He who seeks

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Habitat 67 sketch–Moshe Safdie

 

He who seeks truth shall find beauty. He who seeks beauty shall find vanity. He who seeks order shall find gratification. He who seeks gratification shall be disappointed. He who considers himself the servant of his fellow beings shall find the joy of self-expression. He who seeks self-expression shall fall into the pit of arrogance.–Moshe Safdie

 

Don’t Wait

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Sometimes people say to me, “I want to write, but I have five kids, a full-time job, a wife who beats me, a tremendous debt to my parents,” and so on.

I say to them, “There is no excuse. If you want to write, write. This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait. Make the time now, even if it is ten minutes once a week.”

NATALIE GOLDBERG

 

Quidditch reveals all…or does it?

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Reading: Ralph Adams Cram, Towards the Great Peace (1922)

“The only thing that is left in the line of emotional stimulus is competitive athletics, and for this reason I sometimes think it one of the most valuable factors in public education. It has, however, another function, and that is the coordination of training and life; it is in a sense an école d’application, and through it the student, for once in a way, tries out his acquired mental equipment and his expanding character—as well as his physical prowess—against the circumstances of active vitality. It is just this sort of thing that for so long made the “public schools” of England, however limited or defective may have been the curriculum, a vital force in the development of British character.”

That’s Cram discoursing on one of the few things he likes about public education in America and Britain, c. 1922. Believe me, he didn’t like much; and interestingly, in the intervening 92 years, schools are still bad in a lot of the same ways they were then. Cram was a religious-minded architect who built Gothic-style churches and university buildings in the first years of the 20th century, and I came to his writings while researching a restoration project that had come to an architectural firm I was working for at the time. He is extremely insightful in his diagnosis of the ills of his (and our) era, and well worth reading for that, though I can’t say his solutions were too practical, but I think he knew it. As I read this comment though, the Harry Potter books sprang to mind, but then, a lot of things remind me of Harry Potter. Just wait till I start talking about David Copperfield!

Harry Potter gains popularity early on in the series when he takes up Quidditch, a sort of irrational, flying rugby on broomsticks, for which he has a natural gift. The books have been criticized for the centrality of this goofy sport in the lives of the entire wizarding world from student to the highest levels of govenment, but those critics must never have lived where the fortunes and failures of the local football heroes provided the social and emotional core of a community. Or maybe they wished they didn’t… Even Rowling supposedly rued the day she injected Quidditch into the books, primarily because she found it tedious to try to conjure exciting action for each match that she wrote, but sport was always a part of the boarding school book tradition from which Harry Potter sprang, so there had to be a wizard equivalent. QED Quidditch.

So how do the characters in Harry Potter demonstrate Cram’s ideas? Most of the characters played Quidditch; it was a huge social factor in the school. Excellence in studies… less so. Sic erat scriptum Hermione. I was the same. Harry Potter, our erstwhile hero, came from obscurity to discover he had the makings of an athletic superstar. In Cram’s terms, this was a literary sign of his character and potential, and the books proved this out. His parents had risked their lives to save others and he grows up to become the same sort of man. Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy, was also a skilled player, but his lack of character was made plain in his cheating, lying and generally underhanded methods of manipulating the game. His father, acting in the world of politics, operated in the same way. Harry’s buddy, Ron Weasley, had enormous potential when his self-doubt didn’t cripple him, which it mostly did. That was the view of the world his parents had taught him to see–poverty standing in the way of active participation and serving as an excuse for weakness and shortcuts. Exposed to stronger personalities like Harry, Hermione and Neville, Ron has a chance to grow, but his path is often an unhappy one. The only character that stands apart form this paradigm is Neville Longbottom: an orphaned loner who struggles for success in everything he attempts, Neville never played the sport, but nonetheless became a hero of the same stature as Harry. And with less outsized praise and more dignity, for my money.

Me, I was never very good at school athletics; I was not encouraged in it at home–and how many girls were, back in the day?–but I wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to get better, but mainly it was just the catalyst of anxiety attacks. Small wonder that Ron Weasley was my favorite from the books. But since athletics was not going to be the way for me, and surely cannot be anymore, perhaps I ought to study the Path of Neville. Own my differences, judge for myself, enjoy the victories of my friends. Maybe we all should.

 

 

Quotable

“It is the experience and the poor work of every day which alone will ripen in the long run…”–Vincent van Gogh

A reassuring thought on days when you don’t measure up to the best work you know can do. I am now come to the last months of Van Gogh’s life as I read through his letter to Theo, and still, in describing Starry Night or a self-portrait or the famous Irises, you read his lament that he cannot do the quality work he knows he could do. His health is broken and yet he plans ahead, while you, the Reader, sigh and say to yourself “It’s not to be, lad.” A humble man who never got a break. It seems unfair and makes you wonder what Fate has planned for you….

You are Here

 “Just now I am working on a landscape with cornfields which I think as well of as, say, the white orchard; it has solidity and style. The days when I bring home a study I say to myself, If it were like this every day we might be able to get on. But the days when you come back empty-handed, and eat and sleep and spend money all the time, you feel a fool and a good-for-nothing.”–Vincent van Gogh

 “Just when I was going to start home in the morning, very early, I made a drawing of the boats. I have been here only a few months, but tell me this: Could I in Paris have done the drawing of the boats in an hour? And without the frame! [a drawing aid] I do it now without measuring, just letting my pen go.”–Vincent van Gogh

I am still reading the Van Gogh letters; our hero is only recently arrived in Arles. We all know how this story ends, but I have been surprised what a sharp, thoughtful firebrand he wa. These two passages especially caught my eye because I feel somewhere between them these days. I’ve improved somewhat over the last 3 months, and done some things I am pleased with, but I am not consistent. I long for that moment when my hand is firm and can go about tasks, now painstaking, rapidly and with assurance. There is still a great deal of work to go to get there. My trouble is finding the time with a full-time job and a bit of a life.

Learning to Draw

“For the great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together. And great things are not something accidental, but must certainly be willed. What is drawing? How does one learn it? It is working through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do.” –Vincent van Gogh

It is heartening to be reading Van Gogh’s letters when it comes to learning to draw because any struggle you have, he had–and he wrote about it at great length. But van Gogh had one answer to all his troubles and that was Work! Harder, more, diligently, consistently, and as he might say, with truth and sentiment. His lofty standards make me think about what it is that satisfies me when I think I’ve done well. Is it making a nice arrangement, something pretty? Capturing a likeness? Evoking a mood? Or maybe there is more, maybe one can find that characteristic gesture, look beyond surface to character, hold onto a figure in motion, find beauty where no one has before. I’m used to hearing van Gogh characterized as all impulse and emotion, but that’s only part of a more complex picture. Vincent thinks–and he asks you to think too.

 

Going Wrong

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“After all, your ‘method’ of work is nothing. Why be tied to any method? You will say that when you step out of your rut you don’t do as well. But what does that matter? It may come better later.”–Robert Henri

Henri is ever the advocate for the perpetual student, both of work and of life. Better to be engaged with the world around you, looking for what interests and excites you and making your art full of those feelings and enthusiasms. In the end, he believes being an artist is about pursuing those high moments in life–the art is just a record.
So, this is just a record–an imperfect one–of a series of images I enjoyed. I wish they had been less flawed, but maybe you can tell I had fun.

What is Beauty?

“No thing is beautiful. All things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at sight of them. This is beauty.”–Robert Henri
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Reading Henri’s Art Spirit again, a thing I’ve done every now and then over the past 30 years or so, I came upon the above remark, which I find to be a significant truth. Later, Henri goes on to say that it is useless for the student to do endless practice drawings to perfect technique if he cannot find something in the subject that excites him. He’s right–how dull that is! And yet, there are times when I pick a subject by default–I want to draw and there is a person sitting nearby–and so I begin, but in the process of observing and trying to make the drawing, I fall for the subject a bit. The man at the bottom of the page (center) was like that; he was just there and sitting still, so I had a go. I never did get him right, and I feel a little regret about that, even if it’s a nice drawing. Maybe my fondness is what makes the drawing work. I don’t know. It’s interesting to think about.

Quotable

“Concentrating too much on the bigger picture means you forget what’s happening in the present. You can lose a whole lifetime thinking about tomorrow.”–Keira Knightly

Bad Art is a Good Thing

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

After struggling all day to catch up a 3000 word deficit on my NaNo novel–and succeeding!–I ran into this quote. So it’s all good, isn’t it?