Tension, balance, and walking in beauty

Scorhill 1

Scorhill 2Howard & Tilly approaching the Scorhill stone circle

While thinking about our discussion of "art and the marketplace" last week, I came across the following passage from Daybook: The Journal of an Artist by the American abstract sculptor and color field artist Anne Truitt (1921-2004) -- who, despite major recognition in the form of museum shows and prestigious fellowships, still found it difficult to support herself and her three children through making art.

"I don't know why I seem to be able to make what people call art," she writes. "For many long years I struggled to learn how to do it, and I don't even know why I struggled. Then, in 1961, at the age of forty, it became clear to me that I was doing work I respected within my own strictest standards. Furthermore, I found this work respected by those whose understanding of art I valued. My first, instinctive reaction to this new situation was, if I'm an artist, being an artist isn't so fancy because it's just me. But now, thirteen years later, there seems more to it than that. It isn't 'just me.' A simplistic attitude toward the course of my life no longer serves.

Scorhill 3

"The 'just me' reaction was, I think, an instinctive disavowal of the social role of the artist. A life-saving disavowal. I refused, and still refuse, the inflated definition of artists as special people with special prerogatives and special excuses. If artists embrace this view of themselves, they necessarily have to attend to its perpetuation. They have to live it out. Their time and energy are consumed for social purposes. Artists then make decisions in terms of a role defined by others, falling into their power and serving to illustrate their theories. The Renaissance focused this sole attention on the artist's individuality, and the focus persists today in a curious form that on the one hand inflates artists' egoistic concept of themselves and on the other places them at the mercy of social forces on which they become dependent. Artists can suffer terribly in this dilemma.

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"It is taxing to think out and then maintain a view of one's self that is realistic. The pressure to earn a living confronts a fickle public taste. Artists have to please whim to live on their art. They stand in fearful danger of looking to this taste to define their work decisions. Sometime during the course of their development, artists have to forge a character subtle enough to nourish and protect and foster the growth of the part of themselves that makes art, and at the same time practical enough to deal with the world pragmatically. They have to maintain a position between care of themselves and care of their work in the world, just as they have to sustain the delicate tension between intuition and sensory information.

Scorhill 6

Scorhill 8

"This leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that artists are, in this sense, special because they are intrinsically involved in a difficult balance not so blatantly precarious in other professions. The lawyer and the doctor practice their callings. The plumber and the carpenter know what they will be called upon to do. They do not have to spin their work out of themselves, discover its laws, and then present themselves turned inside out to the public gaze."


Scorhill 7

The photographs here were taken at Scorhill, a Bronze Age stone circle on the open moor past Chagford and Gidleigh. From its center, the sun balances and sets on the largest stone on Midsummer's Eve. Whatever else it may be, it's also a work of art, holding age, time, and stillness in an embrace of sky and granite.

As I go among the stones, I recall Gretel Ehrlich's words from The Solace of Open Spaces: "The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly, light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding." I think Truitt would have agreed with this...as do I, though I make art that is, on the surface, quite different from hers.

Scohill 8

When we turn to leave that timeless place, I whisper a prayer I learned long ago from the Navajo people of my own country: Beauty above us. Beauty below us. Beauty in the four directions. May we walk in beauty. May we walk in beauty.

All of us are artists as we create our lives, our families, our communities. All of us balance the conflicting demands of the marketplace and our deep, earth-centered selves. On Scorhill, the noise and flash of the consumer world disappears, and there is only this, granite and sky. There is only this, and it is enough.

May we walk in beauty. May we walk in beauty.

Scorhill 9

Terri Windling 2015

The beautiful place we call home...

The video above is "Dartmoor Timelapse," created by landscape photographers Alex Nail and Guy Richardson.

The year-long project, they explain, "ran from March 2013 to March 2014, with the goal of capturing the changing face of Dartmoor through the seasons. This 7 minute short film takes the viewer on a journey covering Dartmoor’s most iconic tors, villages, rivers, woodland and prehistoric sites. The film is comprised of over 13,000 images selected from over 30,000 stills and represents many hundreds of hours out on the moor and in post-production. The longest night sequences are captured over a 3 hour period whilst the shortest sequence lasted just 6 minutes. The result is a captivating film of Dartmoor's magical landscape."

If you're here in the West Country, you can see photographs from the project at the on-going Dartmoor Timelapse exhibition in Princetown.

The Dartmoor pictures below are my own, taken 0n a winter walk with Howard, Victoria, and Tilly between Christmas and New Year's Day. Our route was a disused railroad track above Princetown that's been turned into a hiking trail, a stretch of high moor that is oddly beautiful in its bleakness at this frozen time of year.

Dartmoor walk 1

''Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.'' - Charles Dickens (Martin Chuzzlewit)

Dartmoor walk 2

Dartmoor walk 3

"The ache for home exists in all of us; the safe place we can go, and belong, and never feel questioned for who we really are.'' - Maya Angelou

Dartmoor walk 4

''What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don't want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don't want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.'' - Jeanette Winterson (Lighthousekeeping)

Dartmoor walk 5

Dartmoor walk 6

''Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.''  - James Baldwin (Giovanni's Room)

Dartmoor walk 7

Dartmoor walk 8

''Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.'' - Gary Snyder (Turtle Island)

Dartmoor walk 9A related post (and landscape video) from the other part of my life: "To the Desert."

Widdershins: Dartmoor Mythic Arts

Widdershins exhibition - Summer 2013poster art by Brian Froud

The Widdershins exhibition is now open, running until August 10 at the Green Hill Arts Centre in Moretonhampstead, Devon. If you're in the West Country, or coming down here over the summer, please stop in. Beautifully curated by Carol Harvey, the main exhibition contains works by seven artists from Chagford (David Wyatt, Rima Staines, Brian and Wendy Froud, Alan and Virginia Lee, and me), plus artists from Moretonhampstead (Neil Wilkinson Cave), the Devon coast (Hazel Brown), and the New Forest (Paul Kidby). Mythic works from additional artists and craftworkers (including Chagford's Danielle Barlow) are on display in the Gallery shop. I should mention that this is one of the most thoughtfully hung "group shows" I've ever seen. The artists work in many different mediums and styles, yet the curator has displayed them in a way that flows beautifully, emphasizing the mythic spirit they have in common.

I'll be giving a talk on women in fairy tales (looking at the adult history of the tales), with storytelling by Howard, next Saturday evening, June 29. I'll also be at an "art & coffee morning" at the gallery on Saturday, June 29, to moderate a discussion with David Wyatt, Virginia Lee, and Hazel Brown. There are many other magical events connected to the show (thanks to program co-ordinator Katheryn Hope), including music, workshops, puppetry, poetry, comedy, storytelling, a screening of The Dark Crystal with a talk by Brian & Wendy Froud, and more.  Information can be found on the Green Hill website.

Below, just a few pieces on display in the exhibition....

Detail from a painting by David Wyattdetail from a painting by David Wyatt

Rima Stainesdetail from a painting by Rima Staines

Hazel Brown and Wendy Froudfairy boxes and books by Hazel Brown, with fairies by Wendy Froud

Virginia Lee 2detail from a painting by Virginia Lee

Virginia Leedetail from a sculpture by Virginia Lee

Drawing copyright by Alan leedrawing by Alan Lee

One corner of the exhibition, with works by David Wyatt, Brian Froud, Virginia Lee, and Paul Kidby, photographed by David Wyattone corner of the exhibition, photographed by David Wyatt -- with paintings by David, Brian Froud, and Virginia Lee, and sculpture by Paul Kidby and Viriginia

183155_10151636357944379_86204359_nposter art by Alan Lee

You can see more photos from the exhibition here, here, and here. Better still, go to Green Hill Arts, if you possibly can. The show has been extended to August 10th.

Into the Woods, 6: Wild Community

Art copyright by Brian Froud

Art copyright by Wendy Froud

Art copyright by Alan Lee

"Time and time again I am astounded by the regularity and repetition of form in this valley and elsewhere in wild nature: basic patterns, sculpted by time and the land, appearing everywhere I look. The twisted branches in the forest that look so much like the forked antlers of the deer and elk. The way the glacier-polished hillside boulders look like the muscular, rounded bodies of the animals -- deer, bear -- that pass among these boulders like loving ghosts. The way the swirling deer hair is the exact shape and size of the larch and pine needles the deer hair lies upon one it is torn loose and comes to rest on the forest floor. As if everything up here is leaning in the same direction, shaped by the same hands, or the same mind; not always agreeing or in harmony, but attentive always to the same rules of logic and in the playing-out, again and again, of the infinite variations of specificity arising from that one shaping system of logic an incredible sense of community develops . . . 

Art copyright by Marja Lee Kruyt

. . . felt at night when you stand beneath the stars and see the shapes and designs of bears and hunters in the sky; felt deep in the cathedral of an old forest, when you stare up at the tops of the swaying giants; felt when you take off your boots and socks and wade across the river, sensing each polished, mossy stone with your bare feet. Felt when you stand at the edge of the marsh and listen to the choral uproar of the frogs, and surrender to their shouting, and allow yourself, too, like those pine needles and that deer hair, like those branches and those antlers, to be remade, refashioned into the shape and the pattern and the rhythm of the land. Surrounded, and then embraced, by a logic so much more powerful and overarching than anything that a man or woman could create or even imagine that all you can do is marvel and laugh at it, and feel compelled to give, in one form or another, thanks and celebration for it, without even really knowing why."  

- Rick Bass ("The Return," Orion Magazine)

Art copyright by David Wyatt

Root Dog

“Ethics that focus on human interactions, morals that focus on humanity's relationship to a Creator, fall short of these things we've learned. They fail to encompass the big take-home message, so far, of a century and a half of biology and ecology: life is -- more than anything else -- a process; it creates, and depends on, relationships among energy, land, water, air, time and various living things. It's not just about human-to-human interaction; it's not just about spiritual interaction. It's about all interaction. We're bound with the rest of life in a network, a network including not just all living things but the energy and nonliving matter that flows through the living, making and keeping all of us alive as we make it alive."

Carl Safina (The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World)

Art copyright by Virginia Lee

“If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. We are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate.”  - Terry Tempest Williams

Art copyright by Rima StainesMore art from the woods of Devon: "What He Didn't See" by Brian Froud, , woodland faery sculpture by Wendy Froud, woodland faery drawing by Alan Lee,  "Imbolc" by Marja Lee Kruyt"The Gidleigh Goat" by David Wyatt, Tilly among the roots, "Summer Land" by Virginia Lee, and "Bluebell Honeymoon" by Rima Staines.

Inhaling, Exhaling...

Standing Stone Near Merrivale by Stu Jenks

Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

How to be a Poet (to remind myself)
by Wendell Berry

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill -- more of each
than you have -- inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity…

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

(from Given: New Poems)

"The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves."   - Terry Tempest Williams (Leap)

Tallest Stone, Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

“I breathe in the soft, saturated exhalations of cedar trees and salmonberry bushes, fireweed and wood fern, marsh hawks and meadow voles, marten and harbor seal and blacktail deer. I breathe in the same particles of air that made songs in the throats of hermit thrushes and gave voices to humpback whales, the same particles of air that lifted the wings of bald eagles and buzzed in the flight of hummingbirds, the same particles of air that rushed over the sea in storms, whirled in high mountain snows, whistled across the poles, and whispered through lush equatorial gardens…air that has passed continually through life on earth. I breathe it in, pass it on, share it in equal measure with billions of other living things, endlessly, infinitely.”  - Richard Nelson (The Island Within)

“Breathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next.” - David Abram (Becoming Animal)

Three Stones, Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

Making art is like breathing. Creation is the exhalation, putting ideas, emotions, patterns, rhythms, and revelations of beauty out into the world through the materials of our chosen art forms. But first comes the inhalation. We can't produce and produce without stopping to breathe. We must take the world in: land and wind, books and song, love and passion, silence and conversation; all those things that inspire us, fill us, delight us, enrage us, alchemize into art inside of us; all those things that form and change and batter our lives and give us something to say; all those things that, mixed together in unique proportions, give us tales that are truly our own.

White Pony at Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

The Dartmoor photographs here are, once again, by Stu Jenks, from his visit here a couple of weeks ago. Above: "Standing Stone Near Merrivale," "Scorhill Circle," "Tallest Stone: Scorhill Circle," "Three Stones: Scorhill Circle," and "White Pony at Scorhill Circle." (Click on the images for larger versions.)

Below: "A Brown Pony Rubbing His Ass Against An Ancient Stone, A White Pony Scratching Her Neck Against Another." About this one, he says: "This, in visual metaphor, pretty much expresses my spiritual belief of finding the balance between the sacred and the profane."

A Brown Pony Rubbing His Ass Against An Ancient Stone, A White Pony Scratching Her Neck Against Another, Scorhill Circle by Stu jenks

Sky, stone, and the turning seasons

Dartmoor cows grazing near Bronze Age ruins, midsummer.

From A Branch from the Lightening Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wilderness
by Martin Shaw:

"To be in touch with wilderness is to have stepped past the proud cattle of the field and wandered far from the twinkles of the Inn's fire. To have sensed something sublime in the life/death/life movement of the seasons, to know that  contained in you is the knowledge to pull the sword from the stone and to live well in fierce woods in deep winter.

Pathway onto the moor in deep winter

"Wilderness is a form of sophistication, because it carries within it true knowledge of our place in the world. It doesn't exclude civilization but prowls through it, knowing when to attend to the needs of the committee and when to drink from a moonlit lake. It will wear a suit and tie when it has to, but refuses to trim its talons or whiskers. Its sensing nature is not afraid of emotion: the old stories are are full of grief forests and triumphant returns, banquets and bridges of thorns. Myth tells us that the full gamut of feeling is to be experienced.

Near Scorhill Stone Circle as the rain rolls in.

"Wilderness is the capacity to go into joy, sorrow, and anger fully and stay there for as long as needed, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Sometimes, as Lorca says, it means 'get down on all fours for twenty centuries and eat the grasses of the cemetaries.' Wilderness carries sobriety as well as exuberance, and has allowed loss to mark its face."

Scorhill on a stormy day.

Foals Arrishes

Gateway to Foals Arrishes on Dartmoor

Foals Arrishes on Dartmoor

Speaking of getting out to the land for inspiration, as we were just yesterday, here are some pictures taken a few weeks ago out on Dartmoor, during my fertile-and-productive weeks of hiatus from online life. (I highly recommend taking periodic time-outs, by the way, in order to re-root oneself in the natural, actual world when one's soul becomes fractured in cyberspace. It sure did me a lot of good.)

The photographs come from on a walk on the moor with my dear friend and neighbor Wendy Froud. The old stone circle, called Foals (or Foales) Arrishes, is what now remains of an Iron Age settlement. The stones might have formed part of a hut circle (according to some archaeologists), or a livestock enclosure (according to others). Whatever the stones were then, they are beautiful now, mysterious and strangely tranquil.

Wendy on the moor

Above is Wendy, my moorland companion. For her view of the same walk, visit her enchanting blog: The Realm of Froud.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” -- C.S. Lewis

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”  - Jane Austen

Spring on Dartmoor

Two stories: Dartmoor and the Dales



Dartmoor 5



Dartmoor 6

I've caught a little bug and won't be back in the office for another day or two...but in the mean time, please enjoy these photographs by my friend Helen Mason of two very beautiful parts of England, north and south. The pictures above were taken near here on Dartmoor (at Hound Tor), on a rainy day this past weekend. The pictures below are of the Yorkshire Dales (in the north of England), taken back in March, at the cusp of spring.

“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.” -- Linda Hogan

Ssssh. Listen. The hills are telling their tales.

Yorkshire Dales 1

Yorkshire Dales 2

Lambs on the Dales

Yorkshire Dales 4

Yorkshire Dales 5

Yorkshire Dales 6

Tune for a Monday Morning

Today's video is "Blacksmith's Prayer," the recording of a new song from singer-songwriter and fiddler extraordinaire Seth Lakeman, who hails from the other side of Dartmoor. It comes from his terrific new album, Tales from the Barrel House.

Now here is, um, where I make a small confession: I haven't loved the studio-produced sound of the recent albums quite as much as his earlier works -- so I'm thrilled that Tales from the Barrel House marks a return to the music that moves me most: a raw, stripped-down, more-personal sound rooted in this young musician's passion for the land and history of Devon. The songs were all recorded at Morwellham Quay, a local heritage site that preserves the crumbling remnants of Devon's old mining industry, and documents the hardscrabble life led by those who worked in, or for, or close to the mines.

Here's a brief article (reprinted from the Seth Lakeland website) which explains this interesting project further:


"Seth Lakeman could not have dug deeper into his Devon roots for his 6th album, Tales from the Barrel House, even descending into a disused West Country copper mine to record one track. The rest of the songs were laid down in the old cooperage (or 'barrel house'), Morwellham_quay smithy, and other workshops at the ghostly Morwellham Quay mining port on the north bank of the River Tamar.

"Seth has not only written all the songs, but played every musical contribution himself, as well as producing and mixing the album. His usual bow-shredding violin riffs are there, as are his driving tenor guitar rhythms, but it’s the new primitive sounds he’s conjured up that give this album its atmospheric vibe. These include a booming bass heartbeat from an old Salvation Army drum rescued from a junkshop, and a jangling array of percussion made up from bits of old iron or discarded tools found down the mine and around the Morwellham workshops.

"Birdsong from the Tamar Valley opens the album, before rasping viola and scraping banjo shatter the peace and raise the nape hairs as first song, 'More Than Money,' ( an evocative tale of the hardships suffered by men working underground) kicks in. It’s a call-to-arms for all labourers and artisans, setting – solid, hard and uncompromising, like the granite bedrock of the songwriter's West Country stamping ground.


"Seth says he has enjoyed this solo project like no other. 'I’ve been aching to do something musically experimental like this for some time, to get right back to the basics of Kitty Jay [the ‘produced around the kitchen table for £300’ debut album] and beyond.' To be blunt, this is a concept album I could never have done with a major label.' (Seth recently parted company from Relentless/Virgin Records after three albums.) 'I’m grateful for having worked with top producers, but with this record I feel free. I’ve not had A&R men looking over my shoulder or record bosses influencing me in any way.

"'I was determined from the outset to do it as simply as possible, with just one recording engineer and as little multi-tracking and overdubbing as possible. I want listeners to feel they are down that mine, Holmbush-mine-buildings-n-007 or in the barrel house, immersed in this living history while hearing the stories of the people who inhabit the songs. I’d like fans to literally feel the atmosphere in which the album was recorded. The theme I was seeking was to pay homage to hard-working miners, sailors, skilled craftsmen and artisans, who worked for little reward but took a pride in what they did.

“'It was an extraordinary freedom to explore my music in this magical valley, which is close to my Devon home. I couldn’t wait to get back to Morwellham every day, it was such a unique experience. I know this set of songs may be judged as harsh and raw, perhaps challenging for some, but – for me – that’s the whole point of Tales from the Barrel House.'”

In the video below, he talks a little bit about the creative process of making the new album -- which is a limited edition, by the way, so if you want a copy, order it soon.