sculpture by the sea

For 2 weeks each year in Sydney the 2km coastal walk from Bondi beach to Tamarama beach is transformed during the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. This afternoon I checked it out, though so far I haven’t been able to see all the works – a return visit may be in order. I love this exhibition. So too does the rest of Sydney, judging by the crowds even in the late afternoon. Each year at this time the coastal walk becomes jammed with people enjoying the elegant, the quirky and sometimes the downright weird, all with a beautiful seaside view. I love the crowds for this reason: instead of festering in some whitewashed gallery art is out in the public space and people are getting out there and enjoying it. The only drawback of so many people being there at once is the effect on the relationship between the sculptures, the space they’re placed in and the viewer – where I feel sculpture’s power really lies. Finding a quiet time for a viewing has its benefits.

Still, there’s something I love about going with the rest of the world too. It raises a question for me: What is it with art and the public? Why do I have this perception of most people scorning art and yet when something like this is put on it seems half the city – young, old, families and singles – turns up? Is it just that people ‘just like to go to things’, as someone put it to me this week? That is, do they not really care about the art at all, but just go along to whatever’s ‘happening’ this weekend for something to do?

No doubt there are some. But I love the sort of thing I saw today. When a big name gets a show, like a Picasso or Rothko retrospective, I have a tendency, justified or not, to think a lot of people might be drawn just by the name, especially in Australia where the big names are displayed so rarely. But there are no big names in Bondi, yet people are really interested in the works. They take photographs, they laugh, they pick their favourites. They aren’t generally interested in the way we’re told interest in art is supposed to manifest itself: dispassionately deconstructing everything to find the deeper ‘meaning’ in the work. Sadly there is still a strong sense for people that that’s exactly the way art has to be appreciated and the completely obtuse and indecipherable works that follow this artistic philosophy themselves only serve to continue enforcing this sense by alienating the very people they’re supposed to be communicating with. The great legacy of modern art has been to drive a wedge in people’s thinking between their life and visual creativity. But after people have stood mutely and impassively in front of them for a few moments (myself included) they move on to the stuff that’s actually cool and connects with them and their experience in some way, and often quite simply. It’s obvious in the comparison between works which always have a crowd of snap happy and grinning people around them (again myself included) and those which are left sadly alone. The works people love explore and re-imagine the beauty of this world or the human experience of living itself. The works I’ve snapped here were some of my favourites which I felt did just that.

The incessantly elitist and deconstructing nature of so much modern and post modern art (and talk about it) in the west has cultural and philosophical roots reaching back a couple of centuries , but the creative impulse has spanned human existence across cultures and centuries and has elsewhere always been much more closely tied to the lived experience of a culture’s people and their relationship with the wider world around them. I’ve said this before here.  ‘Art’ wasn’t the intellectual domain of a specific subculture who were in the ‘know’. You didn’t need an ‘art appreciation course’ (spare me) to engage with it. It reflected and still reflects life. In future posts I’d like to explore further how contemporary art is trying to reflect and speak to how we in the west tend to view the world and our lives, for I think there’s much to be said. But I wouldn’t hold your breath if I was you.

For now though, let me say that I think there is a real desire in people’s hearts for beauty and truth in the world, and for people to engage with and express it through acts of creativity. And there is a joy when it’s done.

What do you think? Do people love good art or am I mistaken? Do you enjoy art, and if so, what do you love about it? 

on why you’re an art lover

You like art. You do. You like poetry as well.

I’ve known hundreds of people who claim not to like art. I’ve met even more who say they hate poetry (I was one of them for years). But I’ve never met anyone who, after often complaining about contemporary art and claiming that it’s pointless and weird, has never been faced with a particular piece (never contemporary) that has illumined some facet of life, that has with beauty and truth reflected something, often something quite ordinary of the world with particular insight, that’s caused them to say – ‘I like this. This is art.’

I am convinced and becoming more so that people like art and poetry and more, want to like art and poetry, and that art and poetry, like song, have tremendous power to resonate deeply with people and cause them to slow down and reflect and contemplate the world and themselves. Yet faced with an arts culture that has become disconnected from the realities of everyday life and so disconnected from most people who don’t find themselves in a somewhat fringe subculture, art has become to most people the weird and irrelevant pastime of society’s oddballs and poetry is no more than a rather pathetic and soft relic of a thankfully bygone era. Thankfully this never happened with music (although something must’ve gone wrong to bring us to the point where we have One Direction). Music remains a fundamental part of any culture, and of deep importance to anyone I’ve ever met. But once art and poetry were no different.

A number of things have caused me to be thinking about this stuff and move in this direction, and you should read the posts by Glen on this: Art on Fire: a Naples Tantrum and Definitely not for Burning…

See art is sick. It’s not dead, but the West is killing it. And I don’t mean all the haters are killing it – the ‘Art World’ is. What we think of as Art is not what art has been for centuries and across cultures. I’m realising the same is true of poetry.

Before the Age of Reason there was no separate discipline called ‘Art’. There were no movements, individual styles, progressive ideas; no ‘geniuses’, self-expression or avant-garde. Across ancient and medieval societies art was inscribed on the daily and ritual life of the people, was often religious and sought to connect the ordinary life of people with what they saw as the spiritual reality of their world. I have to say as a Christian I’m pretty wary of how this has often been done, even in the history of the Church, where the created object becomes the object of worship rather than the living God, or God is recast and denigrated in the image of the artist. But I don’t think idolatry must necessarily be the outcome of visual art. I’m interested in thinking that question through more.

The same, it seems, is true of poetry. I didn’t realise that poetry had been a major element of the Church’s life and worship for most of the past 2,000 years. I did know, however, that much of the Old Testament is written in poetry and have had the joy recently of being able to sink my teeth into it (check out Robert Alter’s translations). Poetry causes us to think deeply. Its rhythmic cadence and structural play, acheived through differing cultural conventions, give language a power that for that ancient society enabled them to slow down, contemplate and understand the profound spirituality that pervaded their world and ours – that the creation in which they lived and were a part, with its ordered movements and cycles,  that every moment of their lives rooted in the dust and the salt air and turning of the seasons was and is in the hands of a soveriegn and providential God. In an age gorged on instant gratification and an insatiable lust for faster and faster download speed this is a great need.

Sadly most of us have had our view of poetry shaped by those fluffy, willowy Romantics with their clouds for brains into something of a caricature. I mean, why would I do something productive when I could sit under a tree and wax lyrical about how I feel about a flower? Because it’s stupid.

Seems it was the ascendancy of Rationalism that spelled the doom of poetry as it had existed for centuries across cultures. Faced with the sterilisation of a world viewed only through the lens of reason yet no longer believing in a spiritual dimension the Romantics of the 19th century looked to the arts for something ‘more’ (this is what happened to art as well). But here art and poetry became ends in themselves and concerned with something higher than the everyday world which was seen as purely rational. Here began the ‘high arts’, now the pastimes of the bougeious elite who could afford to sit around feeling ‘arty’ rather than disciplines, which like music was and has remained,were inextricably intertwined with everyday life which was itself closely connected with spirituality.

In a fragmented and dislocated society which has lost any notion of a central axis, this wouldn’t be a bad thing to rediscover.

poetry, art, love

No, it’s true I haven’t written every week on art I’ve seen, nor every fortnight on books I’ve read, nor at all on anything else. We labour, we strive, we kick against the relentless onslaught of time and life and brains empty of ideas. And they kick back. Still we don’t give up.

I have in the past attempted to learn how to write poetry. I even bought a book on the subject, by the wonderful Stephen Fry called The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within.

And what I got through is great, but I never got very far. Writing never seemed like a relaxing pastime but rather like work – not in a  bad way, there’s work that’s enjoyable – but neither in a relaxing way, especially when before you can write a poem you need to go through all these very great and very useful but not at all exciting exercises. I wanted write great poems, not learn how to write them. That’s my great problem with all my artistic endeavours – impatience.

What occurred to me the other day, however, is what a tool I’ve been about all this. You may have thought, dear reader, that if I was so interested in learning  to write poetry I must be a lover of reading poetry. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that, because it makes sense. After all, why would someone want to write poetry if they didn’t enjoy reading great poets? The answer, dear reader, is because they’re a tool.

When I was (not very) younger I scorned poetry even though I loved art, to the surprise of some who knew me. Over time I had softened to realise that I had a particular picture of poetry in mind, a caricature  of twee sentimentality and head-in-the-clouds denial of reality that simply isn’t fair to what good poetry actually is. However despite occasionally stumbling on the odd poem I enjoyed such as this one with which I introduced this blog to the world, I’ve never really been moved to go out and get into some of the well-known poets and see what they have to contribute.

I think it was watching Midnight in Paris a week or so ago that stirred again the fire of this love in me. The film itself was OK but it stoked the embers of my desire for that period (imperfect s it was, of course) and these great writers/painters (I also have a new quest to read Hemmingway. A must). At any rate something clicked a couple of days ago and I went and bought this big compendium of one particular critic’s picks of the best poems in the English language, from a wide range of authors. And though I’ve only read a couple, smokes I’ve been moved.

And there is nothing that could move me to want to learn to use language in this way more than reading the beauty of their words. It surely is the same with art too. It’s when I get to galleries and see what’s possible and what visions people have had and how they sought to bring them to fruition that I’m most moved and long most fervently to engage in this long dormant side of myself again. And yet things get busy and I get lazy on Saturdays and I haven’t gone for so long. And when that happens and I get taken up with the every dayness of life it becomes so hard to motivate myself to create, though I don’t understand why I find it so hard because I know I love it deep down. But I remove it from my life. I assume that I must do it first and then it can be a part of me and I can give myself to love it. I always said, I always knew what many don’t realise about me – that it’s not enough for me to make art (or write poetry, I suppose) as a hobby. It must be my life or nothing. I must immerse myself in it, it must be my passion or else I can’t do it. I can’t dabble on the side. Therefore, having chosen a different path for myself (and without regret) I haven’t known how to keep this in my life. It has felt like pushing a rock up a hill which constantly rolls out of my hands and back down to the valley whenever I get distracted with the great Everything Else. Yet, though it often does take a long time for the creaky cogs of my dotty brain to turn over what should be pretty simple realisations, I now know the way forward. I must immerse myself in it yes, not first as a doer but as a lover.  Love precedes action. And I’ll reclaim my love.

I’ve discovered John Donne, and I’m besotted. I look forward to sharing him with you.

c.s.lewis

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

confessions of a wannabe writer

Let’s face facts. I’m a pretty terrible writer. And no, that’s no false humility donned as a thin veneer to score compliments or look very noble because, let’s face it, you don’t actually know who I am and so it wouldn’t benefit me anyway. I only mean that I’m terrible because I never practice.

I do want very much to be a writer. I was encouraged the other day when a friend of mine asked me if I was, thinking that I would be. She said I had the thoughtfulness for it, which was very kind and has encouraged me to come back on here and keep on having a go. This isn’t my first blog. I’m a hopeless blogger because the medium requires a  high turnover of new material, and I just can’t think stuff up that fast. Writing for me carries the potential, the desire within it for something wonderful, something profound, and I just need to…to ponder I guess.

I’ve hoped to blog to help me practice my writing. Unfortunately, perhaps as a hangover of a long history of depression never properly dealt with, perhaps just because of bone idleness, I go about my life cloaked in a horrible inertia in which I’ve put off fully involving myself in doing the things I’d love to do. With a deep sadness I see people who love involving themselves in this or that, and I think of the past decade of my life in which I’ve squandered my gifts, my loves. Only me to blame of course.

And really, I’m not depressed about this, and I don’t mean this post to be a self-pitying, self-indulgent round of  ‘poor me’  because, of course, I have the rest of my life, however long that is, to pursue what I love. The world is ripe and full of possibility. And that gives me joy. Really, I’ve been horribly impatient and perfectionist when it comes to creativity – the journey of growth had somehow become a pain rather than a joy. That’s the ugliness of pride. So, here’s to stepping back into glorious creative living.

Because a great myth out there is that a spiritual view of the world somehow should denigrate this real, messy, beautiful world we live in. Certainly a lot of so-called spiritualities seek to transcend the ‘lowly’ physical world for the ‘higher’ spiritual one, through mystical meditations or harsh treatments of the body. But spirituality and the created world aren’t divorced from one another. The chaotic splash of physicality and history is the stage on which the divine drama plays itself out. A drama we’re all a part of. A lecturer of mine spoke last week of the gulf between time and eternity, popularised by Plato, and how the worldview presented in the Bible is quite different. God isn’t ‘somewhere out there’, but intimately involved with creation and history from beginning to end. Our bodies aren’t cages we need to break free from. They’re a part of the whole us.

My rambling, shambolic point is that seeking to live for God will not drag me out of the world into some kind of monastery, but joyfully into it. Instead I think it’s been a misguided attempt at protecting myself that has kept me passive about my art. The great plan of God is to redeem this broken and painful world, to restore it to all its intended beauty and joy. And I’m thankful to him that I’m being included in that.

technology: say goodbye to your brain

http://www.news.com.au/technology/switched-on-world-is-killing-creativity-expert-warns/story-e6frfro0-1226064491905

My friend thinks that within a couple of decades they’ll have the internet connected directly into our heads. Personally I think this is a bad thing. It’s annoying enough when people try to hack my facebook account, without the added hassles of them hacking into my brain.

We all thought the technological revolution would make the world better, and there have, of course, been many benefits. But now someone reckons that being switched on so much has undermined the normal human potential for creativity and inventiveness. Now when we’re bored, instead of dealing with it by pushing ourselves and striving to create, we simply hop online and consume downloadable info. And we don’t sleep.

Is technology making us boring? Or were we already boring, but in different ways? Before getting all connected, were most of us just sitting around staring blankly at TV we didn’t like, and before that sitting around drawing rooms whiling away the hours in mindless chit-chat and gossip, or were people actually engaged in living creatively simply because they had too, now changed by the instantly downloadable world of flashy graphics and bucket loads of both useful and totally redundant info? And is THIS BLOG part of the solution, or part of the problem?! (Erm…I’m gonna go with solution).

Think about facebook. How much time do I spend just wasting time, fluffing the days away, frittering away opportunities for real relationships, real imagination, actually stretching myself? And that includes just relaxing and taking it easy. I used to do that by doing things I actually enjoyed. Now too often when people ask me what I did that evening, I don’t have much to say.

A vow! the interwebs will no longer suck my brains out through my eyes! As much. No, I’m not going to retreat to some mountain cave in the Black Sea region. But I will from this day forth begin  extricating its sticky fingers from my hair! Actually, I already got rid of my switched on mobile for the cheapest nastiest lump of plastic around. This has been good for me.  We wanted to make life simpler, and somehow it got a lot more complicated and stressful.

Here’s to taking my life back. Cheers.