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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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“Watch any plant or animal and let it teach you acceptance of what is, surrender to the Now.
Let it teach you Being.
Let it teach you integrity — which means to be one, to be yourself, to be real.
Let it teach you how to live and how to die, and how not to make living and dying into a problem.”

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

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I have need of a little serenity this morning. It’s a crazy world out there and sometimes, when I let down my guard and let my reactions to it rule my demeanor, it gets the best of me. I find myself looking too far into the both the past and the future, seeking the causes and effects of things. While that might seem like a wise thing to do, to seek why things go a certain way and where they may lead, it often neglects the present time, the now.

That’s where I find myself this morning. Not in the past or the future but not quite fully in the now.

I try to sap some of the meaning of the words above from Eckhart Tolle. I have long found serenity in watching the forest and its inhabitants that surround the studio. There is a beauty in the witnessing the lives of the creatures of the wood.

For instance, take the common white tail deer that lives in abundance in our woods.

Their lives seem so difficult. Their existence is a constant struggle to find food, water and a tiny bit of shelter from the elements and the predators that hunt them. I used to have a doe that would snuggle up at night between the shrubs in front of my studio, laying up against the wall of the building. It was as safe and dry a place as she could possibly find.

There are few breaks for them. They are always on high alert, always skittishly scanning for danger and bolting in bursts of leaps through the forest at the slightest wrong movement.

Yes, it is a hard life.

Yet to see them have absolute moments of joy where they play and run with wild abandon around the studio makes me envious. It’s such a pure thing, their glorious reveling in the moment. In the now.

Watching them at these moments is one of the few times when I myself feel in the now. Their joy becomes my joy in that moment and the bitter world that surrounds us is gone away, if only for that brief instant. Gone are the worries of living and dying, of hardships past and to come.

Just a small yet absolute moment of joy.

That might be as close to real serenity that I ever experience. It might seem like a small thing but it feels like an immense treasure in a world that seems ready to plunge into madness.

And that’s just what I need. It’s good enough on this morning.

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Innate Violence/Merton

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The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of contemporary violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activity neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

-Thomas Merton

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This warning from the late theologian/monk/author Thomas Merton (1915-1968) seem well suited for these times. Many of us, myself included, are consumed with busyness and the effect of that combined with the frenzy and anxiety of the current state of affairs in this world have eroded our capacity to seek and find silence.

Moments of pure peace and solitude are fewer and further between because of the fervor, the innate violence, of these things. As Merton points out, this condition kills the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful.

For artists and anyone who employs creativity in their day to day life– hopefully, most of us– this creates a time of crisis. Our work suffers. Our concentration suffers. Our ability to find joy suffers. Our level of inner and outer comfort suffers.

So, just a small reminder to turn away from the world today, if only for a moment. Try to find some silence, some placid point inside yourself. Set aside your busyness and try to block out the chaotic innate violence of modern life, even for just the tiniest bit of time.

Find that stillness because, though it seems empty, it is filled with the joy and wisdom and peace and inspiration we all seek.

Okay, gotta run. Awful busy this morning.

Just kidding…

 

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To all my friends without distinction I am ready to display my opulence: come one, come all; and whosoever likes to take a share is welcome to the wealth that lies within my soul.

–Antisthenes
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This new painting is headed to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria with me this coming Saturday, September 21, for my annual Gallery Talk there, which begins at 1 PM.  This is my 17th Gallery Talk at the Principle and it has turned into a neat little event, one that has me engaging in a usually lively talk, giving away some gifts ( including at least one painting–see yesterday’s blog!) and unveiling a smaller group of new paintings.

This is one of those new paintings, a 20″ by 40″ canvas called True Opulence.

I hesitated in using the word opulence for this piece because I don’t see it as celebrating those things we most often associate with wealth and luxury. Not money or gold or diamonds or fancy car and clothes. No, it is more in the vein of the words at the top from the Greek philosopher Antisthenes.

It is a celebration of our ability to feel opulence in the world around us and within ourselves.

In the lushness of a field. In the richness in the colors of the flowers. In the clarity of a clean bright sky. In the graceful roll of a distant hill. In the beauty of a tree reaching outward. In our ability to experience these things and feel ourselves connected to the whole of it all.

That is the real opulence in this world.

True Opulence.

Funny how adding the word true changes the meaning of opulence. But it does. It makes the other opulence seem almost false, as though it is a mere replication of that which is available to all.

I hope you can come out this Saturday to the Principle Gallery to see True Opulence and the other new pieces. You might even win a painting or take home some swag. Your odds are pretty good! It starts at 1 PM so get there a bit early to grab a seat.

 

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Lawren Harris- From the North Shore, Lake Superior ca 1927

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Art is not an amusement, nor a distraction, nor is it, as many men maintain, an escape from life. On the contrary, it is a high training of the soul, essential to the soul’s growth, to its unfoldment.

–Lawren Harris

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Whenever I need a lift or a reminder that what I am doing is a mere triviality, it’s always good to revisit the work and words of the late painter Lawren Harris.

Harris, who died in 1970 in his native Canada at the age of 85, had a way of capturing of grand spaces and forms and imbuing in them a sense of absolute stillness. It’s a created atmosphere that is conducive to the unfolding and growth of one’s soul.

Some might say that this in itself is an escape from life and, in the simplest terms, they would be correct. But art transcends the mere act of escape in that while doing so, it provides the space and nourishment for the growth of the soul.

I know that I have often looked to art as a safe haven, an escape from the cruelty and often illogical nature of the outside world.

But it was never just that single thing. This separation between the outer and inner world created an environment, a time and place, where lessons could be learned and insights could be formed. These lessons and insights become part of who we are and then undoubtedly travel with us back into that outer world.

No, art is not an amusement or an escape. It changes us in fundamental ways and by that, we are always made better.

I needed to write that this morning, if only for myself. Thanks, Mr. Harris, I feel a little better now.

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All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, 1908

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This little snip from The Wind in the Willows seems to capture that same feeling of a conscious sense of wonder that I see in the new painting above. Titled I Stand Before You, it is 12″ by 36″ on canvas that is part of my solo exhibit, Red Tree 20: New Growth, at the Principle Gallery that opens this Friday, June 7.

I have been showing at the Principle Gallery since the early days of 1997. In the first few years there, I had been included in a group of five painters– Tom Buechner, Marty Poole, Tom Gardner, Rudy Gyr, and myself– from my home region that the gallery termed The Finger Lakes School. That group had two successful annual shows before I was moved out on my own with a solo show in 2000 called Redtree. That was a very successful show and its momentum has, in many ways, carried me through the past two decades.

This year’s show marks my 20th solo show at the Principle Gallery and if I had to use a term to describe what I wanted the work from throughout that time to convey, I might very well use the term sense of wonder. Just being able to witness small bits of this world around me, to see the green of grass and leaf, the ruffle of feathers or the mottle of light on the forest floor, brings about a feeling that I am experiencing all the wonder of this world.

And more than that, this past twenty years has allowed me to maintain that sense of wonder. Part of me expects that sense to diminish as I age but, if anything, it has expanded with through the years. The simplest pleasures, ones that I might well have overlooked in a youthful exuberance to see bigger and grander wonders, now seem like rare and privileged glimpses into the inner workings of the universe.

This very moment, I tuned my head and in the distance I watch two wild turkeys walking up the drive with broken light flashing off their iridescent  feathers. I can’t tell you what a wonder that seems to me and how it makes me appreciate the life I am privileged to live.

As I have pointed out many times before, I am not an overtly religious person. But perhaps this sense of wonder, this sense of awe, fills that same void for me. I don’t know but I am pleased I still wonder about such questions, that I don’t take these simple things that fill me with awe for granted. Maybe that’s a form of prayer.

Who knows?

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Red Tree 20: New Growth opens Friday, June 7, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA, with an opening reception that runs from 6:30 until 9:00 PM. Hope to see you there.

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Truth has no continuity. It is the mind that wants to make the experience which it calls truth continuous, and such a mind shall not know truth. Truth is always new; it is to see the same smile, and see that smile newly, to see the same person, and see that person anew, to see the waving palms anew, to meet life anew. 

― Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Book of Life: Daily Meditations with Krishnamurti

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I was looking for some words to put with this new painting that is part of a group of work that is going with me to my Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery next Saturday, September 15. I came across the words above from the late Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and at first kind of scoffed at the idea that truth has no continuity. I immediately thought that truth, above all things, has continuity. It’s this idea that truth is some sort of nebulous form, always changing and never set, that has us in the situation we now face as a nation.

I believed that truth- especially objective, fact-based truth- was a straight unwavering line running from its inception until the end of time.

But the truth he describes is a different sort of truth. It’s a subjective truth based on our perceptions. How we see the world around us. To see truth, especially these subjective truths, as something set in concrete closes off the mind. We begin to look at the world with blind eyes and a mind filled with the truths of yesterday. We fail to see the beauty and freshness of the renewed truth that is before us in every present moment.

We may have seen yesterday’s sunrise and that has its own truth, its own set of conditions. Today’s may seem to have the same truth but it is always different, slightly changed. The same goes for each of us. We were one person yesterday but in some small and almost imperceptible way  we have changed. We may feel a bit older. A bit wiser. A bit happier or sadder or any number of different things. But we are not the same today as we were yesterday.

Our truth has changed.

And there is something wonderful in that. Oh, I know we would often like things, our truths of the past, to remain the same as we remember them. There’s reassurance in those static touchstones that clutter our memories. But today is a new truth under a new sky and a newly changed sun. The world is freshened and made new. It has a new truth of its own and it is our task, our hope and our joy to discover it anew.

I find that thought to be a fine basis for this painting, an 18″ by 36″ canvas that I call The Freshening. Winter is a perfect example of this idea of constant renewal. The falling snow creates a new truth, alters our perceptions of the world we see. It creates a new truth. And its melting creates yet another revelation of truth. As does the rising of the new day’s sun.

Maybe that seems a naive way of looking at the world in these complex times where truth means something different to so many different people. But there are simple truths  that make up our existence and looking at them in a simplified manner might not be such a bad thing.

Like looking at the world in the first light of day after a snowfall– freshened and new.

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My Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria takes place on Saturday, September 15, beginning at 1 PM. There will be a painting giveaway, some other prizes, surprises, good conversation and puppets. Lots of puppets. Okay, that last part isn’t true. But you won’t know for sure unless you come.

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 “People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live. What I mean is we never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.”

Albert Einstein, Letter to Otto Juliusburger, September 29, 1942 

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This is a new painting, at 30″ by 10″ on canvas, that is part of my current West End Gallery show, The Rising. I have titled this painting Eye to Eye and was considering at one point adding to Eye to Eye to Eye to Eye, et cetera.

In my mind, the idea of looking out at the stars in the night sky feels sometimes like looking into a multitude of eyes looking back at us, the flash of the whites of their eyes creating the starlight that we see. It is a benign feeling, not tinged with animosity or congeniality.

They are just there, dispassionately looking back at us. Perhaps they are seeing the flash of the light from our sun that reflects on our moon as being our eyes looking out at them. Who knows?

The sense I get from this painting is one of having this connection with the universe even in those times when we might feel absolutely alone in this world. Maybe the connection is in understanding that the Great Mystery, as Einstein calls it, may very well be the same throughout the cosmos. Whether here on Earth or a billion light years away, the night presents us with tangible evidence of this Great Mystery and our desire to know our place in it creates the curiosity that Einstein mentions.

And maybe that curiosity, that feeling that there is always more to learn from this Mystery, is the key in maintaining a youthful mind.

Who knows?

I used the words from Einstein above as they originally appeared in a letter to a colleague. The gist of his words were later paraphrased by others as this popularly quoted piece of advice:

Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.

I like it better in its original form, not as advice but as simply an observation between friends.

 

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