There were many times the past 3 months that I was unsure if my body and mind could keep up, but there was no option to throw in the towel with a class of 44 students needing to complete their course. The nap-like sleep hours along with the constant mental input/output had temporary physical consequences (twitching eyes, random breakouts, under-eye bags, minimal physical activity) but the semester is done and those grades have been submitted. (Read more about the latest teaching adventure in the previous post.)
The primary challenge was starting class 1 day after being hired and preparing the content during the semester rather than ahead of time. The good news is, I have weeks longer to prepare for spring semester compared to fall. The bulk of the content is ready so I will be back to painting during the semester. Though I love art history, I was overly optimistic about how much time I would have remaining to paint outside of other work.
My one painting evening this semester was inspired by plump homegrown persimmons and 17th-century Chinese ink painters. In class, I was exceptionally enthusiastic (at least for an introvert) to explain how powerful ink painting can be! Their mastery of brush technique and composition work together perfectly in their intentionally simple black and white paintings. (See example at the end of the post)
While I am a color-fanatic, I'm growing to love expressive ink washes and brush strokes without color. There is truth in a Chinese painting philosophy about monochromatic paintings engaging the mind more than certain styles of colored paintings. They would say color is striking, distracting, and engages only the eye rather than the mind.
Another simple but necessary component is open space or negative space. It allows one to truly appreciate the filled spaces instead of bouncing around from one part to the next. When every inch of the surface is filled, it can be harder to see. When there is room to rest, those filled spaces stand out far more. It struck me this week how similar that is to daily schedules. There's today's life lessons from art compositions.
I realize the semester sounds overly dramatic since nothing life-threatening was happening, but it's been a while since I had been that continuously exhausted and constantly feeling inadequately prepared. Now on the other end of what felt like a barely-hanging-on 3 months, I'm thinking about 2018 - how to add open space into life each week - not just in paintings.
However, January "open space" is not off to a great start yet since there is a lot packed into one month already.
Long weekend out of town
Work (non-teaching job)
Visit my sister in England!
Prepare for the upcoming semester
While it's helpful to be planned and productive in many situations, it's not a way to live 100% of the time. I even consider how many minutes it will take to do regular tasks like showering, making oatmeal, or driving/parking time for grocery shopping. I need to work hard and then stop once in a while, not work hard to be constantly productive for self-satisfaction.
I'm thinking about this more seriously while considering what to commit to based on the fixed amount of hours we all have in a week, and where it would best be spent for what I'd like to be doing in 5-10 years. I don't have the answer quite yet.
My favorite Chinese painter this semester: Shitao
Many of his paintings were as expected for the period, but he had many unique gems including 10,000 Ugly Ink Blots as a sarcastic commentary on using specific brush techniques to refer to which other important artist... maybe comparable to dropping references to sound "cultured" in our day.
Another favorite below because of the expressive black lines balanced with the lighter color blots - the mountain feels like it's alive!