It was my aunt’s funeral this week. She was 89 and her body simply gave out. There are paintings in her house, painted by her mother and father and her husband’s mother and father in the 1920s. They are excellent landscapes or portraits of animals. Some are oil on canvas and properly framed. Some are painted onto tiles. The detail is stunning.
My father inherited this artistic bent. He went to art school and became a photo-lithographic retoucher, a job now carried out by computers. He sketched and did some painting every week at home. I recall, as a child, him spending hours at an easel, not to be disturbed. However, he was never happy with the results and destroyed most. After his death, there were only a handful of pieces left. My son and my brother’s daughter are obviously talented. However, one doesn’t think of himself as being arty at all and the other hates painting and drawing, despite being really good.
This feeling of inadequacy seems particularly prevalent in artists. It may be the solitary nature of it or the fact that it’s only really the showmen who get their work exhibited, like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin or Anthony Gormley. The work most artists create is rarely seen by more than a handful of others, so they become their own biggest critic.
I enjoy Will Gompertz’s art reviews on the BBC. He’s open minded and down to earth. Here, on the link, he reviews Friendship by Agnes Martin. As he describes, she lived a solitary life and was rarely satisfied with her work, destroying 95%. Yet, she was totally committed and spent decades doing little else. Like many artists, it was something she had to do, regardless of the outcome or the reward.
Lockdown has been going on for ten weeks. I still work but I’ve spent more time by myself with my own thoughts, so much so I often don’t hear what people are saying to me when I do find myself with others. Imagine doing that day after day, week after week, in order to put your heart and soul into a canvas, expressing your inner self via a brush and a pot?
I was half decent at drawing at junior school but I wouldn’t dream of doing any now. Sometimes, I ask myself when did I stop drawing. I suspect it was when I moved towards sciencein secondary school, pulled by curiosity but also pushed by demanding teachers. It was as though you were either an artist or a scientist. You couldn’t be both at the same time. Science helps me solve problems and art, of many kinds, helps me cope with them. The trouble is that science generally takes a long time to find an answer, so art fills a huge void in my life, only as an observer or consumer rather than a participant.
I once read some research which found that young children quite happily see themselves as creative but, at the end of their education, as adults, they emerge thinking they are barely creative at all. Self doubt is learnt. I see myself very definitely in the non-creative camp. The lockdown may have unleashed an enormous amount of creativity but, in my case, even the piano lessons have stalled.
Anyone still managing to keep the creative juices flowing?