This has been done by the eldest (twelve) on my phone when she was sitting in the car for a few minutes whilst I bought some dog food at the pet shop.
This has been done by the girl who says she doesn’t like art (as it’s taught in school) anymore.
This has been done by someone who has an instinctive approach to form.
If I were an artist, with a studio and paints and rags and stuff, today I would just sweep the whole lot aside onto the floor. I might jump up and down on canvases and throw tubes of oils out of the window. If I were a potter, I’d take pleasure in throwing each piece at the wall and watching all the work smash into little pieces on the ground.
Take that, I would say, although no-one would hear me.
It wouldn’t be in a fit of rage either. It would be a calm destruction. A clearing of the decks to start anew. If there’s one thing I dislike over all things, it’s being stuck.
Words don’t lend themselves well to being torn asunder. There they will remain, 2D and lifeless, on the screen or the paper, waiting for someone to string them together for long enough to give them meaning. Individual words are fixed in nature, evolving barely in one lifetime. Maybe that’s why I like poetry – you can make them do things they don’t ought to. Stuff square words into round holes, make them work a little harder for their imagery.
I find these properties of words frustrating sometimes; I really do. Still, I shall kick on, in my head, at least. Meanwhile, enjoy these clouds heading in the wrong direction…
Sculpture by Barbara Hepworth at Snape Maltings
In a horse, temperament is going to make one’s life harder. In a daughter: same. I cannot complain. Any aspect of temperament that my eldest shows has probably, in part, been handed down to her from me – her father being the most sanguine of people one might ever, and I mean ever, hope to meet.
It makes life interesting as they say, although I am never far away from thinking of that saying, that is a curse in disguise, may you live in interesting times. Anyway, so far today we have not had too many flashes of the famous temperament. A little snapping, yes, but thankfully no shouting or storming. What we have had is the most delightful expression of a minor artistic frustration to the mundane parental question, ‘What did you learn at school today?’
And so began a little outburst about the art lesson, which surprised me because this is one of her favourite subjects. It turns out however that now she is ten, going on eleven in a few weeks, she has not only a love of the subject, but an artistic view. It went a bit like this.
I do not like Mrs X at the moment because all she makes us draw is geometrical drawings, maths drawings. Last week we even had to draw the climbing frame. I like natural subjects, not maths drawings and we haven’t drawn living things for ages. And then, once, Mrs X picked the shiniest red apples from the tree, the ones that we aren’t allowed to eat and she put them in her oil pastels box. So we weren’t allowed to eat the apples and we weren’t allowed to draw them either. What a waste!
Here’s a silver birch tree close up. I would never want to eat one but I didn’t want to waste the beautiful textures.
The 10 year old was sent to her room for hitting her 7 year old sister on the head with a teaspoon. Whilst engaged in a text exchange vis the error of her ways, versus her total justification for said action, she produced this: ink on the back of some wallpaper (untitled).
For the record, here is the unexpurgated version of the texts
-It’s not my fault! She put yogurt on my pyjamas
-You shouldn’t hit people, no matter what they do.
-I didn’t mean to hurt
-Well it was bound to hurt wasn’t it?
-I have reasons why I can be so mean
-If you hit someone with a piece of metal it is going to hurt.
I wanted to pull together the strands of thought that have been exercising me this week, if only to continue with those things I need to do with a new clarity.
Firstly, I wrote that art is as diverse as humanity itself and thank goodness for that. That’s not to say we can subjectively appreciate all artistic creation, including our own. Here’s what Kurt Vonnegut, who was born this day in 1922, said about that:
The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something. — A Man Without a Country, 2005
Then I moved onto the idea that dominant aesthesia, the sense perception, can preclude our appreciation of some of what Kurt talks about; it can lead to a narrowing of the senses, which is what I consider to be a sensitivity. Sometimes a sensitivity, or sensibility, can be a gift: it allows us to bring a rigorous focus to bear on some small, sometimes unobservable, detail in another object. This can gift us an intuition, a precious insight, an understanding. But this narrowing needs also to widen again and soon (hence this post); for if it remains as the contraction of your senses you can only experience your own, and others creations, with the terrible pains of a labour gone wrong, risking stillbirth. Or it’s the clenching of a fist, useful in a fight, but a deformity if you can never uncurl your fingers and offer your palms to the world. If you cannot open yourself wide after a tight and painful contraction you cannot be reborn through your own artistic creation.
Aesthetics and art are thus intertwined, but there needs to be an appreciation of both, an acceptance of the pain of sensitivity to the product and the joy of the relief in the creative process. Without that we are simply winding our umbilical connection to the universe around our necks.
Earlier this week I wrote about the fenscape of Lincolnshire and said that we ‘humans need the comfort of a boundary that is less ephemeral than a horizon.’ I also noted that under those fenland skies ‘you are quickly overloaded with the weight of the void’.
After I had written it, or it had written itself to be more precise, I wondered what it all meant. Why did it feel that way, and as in the theme of the previous post, how has it shaped me.
L’appel du vide is one of those French existential phrases that we don’t have in English, meaning the call of the void or the vacuum. It’s also translated as the urge some people get when they are close to the edge of a cliff. Does everyone recognise that urge I wonder – I know I do.
Perhaps it’s part of the reason I don’t like heights.
Anyway it partly describes what I was trying to talk about when I wrote about humans needing smaller boundaries than an endless horizon. Faced with vast emptiness do some of us experience externally something of the echo of our own internal void? I tend to think, yes, it’s not likely to be just me is it? And when I talk about a fen horizon being too ephemeral I mean that to relate and cope with the vastness of it, we need to box it up a bit, break it down. A tree here, a stream and hedge there – Devon for example. Otherwise the question our horizon asks is too huge to cope with.
Call it what you like in philosophical, literary or psychoanalytic terms but I believe we all have ‘a void’ and some of us try to construct buffers or, like leaking buckets, fill them up to avoid acknowledging the l’appel du vide. Shopping, religion, television, computer games, writing, eating, drinking – all on the list of potential void-avoiding activities.
Perhaps a whole existence is one which is able to encompass the internal space without either seeking to fill it with busyness, or succumbing to it in other ways. After all it is a beautiful and creative place to visit, but if you had to live there all the time it might become rather like the countryside in winter – dark, damp, muddy and depressing. A place where you might need to drink a lot to just get by. On the other hand, working with the void can produce art with qualities that speak to us beyond mere words.
Maybe that explains the paradox in my own life, which is: to give my mind respite from endless existential questions, I have to occasionally immerse myself in the natural space of a landscape, the type which I might be accused of complaining that I grew up with.
Experiencing the void externally in a wildscape teaches me to go back and accommodate the inner one more wholly again.
The process could look like a year’s walk to Istanbul, or as short as an hour walking the dog. It could be a holiday retreat in the mountains, or a picnic on the Rowley Mile. L’appel du vide, for me, is bringing the inside out and it is essential.
I don’t believe it is as bleak as it sounds though, unless of course your l’appel du vide shouts at you every day and looks like the inner equivalent of the fens…
nb Notwithstanding all of the above, writing this has made me as melancholy as hell so maybe it’s just as well we haven’t got a bloody word for it.