Waiting for the Doctor

Waiting for the Doctor – Watercolor, pencil, ink – 5 x 5 inches.

Tony Bennett said that every morning he sang scales, do, re, mi, fa, so la, ti, do. If he missed a day, he knew it. If he missed two days, the musicians knew it. If he missed three days, the audience knew it as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally finished writing a book about my paintings that I had been working on for more than a year. It’s now being printed in Hong Kong and, if all goes well, it will arrive here in the middle of October. During the months I was working on the book, my drawing practice stalled. Unlike Tony, I wasn’t singing scales every day.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my optometrist’s office and started sketching this complex instrument that was suspended in front of me. I don’t think it’s a very good drawing and it reflects my lack of practice. But I kept drawing for a few minutes anyway, first in pencil, then in ink. (I added watercolor to the mess later in my studio.)

It’s a poor sketch, but I decided to show it to you anyway. Why? Because failed drawings are good inspirations for younger artists; they illustrate Tony’s point: without daily practice, talent doesn’t amount to much.

More interestingly, sketches are not failures because such drawings are not about finished products. The point of a drawing is not to make a product. Drawing is a process; it’s the act of looking deeply, patiently, into the world. It is about paying attention.

I’d much rather draw a flower than a mechanical tool. But if the goal of drawing is to learn to see better, then drawing an optometrist’s mechanism for making people see better carries a touch of irony, no? Still, wouldn’t it be fun to see the look on the doctor’s face when he entered his office if, instead of drawing, I was singing do, re, mi, fa, so la, ti, do?

Dream of Power

Dream of Power – Pen, ink, collage – 18 x 24 inches

“I think, therefore I am.”
René Descartes, 1637, in his Discourse on Method

In the first act of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has his protagonist make the following comment about a man who will eventually murder him:

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

I painted Dream of Power more than fifty years ago. At the time I was not thinking of Caesar or his assassins. I was thinking about thinking, and about some implications of Descartes’ syllogism. Do trees and rivers think? Do ravens, clouds, caterpillars and bees think? Do the Himalayas, planet Earth and the billions of galaxies that surround us think? And what about common sense, memory, imagination and intuition? Are they worthwhile human qualities or merely ornamental accessories of King Reason?

At the time of the painting I was also thinking about war. In 1972, David Halberstam published “The Best and the Brightest,” about the most brilliant minds of Academe, Industry, the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and the Houses of Congress. The thoughts of these would-be Masters of the Universe abetted and justified an American military incursion into a civil war that had raged for decades in Southeast Asia. The results turned out not to be what the thinkers had intended.

The subject of Dream Of Power is fear. Not the fear of thinking, but the fear of reason that is disconnected from memory, feeling, intuition, ethics, imagination and other essential human qualities.

No doubt the best and brightest minds in Beijing, Moscow and Washington are still clicking and clicking, dreaming of power. Meanwhile, everything else trembles.