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Posts Tagged ‘Leo Tolstoy’

The Sail

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“He in his madness prays for storms, and dreams that storms will bring him peace”

― Mikhail Lermontov  (1814-1841)

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Maybe you didn’t see it yesterday and if not, good for you. It was an awful and uncomfortable thing to behold.

Witnessing madness always is. And that is what we were watching and experiencing.

It brought to mind the line above from the 19th century Russian (fitting, I guess) poet, Mikhail Lemontov, speaking of the sailor who believes that since the calm always follows the storm that the calm only comes because of the storm.

That’s the sort of logic with which we are dealing. One that believes that chaos brings order.

Hopefully, we can ride this storm out safely until there is calm.

Or until someone capable can wrest the wheel from the hands of a mad captain who seems bent on continuing to ride into storms.

The line above is actually a translation from the Russian that is often attributed to Leo Tolstoy since he included it in his The Death of Ivan Ilych. I believe a character was quoting the Lermontov line and people over time have come to believe that Tolstoy originated the line.

The line comes from a Lermontov poem, The Sail. There are many translations and not all use the exact wording though the meaning is much the same in all. Here’s one tranlation:

 

The Sail

Gleams white a solitary sail

In the haze of the light blue sea.—

What seeks it in countries far away?

What in its native land did leave?

 

The mast creaks and presses,

The wind whistles, the waves are playing;

Alas! It does not seek happiness,

Nor from happiness is fleeing!

 

Beneath, the azure current flows,

Above, the golden sunlight streaks:—

But restless, into the storm it goes,

As if in storms there is peace!

 

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Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.

-Leo Tolstoy

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I don’t know about the accuracy of this quote. Tolstoy did write about art and the transmission of emotion through it but I can’t vouch for the precision of the wording in the widely accepted quote.

But I do heartily agree.

Craftsmanship– handicraft– definitely has a part to play but that alone cannot transport the viewer to that inner spring from which their emotions flow. Something might be beautifully crafted but unless it is constructed from the empathy, the love, the awe, the wonder and the wide assortment of feelings that define tour humanity, it remains just a lovely object.  Beautiful but coolly devoid of feeling.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

But the aim of the artist, at least to my mind, should be to engage the the emotions of the viewer ( or listener or reader, whatever their medium might be) with their own. To create a sort of communion of feeling between the artist and the recipient.

Can this be taught? I don’t know. I try to tell students to read, to look, to listen, to practice a sense of empathy in their daily lives. Widen their view and become a fuller person. I think art comes from an equal blend of one’s handicraft and their sense of humanity.

That’s just my opinion and it may be as flawed an idea as the mind that thinks it. But I can stand behind that thought and hope, in some small way, to achieve that blend in my own work.


The painting at the top is Find Your Light, a 36″ by 36″ canvas, that is a central part of my show, The Rising, at the West End Gallery that ends tomorrow.

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“How can it be that I’ve never seen that lofty sky before? Oh, how happy I am to have found it at last. Yes! It’s all vanity, it’s all an illusion, everything except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing – that’s all there is. But there isn’t even that. There’s nothing but stillness and peace. Thank God for that!”

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

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There’s something about this new painting that has wonderful calming effect for me. I find it easy to ease myself into this piece for a few moments, leaving behind for that time all the worries and concerns that are eating at me.

When I was looking at this painting in the studio I felt like I was looking at an aquarium or a terrarium, something that was right there in front of me but separate from me, a world unto itself, a unique eco-system that exists only in that one place. But instead of seeing fish or reptiles or plants, this was a self-contained world of peaceful feeling- a placidarium.

So, that is the title– Placidarium— that I have chose for this 12″ by 12″ painting that will be part of my show at the Kada Gallery that opens this Friday. It’s a painting that I will be sad to see go – a working placidarium is hard thing to come by these days.

 

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Memento mori-remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die-what makes this any different from a half hour?

Leo Tolstoy

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I am bringing a group of selected paintings with me to this Saturday’s Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery that will only be available for that day.  Going through a few paintings I came across the painting above that has lived a quiet life with me for many years now.

It is a 16″ by 20″ oil on canvas painted in early 2001. Titled Blaze a Trail it was hanging in the Principle Gallery on September 11, 2001, that sad day that still haunts our country these sixteen years later. I don’t like to commemorate it outside of thinking about the tragedy of the lives lost that day. But for some reason this painting reminds me of that day, even more so that the work that emerged in the time after the tragedy that was a direct reaction to it.

It has become a sort of memento mori  for me, a reminder that we never know when death may visit each of us. Maybe that’s why it has spent it’s life with me–since soon after September 11th so it’s about 16 years now– with its face to the wall, away from my eyes. When I would go through the stack that held this piece I would shuffle by it quickly, hardly taking it in as though I just didn’t want to see it.

But for this show I pulled it out and left it so that I couldn’t help but see it on a regular basis. At first, I felt a mild discomfort with it that tainted how I saw it. But the more I looked at it, the more I was able to look past the day I had attached to it and see what I saw in it before that day. Ans I saw that there was much to like. I liked the rhythm of it, in the bend of the tree and the roll of the landscape. I liked the darkness behind the orange in the foreground.

Most of all, I liked seeing the dislodged paint brush bristles that were embedded in the paint of the sky. I ran my fingers over them this morning while looking at the painting and it touched me that they were a direct link back to when I was working on it in the months before September 11, a time that seems ages ago and naively innocent now. Those bristles were of that time and touching them made me remember how very good and creatively energetic I felt in those days.

And in that instant, this piece no longer felt like a memento mori reminding me of  our mortality. No, it felt much more akin to its title, Blaze a Trail. It felt like a celebration of  life and embracing fully the time that remains.

It is now for me as much a memento vitae– a remembrance of lifeas it was a memento mori.

I am still deciding if I will bring this piece with me. I have mixed feelings. We’ll see…

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