Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Van Gogh’

Post-Christmas Musings

December 27, 2016


Holiday Hotel Insomnia

 Ut pictura poesis (“as in painting, so in poetry”)

I am slowly waking to a most unusual day. For reasons unknown, I awoke a little after 3:00 this morning and could not return to sleep. The hotel was dark and quiet.  Finally, I rose, showered, and spent two hours at the writing desk recording my thoughts, reading and reflecting in the stillness of the post-Christmas pre-dawn. Finally, I went to a 24-hour diner for breakfast, then to Starbucks where I have remained until now (8:14 a.m.), reading and enjoying this cold winter morning (dropped to 34 degrees in St. Louis this morning).

My reading has been an extraordinary experience, finishing the Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life biography, then resuming The Wyeths by N. C. Wyeth and beginning Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings (a much-appreciated Christmas gift).

I read the following in a letter from the young N. C. Wyeth to his parents, regarding a challenge just given him from his teacher Howard Pyle:

“Wyeth, I’ve been watching your work very closely and I see you have a great deal of talent but what you need is knowledge, that is, you have not had a good training and thereby no foundation.” 

Pyle then invited the young N. C. to enroll in his school for illustrators.  I purchased this book, because I’ve been astounded at the erudition of N. C. in his letters written late in life.  Here I am clearly reading of the turning point in his experience, when he was identified as basically unlettered though talented, and requiring intellectual development and maturing.

I am moved by this reading, and recall my own experience forty-four years ago,  when starting out in college on a scholarship granted because of my artistic abilities, but discovering quite quickly that my mental laziness throughout high school had finally outed me.  Some of the painful conversations with my professors still haunt my memory. Looking back, I’m now very grateful for my years in graduate study that poured a foundation beneath my art that now gives me more of a purpose to pursue what I pursue. Though I cannnot yet articulate a particular theory of aesthetics of philosophy of art, I nevertheless am aware of a much deeper motive for making art than I knew in younger years. And of course I still study and practice technique as much as possible and will never neglect this important part of the artistic enterprise. But the message still needs to be explored. Gladly, I still have some holiday vacation time to do this.

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.

Affecting the Quality of the Day

March 6, 2014
Working into the Night on this Winter Watercolor

Working into the Night on this Winter Watercolor

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.  Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

No man ever will unfold the capabilities of his own intellect who does not at least checker his life with solitude.

Antoine C. Quatremère de Quincey

There was something about today’s school day that felt it had been extended by several hours.  And I felt by day’s end that I had been treading water in an ocean of humanity.  I couldn’t drive home fast enough.  Entering my home, I turned on soft music, and sat quietly in the winter light streaming through my studio windows.  This 20 x 20″ watercolor lay waiting before me on the drafting table.  I started it on January 21st, but walked away from it after only one session.  It was only a few days ago that I returned to the composition, and attempted to revive it.  This afternoon, finally, I felt the momentum building.  I spent the entire afternoon and evening working on this, and it is nearing midnight as I pause now to write.  I certainly did not set any speed records this evening.  I worked very slowly, very deliberately, and, in Motherwell and DeKooning fashion, spent long moments in silence just gazing at it.  And I can say without reservation that I have felt a deep, deep satisfaction from this encounter.  This afternoon and evening presented me with a Gift, and I am grateful from my depths for that Gift.

An art history student today, during lunch, asked me why I thought so many famous artists throughout history were depressed.  I tried to answer honestly that I believe most people hold that stereotype for artists because of Vincent Van Gogh (we had just finished studying him in class).   However, for those artists who did suffer depression, I offered this possibility–nearly all artists work alone, and those who suffer depression do so because they feel lonely.  Paul Tillich, in his sermon “Loneliness and Solitude”, offered those words to describe our duality as a solitary species.  When we hurt from being alone, we call it loneliness.  When we draw strength and serenity from it, we call it solitude.  Tillich called the former the cross of humanity, the latter the glory.

When I’m lonely, I’m not much good as a creator, or a reader, or a writer in my journal.  But when solitude reigns, I am able to do my best work, or if the work is no good, I can still feel that I put in quality time.  And this afternoon and evening were definitely in the quality column of my ledger.  For that I am grateful.

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.

Painting on a Sunday Morning with Hemingway

April 14, 2013
Sunday Morning Painting in the Man Cave

Sunday Morning Painting in the Man Cave

Ernest remarked that there was no such thing as fiction.  He talked of his “autobiographical short stores” and of the “combinations of characters,” he had used to make up one character in a book.  “He was making the point, and very forcibly, that there was no such thing as pure imagination in writing, that we simply did not pull ideas and characters and concepts out of left field.  He intimated that his own novels could be called biographical novels rather than pure fictional novels because they emerged out of ‘lived experience.'”

Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story

I awoke without an alarm at 7:00 exactly.  Breakfast was quick and simple, because I wanted to get back into the Cave as soon as possible.  Brewing a carafe of coffee, I began the Cave morning, reading from the Hemingway biography (267 pages into it, still a long way to go).  I was delighted with the above passage.  He was drinking Irish whiskey and chatting it up with Irving Stone, who has just published Lust for Life, the story of Vincent Van Gogh.  When Stone remarked that his biographical work was difficult because he had to research facts and stick with them, Hemingway responded with the comments posted above.

I find this true in painting, the blending of fact and manufactured composition.  I have arranged this jumble of lures in the tackle box countless times, trying to make them look as they would with a spontaneous opening and shaking of the box.  But of course, they never “shake out” quite the way I want them to, so I spend long stretches of time, pointing them in the direction I want them to point, uprighting the ones that have turned over, overlapping the ones that won’t, etc.  And then, as I try to paint them as truly as I see them, I look for ways to make them “pop”, intensifying contrasts, enriching primary color contrasts, using all the tricks I have learned over past experiences.

This has been a glorious morning.  While staring at these and making decisions with my brush, I have heard in my mind conversations from my past–Mr. Scucchi in 9th grade, Mr. Hoeh in 10th, Mr. Karl in 12th, Professor Unger in college–all these men giving me counsel in drafting, color, composition–the things that go into a successful painting.  I find myself working at this very deliberately, though I remind myself it is only a sketch, only a dry run, only a practice session.  I feel as though I have returned to the art class, and these great men of the past (two of whom are now deceased, sadly) are now whispering their encouragement, their affirmation, in my ear.  I’ll never forget the way they gave themselves to make moments like this possible.

Thanks for reading.