featured a heavy fog, and my drive to work in the dawn’s dim light was quite out of the ordinary.  The more I peered into the density of the fog, the more I thought about writing and ways in which we can use it to take the fog out of our half-baked ideas.  Interestingly, I have been reading James Joyce, and his texts have given me considerable pause when thinking about the fog of expression.  I was amused recently to hear Joseph Campbell in a taped lecture describe the text of Ulysses as pure protein–no fat, no carbohydrates.  I could think of a number of other ways to describe this text.  After the first ten pages, I’m seeking plenty of help in elucidation of what’s going on with the story, but I’m enjoying the skirmish.  When thinking of role models of the literary world who knew how to cut through the fog with their writings, Joyce doesn’t immediately come to mind.  But I’ll explore that one later.

After a full afternoon and evening of chores, I finally got to return to my watercolor still life project.  I can feel my breathing and heart rate change every time I enter this garage studio, this man cave, my sanctuary.

We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitude.

Montaigne

The world retreated, and I bent over my study and went to work with plenty of masquing on the woven fly fishing creel and the carved decorations in the back of the chair.  Beyond that, I had to exercise patience and apply several layers of transparent wash to the creel, the hat, and the chair back.  While waiting for layers to dry, I continued to tinker with some of the details I had already begun yesterday.  The hour is drawing late, and of course I would like to have pushed further than I did, but I did my best.  Tomorrow will be another long day.

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.

 

Another One of those Multi-Faceted, Rewarding Days

December 9, 2014
Continued Work Tonight in the Studio

Continued Work Tonight in the Studio

Every life is many days, day after day.  We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.  But always meeting ourselves.

James Joyce, Ulysses

As the evening hour draws late, I hardly know how to set forth this day in words.  The classes at school were as energetic as always, with AVID students tearing into their tutorial sessions with a vigor unlike what I’m used to seeing as a semester winds down.  The energy was electric and I still tingle at every remembrance.  Philosophy came later and Nietzsche was our man of the hour.  I’m not used to lecturing for such long stretches, but the students seemed to give me the space ungrudgingly, and I took it.  I felt their passion as I endeavored to lead them through his lifetime contributions and point out his tragedies and triumphs.  Quiet hours in my classroom/studio later yielded some excellent reading in texts from Hegel and Joyce.  I still cannot stop thinking about what our guest lecturer brought to our class last Friday.  I also was privileged to pass some afternoon time in conversation with outstanding business associates in the art and retail business.  I always come away from those encounters with a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm for making and selling art.

After some afternoon studio activity, I got to spend time over dinner in conversation with a fascinating, engaging man who shares so many of my interests, in philosophy, theology, art, politics–the longer we talked the more convinced I was that I had found a kindred spirit on more levels than I could imagine.  I can’t wait for follow-up conversations.  This is the kind of man I wish I could have had regular conversations with during my graduate school years–I look back on those lonely, solitary times when I continually wished I could find one, just one creative spirit with whom I could engage in these kinds of exchanges.  Why is good conversation so rare?

When I got home, I found an email waiting from the West Coast from a creative spirit who always says the right things to encourage me in what I’m trying to do with watercolor.  I just had to read the letter again and again and again.  Though I was tired, I knew I had no choice but to get back into the garage and pick up that brush again.  By the time I re-entered the studio tonight, I knew my physical energy was in decline.  But I broke all rules of common sense, put on a pot of coffee, and resumed work on the still life that has absorbed my attention for days.

I spent most of these late hours drawing, erasing, re-drawing, erasing some more, yet never frustrated with the revisions, just drawn in by the whole process.  There are no deadlines here.  I want to get it right.

After about an hour of intense concentration over the watercolor, I decided it was time for some decompression.  I pulled up a chair, drank my final cup of coffee, and resumed reading some excellent secondary material on Joyce’s Ulysses.  Our high school librarian is a rich resource who provided me today with a remarkable James Joyce bibliography.  I was wanting to read some critical discussion on his style and contribution to modern thought, and she put the right books in my hand.  Thank you, Suzanne!

Pouring out my soul tonight feels good.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you for sharing in what has been a fulfilling day.  As I moved from person to person throughout this day, I was allowed to meet myself.  Thanks all of you.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.