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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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“I tried to establish order over the chaos of my imagination, but this essence, the same that presented itself to me still hazily when I was a child, has always struck me as the very heart of truth. It is our duty to set ourselves an end beyond our individual concerns, beyond our convenient, agreeable habits, higher than our own selves, and disdaining laughter, hunger, even death, to toil night and day to attain that end. No, not to attain it. The self-respecting soul, as soon as he reaches his goal, places it still further away. Not to attain it, but never to halt in the ascent. Only thus does life acquire nobility and oneness.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

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I originally saw this painting with the three Red Trees hovering over the houses like three spiritual guides. Three angels, perhaps. But the more I looked at it ( and I looked at it a lot) the more I saw the trees, especially with the exaggerated elongation of their trunks, as continually rising higher.

They weren’t hovering angels. No, they were spiritual searchers straining to reach even further out into the unknown, represented here by the chaotic slashes of color that make up the sky.

Trying to make the unknown known.

Trying to find order in chaos.

This perception was made even more tangible when I came across the excerpt at the top from the fictionalized autobiography of the late great Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. The idea it presents of a life dedicated to seeking a nobler way of being, to attaining unity, oneness, seemed appropriate as a interpretation of this painting.

It also seemed appropriate as a basis for a way of living amidst the ever swirling chaos of this world. To seek to be somehow better, to attempt to rise above the petty and reactive behaviors to which we so easily assume, is indeed a worthy goal for any individual.

This added a layer of depth to my own appreciation for this piece. I see this painting, which I am calling Climb Ever Higher, as a lovely reminder to set my aims higher, to eschew my baser instincts. It’s a reminder that I certainly need in these chaotic times.

This 24″ by 24″ canvas is part of my Social Distancing show that opens a week from today, June 5, at the Principle Gallery.

 

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Rene Magritte- The Empire of Light – Guggenheim Museum

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Life obliges me to do something, so I paint. 

–Rene Magritte

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I wasn’t sure what this post was going to be about when I started. Still don’t know, to be honest. I was simply going to put up a short quote with a painting or two by an artist, as I sometimes do. In this case the artist was the famed Surrealist Rene Magritte.

I liked the quote above. Simple. Concise. Right to the point.

Plus, I think it lines up with an answer that I sometimes give when someone asks how I became a painter. I will answer, “Hey, everybody has to do something.

That opens up what could be a whole philosophical discussion about what our obligations really are in our lives as humans.

Are we really obliged to do something?

I don’t know.

Maybe. I guess not doing something is, in it’s own way, doing something. I know that when I am not a painter I am, among many things, sometimes a lazy slob.

Life obliges me to do something, so I do nothing.

That doesn’t have quite the same cache as Magritte’s statement but it is sometimes true.

But for the most part, when life obliges me to do something, I paint.

Not like Magritte. In my own way, at my own pace and of my own choosing.

Hey, life can push me around but only so far.

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PS: I was going to write about the painting at the top which is one version of a painting, The Empire of Light, that Magritte painted fourteen times. The subject was not going to be about the night scene of this painting with a blue sky above. Rather, it was to be about the repetition of forms by artists, a subject to which I am well acquainted. Maybe next time.

Now, let’s look at some other Magritte paintings.

Rene Magritte- Decalcomania – 1966

Rene Magritte- The Mysteries of the Horizon 1928

Rene Magritte- The Son of Man 1964

Rene Magritte- The Beautiful Relations 1966

 

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“Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gifts: An Essay

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I came across this essay, Gifts, from Ralph Waldo Emerson which is actually a practical guide to gift giving and receiving, well suited to the time in which it was written in 1844. I particularly like the line that states that rings and jewels are but apologies for gifts.

I have never looked upon a gift as an apology for not giving more of myself but when I really closely I find there is truth there. It is so much easier, so much less revealing to not truly give from ourselves and to simply go to the shops (or online these days) to acquire what often amounts to a poor symbol of what we might really feel for the person receiving that gift.

We’ve become accustomed to accepting these apologies because it excuses our own apologies to others. It’s to the point that we don’t know how give of ourselves nor do we know how to accept or acknowledge a gift that is really a true portion of the giver.

How do you do that? How do you bleed for someone else? Is it in the words of Emerson, as he continued after the quote above: Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in so far to its primary basis, when a man’s biography is conveyed in his gift…?

I don’t know.

I used to think that giving my paintings were like giving a piece of myself. It certainly fits in with Emerson’s words as he used just that as an example. It certainly seems like it is a piece of the person creating it.

But is it any more than a different sort of apology? Maybe an apology for not giving of my time and self to people directly? An apology for keeping my distance?

Sometimes I think that’s true. But there have been times when I have been given something made by another and I certainly don’t look at it as an apology in any way. I am just touched that they took the time and made the effort to even think of me in any way.

For example, I received a Christmas card from a friend whose two daughter drew red trees inside the card. That is as precious as any gift I could have received.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know.

I am just thinking out loud this morning. Tomorrow I might look at this and ask myself what the hell I was thinking. You can never tell.

Bottom line: You can’t go wrong by truly giving of yourself. Bleed for someone, okay?

 

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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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