06/17/2013 09:35 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. ― Franz Kafka

One place understood helps us understand all places better. ― Eudora Welty

Early every evening, when it's not winter or raining in Vermont, I lean up against the barn, look towards the hills in the west, and paint. I must have made well nigh a thousand watercolors, all done quickly, from this spot. The shape of these hills doesn't change from day to day; but the weather does, and the light, and I probably change as well.

It's nice to have a place to be and something to do there. Penelope in the Odyssey had her daily thread, weaving, and it didn't matter to her that she didn't get a lot done. The ritual aspect of repetition and return almost replaces the urge to get something accomplished.

Highly restricted interests and repetitive behaviors emerge in autism and attentive-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Many of the best art students I've taught have ADHD, because the entire world is too complicated, demanding, and overstimulating but one thing is reassuring. Not a lack of focus; a lack of focus on everything at once -- not pathological, but not suited to most schools.

Many artists have had a near-monomaniacal relationship with a theme, place, or subject: Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire; Josef Albers, squares; Jasper Johns, flags; Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral or haystacks or poplars; Giorgio Morandi, bottles; G. B. Piranesi, Roman ruins; or quite wonderfully, John Gibson, balls.


John Gibson, Howard 2011, oil on panel, 60" x 60"

When you return again and again to one thing you can see just what changes. I know the flavor of my backyard, the swell and varying harmonies of color that speak of time, light, and distance all at once. I wait, and the landscape rolls in ecstasy at my feet.


Brian D. Cohen, Bald Mountain, 2010, watercolor, 7" x 10"