American Art – Part I of VI: Alton S. Tobey
“I live an artistic double life: one of classical realism and the other of aesthetic exploration.” – Alton S. Tobey, American painter, historical artist, muralist, portraitist, illustrator, and teacher of art, who died 4 January 2005.
A Poem for Today
From “Song of Myself,”
By Walt Whitman
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
Musings in Winter: Michael Pollan
“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space — a place not just set apart but reverberant — and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”
Nobel Laureates – Part I of III: Henri Bergson
“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” – Henri Bergson, French philosopher, author of “Creative Evolution,” and recipient of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented,” who died 4 January 1942.
Some quotes from the work of Henri Bergson:
“Fortunately, some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning. They begin sensing that something is amiss, and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to, and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance.”
“Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.”
“The idea of the future, pregnant with an infinity of possibilities, is thus more fruitful than the future itself, and this is why we find more charm in hope than in possession, in dreams than in reality.”
“The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth all sensation is already memory.”
“Europe is overpopulated, the world will soon be in the same condition, and if the self-reproduction of man is not rationalized… we shall have war.”
“Laughter is the corrective force which prevents us from becoming cranks.”
A Second Poem for Today
“Making a Meal Out of It,”
By Joel Lewis
Hoboken snowtime and the big slushy
mounds are the laundry of the future,
with next-door’s mortician rating
my clumsy shoveling by shouting:
“You’d never make it as a grave digger!”
Time pulse quickens with walkers
and curb lackeys merged in the quadrille
of symbiosis. In local shop windows
they sell devices capable
of reordering speech. I pass. I have
that exile’s sense of recreation
& believe rebirth is possible
from the wreck of our common misery
& that songs are clear when sung
Musings in Winter: George Santayana
“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.” – From “The Hollow Men,” by T. S. Eliot, poet, essayist, social and literary critic, playwright, and recipient of the 1948 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry,” who died 4 January 1965.
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
Musings in Winter: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
“We were bred of earth before we were bred of our mothers. Once born, we can live without mother or father, or any other kin, or any friend, or any human love. We cannot live without the earth or apart from it, and something is shrivelled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.”
A Third Poem for Today
“At Great Pond,”
By Mary Oliver
At Great Pond
the sun, rising,
scrapes his orange breast
on the thick pines,
and down tumble
a few orange feathers into
the dark water.
On the far shore
a white bird is standing
like a white candle —
or a man, in the distance,
in the clasp of some meditation —
while all around me the lilies
are breaking open again
from the black cave
of the night.
Later, I will consider
what I have seen —
what it could signify —
what words of adoration I might
make of it, and to do this
I will go indoors to my desk —
I will sit in my chair —
I will look back
into the lost morning
in which I am moving, now,
like a swimmer,
I am almost the lily —
almost the bird vanishing over the water
on its sleeves of night.
Musings in Winter: Susan J. Tweit
“Stories nurture our connection to place and to each other. They show us where we have been and where we can go. They remind us of how to be human, how to live alongside the other lives that animate this planet. … When we lose stories, our understanding of the world is less rich, less true.”
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” – Albert Camus, French writer, journalist, philosopher, author of “The Rebel” and “The Stranger,” and recipient of the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times,” who died 4 January 1960.
Some quotes from the work of Albert Camus:
“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”
“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
“Live to the point of tears.”
“There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.”
“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”
Musings in Winter: Stephen Jay Gould
“We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher answer’– but none exists.”
A Fourth Poem for Today
By Ted Hughes
This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet
Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.
At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up –
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,
The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house
Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,
Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.
Died 4 January 1901 – Nikolaos Gyzis, a Greek painter.
Musings in Winter: Chuang Tzu
“I’ve heard my teacher say, where there are machines, there are bound to be machine worries; where there are machine worries, there are bound to be machine hearts. With a machine heart in your breast, you’ve spoiled what was pure and simple; and without the pure and simple, the life of the spirit knows no rest.”
A Fifth Poem for Today
“Tie Your Heart at Night to Mine,”
By Pablo Neruda
Tie your heart at night to mine, love,
and both will defeat the darkness
like twin drums beating in the forest
against the heavy wall of wet leaves.
Night crossing: black coal of dream
that cuts the thread of earthly orbs
with the punctuality of a headlong train
that pulls cold stone and shadow endlessly.
Love, because of it, tie me to a purer movement,
to the grip on life that beats in your breast,
with the wings of a submerged swan,
So that our dream might reply
to the sky’s questioning stars
with one key, one door closed to shadow.
Musings in Winter: Mark Carwardine
“In every remote corner of the world there are people like Carl Jones and Don Merton who have devoted their lives to saving threatened species. Very often, their determination is all that stands between an endangered species and extinction.
But why do they bother? Does it really matter if the Yangtze river dolphin, or the kakapo, or the northern white rhino, or any other species live on only in scientists’ notebooks?
Well, yes, it does. Every animal and plant is an integral part of its environment: even Komodo dragons have a major role to play in maintaining the ecological stability of their delicate island homes. If they disappear, so could many other species. And conservation is very much in tune with our survival. Animals and plants provide us with life-saving drugs and food, they pollinate crops and provide important ingredients or many industrial processes. Ironically, it is often not the big and beautiful creatures, but the ugly and less dramatic ones, that we need most.
Even so, the loss of a few species may seem irrelevant compared to major environmental problems such as global warming or the destruction of the ozone layer. But while nature has considerable resilience, there is a limit to how far that resilience can be stretched. No one knows how close to the limit we are getting. The darker it gets, the faster we’re driving.
There is one last reason for caring, and I believe that no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos, and dolphins. And it is simply this: the world would be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them.”
American Art – Part II of VI: Eve Arnold
Died 4 January 2012 – Eve Arnold, an American photographer and photojournalist.
Musings in Winter: Lewis Thomas
“I am a member of a fragile species, still new to the earth, the youngest creatures of any scale, here only a few moments as evolutionary time is measured, a juvenile species, a child of a species. We are only tentatively set in place, error prone, at risk of fumbling, in real danger at the moment of leaving behind only a thin layer of our fossils, radioactive at that.”
“The defining function of the artist is to cherish consciousness.” – Max Eastman, American writer on literature, philosophy, and society, poet, political activist, and author of “Enjoyment of Poetry,” who was born 4 January 1883.
Some quotes from the work of Max Eastman:
“Living well is the best revenge. If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
“History is not an escalator.”
“A smile is the universal welcome.”
“Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails.”
“Humor is the instinct for taking pain playfully.”
“People who demand neutrality in any situation are usually not neutral but in favor of the status quo.”
“The worst enemy of human hope is not brute facts, but men of brains who will not face them.”
“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.”
“It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.”
“Classic art was the art of necessity: modern romantic art bears the stamp of caprice and chance.”
“I don’t know why it is we are in such a hurry to get up when we fall down. You might think we would lie there and rest for a while.”
A Sixth Poem for Today
“The Keeper of Flocks – Part I,”
By Alberto Caeiro (Fernando Pessoa)
I’ve never kept flocks,
But it’s like I’ve kept them.
My soul is like a shepherd,
It knows the wind and the sun
And it walks hand in hand with the Seasons,
Following and seeing.
All the peace of Nature without people
Comes and sits at my side.
But I get sad
As the sunset is in our imagination
When it gets cold down in the plain
And you feel night coming in
Like a butterfly through the window.
But my sadness is quiet
Because it’s natural and it’s just
And it’s what should be in my soul
When it already thinks it exists
And my hands pick flowers
And my soul doesn’t know it.
Like the sound of cowbells
Beyond the curve of the road,
All my thoughts are peaceful.
I’m just sorry about knowing they’re peaceful,
Because if I didn’t know it,
Instead of them being peaceful and sad,
They’d be happy and peaceful.
Thinking makes you uncomfortable like walking in the rain
When the wind gets stronger and it seems to rain more.
I don’t have ambitions or desires.
Being a poet isn’t my ambition,
It’s my way of being alone.
And sometimes if I want
To imagine I’m a lamb
(Or a whole flock
Spreading out all over the hillside
So I can be a lot of happy things at the same time),
It’s only because I feel what I write at sunset,
Or when a cloud passes its hand over the light
And silence runs over the grass outside.
When I sit and write poems
Or, walking along the roads or pathways,
I write poems on the paper in my thoughts,
I feel a staff in my hand
And see my silhouette
On top of a knoll,
Looking after my flock and seeing my ideas,
Or looking after my ideas and seeing my flock,
With a silly smile like someone who doesn’t understand what somebody’s saying
But tries to pretend they do.
I greet everyone who reads me,
I tip my wide hat to them
When they see me at my door
Just as the stagecoach comes to the top of my hill.
I greet them and wish them sunshine,
Or rain, when rain is needed,
And that their houses have
A favorite chair
Where they sit reading my poems
By an open window.
And when they read my poems, I hope they think
I’m something natural —
An ancient tree, for instance,
Where they sat down with a thump
In the shade when they were kids
Tired from playing, and wiped the sweat
From their hot brows
With the sleeve of their striped cotton smock.
Musings in Winter: Michael Pollan
“Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself…
But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can’t manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it…
The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.”
American Art – Part III of VI: Jim McVicker
According to one writer, Jim McVicker (born 1951) was “jolted to life by looking at landscape paintings. Moved by the sensitivity he saw in nineteenth century French landscapes, his perception of the world was changed.
McVicker’s style has been described as invigorating and effortless. Through paint he pursues atmosphere, form, light, and solid drawing. In his work McVicker seeks to express the ‘elusive spiritual energy, the mystery of nature and life, [and] the unknown.’ He believes that without this sensitivity to the land, his work would be ‘merely marks on a surface.’”
Musings in Winter: Walt Whitman
A Seventh Poem for Today
“Beyond the Red River,”
By Thomas McGrath
The birds have flown their summer skies to the south,
And the flower-money is drying in the banks of bent grass
Which the bumble bee has abandoned. We wait for a winter lion,
Body of ice-crystals and sombrero of dead leaves.
A month ago, from the salt engines of the sea,
A machinery of early storms rolled toward the holiday houses
Where summer still dozed in the pool-side chairs, sipping
An aging whiskey of distances and departures.
Now the long freight of autumn goes smoking out of the land.
My possibles are all packed up, but still I do not leave.
I am happy enough here, where Dakota drifts wild in the universe,
Where the prairie is starting to shake in the surf of the winter dark.
Musings in Winter: Loren Eiseley
“Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons, the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon without discomfort.”
American Art – Part IV of VI: Rodger Roundy
In the words of one critic, “American painter Rodger Roundy earned a BFA from Yale University. His numerous solo exhibitions include ones at the Mississippi State University Art Gallery, the Blue Room Gallery in San Francisco, and the David Levine Gallery.”
An Eighth Poem for Today
By Billy Collins
You know the brick path in back of the house,
the one you see from the kitchen window,
the one that bends around the far end of the garden
where all the yellow primroses are?
And you know how if you leave the path
and walk up into the woods you come
to a heap of rocks, probably pushed
down during the horrors of the Ice Age,
and a grove of tall hemlocks, dark green now
against the light-brown fallen leaves?
And farther on, you know
the small footbridge with the broken railing
and if you go beyond that you arrive
at the bottom of that sheep’s head hill?
Well, if you start climbing, and you
might have to grab hold of a sapling
when the going gets steep,
you will eventually come to a long stone
ridge with a border of pine trees
which is as high as you can go
and a good enough place to stop.
The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.
But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.
Still, let me know before you set out.
Come knock on my door
and I will walk with you as far as the garden
with one hand on your shoulder.
I will even watch after you and not turn back
to the house until you disappear
into the crowd of maple and ash,
heading up toward the hill,
piercing the ground with your stick
Musings in Winter: John O’Donohue
“We were once enwombed in the earth and the silence of the body remembers that dark, inner longing.
Fashioned from clay, we carry the memory of the earth. Ancient, forgotten things stir within our hearts, memories of the time before the mind was born.
Within us are depths that keep watch. These are depths that no words can trawl or light unriddle.
Our neon times have neglected and evaded the depth-kingdom in favor of the ghost realms of cyberspace. Our world becomes reduced to intense but transient foreground. We have unlearned the patience and attention of lingering at thresholds where the unknown awaits us.”
The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows.
When we emerge form our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigour and vibrancy of this inheritance.
In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes it time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope.
There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us to remember who we are and why we are here.”
American Art – Part V of VI: Malcolm T. Liepke
In the words of one writer, “Malcolm T. Liepke was born in 1953 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He studied at the Art Center College in Los Angeles but encountered significant obstacles in pursuit of his artistic vision. He hungered for ‘classical’ training rather than the conceptual ideas being taught. He moved to New York and began studying artists, such as Velasquez, Whistler, Chase, Vuillard and others. He says, ‘I learned color and composition and technique. I realized that their work was my kind of work. They were my heroes, so I became their student.’ Liepke’s first one-man show was held in the mid 1980’s followed by twelve more sold-out exhibitions from New York to London to Hong Kong. His work is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum and the Brooklyn Museum and he is considered by many to be one of the country’s leaders in the resurgence of figurative painting today. Liepke’s themes in human terms are often very particular to solitary moments, either in sensual pleasure or poignant loneliness.”
A Ninth Poem for Today
“Horses in Snow,”
By Roberta Hill Whiteman
They are a gift I have wanted again.
Wanted: One moment in mountains
when winter got so cold
the oil froze before it could burn.
I chopped ferns of hoarfrost from all the windows
and peered up at pines, a wedding cake
by a baker gone mad. Swirls by the thousand
shimmered above me until a cloud
lumbered over a ridge,
bringing the heavier white of more flurries.
I believed, I believed, I believed
it would last, that when you went out
to test the black ice or to dig out a Volkswagon
filled with rich women, you’d return
and we’d sputter like oil,
match after match, warm in the making.
Wisconsin’s flat farmland never approved:
I hid in cornfields far into October,
listening to music that whirled from my thumbprint.
When sunset played havoc with bright leaves of alders,
I never mentioned longing or fear.
I crouched like a good refugee in brown creeks
and forgot why Autumn is harder than Spring.
But snug on the western slope of that mountain
I’d accept every terror, break open seals
to release love’s headwaters to unhurried sunlight.
Weren’t we Big Hearts? Through some trick of silver
we held one another, believing each motion the real one,
ah, lover, why were dark sources bundled up
in our eyes? Each owned an agate,
marbled with anguish, a heart or its echo,
we hardly knew. Lips touching lips,
did that break my horizon
as much as those horses broke my belief?
You drove off and I walked the old road,
scolding the doubles that wanted so much.
The chestnut mare whinnied a cloud into scrub pine.
In a windless corner of a corral,
four horses fit like puzzle pieces.
Their dark eyes and lashes defined by the white.
The colt kicked his hind, loped from the fence.
The mares and a stallion galloped behind,
lifting and leaping, finding each other
in full accord with the earth and their bodies.
No harm ever touched them once they cut loose,
snorting at flurries falling again.
How little our chances for feeling ourselves.
They vanished so quickly—one flick of a tail.
Where do their mountains and moments begin?
I stood a long time in sharpening wind.
Musings in Winter: Gary Snyder
“But if you do know what is taught by plants and weather, you are in on the gossip and can feel truly at home. The sum of a field’s forces [become] what we call very loosely the ‘spirit of the place.’ To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made or parts, each of which in a whole. You start with the part you are whole in.”
American Art – Part VI of VI: Stephanie Campos