Posts Tagged ‘Xie He’s Six Canons’

Musing over Art Theories in the Studio Eidolons

August 28, 2020
Studio Eidolons

Forty-eight hours ago, while engaged in my morning watch activities before beginning the days’ schedule, I was visited in the most profound way by a hoard of ideas. Before long, I had scribbled out ten pages of longhand notes in my journal, feeling I was trying to catch a swarm of butterflies in a small net.

In Pursuit of the “Spirit” of Art

I had a watercolor class coming up in three hours and was still trying to find a way to introduce what we were going to attempt that day. I decided to work on the First Canon of Xie He’s writings about painting. It has been translated this way:

Engender a sense of movement through spirit consonance.

While trying to unpack this aphorism, I came across the notion that the word translated “spirit” refers to the Chinese chi or qi.

Opening my Art History book by Marilyn Stokstad, I found the following:

The first principle announces that “spirit consonance” imbues a painting with “life’s movement.” this “spirit” is the Daoist qi, the breath that animates all creation, the energy that flows through all things. When a painting has qi, it will be alive with inner essence, not merely outward resemblance. Artists must cultivate their own spirit so that this universal energy flows through them and infuses their work.

Two days later, my head is still spinning with this visitation. For decades I have been aware of this tension within my own perception of art, between skill and inspiration. I have possessed the skills most of my life, and continued in training to refine those skills. But inspiration is much more elusive, and I have always pondered this great divide between “work of art” and “art”. Just what exactly is the nature of this energy that animates one’s work, transforming it into “art”? This theoretical, spiritual side has driven my imagination for so long, and I still enjoy seeking it out.

In the midst of my writing, I laughed, recalling Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Dean and I sat alone in the back seat and left it up to them and talked. “Now, man, that alto man last night had IT— he held it once he found it; I’ve never seen a guy who could hold so long.” I wanted to know what “IT” meant. “Ah well”— Dean laughed—“ now you’re asking me impon-de-rables— ahem! Here’s a guy and everybody’s there, right? Up to him to put down what’s on everybody’s mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets it— everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows it’s not the tune that counts but IT—” Dean could go no further; he was sweating telling about it.

The IT factor–that is what I seek in making art. And the visitation in Studio Eidolons two days ago still has me shaking my head in wonder. I’m glad that I have nothing on my agenda today, no appointments, no deadlines. I’m ready to explore these matters further.

I’m getting closer to finishing this commission on the Royal Wulff fly pattern. It is an 8 x 10″ watercolor that has resulted in a number of new color combinations and experiments for me. It’s been a fun experience and I look forward to closing this one out and moving on to the next assignment.

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.

New Year’s Day with Coffee, Andrew Wyeth and Watercolor Sketching

January 1, 2012

Wyeth Studies

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape–the loneliness of it–the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it–the whole story doesn’t show.  (Andrew Wyeth, 1987)

Though I have left the Oklahoma wilderness behind, my mind’s eye still sees the winter trees that filled my imagination the past few days.  Today was a good quiet day for putting on the coffeepot, opening a stack of large Andrew Wyeth volumes, sketching with pencil and finally attempting a drybrush sketch of autumn or winter trees.

This image posted is the beginning attempt of some gnarled trees I examined closely in one of my larger “coffee table” Andrew Wyeth books.  Again, taking a lead from Xie He’s Six Canons (mentioned in the previous post and marvelously researched and posted by one of my devoted readers) I am attempting to work directly from Andrew Wyeth drybrush illustrations and extract the essence of his dense forest renderings.  Yesterday while looking into an Oklahoma forest, I noted how the trees stood out in light relief against a dense and dark neutral background of foliage and atmosphere.  As the day progressed, I watched those tree trunks and limbs wax brighter as their backdrop waned in the setting sun.  I wanted to stop and sketch the scene then, but I had camp appointments intruding and chose to meet my appointments.

Today however, I am fascinated with the idea of drybrush and pencil renderings of tree bark showing up lightly against a darker, denser background of tangled and confusing foliage.  So, I chose to lay in the background first, and it is now so wet and soupy that I fear I’ll be waiting about an hour or more before I can lay my hand on the page and begin the detailed renderings of the tree textures (dinner perhaps?).

Among my resolutions this year is the notion of studying abstract compositions and applying what I have learned to my current representational watercolor subjects.  For years I painted abstract acrylic compositions on canvas, and once I turned to watercolor, I ditched those compositions in favor of copying representations as faithfully as I could.  For years I have been aware of how successful artists seemed to have the knack for doing abstract work within the confines of their representational scenes.  And I have undoubtedly done that with reference to tree foliage.   But now I would like to look at overall composition in abstract fashion and see if I can push my watercolors in a new direction by applying abstract principles of design to my paintings.  We’ll see how that one pans out.

While working in my studio in the back of the house today, I have been playing and replaying a video of “Paul Gauguin: The Savage Dream” produced by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C.  What a sad, sad human being!  I have often been haunted by those feelings of torment and have tried to reject the label “temperamental artist.”  Granted my feelings have been worn on the sleeve more often than not, I still have always hoped to find a way to cope with life even when it is beset by disappointments.  Again, I feel that these are worries that have a way of surfacing during the holidays and opening the New Year, and again I need to find a way to work through them.

In closing I wish to share something precious from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar.”  This has lifted me for a couple of decades now.  Though I assume he speaks of the writer, I find this tribute applicable to anyone who creates, no matter what avenue is employed:

The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him, life; it went out from him, truth. It came to him, short-lived actions; it went out from him, immortal thoughts. It came to him, business; it went from him, poetry. It was dead fact; now, it is quick thought.


Thanks for reading.



A Quick Start on Some Galveston Palm Trees en Plein Air

November 14, 2011

Galveston Palm Tree outside Moody Gardens

I took a break between classes during the Texas Art Educators Association annual conference in Galveston.  Moody Gardens was surrounded in beauty with all the palm trees.  I found a shaded patio area and went to work on these palm trees before me, using my Winsor & Newton field box of watercolor cakes.  I found the palm-size watercolor kit very convenient for this 30-minute experiment.  The masking has successfully left me some areas to work on the highlighted stalks and palm fronds.  Hopefully I can get back to this study later in the week, once I catch up on all the school work neglected while I was in Galveston last week.  I do like the freshness of this sketch, and think I’ll review the canons of Xie He (early 6th century).  His first canon is resonating with me as I look at this: “Engender a sense of movement through spirit consonance.”  I think that is a timely word for a watercolorist as “anal” as I have been throughout my career.  It’s time to let the uptightness melt away.

Thanks always for reading.  I do appreciate your attention and feedback.