In the postscript to this work, Hokusai writes: “ From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie. ”
Intrigued for some time by the power of Hokusai’s woodcuts, I was reading a short biography and came across this quotation. Life is long and as lifelong learners, we will always be hungry for more, even to eternity. Hokusai longed for eternity and seemed to see its promise in all the world around him. “He who holds in the hollow of his hands the fabric of the world, who with his divine power supports, and with his Providence directs, the intricate pattern of the world, has himself by creation entered deeply into the world; at the heart of everything he lies hidden.” (Father Bede Jarrett, O.P., from Stratford Caldecott’s blog)
Since I missed the opportunity to see a friend sing in a performance of Haydn’s The Creation I’ve been wanting to listen to it. I don’t have a recording. Isn’t YouTube wonderful? We listened to this today while eating scones since my daughter was sick and our usual driving to and fro screeched to a halt. Well we started by eating scones . . . it’s rather long so some people also ran around the house, danced, and built a train track that went under my desk while others folded laundry and did dishes. I’ll let you guess who did what.
I was so excited to read this article from the New York Times about Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal. However, as a Christian, it is always interesting to see how a non-Christian interprets a believer’s motives and inspiration. Who can understand Dante’s somewhat disgusting prayer, “Enter into my breast; within me breathe / the very power you made manifest / when you drew Marsyas out from his limbs’ sheath.” (Paradiso I.19 Mandelbaum) In other words he’s begging Apollo to flay him alive so that he will be no more himself but completely at the power of divine inspiration. It is as profound to the Christian and as disgusting to the non-Christian as all of the “bloody Jesus songs.”
Inspiration – the word itself means an intake of breath. Whose breath? This is the incomprehensible question. If breath is only oxygen from the meaningless nowhere then it is merely an absurd formality to invoke the muses or any other divine agent. Here is what Marilynne Robinson makes of it in the above referenced article:
“I would be curious to know what story or part of a story by O’Connor should be attributed to the Lord. It can seem self-aggrandizing or simply bizarre to ascribe any thought or work to a seemingly external source, named or unnamed. Nevertheless, Hesiod, Pindar and any number of poets and prophets before and after them have declared indebtedness of this kind.”
When one considers that none of us are here by our choice and that we are entirely made up of atoms that we did not assemble ourselves and have heard our whole lives long words and thoughts that we did not invent it seems a bit absurd to me to be so confused at how one could attribute a story to an exterior being. As the Genesis narrative tell us, all breath, even a sneeze, is the result of the original Divine inspiration.
(The above print is my own, Pentecost gelatin monoprint)
Currently the National Gallery of Art is hosting
1909 – 1929
When Art Danced with Music
As of yet all I’ve seen of it was a peek of the last room, but I have enjoyed the exhibition brochure which can be found here and created a couple of art lessons from it. On our last adventure to the art gallery I discovered that the children were much more engaged seeing paintings we had already talked about and seen on the computer or colored.
On page 9 of the brochure you will see a curtain design by Natalia Goncharova which she created for a performance of The Golden Cockerel. First I briefly told my children the story of The Golden Cockerel and then handed them each a print of the curtain design along with a handout of my own design. I instructed them first to find the shapes from the handout in the curtain design and then to try to draw these same shapes for themselves in black crayon on a piece of watercolor paper. Since my children are so little I really should have walked them through how to draw the figures step by step. They tried to draw a little, asked for help and added their own designs. They finished by painting over their drawings in watercolor. As they painted we listened to The Golden Cockerel off of YouTube.
On page 14 of the brochure is a set design by Giorgio de Chirico for The Ball. I first explained to my children how drawing can be a bit of a magic trick – creating the appearance of depth on a flat surface. I gave them each a simplified line drawing of the scene and then showed them step by step how I had drawn it on the chalk board. They finished the lesson by painting the scene with watercolors. My eldest, almost six, was very interested in looking at the original painting on the computer screen and copying the colors. As you can see from her painting below she was very concerned with authenticity and insisted that I include the mouse in my drawing.
A month or two ago my husband took the kids – all four kids – for a weekend adventure. While they were gone I took a trip to the National Art Gallery and while there picked up a sun print kit to do with the kids. The other day when my husband was traveling I knew that an easy mess free art project was in order both to energize my spirit and to occupy the troops. I think my own mother had done this project with us when we were kids – I remembered loving it. Basically it’s a super easy project. All you do is ask the kids to gather a few interesting specimens from around the yard and then lay these on top of one of the sheets of treated paper. After a brief exposure on a bright sunny day of about one minute the image is ready for a bath in tap water and then voila!
Before we dove in I did a little research and discovered that there are various methods for darkening the Prussian Blue and for lightening it. Usually, it’s my understanding, a bath of hydrogen peroxide before the final water rinse will darken the color. In my experience with these prints a spray of hydrogen peroxide (undiluted) before the water rinse bleached out the image but an application after the water rinse slightly darkened the color. The white splashes in the above image are the result of hydrogen peroxide. For more information on the process and for a site that sells chemicals to make your own chemical solution to treat the paper with see here.
Sunday I had my first anatomical drawing class at The Art League in Alexandria. It is going to be fantastic! The instructor, Athanasios Papapostolou, first had us draw the model in several positions without any instruction so that he could observe our approach to drawing. It was a little nerve wracking and since I only registered for the course on Saturday I didn’t bring any of the proper materials. Thankfully the kind lady next to me lent me some paper and I used my own pencils instead of charcoal. Here are my first attempts:
Kind of blah – I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing but I tried to use the sight size method. Next we took a bit of a break (thank goodness because my arm was killing me!) and then he spent some time explaining terms. The most fascinating part for me was when he stood a skeleton next to the model and pointed out certain points in the bone structure that then cause shadows on the model. I began to see things that I had never noticed before which is exactly what I have always found so exhilarating about drawing. After the instruction we finished by drawing four poses side by side. I had learned before about the “ideal figure” being eight heads high but not that it is helpful to portray a figure as eight heads high in order to overcome optical illusions. You can see the figures below look much less squatty and blah:
Hidden within this doodle mess is a line drawing inspired by this pyx in the form of a dove. A pyx is a little box. This one was used to hold sanctified wafers in it and was suspended above the alter to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit at the eucharist. Hint: First look for the architectural features and these may orient you.