Posts Tagged ‘Whitman’

Glimpses of Eidolons in Archer City, Texas

October 13, 2014

Archer City, Texas

Archer City, Texas

I met a seer,

Passing the hues and objects of the world,

The fields of art and learning, pleasure sense,

          To glean eidólons.

Walt Whitman, “Eidólons”

As our public schools transitioned into a three-day holiday weekend, I chose to begin mine early by trekking to Archer City, Texas, leaving the bustle and the clatter of the city in my rearview mirror.  Seven weeks of high school and university teaching had rendered me tired and in need of a change of pace.  Long stretches of time had passed since I last nestled into the town of Larry McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show” and his iconic Booked Up Inc. (over a hundred thousand quality used books in his store).

After climbing three flights of stairs and dropping my luggage inside Room 7 of the historic Spur Hotel, I wandered across the desolate Main Street (Highway 79) and into Cobwebs, an antique store I have enjoyed shopping over the past decade.  It only took a moment, drifting through that dimly-lit store with more smell of the musty past than light from the present, that phantoms of memory emerged from the gloom, and I was “home” again.  The real seasoning of life for me may be found in those Proustian moments of recognition of episodes long buried in my childhood past.  Moving past vintage plates, coffee mugs, and tools, I continued to peruse those mute occupants of the shop, until I found something I could not push away—a $12 lantern covered in dust and grime, with its globe still intact.  Winter is not far away, and still life painting is my passion during those long dark months in my garage studio.  I made the purchase and hurried to my room across the street to get busy sketching and watercoloring this iconic object from my past.

Lantern Purchased from Cobwebs

Lantern Purchased from Cobwebs

As the chilly weather descended on Archer City and the overcast skies remained dark, I cozied myself in my rented chamber and set to work sketching the lantern in the corner.  Allowing myself stretch breaks for walking about the desolate town, perusing the used book store, and reading in the quiet of my room, I would return to this lantern at night, finally succumbing to drowsiness a little after 9:00.

At 5:00 a.m., I awoke with a runny nose (ragweed season has arrived in the Texas country).  Outside it was raining hard and 53 degrees, and I could not return to sleep, thanks to eight hours’ rest accompanied by the excitement to return to the lantern waiting silently in the dark corner.  I adjusted the bedside antique lamp to throw light on the lantern, and then arranged a small desk lamp on my makeshift drafting table, leaving the rest of the room in darkness and quiet, save for the rain on the windows.

lantern painting

Watercolor Sketch of Lantern

I will write more later of my Archer City excursions.  As I write this now, I am enjoying a darkened Columbus Day Monday morning in my quiet home.  I set my alarm for 6:00 as though getting up for school, but when it chimed, the 60-degree morning had made the house chilly, and the rain was steady on my bedroom windows, so I pulled the blanket tighter and slept another 90 minutes.  Rising for a quick shower and an old-fashioned country breakfast, I took my coffee to my bedroom writing table and turned on one lamp to light my table and prepared to read from Thoreau’s Journals.  Whitman got in the way, however, because all I could think of during my stay in Archer City was his poem “Eidólons.”

Monday Morning with Whitman

Monday Morning with Whitman

Taking out Leave of Grass, I found the poem and read it three times slowly, letting the words sink into my grateful, receptive consciousness:

Put in thy chants said he,

No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in,

Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,

          That of eidólons.

I will always be grateful that my seminary days provided me the opportunity to study the Greek language, and following those years, I have expanded my explorations beyond the New Testament and Septuagint texts to those of Homer, the Presocratics and the Classical Age.  In a later post, I’ll probably write of my Presocratic “morning after” as I alternated my time between the lantern watercolor and Presocratic reading.

Eidolon is Greek for phantom, often translated in the Bible as “idol.”  Walt Whitman, a serious student of words, kept a “Notebook on Words,” and developed this eidólon theme to express that ancient Platonic sense of eidólon as an image of our own imagination, behind which lies an ultimate reality, eternal and changeless.  In our world everything changes and is ephemeral, but our sense of imagination tries to seize onto that changeless and spiritual reality lying behind all these shifting images.

In Critias, Plato wrote of the eidólopoiía, the painter who forms images to point us to that underlying reality: the substance of an artist’s mood or savan’s studies long—(Whitman again).  I often refer to myself as a “painter of memories,” because I paint only the images that evoke memories worth remembering.  I have generally shunned popular images that may tickle the fancies of the masses, but do nothing for my own imagination.

          The present now and here,

America’s busy, teeming, intricate whirl,

Of aggregate and segregate for only thence releasing,

          To-days eidólons.

The themes of light and darkness have profoundly moved me since the years before I could read, and still do.  Hence, the lantern, with memories of my grandmother’s farm house that relied on coal oil lanterns and heaters in the dark winters, those all-night campouts and fishing trips when we graduated to Coleman lanterns, and that winter of 1986 when I lived in a house that was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I endured a brutally cold and dark winter, and chose to gather up several lanterns to light the interior with those antique lamps instead of flipping on light switches to power up those boring incandescent ceiling fixtures from the 1950s that were in every room.

          Ever the dim beginning,

Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,

Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)

          Eidólons!  eidólons!

 This has been a good weekend, and thanks to Columbus Day, it is not yet over

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.

An Escape to the Small Town

December 1, 2013
Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of the Edom Business District

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch of the Edom Business District

He talked about himself and said he didn’t feel he was creative anymore and that it was probably because he was secure, and he asked me how I felt, and I said hat I wasn’t creative since I was shot, because after that I stopped seeing creepy people.

Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries, August 29, 1979

I awoke at 9:39 this morning, glad for one morning of “sleeping in” since school dismissed for vacation last Tuesday.  I have risen about daylight every morning because there was much to do and because I wanted a quiet “morning watch” to give a measure of Quality to my daily life.  But I got in late, late last night from Edom, Texas.  I set up my display at 6:30 Saturday morning, and shut it down at 9:00 p.m.  The two hour-plus drive home left me in shambles.  Now, a good night’s rest, followed by a steaming mug of coffee has me sitting up in bed, catching up on correspondence that has piled up the past 48 hours, reading some quality books (sampling diaries and journals from Warhol, Delacroix and Thoreau–strange bedfellows to be reading while I’m still in bed).

I have always been amused at Warhol’s wry comment about his creative juices drying up after his tragedy because he cut off the “creepy people” from his daily social life.  And I’m always interested in the topic of creativity ebbing and flowing.  I still re-read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way because I’m interested in the issues of “blocked arrists” though I haven’t felt blocked in years.  I first came to peace with this issue when I read Emerson’s “Terminus” and Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”  It was then that I realized that creativity and stagnation are a natural cycle.  We cannot avoid them.  They are as natural as inhaling and exhaling, intake and exhaust.

I have endeavored for years to stoke fires and keep creative fires burning.  I sincerely believe that my biggest obstacle has been an employment issue–I have taught full-time and part-time simultaneously for a number of years now, and often sign a summer teaching contract, so I don’t fit that mold of “public school teacher” whom the general population thinks works only 8-9 months out of the year.  I am a year-round educator working under two contracts.  About three years ago, I decided to stop using this as an excuse for not putting out much art work.  If art truly is my life, then I must fight to live.  And when I made that commitment three years ago, my artistic output increased from ten-to-fifteen watercolors per year to over a hundred (though of course, some of them are small 8 x 10″ “sketches”).  I make art year round, because I feel that I must “make something” daily, and I do.

Yesterday turned out to be a fine day at The Shed Cafe in Edom, Texas.  I was invited to be their feature artist during the commmunity’s Art Jam.  When the afternoon sun broke out, I walked away from my indoor display and took up a position on the front porch where I could see down the main drag.  The fall colors were still rich enough for me to attempt this plein air watercolor sketch while enjoying the live acoustical performances at the other end of the porch.  As I was nearing the finish to the sketch, I looked up and to my surprise saw two of my favorite students–twins that take my Advanced Placement Art History course and are quite prolific in making their own art, along with their mother and father.  Their mother is also an accomplished artist and photographer whom I met and became friends with last year while she was student teaching in our school.  The family had spent Thanksgiving with relatives in Tyler, Texas, and stopped on their way back to Arlington to see the Art Jam.  I cannot adequately express the heartfelt thanks I feel when I see friends at an art event so far away from home.  Their company, conversations and patronage touched me profoundly.  Not long after they had departed, I was surprised also by a visit from a watercolorist who participated in a couple of my workshops at Star Harbor over the past two years.  She had seen in an advertisement that I was going to be at this event, so she took time out of her schedule to drive up to Edom and renew our friendship.

As the night came on, and I began breaking down my show, a patron came and began looking through my scattered crates, found this watercolor and purchased it.  I’m always glad when a fresh painting finds a home so soon.  As it turns out, she and her family came from Fort Worth, so they drove even further than I did to attend the event.  Her young son is an aspiring oil painter of amazing skill.  I was delighted at the opportunity of looking at images of his work that he had on his phone, and closing out a quality day with meaningful conversation over making art.  Every time I meet a kindred spirit such as this, I feel that my own life has extended.  To me, nothing in life is more sacred than creation, and I cannot have enough conversations with others about the creative act.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alond.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Meditation on the Seasons of Creativity

November 25, 2012

Christmas Card Workspace in the Man Cave

Good morning from the “bedroom’ studio of Arlington, Texas.  I confess that I have posted a year-old photo of what I was creating during the Thanksgiving Break last year.  I plan to return to the “Man Cave” studio later in the day to paint.  Currently, I am propped in bed with coffee, two slumbering Shih-tzu dogs, one cat and a large pile of volumes and journal.   And life is pensive but serene.  My breathing is slower and easier.

Let me open by saying I am not sure where this blog entry will take me this time.  It may be a stream-of-consciousness, with little-to-no-editing, but I’ll take my chances.  I am in bed with a large volume of Henry David Thoreau journals (the Harvard volumes 1-7, 1837-1855 are in one immense tome) and reading pensively his entry of June 20, 1844:

If we only see clearly enough how mean our lives are, they will be splendid enough.  Let us remember not to strive upwards too long, but sometimes drop plumb down the other way, and wallow in meanness.  From the deepest pit we may see the stars, if not the sun.  Let us have the presence of mind enough to sink when we can’t swim. . . .

When the heavens are obscured to us, and nothing noble or heroic appears, but we are oppressed by imperfection and shortcoming on all hands, we are apt to suck our thumbs and decry our fates.  As if nothing were to be done in cloudy weather, or, if heaven were not accessible by the upper road, men would not find out a lower.  Sometimes I feel so cheap that I am inspired, and could write a poem about it,–but straightway I cannot, for I am no longer mean.  Let me know that I am ailing, and I am well.  We should not always beat off the impression of trivialness, but make haste to welcome and cherish it.  Water the weed till it blossoms; with cultivation it will bear fruit.”

I love reading words of wisdom that address our cycles of creativity and un-creativity, our highs and lows, our energy and our inertia.  When I was younger, I was frustrated by those times of famine, when I was not “on” creatively.  I think I was “saved” by essays of Emerson and poems of Whitman that addressed those cycles as natural.  (most notably Emerson’s “The American Scholar” and Whitman’s “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life”).  We inhale, we exhale.  We intake, we exhaust.  We inspire, we expire.  Emerson wrote that it comes into us as life, it comes out of us as truth.

I could describe my current moment as low, as lethargic, as uninspired, as inert.  But the reality is, I am taking in sublime thoughts from Thoreau, from Emerson, from Whitman . . . and I am pushing them back out, distilled by my ever-emerging philosophy.  Sitting up in bed, surrounded by an untidy house and slumbering critters, I am setting a course for today’s navigation (the Hebrew word translated “wisdom” is chochma–“the helmsman, or art of steering.”  I am plotting a course with mandatory stops in Romanesque Europe (A. P. Art History for tomorrow) and Act I of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (English IV).  Beyond those towns, who knows?  Maybe a return to my watercolors (I think I hear the longhorns shuffling around in the garage, they must be getting restless).  But whatever occurs along my way, I am anticipating another good journey today.

Thanks for reading.