Today, I Became a Member

Today, I put my money where my mouth is, or I bit the bullet, or I took the plunge, or I [insert over-worn idiom]: I bought a year-long membership to Nashville’s high-profile, post-office-turned-gallery Frist Center for the Visual Arts. And it feels right. Of all the things I could support, this is a thing that makes sense–for me, I mean. This is something, culturally-speaking, worth investing in. The time was right. Of course, getting the student discount didn’t hurt. But I want to believe that I’ll continue my support beyond grad school, beyond the student discount.

After purchase of said membership, I spent two-and-a-half hours wandering through the current headlining show, Treasures from the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting. Here are some notes scrawled with a gallery pencil:

–“Being in the presence of old paintings by old masters takes me out of myself. It doesn’t matter how unmodern the work may be–when I lean in to see the gradations of fleshy pink used to describe a man’s cheekbone or the fragility of his fatigued eyes, I am transported. It happened in front of a routine portrait (the third Duke of Alba, 1628), no doubt cranked out tediously and for a healthy sum, by Peter Paul Rubens. What is it about paint that transcends the usual? Cameras may master natural color, but paint transforms the natural into the spiritual.”

–“I rounded a corner and was awestruck by a painting that had to be at least ten feet tall, positioned for maximum effect, of a man on horseback. I got lost in it, sketching it very hastily. In my sketch, the rider appears to wear a mask, and the horse has a kangaroo’s head–Guy Fawkes in the Australian outback.”

–“The feeling of standing before something 2,400 years old–the two busts: “Head of Bacchus” and “Head of a Female Divinity.””

–“Statues that seem to breathe.”

–“A first edition of Don Quixote (1605).”

I recorded these impressions in the order that I had them. The three short ones seem random, but I wanted to stay true to my format. Think of them as an ongoing narrative, often broken but always meaningful. Most of the work in the show was from the 16th century-forward, so you can imagine my surprise at suddenly standing before two ancient Roman sculptures and all the eerie feelings of passing-time that such a position stirs, staring at the head of the god of wine and revelry and knowing that not only did ancient hands form this piece but that people probably worshiped it–real breathing, bleeding human beings, like you and me! Eerie, indeed. And certain statues were so lifelike that I would be remiss to spend an evening alone with them–too many horror movies, I suppose. But then there’s the other side of that: amazement at the craftsmanship of the sculptor, to imbue a hunk of marble with such life.

As I drove away, I began to wonder why these guardians of aristocratic “treasures” saw fit to send their art collection around the world, traveling from palaces in Spain to humble Nashville, Tennessee. Was it a desperate effort to shore up revenue for a dying, or dead, social class? Life support for an outmoded hierarchical system? As skillful and admirable as the work is, it is mostly made up of portraits of aristocracy, having little relevance for the common person. Did I benefit from seeing this work? I hope so, but I’m not sure. At my most pessimistic, I see the collection as one large reminder that I am not “to the manner born,” wandering among their gaudy, gold-gilt furniture, upholstered with French tapestry fabric. But the optimistic side of myself sees history and the artistic effort of hardworking, industrious painters and sculptors. My feelings about this show are conflicted even now: there is spectacle, but is there substance?

Note: the Frist allows no photography, not even cellphone shots without flash–even the Met allows flash-free photography! I don’t like this but I abide by it. So that’s why there are no photos of the actual show. Only my crude sketch and a couple of shots of the printed program.

My Renovated Website

Three years ago, I purchased a web domain and named it I labored through the construction of a very basic site on which to display paintings. Even though I followed a template, there was still a large amount to learn. It took weeks to arrive at something presentable. People who are able to build a site from the ground up are gifted indeed (Justin Bird comes to mind). This is clearly not my skill set, so I am content to make a template look as wonderful as possible. That said, Alan Drue:  Excitable Mind has undergone a significant facelift in recent weeks. Rather than rattle on about the changes made, however, I have decided to post a picture from my brainstorming session.

photo (8)


These days I use the site more for writing, especially since going back to school. But whether the intention is to show paintings or share poems, the decision to maintain my own web space is one that I am thrilled to have made. Not because I think the site represents fine design, but because it is all mine. No one tells me what to post. I am my own creative director. This is a freedom that every artist needs. Therefore, I have designated it not as a gallery or blog, but as an online studio. It is like the room at home where I do creative work, surrounded by all of the images and words and objects that inspire me. There is more about that on the “about this online studio” page.


Of all the features listed on the journal page above, I am most excited about “categories”. My posts are now organized by subject, and these subjects are listed in the sidebar. I like to imagine that someone checking out my site for the first time sees a category that interests her, so she selects it, and whether a post was published two years ago or two days ago, it will appear on the screen. Posts are no longer lost in the depths of the blog feed. I am similarly enthused about the social media share buttons. Not only do they look nice, but they make sharing easy. And lastly, Alan Drue:  Excitable Mind now has a mobile version. It loads automatically if one accesses the site with a cell phone.


So now that the renovation is complete, I am ready to get back to posting. See you on the web.

Finding Stillness

P1000894Many moments of stillness occur just before dawn.  When our son was born thirteen months ago, my wife and I became morning people.  It was necessary to prepare for the day at a quiet, dark hour, so that we could get the jump on Arthur whenever he saw fit to wake up at an equally early hour.  To be forthright, I had been falling out of bed before sunrise for months to paint or write before going to the lab.  Yet this was different.  Before, the early rising had been elective; now, it was a requirement.  Lest anyone think this a source of contention, though, it was quite the opposite.  In addition to the fulfillment concomitant with Arthur’s care, there often were–and still are–moments of rarefied and unanticipated stillness.


September provided several such occasions.  The seasonable coolness of this year’s fall lured me out onto our deck, which faces a thick row of trees and tree-topped hills beyond.  We live in Nashville, but the landscape as seen behind our townhouse is arranged and adorned so, that was it not for the whoosh of traffic on Edmondson Pike, one could be led to believe they were visiting an area well outside the city limits.  On those mornings, with my coffee perched on the railing, I stood staring into the chill blackness, listening to the night noises.  After a small while, the faintest shade of steely blue light would begin to color the eastern horizon.  We sometimes recognize fine moments while we are in them.


Stillness, as understood here, is about being alone with the self.  It is about shutting off the song that is dominating all passive thought, or the quotidian concerns that lend anxiety to routine, and rediscovering the simple joy of being.  It is not about reading or praying (though I encourage both) but about finding time to do nothing other than wallow in your own quality of awareness, attuning the senses to the present environment and drinking in whatever it has to offer, whether it be a twilight chorus of tree frogs or the apocalyptic rage of a rush hour interstate.


Stillness is not limited to dark, quiet hours while the world sleeps.  Nor is it the sole property of reverential settings like churches or libraries.  It lies in wait at sporting events, at concerts, at wedding receptions–even at December shopping malls.  As with any inward effort, it may be achieved with more or less difficulty amid the clamor of a churning crowd.  Author Silas House, in an article addressed to aspiring writers, states that the object is to “learn how to become still in our heads”, later adding that we “must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called “next” at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.”  There appears to be an art to this internal stillness of which House writes and of which I am attempting to write, something to be worked toward with a goal of mastery.  His article inspired me, but I do not believe the wisdom therein is limited to writers.  There is benefit to us all in moments of stillness, whenever and however we may capture them.



Work Cited:


House, Silas.  “The Art of Being Still.”  The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2012.  Web.  1 Dec. 2012.