I had been queueing slowly up the steps to board a plane thinking about nothing in particular when, as I stepped into the plane, one of cabin staff said to me ‘Are you getting ready for winter?’ I looked at her somewhat perplexed because it was only September, and she pointed to the book that I was holding ready to read on the flight home. It was ‘Winter’ by Ali Smith. It is a novel with much to say on many issues.
One of the central characters in the novel, Art writes a blog and someone challenges him to write about a real thing, something that he remembers happening and not a blog thing. He describes a real childhood memory and when it is suggested that he should write about it, his response is he could never put something like that on-line because ‘it’s way to real’. I have some empathy with Art, because it can be difficult writing about your thoughts and memories for anyone to read. However, I have noticed that the readership of the blog goes up when I do write about such things [see for example ‘Thinking more clearly by writing weekly‘ on May 2nd, 2018 or ‘Depressed by exams‘ on January 31st, 2018]. So, if people are interested perhaps I should do it more often.
Another passage that resonated with me was about age. The narrator is her sixties, which I will be soon, and comments that ‘You never stop being yourself on the inside whatever age people think you are by looking at you from the outside.’ I think that this is true but perhaps difficult to reconcile with consciousness being an accumulation of sensory experiences [see ‘Is there a real ‘you’ or ‘I’‘ on March 6th, 2019]
I wrote some weeks ago about art challenging the way we think and artists being spokespeople for society [see ‘Spokesperson for society’ on August 28th, 2019] and also about ‘Taking a sketch instead of snapping a photo’ [on September 3rd, 2019]. My photo of the sketch taken by Rennie Mackintosh was snapped at an exhibition in Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool; and, on the wall of the gallery was a quote from Rennie Mackintosh: ‘All artists know that pleasure derivable from their work is their life’s pleasure – the very spirit and soul of their existence’. I feel the same way about my work as an engineer and I think that many of my colleagues would agree with me. In my welcome talk to new engineering undergraduate students last week, I used this quote and tried to convey the extent to which science and engineering is a part of my existence and how I hoped it would become a part of their life. I am not sure that I convinced very many of them.
We are lucky to live in a house with a great view of Liverpool cathedral [see picture in ‘Two for one‘ on January 2nd, 2019]. Hundreds of tourists visit every day and take pictures of the cathedral with their smart phones. A few even turn around and take a picture of our house! It is a modern disease: capturing pictures of a spectacle without actually looking at it and then probably never looking at the photograph. There is some small level of fulfilment in having taken the photograph; however, 120 years ago there were fewer tourists and they had no cameras. Instead, when Charles Rennie MackIntosh visited Naples on April 8th, 1891, he admired the tower of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine and ‘took a sketch’. It must have taken him some time and concentrated effort. The level of pleasure and fulfilment from taking a sketch must have been much greater than from our modern experience of snapping a photo.
Of course, there was no Liverpool Cathedral in 1891 and ten years later, Rennie Mackintosh was disappointed that his proposals for it were not selected from the 103 submitted.
There is an excellent exhibition of Keith Haring’s work at the Tate Liverpool until November 2019. Keith Haring and I were born a couple of years apart but that’s where the similarity ends. He was an American artist who collaborated with the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat and was influenced by Pablo Picasso, Walt Disney and Dr Seuss. He was part of the New York street culture of the 1980s and many of his early works were forms of graffiti painted in subways and on the sides of buildings. Some people think that art should challenge the way you think about the things; however, “Haring felt that the artist is ‘spokesman for a society at any given point in history’ whose visual vocabulary is determined by their perception of the world”. His work about racism, the excesses of capitalism and the misuse of religion for oppressive purposes seem as relevant today as thirty years ago.
Quotation from the one of exhibition displays with apologies to curators of the Tate exhibition, Darren Pih and Tamar Hemmes.