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Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’


“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my Gallery Talk I spoke about the struggle to go inside myself to create in these crazy days. The outer world and its many problems seems to be keeping me from the inner. It’s a frustration that more or less paralyzes me, requiring me to go put in a lot of extra effort just to get down to work.

I am trying to reconcile this, to somehow get past this feeling.

I came across this snippet above from Emerson and it reminded me that I am the one letting the outer world in. Oh, I know you can’t keep it completely out but I was the one opening the door and inviting it in. I was the one who listened to it as it went on about its problems and thought I could somehow help it out, foolish as that idea seems when I write it out. I went, as Emerson writes, into their confusion.

It also reminds me that I get to choose how I respond to the outer world. And being paralyzed is not a choice. It’s a refusal to choose.

So, I choose to shed the paralysis, to get back to work, to explore those inner paths once more. It’s my choice and what I do.

We all have that power to choose how we react to our own forms of paralysis, fear, anger, frustration and so many other negative aspects of our world. Most likely you don’t need to hear this. You probably know this as well as I. But I know I sometimes fall out of rhythm and have to be reminded once in a while.

The painting at the top is from a few years back and lives now with me in the studio. It’s one of those pieces that really hit high notes personally for me right from the moment it took form on the easel. It’s one of those pieces that surprises me in that it hasn’t yet found a home but also please me because I get to live with it for a bit longer. I thought it echoed with the words of Emerson today. It originally echoed with the words from the Rudyard Kipling poem after which it is named, If.

I was going to include the poem here in print but here’s a fine reading of it by actor John Hurt complete with the words shown. And some powerful black and white images.

Have a good day and choose well.


 

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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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The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The painting above, a 24″ by 18″ canvas, shares its title with that of my solo show, Self Determination, which opens this Friday, July 14, at the West End Gallery in Corning.

That title, Self Determination, refers to a thought that came to me some years ago. It was that we have a choice in deciding what kind of person we want to be. While we can’t always change circumstance, we have the ability to change our course, our outlook, our reactions and so many other things that pertain to how we are defined.

It’s not an original idea, as Emerson’s concise words above attest. I’m sure I could dig around and come up with the same idea from the time of Socrates or Plato.

No, it’s a universal truth. But it is one that, while seeming  self evident, is overlooked by the majority of people. We often live our lives with little consideration given to our actions and reactions as we stumble through our precious time in this world.

We just accept who and what we are as a given, even when we are less than pleased by what we see.

I know that was the case for me for much of my earlier life. Not that I didn’t think about my choices. No, I just never thought about what my decisions might be if I were the person I wanted to be. Instead I often opted for short-sighted and expedient answers, usually those that required little effort or sacrifice on my part.

I didn’t often like or respect the person I was at those times.

But once I realized I could decide what type of person I wished to be, I began to ask myself conscious questions that set a new course for myself. Gradually, I began to move toward the person I chose to be. Oh, I am still quite a distance from that destination and I still find myself disliking the person I am at times. But I know now that I am headed in a direction that is of my design and not simply living life in a default setting, letting circumstances and the desires of other people dictate my actions.

And maybe that is why I am so drawn to the painting above. I feel it is a great example of what I have been trying to express with my work– that we have an ability to move beyond expectations and circumstances to become better versions of ourselves.

For me, I want to be that Red Tree, simply satisfied with its place in the world.

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GC Myers- Come TogetherThe reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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This new painting, a 12″ by 36″ canvas, that is headed to the Principle Gallery with me this weekend is called Come Together.  It’s a continuation of the island theme that has been running through my work as of late.

I think the words of Emerson above fit very much with what I see in this painting.  Though it appears to be two separate islands with trees linked by a bridge, I see them as having been once united and have somehow been separated.  In this case, it may have been the tumult of time where the seabeds rise and the mountaintops fall– many of the high peaks that we know are sedimentary rock, after all, raised from the bottoms of the oceans.

The disunity Emerson was writing about was man separating himself from nature instead of realizing that he is part of nature and operates best when he is united with it through order and reason in a sort of partnership.  It makes sense especially when you consider the way that nature reacts when we try to exercise our belief that we have dominion over it.

In the same essay, Emerson also wrote the following  that I think better puts this into context:

Nature is not fixed but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of nature, is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit, it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient. Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. For you is the phenomenon perfect. What we are, that only can we see. All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do. Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobbler’s trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar’s garret. Yet line for line and point for point, your dominion is as great as theirs, though without fine names. Build, therefore, your own world.

We all have the ability to live within nature and to build our own world that reflects our spirit.  If only we can find unity with the nature that desires to be our partner.

Just remember, your world is what you make it.

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This painting will be with me at the Gallery Talk this Saturday, September 17, at the Principle Gallery.  It starts at 1 PM and  should be a good time.  There will be a drawing for the painting, Defiant Heart, which has been shown in the past couple of  posts. Plus there will be a few other surprises as well.  Hope to see you there!

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Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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GC Myers- Trailblazer  I chose this little gem of advice from Emerson as the Quote of the Week because I thought it fit so well with the small painting above, a Little Gem itself.  It’s a small 4″ by 6″ painting that is called Trailblazer and is part of the Little Gems exhibit that opens tomorrow night at the West End Gallery in Corning.  I also chose it because those words fits so well for my own experience at the time I began showing my work for the first time, at this very same exhibit twenty years.

I was thrilled to have an outlet in which to show it publicly but was still in the process of finding a singular voice of my own–how my work would be styled.  Part of that process of finding this  was in determining what path I would follow with the work, whether I try to emulate the work of other painters I knew and admired.  That seemed like a natural path to follow, wide and well defined.

 But the path was also crowded.  Sometimes it was hard to distinguish yourself  and find a foothold among so many companions.  But if I set out on my own  that would not be the case.  On the the well-trodden path,  I would always be subject to comparison  and immediate critique.  Blazing my own trail would allow me to set my own pace and destination, define my own objectives.

Plus it would be my path alone.  And that was no small thing. In fact, it was a primary goal of  mine.   I had determined from my visits to museums that the work that stood out most for me was the work of artists who you could identify immediately from across the gallery space.  Looking at the shelves in front of me, most of the books are of the works of such artists, all who eventually set out on their own trails and created work from a world that was their’s alone.

I’m still on my path.  I’d like to think it departed from that wider, more traveled path sometime ago.  I can’t be the judge of that.  So I plug ahead with words of Emerson ringing in my ears and hope for the best.

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In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin, — seven or eight ancestors at least, — and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.
―Ralph Waldo Emerson

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GC Myers- Family Lines smThis is another newer painting that is headed to Erie for my show, Into the Common Ground,  in December at the Kada Gallery.  This 30′ by 40″ canvas is titled Family Lines with the Red Tree serving as the symbol of a family tree and the Red Chair acting as an offspring of it.  The broken segments of the winding path leading up to it represent for me the often arduous task of finding your connection to this tree while the light of the sky represents ultimate discovery and illumination.

I’ve often felt as though I had little definition of myself or my connection to the world through my ancestors.  My work as an artist has helped change this in many ways, giving me a portal for displaying who I am or  at least aspire to be in definition.  But my connection to my ancestors was always vague and hidden away beyond my knowledge.  I wondered who they were, what their stories held  and what traits they fed forward  through time to me.  I began to study my genealogy, hoping to discover some form of connection with the past that might help me better understand who I was in the present.  To discover what worlds the winding path that led to my own life traveled through.

It’s been a wonderful process that has given me greater connection with the past and with the history of this country and with those countries that gave birth to my ancestors.  Naturally, I am always drawn to the grand stories that are uncovered, the heroic and celebrated ancestors that I find myself hoping have somehow contributed some of their positive traits to my DNA.  But I am equally intrigued and touched by the simple and sometimes tragic tales that are uncovered.

I had earlier written of a great grand uncle who had lived his whole life in a county home for the infirmed. He was described in the censuses during his life as “feeble-minded” and he was unceremoniously buried  in an unmarked grave there at the county home.  I recently came across his death certificate and they listed him as a lifelong sufferer of epilepsy.  It made the story even more tragic in that this was perhaps a person who had a condition that would be treatable today.

I think of this person quite often.  His story is as much a part of that tree as those of  its more celebrated members.  It may not be the most beautiful leaf on the branch but it is there.  As Emerson says, we represent in some form a number of our ancestors and whose to say what part this ancestor plays in that piece of new music that is my life.

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GC Myers- Moonlight RevelationThe revelation of thought takes men out of servitude into freedom.
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-Ralph Waldo Emerson
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When I look at this  new painting, a 24″ by 24″ canvas, it gives me a sense of conscious dreaming, of  taking those deepest  and largest internal wishes and making them known to the world, bringing them into the realm of possibility.  I think there’s something potent in the idea of this sort of imagining, of seeing oneself in different circumstances, in different lights.  It sets courses and opens windows of possibility.  It unsettles us and stirs change.
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It also makes me wonder how this sort of dreaming changes over the course of our lives,  I know as a child I was always immersed in daydreams that took me to far-reaching places under the wildest of circumstances.  Yet while I still daydream, as an adult my dreams have changed and become far more limited and smaller in scope, much less expansive than they were in my youth.  Perhaps it is a product of pure practicality, of having realized my own limitations and what is possible for the person I believe myself to be.  Or maybe my desires have have lessened by virtue of  simple acceptance and comfort in the present.
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When do we lose the capacity for the large dreams of childhood?  Is it when the world loses some of that sense of wonder that came with the fresh eyes of youth?  Is it possible to imagine unlimited possibilities when the sight of a bright and full moon rising fails to inspire you?
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Maybe that’s what I see here, a recapturing of that wonder in seeing the moon and all that is possible under its gaze.
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This painting, Moonlight Revelation, will be at the West End Gallery as part of my solo show there, Layers, which opens July 25.

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GC Myers- The Furthest Reach smNone of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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This painting is called The Furthest Reach, a 20″ by 24″ canvas headed to the Kada Gallery for my November show.  This has been done for a few weeks now and has been at the edge of my sight as I have been prepping for this show.  There is something quite reassuring about having it there, serving as a reminder of the trust I have placed in that inner voice that Emerson references in the quote above.

 It has taken a number of years and many thousands of hours spent in the relative isolation of the studio to truly trust that voice, to feel as though I have separated my work from all  external noise and distraction, including the subjective criticism and opinion of others.   It has allowed me to use this  trust as the sole criteria for my work, to no longer judge it against the work or opinion of others.

With this trust the work becomes self-sovereign and, as I have written here earlier this year, the  island serves as a symbol of  this self-sovereignty while the stance of the Red Tree, a symbol of the work for me here,  represents the liberated feeling attained in the realization of this trust.  I see the dock as the gateway to outer world, meaning that while there is trust in the work spawned from this inner voice there is also a willingness to share it  with this outer world.

Again, that’s how I have come to see it in the last few weeks here in the studio.  Perhaps you will see something quite different.  Maybe you will see a confidence and  tranquility in it that meshes with your own experience or perhaps  simply a pleasant scene with a quiet warmth.  Or maybe you won’t see anything in at all.

Whatever your inner voice whispers to you, place some trust in it…

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GC Myers -High Sign  Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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I think I understand what Emerson is getting at with these words.  I know that when I look around I often see juxtapositions of natural elements– trees and stone and water and sky– which move me in ways that I can never fully explain.  Some fill me with inspiration.  Some with a sense of wonder  and great calmness.  Peaceful unity with the world.  And, with some, a sense of foreboding, a dread of the inevitable valleys that accompany all peaks.  Even those scenes which make me feel as being “in the moment” resonate because they have some underlying  connection to a deeper strand of thought or being.

I think it’s this sense of this symbology that fills in some of the gaps in my work, that gives it a little more depth than the surface offers.  I know that it is this greater sense of being that I am trying to capture in my work, hoping that perhaps others who feel this same type of  innate symbolism in the natural world  somehow sense it and connect with it.

I think this newer piece, High Sign (6″ by 10″ on paper), is a good example of this.  It is a simple scene but, for me, is filled with symbolism.  Some is obvious and some subtle.   The tree and it’s position on the mound against the graded sky is obvious as is the road that winds through.  Less obvious are the upward pointing arrows of the houses’ peaks and the light and shadows of their walls.

The odd thing is that it’s not something I think about when I am painting the piece.  It’s all about achieving a sense of rightness in each move in the painting.  Each move is  step forward and if I can maintain  that feeling of rightness throughout the process, generally the painting will have this added depth, this layer of symbolism.  It comes of its own accord, naturally.   And I guess that the way it should be.

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The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret.

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One of the great things about the cyberworld is the ability to find the work, either in image or words, of those people that might easily go unnoticed in the past.  You can now come across a few words or images that intrigue  you and within moments have access to a world of information about the writer or artist.  Such was the case recently when I stumbled upon a few quotes from the writer of the words above and  shown in the portrait above, Henri-Frederic Amiel

Born in 1821, Amiel was a Swiss professor, poet and writer who died in 1881, leaving no major marks on the world before his death.  Although esteemed, his poetry was not celebrated and he made no major breakthroughs as a professor of moral philosophy in his time.  It was after his death that Amiel began to live on in the form of a personal journal that he kept from the 1840’s until the time of his death.  Called the Journal Intime, it is a wondeful inner exploration of the man, exposing a depth of thought apllied to universal truths.  His words, written over 150 years ago in many cases, seem as fresh and as true today as then, a fact that made the Journal Intime a timeless classic  in much the same manner as the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson

However, despite its acclaim after it posthumous publishing, the book has faded from the modern consciousness  and may not grace the shelves of many libraries.  But thanks to the online world, it is a book that is now readily available to those wishing to read these thoughtful words.  It is available on most book sites and is available free at a number of sites including Project Gutenberg.

So many of the quotes that have been pulled from the Journal Intime ring true for today, including those that could be applied to subjects that are hotly debated in this country such as healthcare and taxation of the richest of us:

In health there is freedom. Health is the first of all liberties.
Sacrifice still exists everywhere, and everywhere the elect of each generation suffers for the salvation of the rest.

I was probably drawn to his words by two that said what I have said for some time.

The great artist is the simplifier.

Learn to… be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not.

The Journal itself is not an easy read.  It is a winding road through the life of one man and doesn’t always reveal its truths quickly.  So if you wish to quickly absorb some of Amiel’s aphorisms, I suggest checking out his pages at BrainyQuote or ThinkExist.

Good stuff…

 
 

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