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? 

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in pursuit of…

Oh my. A month since writing. I’ve been busy. Really busy. Except that week I was flat on my back at the beach, of course. Have you missed me, dear reader? Do you, dear reader, in fact actually exist beyond the hopeful world of my imagination? I mean, I know you looove the photo of an Antony Gormley sculpture I posted up awhile back. Not so much my carefully crafted, agonised over, born out of pain words lovingly lavished upon the world. Ah well.

Anyway…

I just bought a new book. Just now. Just walked back in the door a few minutes ago. Aussie book by a guy called David Malouf, novelist whose name I’ve heard before but can’t place on anything. It’s not a novel though, more like an essay I think.

It’s called: The Happy Life: The Search for Contentment in the Modern World. 

I saw the title and thought I want that! The happy life, that is, moreso than the book itself. But I got the book anyway. And not because I foolishly think it holds the answers to the happy life, but it seems like it might be a thoughtful engagement with that universal drive that governs all our lives, the pursuit of happiness, and with that drive as expressed in the bewildering, fast paced, flashing, modern post-modern world. A drive I’ve been thinking about a bit lately. So I’ll read it and let you know what I think. It’s not a big book.

Ah happiness! What the hell art thou? And where are you? I’ve been thinking bout this modern life and how we navigate our way through it. No, strike that. I’ve been thinking about my modern life and how the hell I’m meant to navigate my way through it. Sorry to be selfish.

Thinking bout how we seem to be inextricably tied to the technological inter-connectedness of social media and the power over our private information a few seem to have. About how much of my life gets frittered away on trivial crap, because there’s always something flashing or some trinket or some junk food I can buy. Mainly been thinking about a girl who I liked for so long, finally went out on a date with this week and, I think, blew it merely by being a nervous shy and somewhat awkward little bugger. . I dunno. Not at my absolute cheeriest today.

Anyway, now I’ve offloaded onto you, please do stick around and I’ll endeavour to write something actually interesting soon.

R

stories and the story

Each life is a story. And each person, as they go about each day, writes that story of their life. Post modernity told us that we each were free to form the narrative of our lives with our language. Who I will be awaits to be seen,awaits me to form it. But what post modernity never told us, indeed, emphatically denied, was that each one of our life stories might be caught up in a story much bigger than ourselves. That history might not be simply an endless stream of brief flashes-of-life, each its own narrative here for just a moment and then gone forever, meaningful for the one it centred around for the duration of their life and then fading like a mist, but that history might itself be a story playing out to a conclusion.

This is, I feel, a great paradox in the modern day philosophy, perhaps on the wane anyway, that each of our lives is our own truth and story alone, and we form this narrative around ourselves, centred on ourselves, on finding ourselves and finding our place. Because we’re told and believe that this is what we want, but don’t we all have this deep longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves as well? Isn’t that why, for all our self autonomy we rack up facebook friends, always checking in and getting updated, trying to stay as connected to everything as we can? Isn’t that why we keep going to read and watch those stories of Harry Potter and the Narnia kids and the like, those stories of a world beyond what we can see, of those epic battles between good and evil, and ordinary little people standing in the gap for what’s right? Isn’t that why the more each of us chase that dream of self autonomy and personal fulfillment, the more isolated and fragmented we feel, despite most of us living surrounded by more people than at any time in history?

There is an amazing story stretching from the dawn of history to its end, a story of incredible beauty and ugliness, betrayal, suffering, sacrifice, hope and love, from which all stories draw their existence. A story that catches all our stories up into it and invests them with eternal significance. Much like the Copernican Revolution several hundred years ago shifted people’s view from believing the Sun revolved around them to realising the earth revolved around the Sun, I’m starting to learn slowly to see that who God is and what he’s doing doesn’t revolve around me, but instead the story of my life revolves around his story, finding its centre in a man named Jesus Christ. And contrary to what you might expect, I’m finding great joy there.

It’s the greatest story ever told. You’re not the hero of the piece, and you’re not in control of the plot, but I would definitely recommend giving it a read.

rembrandt’s soul.

My appreciation for Rembrandt is quite new and at this stage pretty uninformed. I’ve seen some reproductions of his work, and I can see in much of his work the touch of a master. There’s something truly beautiful and touching about this late self portrait. Even profound. Rembrandt painted an astonishing number of self portraits over his life, more than any other apparently, but, although his motivation is debated, it doesn’t seem that it was narcissism. See, as he grows older the self portraits develop beyond just depicting his external features to ‘the most penetrating self-analysis and self-contemplation…’ At least that’s what someone said here. And I see it. In his later work (which is the stuff I love most) Rembrandt has this amazing technique of painting the ethereal quality of light, and more than other masters of painting, I just feel he captures so much of the frail, tender humanness…of his own humanity, his inner self.

When I was studying contemporary art at uni I began to become interested in thinking about depicting the soul…and was heading in that direction when my degree ended and the daily grind dragged me away from it all…or at least, I let it drag me away. See, most depictions of the human figure in post modern art are all about the fragmentation of the self, they are portrayals of brokenness. Picasso was, I think, the first to really capture the sense of modern existential despair, but he wasn’t the last.  Feeling isolated from yourself and others and society seems to be a fairly common experience. It certainly was mine through that time, and coming to grasp more deeply the promise in the Bible of a process of growing towards wholeness and restoration by trusting in Jesus Christ, I decided to pursue the artistic venture of depicting the wholeness of the human soul, united with and not divorced from the body, to convey what is profound and deeply valuable about human beings made in God’s image.

Anyway, I say all that mainly to get to the point that, looking at the searching self portraits and figures of Rembrandt – his own worldview steeped in that of the Bible – I think he beat me to it, and did it more beautifully and poignantly than I ever could. No need for tricks or weird depictions of the person. Just a richness and depth and sensitivity to the whole person. And I don’t mean to imply that that necessarily means an always cheery, shallowly sunny view of the world. Rembrandt had a hard life and his paintings do tend to portray him as, in the words of a friend of mine ‘a dour bugger’. Nor am I a stranger to the danger of an introvert becoming overly inward looking and navel gazing – it’s my natural tendency and I’ve experienced first hand the horror of letting it take hold. I always need to be intentional about getting out and into the world around me (and I think the extrovert carries in themselves the equal and opposite danger). But I love the rich subtlety of his humanity, as opposed to the cynical despair of the failed modernist dream in Picasso’s shattered visages, or post modernity’s ever skeptical deconstruction of the self without any real hope of a substance beyond the surface.

 We’re complex. We don’t make sense. There’s something profound and rich and beautiful and messy and painful and joyful and just deeply, deeply meaningful about being human.

And that’s all I wanted to say. Thanks for listening.