Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

Mont St Michele

On a Thursday, as I have told you in an earlier post, I meet my friends. Depending on the weather we walk and then visit the local fishmonger, then relax in each others company, have a chat and an ale. It is a great afternoon, we never seem to run out of conversation, and I always leave feeling happy. It is a simple afternoon and it generates its own happiness. 

I was thinking of this after over-hearing a number of conversations. The first was a mother. She was bemoaning that as hard as she tried she could not longer bring back the happy times they all used to share together. “No matter what I organize it is always the same,” she said. “They always have things to do and places to go.” 

Hankering after the old days she is missing the joy and happiness of watching them become free beings in their own right. 

The second conversation was a friend complaining that he need a new mobile phone. “Why? “ I asked. “This one is out of date. I hope the next one lasts longer.” The phone he had was at least a year younger than mine, but he had to be up date with all the latest gizmos. 

In reality, both of these conversations were about the same thing. Let me explain what I mean.

If we have a scooter we want a cycle, if we have a cycle we want a car. If we have a car we want a bigger or better one. The list is endless. And so is the pursuit.

I remember workmate who, the minute they got promotion began talking about the next step up the ladder. Or when they had been given a pay hike it was not bringing him any closer who his friend who had also had one. Again the list is endless as is the pursuit.

Even on the emotional and relationships front, our relationships are evaluated on the basis of how many visits, how many phone calls, how many invitations one gets and gives. We seek to create a perfect family of always smiling people around us, and are disappointed if things are not picture perfect. Yet again, the list is endless.
And so is the pursuit.

The pursuit of happiness. This is a well-known and well used phrase. Yet it is in fact a strange term. It in fact makes no sense at all. 

Like many oft-repeated phrases, one repeats it mechanically but it makes no sense whatsoever.

Happiness is not an object or person that can be pursued. It just is.

In fact, perhaps it is this very phrase that is often the seed of much discontent and unhappiness.

The new phone, car, are all part of the pursuit of happiness. 

As I ran this morning I was thinking about these conversations and my own pursuit of happiness, and the next better artwork.  As I reached the 6 mile mark it all seemed to fall into place.

When you pursue happiness, it eludes you. However, when you recognise that happiness is the inner beings natural state, all you need to do is eliminate all that comes between your happiness and you.

I think I need to read that again and again in the next few days. Is it complex or complicated? Not really. 

Todays artwork is the finished Pen and Ink of Mont St Michele. I did take a picture of a stage between the first one and this one but decided just to share the finished work. I wondered long and hard about adding the colour. Too late now to change my mind. 

I have some very fond memories of this place and the visits I made here with family and friends. 

Sadly like so many places the little streets leading up to the magnificent cathedral at the top are full of little shops all selling the same things. 

What next? I think maybe back to a canvas. 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Wrinkles! What Wrinkles?

This morning I considered whether to run in the open air, to brace the cold and the wind, or to take the alternative and head to the gym in the warmth of the car. At they gym I could run in shorts and running vest in the warmth of the place. Outside I would have to wear thicker heavier running gear.

As I ran I found my heart uplifted almost mile by mile. First I watched the soaring buzzard as it scanned the fields below looking for its breakfast. Then I startled two deer, they stopped to watch me as I ran off in the other direction, no danger to them. Of more danger was the fox that ran alongside me sheltered by the bushes . 

Then sitting on the fencepost I saw the little Red Kite , it seemed maybe he had already had success in the hunting stakes. He looked at peace with the world, and did not flinch a muscle as I ran past. 

Next I watched the fresh pieces of wood drop from the tree and had to stop for a moment to look up and watch the Lesser Speckled Woodpecker at work high in the boughs.

Six and a half miles and I was home, warm from my exertion and ready to face my day.

The alternative, had I chosen to go to the gym would have been to run the same miles , but all I would see was my own face in the mirror in front of me as I pounded out the miles going nowhere. 

The mirror is never a pretty sight at the best of times.  The older we get the more we become conscious of age catching up.  

While out running, I am that 18 year old who loved playing music and dancing. I am the 25 year old minister who was told one day by his dear old organist that he was the boy who would never grow old. I am the  older man who stood at the top of the mountain and rejoiced in managing to run the whole way there without stopping. 

In the mirror I see the wrinkles of age, the pattern I have woven over the years with the life I have lived. 

Now had I ran on the treadmill I might now have been thinking about going for a haircut. Having run outside I am still that young man and I am going off to paint. 

I am what life has made me. I am not at all ashamed of the pattern I have woven. I have not allowed the blind tattooist to set his agenda. I have not let accident shape me or mould me . The wrinkles I see tell there story. 

The artist paints. We either paint a thing of beauty or we start again. The pattern of our life we are equally in control of, we do not paint without thought, we should not go through life thoughtlessly , letting accident dictate. No matter our age we are still in control. Whether we produce a an ugly thing or are a joy to be with is our sole responsibility. 

Wrinkles!!!! What wrinkles I no wrinkles. Do you??????

This is the very initial stages of what I hope will be a Pen and Ink of  Mont St Michele  in France. This is a place I love.  This is a complex subject and I may yet have to abandon but I give you this the first stage. 

Today I hope to go over the pencil marks and begin to add some shading. I am already aware that I have a few errors to sort, but having started in pencil I can do that. 

I hope my friends who read this have a lovely day. This is the day I spend time with my friends in the afternoon. We call ourselves, “The Last of the Summer Wine.” Those who live in the UK will know exactly what that means. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Speak Your Mind

The disciples were absorbed in a discussion of Lao-Tzu's dictum:
"Those who know do not say; Those who say do not know."

When the Master entered, they asked him exactly what the words meant.
Said the Master, "Which of you knows the fragrance of a rose?"
All of them knew.
Then he said, "Put it into w rather cutting remarks ords."
All of them were silent.
As an artist we frequently attempt to to something very similar to what Lao-Tzu was asking his disciples to do. We attempt to describe the emotion that a certain scene arouses in the inner depths of a person. To convey that which cannot be conveyed with words.
Often, when in front of a work of art produced by another we feel moved. At moments like this I often ask myself if the emotion I am feeling is the same as the artist had when he or she sat before the blank canvas or piece of paper.
While visiting the art gallery the other day, I watched a number of young artist sit before some works of art with pen and pencil and making their attempts at reproducing the painting or an aspect of this.
I heard two people discuss what they were seeing. They were making rather cutting remarks about copying and having no artistic value.

I used to feel a bit like that myself when I watched other artists copy the work of another, or follow a step by step lesson.
I remember the first time somebody copied one of my abstracts from my website. My first reaction was to scream and make a great deal of noise. Then I stopped and thought. I must have managed to convey something in that painting, that another would wish to make there attempt at producing their version of it.
No one is the supreme authority of how we interpret a certain aspect of life. Nobody has all the answers of how we live our lives. Nobody can know us like we know ourselves. All that we can each gain from a wise person is some initial assurance and some guidance along the way.
If somebody sees some worth in something I have produced, and makes there own attempt and expressing it in their way I am honoured I have given them this initial step along the way.
This is why I have never made it impossible for anybody to take copies of my work from my website.
When I see something very similar to something I have produced before I make no comment if the comment I feel like making would be a negative one.
Yes I am aware that there are laws of copyright, I do have a son who is a lawyer, and I was a magistrate for a long number of years. 
But if art is not about helping others to express that which cannot be expressed in words. If art is not about helping others feel that inner joy. I ask, “What then is art.”
Or as Lao-Tzu said much better than I.
"Those who know do not say; Those who say do not know."

My I thank those people who have come along to my blog for the first time and made comment on it. It always means much that people take the time.

The artwork above is another version of my Edinburgh Castle but on this version I have added some more colour. AS I continue with this medium my desire to add colour keeps pulling at my inner strings.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

To Teach or To Keep Wise Counsel?

Stirling Castle

Yesterday I opened my inbox to find an email from a stranger. I have read the email at least three times trying to consider my response. I spent most of my adult working life teaching in one way or another. The first, in the running of classes, or preaching, or conducting groups in prisons and young offenders institutions.

Later I became a teacher in the real sense of the word. Daily standing before  classes of students and hoping beyond all hope that some of what I was saying would slip quietly into some young brains and stay there, later to bring them insight for later life.

I always ever only wanted to impart what I had learned, either from study or the sharp knocks of life.

On retirement I took up painting, which for you my readers is well known of course. Would I ever teach that? Could I ever teach that? To both question the same answer seems to yell loudly in my direction. NO.

So to the email.

Dear Ralph

Greetings from Toowoomba, Queensland State of Australia.

I chanced upon your painting of the Lotus river...when i was searching for impressionist style of paintings.
I have been sick for a while now...and recovery has been rather slow.

It has been a deep desire to grow water lillies and lotus at home.
This week, a friend tells me that her mother grows water lillies and therefore that is sorted.
I also found a website from which i can order lotus flowers.
And the very same day I saw your painting.

your painting inspired me to do something similar with water colours.
I chose to try and replicate your painting and if you like to see it, I will send you a photo.
It is not even 5% as nice as yours...I am just a beginner.

My doctors feel painting will help me heal much faster and so I have started trying to paint like you.
I attended some art class many years ago but did not learn much or do much...
nothing inspired me like your paintings do.  Thank you.

Will you consider teaching me through skype please?
It will mean so much to me 

Many thanks for inspiring me and setting me on the path of recovery.
Kind regards

I am humbled.

I am reminded of two little parables. The first is the tale of the sage who took his disciples blindfolded to meet with an elephant. He allowed them to touch it. Then he asked them to describe what an elephant looked like.

Each of the disciples described what they had touched. Some thought it looked like a serpent, the other like a cliff while another like a large pancake.

Until we have a full perspective of what we see, it is wise to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

The other is the tale of the disciples who questioned the master about how it was that he allowed rich people to become his followers. They saw this as a contradiction.

It intrigued them that the Master who lived so simply would not condemn these wealthy followers.
"It is rare but not impossible for someone to be rich  and holy," he said one day.
"When money has the effect on his heart that the shadow of that bamboo has on the courtyard."
The disciples turned to watch the bamboo's shadow sweep the courtyard without stirring a single particle of dust.
Until we have found the ability to move through life with causing a stir or harm it is wise to keep our counsel.
 It seems strange that one who has spent all his life desiring to teach when faced with one who genuinely  seeks to learn, that I feel out of my depth to teach.
The above painting is my latest pen and ink. I have used more colour than I have to date in this medium and am full of doubts about it.
The subject brings back many fond memories. I had a member of my congregation who served in the army during the war and for a time was based in this castle. On his death he wanted his ashes in the castle grounds.
The authorities said this was not possible so I slipped up quietly one day with my son, and from yonder parapet said a short prayer and committed his ashes to the rocks.
Some month or so later his wife died. The family wanted her ashes beside his. When I arrived at the castle they were working on the rampart. All I could see was scaffolding. I had to retreat to the bottom and climb up through the trees and up the rocks to fulfill the family wishes.
I thought of them all the time I was painting this.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Somethings are Very Obvious.

Shades of Grey and a Touch of Red

Yesterday I did another of my pen and Ink Drawings and delivered it to the customer who had asked me to do this particular building. It seems that I have discovered what to others seems obvious; people like to have art in their home that means something to them.

It took a very dear friend to tell me this; or at least to gently remind me that this was life.  I have a head full of abstract paintings that I would love to commit to canvas and yet I am getting more and more requests for pen and ink paintings.

My blogger friends, those who still visit my blog, seem to think that I should keep doing this. Anyway, the problem for the moment is solved. I discovered yesterday that I had sold a painting twice. It is easy to do when you hang paintings in a public space and also make the available on your website at the same time.

So in the next two days or so I have to do another of my Castle painting.  Fortunately the people involved are not at all concerned that they will have similar paintings.

Sometimes the obvious is the last thing we see.  Let me share a funny story with you. Before I do maybe I have to explain to some that as a boy I watched a programme on television with the main characters being, The Lone Ranger and his Indian sidekick Tonto. I always had a great love for the character Tonto. Of the two he always seemed to be the thinker.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. 
Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, "Kemosabe, look towards sky, what you see?"

The Lone Ranger replies, "I see millions of stars."

"What that tell you?" asked Tonto.

The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute then says,
"Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  

Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo.

Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. 

Theologically, the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant.

Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.

“What's it tell you, Tonto?"

“You dumber than buffalo chip.   Someone stole the tent,"
 Says Tonto.

I have decided that from now on I will only post this one blog. Anything I have to say about the artwork used I will say on here. I am aware that it is a menace for readers to have to switch to another blog, for more of the same.

Shades of Gray and a Touch of Red.

The painting used today is one of my latest abstracts.  I painted it somewhat tongue in check when I kept overhearing people speaking about a book that I certainly felt I had no desire to read.

I sued only three colours to paint it. It has been hanging in one of my inns where I am aware that at least two people are interested in purchasing it, but I wait in uncertain hope.