Be the Brook – Concise, Simple, Clear, Running Down Hill

“Take the A Train”
The Colors of Jazz Collection
©2021, Molly Larson Cook
28″ x 22″ Acrylic on canvas


“Water runs down hill concisely. There is no quibbling about it.
It does not have to run up hill in order to be entertaining….
The soul of a person may reveal its mysteries through direct expression,
simple speech, simple gesture, simple painting, just as
the soul of the brook is expressed in full simplicity and economy.”
The Art Spirit, Robert Henri

I offer Henri’s words today because I learned quite recently, a few days ago really, why I was so stuck trying to get back to work.  His words are exactly what I needed.  Simplicity and economy.

Or in the advice of one of my instructors, Gary Ambrose, at Maine College of Art years ago to make the work “rich and complex not complicated and confusing.”

As I wrapped up the body of jazz pieces after my October show, I looked for something new, something different, a new direction, a new way to put the paint on the canvas.  Nothing took.

So I gave myself a break and looked at OPA, Other People’s Art, and read all the ads that come my way for one online gallery or another, read the news about big shows one place or another, new gimmicks and million dollar auctions.  None of this was helpful.

I looked through a lot of my early work to see if I could find a place of entry again…I hung out in the studio doing very little in the way of work, mostly sipping tea and eating whatever candy or crackers I’d taken on a particular day, reading my phone and rearranging paints.  Useful, eh?

I considered giving up my studio and spending the rest of my days doing other things – or nothing.  Spring is coming on and walks will be good.

The pandemic is not over and my little town is still locked down, although we are getting our vaccinations when we can.  Schools will open soon if all goes well, but I have no young children now so that’s not going to affect me much one way or another except to slow down when I drive through a school zone.

After thinking perhaps I should work on other subjects, use different materials, go back to collage, I realized even before I read the Henri that I was, in my own sweet way, trying to make the water run up hill.  I was not trying to be entertaining, but I was working against the nature of my own work.

It took a long time to figure out what I wanted to do in the first place, and if the pandemic had thrown me a curve, so be it.  The brook meets obstacles, too.  Stones, logs that fall into the stream, small dams, and yet the water stays true to itself and continues running concisely and simply down hill.

So I went back to the studio and back to my love of jazz, my love of color, and got to work.  This is my small prayer these days:  Let me be like the brook.  Let me find “direct expression, simple speech, simple gesture, simple painting, just as the soul of the brook is expressed in full simplicity and economy.”

Life does not have to be complicated.  We have choice.  We can make the best choices for our work. As my other guides, Bayles & Orland, put it in Art and Fear:  “Once you have found the work you are meant to do, the particulars of any single piece don’t matter all that much.”

I found jazz and color, the animal that wags its own tail.









10 thoughts on “Be the Brook – Concise, Simple, Clear, Running Down Hill

  1. Portland lost too many good jazz places. When I first moved back there in the early 80s there were jazz clubs all over town…I loved that…

  2. Yep. He left the hotel chain and opened his own place by Union Station which as you’ve stated, is a great place both to eat and listen to good jazz.

  3. Nice memory…I recall that he was at the restaurant when I was at the train station…Would that be right?

  4. My dad first met Wilf when he was the maître d at the Red Lion Inn by the Coliseum and my dad sold carpet for all their hotels – his chief client. Then he went to work for them as their carpet buyer. He kept in touch with Wilf and introduced him to me when I was in high school. I still remember the way he greeted me. He was an extremely personable man.

  5. Wilf’s was a great place…enjoyed more than one lunch or dinner there and it was so close! A good friend later on was a jazz singer there from time to time. Our paths must have crossed many times in old Portland!

  6. Good ideas – thank you, Don…I’m still doing some teaching for writers and have definitely considered the autobiography…Portland alone will take half the chapters! Lots of interesting people and events there…including my old office space in the train station…loved that!

  7. Thank you…your interest and great response to the art mean so much…you are my special angel…

  8. You always come out of your studio with something new and beautiful everytime you find yourself without inspiration but always going back to what you love most the colors..

  9. I think you are where you should be and if you want a diversion, based on your rich life and experiences (not to mention your writing ability) you should write an autobiography.

    I have a number of retired friends in Portland who are also auditing courses ranging from English Literature to Arab Culture at Portland State and love – the experience, the price and the interaction. Does OSU have such a program?

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