Posts Tagged ‘Voltaire’

Life Slowing Down

August 26, 2017

redlands now

Nestled in The Gallery at Redlands for the Weekend

A political orator wittily compared our party promises to western roads, which opened stately enough, with planted trees on either side, to tempt the traveller, but soon became narrow and narrower, and ended in a squirrel-track, and ran up a tree. So does culture with us; it ends in head-ache. Unspeakably sad and barren does life look to those, who a few months ago were dazzled with the splendor of the promise of the times.  . . . Do not craze yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy.  . . . We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”

Now, in my semi-retirement days, Emerson is even more a friend and kindred spirit than he’s been in the past twenty-five years for me. When I was younger, I was more of a romantic enthusiast who truly believed in promises delivered by politicians on a national, state and local school district level. For years, I believed in the substance of political stump speeches and beginning of the school year pep rallies. After I stopped believing in the promises, I believed that the speakers themselves believed in their own empty promises. Now I even doubt that, and choose not to listen much any longer. Instead I choose to do what I do, and try to improve over the years in my own performance. Voltaire encouraged us to cultivate our own gardens. Emerson challenges us to learn to skate well on the surfaces of life presented to us.

After a summer on the road, filled with new vistas and fresh encounters, I began to feel a renewed enthusiasm and confidence that had been reduced to dying embers over recent years. I have returned to my home turf to begin a semester at Texas Wesleyan University as an adjunct instructor. I knew the change would be good, but had no idea it would be this good. I have now shifted from a full-time high school schedule with four subjects to teach across six classes, all day Monday through Friday (and an online college course as well), to a university campus where I teach one subject in the classroom for two hours Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings, plus my one online course. That’s it.

The culture shock cannot be overstated; in nearly thirty years I have not been allowed the luxury of space and quiet and time between classes to think, write, re-think, revise and flow into a classroom environment (smaller classes too!) of older students who show up ready to think and engage in dialogue. Of course, the biggest change has been the university requiring only a syllabus to be submitted by me on the third week of school.  By this time, I would have submitted stacks of documents to my school district to satisfy some bureaucratic monster. And even larger still–at the university, I will submit a progress report at midterm, then grades at semester’s end.  In high school, progress and report card grades are submitted six times by semester’s end. All week long, during this first week at the university I felt that I was forgetting to do something; I couldn’t believe I had 48-hour lapses of quiet between class lectures. And 48 hours is a broad expanse of time to research, write and edit classroom lectures. I feel genuinely spoiled, and my heart is full of warmth and good feelings. I’m sorry I had to wait so long to get to this day.

This  weekend and next will find me at one of my favorite places–The Gallery at Redlands in Palestine, Texas. I’ll keep the gallery open all day today and into the evening (there is fine dining across the hall at the Red Fire Grille with plenty of patrons coming and going).  I will also keep basic Sunday hours (10-5) as well. I have rotated five new paintings into the display and will take the replaced five back home for awhile. The summer has kept me away from here, but I look forward to putting in as many weekends as possible, maintaining some kind of presence here.

train drawing

Initial Stages of a Locomotive Drawing

Palestine is an extraordinary town with a magnificent railroad heritage. I began a project in the spring, involving vintage railroad scenes, and have already completed four watercolors with more in progress as I write. Above is the beginning of a pencil drawing, as I plan to present a showing of drawings and paintings this winter, just in time for Palestine’s Polar Express experience. The Gallery at Redlands hopes to have a sound artistic presence when the holidays arrive.

Thank you for reading. Now that life has slowed considerably for me, I hope I’ll find the energy and enthusiasm to update this blog and let all of you know what is happening in this part of the world.


Tell Me Where the Road Is

Watercolor, 27 x 24″ framed


Here is a watercolor I’ve introduced into the gallery collection that hasn’t been here before.  This fall, many new works will be added and displayed here. Stay tuned . . .


Cultivating the Garden

May 2, 2015
Saturday Morning, waiting for the Piano Pavilion to Open

Saturday Morning, waiting for the Piano Pavilion to Open

“I also know,” said Candide, “that we must cultivate our garden.” “You are right,” said Pangloss; for when man was put into the Garden of Eden, he was put there with the idea that he should work the land; and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Let’s work, then, without disputing,” says Martin. “It is the only way to make life bearable.” 

Voltaire, Candide

Driving this morning to Fort Worth for an all-day writing workshop at the Kimbell Art Museum, these words from Voltaire whispered into my consciousness, and I felt that I had found something to help me understand our role while living out our lives on this planet. I have never understood what it is to be bored (except when I’m trapped in a meeting), as there are more things to do than I can tend. But I felt that today was a Gift, because there was this opportunity to spend a day in the museum under someone else’s direction, perusing the art collection and finding new ways to write about art. Granted it was a workshop for teachers, I nevertheless wanted to stir up my own soul with these stimulants.

Arriving about forty minutes before the museum opened, I took this sweet opportunity to sit in the shadow of the Kahn building and look across the lawn at our new Renzo Piano Pavilion, where the workshop would actually take place. I brought with me Ernest Hemingway’s autobiography, A Moveable Feast, and read again the sections about him struggling to write during his early days in Paris:

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

That was the oracle I needed to start my task. Once the workshop began, the hours flew by, as the capable instructor never ran out of ways to inspire us to write and look at the art with different spectacles. It turned out to be a splendid day of drawing and writing about the pieces in the Kimbell.

Spilling out the Day's Work on my Desk

Spilling out the Day’s Work on my Desk

There is nothing like coming home at the end of the day, opening the book bag, and spilling out onto the desk all the material you created during the day of inspiration. Our hours were divided evenly between studying select pieces of the permanent collection and finding ways to write about what we saw and thought.

"Selim and Zuleika" by Eugene Delacroix

“Selim and Zuleika” by Eugene Delacroix

One of our assignments was to write a character profile based on one of the paintings in the museum. The key word I drew from the bag was “lively”, so my task was to find a lively painting and choose a character for composing the profile. Looking at this Delacroix painting inspired by Lord Byron, I found myself recalling Samuel Butler’s quote that every work of art is a portrait of its creator. Having spent time in the Journals of Eugene Delacroix, I saw him all over this painting, and chose to compose my profile on him, writing the following:

Name: Eugene Delacroix

Where do I live: In exotic settings

What do I do: Explore the boundaries

Friends would describe me as: Restless and Inquisitive

My hobbies are: Traveling, painting, reading Romantic literature, dreaming and journaling

My favorite place to hang out: Tangier

My secret is: I am never bored, and I am never certain.

What am I going to do next? Cleanse the eye, by looking for something new.

How did I get into this work? I followed my curiosity, refusing to obey conventions.

Our next project was to “mash up” a story by combining our work with that of another workshop participant, seeking a way to bring the two characters together in a plot.

Portrait of Mary Anne Bloxam (later Mrs. Frederick H. Hemming)

Portrait of Mary Anne Bloxam (later Mrs. Frederick H. Hemming)

My instructor had skillfully created a character profile of this lady and her conservative, conventional, public lifestyle (the key word for her profile was “proper”). The two of us talked of ways to get Delacroix and the future Mrs. Hemming into a story, and then we wrote our pieces. Hers was better than mine, but I’ll share mine:

In the midst of the Parisian Salon, the soon-to-be Mrs. Hemming could not stop looking at the strikingly handsome and rugged gentleman standing in the back of the parlor as Brahms was being played. Eugene Delacroix immediately perceived her furtive glances. As the evening played out, neither approached the other, but neither could stop looking or remembering.

Two months later, in the heart of the Grand Tour of Venice, the pair’s eyes met with a shock of recognition, and they strode toward one another. As the conversation and romantic drama unfolded into the evening, the unraveling dawned unmistakable. He could not forsake his traveling adventures, and she could not break her conventional engagement and matrimony. But neither would be able to forget the other.

After the fun of writing our fiction stories, our next assignment proved more difficult, and we only had ten minutes, as the session was nearly over. We were handed a page from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and our assignment was to lift words from the text to compose a poem inspired by one of the paintings in the collection. I thought this was impossible, but standing in front of a Cezanne painting, I began underlining particular words that caught my eye from the Austen text, and this is what I composed:

Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir

Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir

A Building that Does Not Belong

The high road

          Barely discernible,

The garden sloping

          Involuntarily to the road.

The parsonage

          Stopped at civility,

Displaying the recollection

          Of furniture.

Once I got back home, I poured out my day’s work, grateful for the memories and stimulation. As the light began to wane, I moved into my studio and pushed my waiting watercolor a little further down the road:

The light is now gone, the evening has arrived, and I am in the best mood possible to read, reflect, write and enjoy the memories of this day. I am overflowing with gratitude that a local art museum offered such a rewarding study.

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.


April 18, 2012

Leading Workshop at Star Harbor



These are the immortal words carved over a side entrance to the Saint Louis Art Museum.  That message has remained with me for three decades, and most especially the past five years, as I’ve sought to carve out a space for myself in the sphere of art.

I feel dry as dust today.  I’m posting a photo of my last sublime art endeavor–associating with the eighteen eager watercolorists of Star Harbor.  I cannot describe how sorely I miss them this day, and have indeed for the past week.  Since those two days we spent, exploring the dynamics of watercolor, I have been submerged in number-crunching in preparation for filing my Income Tax (made the deadline) and then the six-week grading period ended at my high school, and of course, I was behind in that task.  I made that deadline also, shortly before midnight last night.  Today has been that sick, 4-classes in 4-classrooms schedule at my day job, with no planning period in which to stop and breathe.  I have endured this sick schedule for almost an entire school year now–one that I am more than ready to forget.

I had an art business engagement in Plano, Texas this evening, but have decided now to let that one go.  I’m exhausted to the bone, and need to give my body the rest it needs this afternoon, and (hopefully) return to my neglected studio later tonight.  My need to paint has not been adequately served for much too long.  It is time for me to “cultivate my garden,” as Voltaire would have it.  Hopefully, in the sanctity of the studio, I can get my groove back (Stella?).  I could very well  be posting to this blog later tonight, if I manage to do what I intend.

Thanks, all of you, who read me faithfully.  I’m sorry I’ve had nothing to say for days, but taxes and grading are not interesting enough to write about, as far as I’m concerned–hardly worthy of blog space.  I am confident that I’ll be posting quality stuff soon.