Series Editor: Allison Symes
Images: by Graham MacLean unless otherwise stated
Late in 2017, I shared some memories of my early years in Chandler’s Ford. I am now retired and my home is in Hong Kong.
One thing emerging from that series was my love of the arts and, over the next few weeks, I share my thoughts on why I paint and which media I use. I also talk about the purpose of art and share who my favourite artists are and why. I also share some of my favourite works.
Why I Paint and the Purpose of Art
Trying to explain why I paint is a question which throws up a jumble of ideas! How can one be concise without being subjective? There are no easy answers here.
Of course the immediate answer by most folk would most likely be that it is truly relaxing and time seems to pass like magic. This is very important to older people. I have tried to analyse this. Not many people can go through life without something catching their eye, their imagination, or even their ears. This intense sensation can lead to a desire to inform other people of what one has or is experiencing.
Some people of a more tactile persuasion in their make-up express their feelings through modelling with clay or even polystyrene blocks as I did in Canada. The ultimate is working in stone which requires boldness and nerves of steel in the closing stages! Wood carving is probably the easiest but takes time.
To my mind, there exists within the conscious or even sub-conscious an idea which will not easily go away. There is this almost intense desire to communicate an idea and that may be rooted in many things, something spiritual perhaps, or more rooted in politics or philosophy.
Explored in more depth, art could be said to create a sense of beauty in either an obvious or aesthetic sense. Art could also be said to explore the nature of perception, create a sense of shared joy or, again where the intent is more politically or socially motivated, to generate strong emotions. A more sinister motive may in fact exist. Part of an agenda perhaps!
I have read that after all is said and done the purpose of art may also seemingly be non-existent. That must provoke a reaction from someone!
It certainly does from me. Art encourages and feeds the creative spirit, without which humanity is much poorer. What distinguishes us from the animals? Surely our appreciation of the arts is a major distinguishing factor. We may not need the arts for our biological survival but we still need them. They communicate ideas not easily expressed in other ways. So there is definitely a purpose to art!
Turning to a down-to-earth viewpoint, which may be applied to a considerable output of largely unseen creations but nevertheless often highly original in their field, are the the simple functional works such as architectural work or any of the crafts including industrial design. Cast our minds back to the creations of Capability Brown that can still be seen up and down the country. Then there is the satirical and withering force of William Hogarth’s works which the artist himself never saw as works of art in their own right.
Hogarth’s Gin Lane in particular could be considered as the biting satire of his day. It is also a truly honest work and what we would know now as social commentary. (Do check out the link to Hogarth as it includes Gin Lane, which to my mind is one of the saddest pictures ever produced).
Even graffiti has its place in this discourse. I have seen some of the best that London can offer in the gloomy and often less than secure pedestrian underpass that leads to BAA’s Administration Headquarters at Heathrow Airport. The standard of graffiti here in Hong Kong is often world class and can unfortunately disappear overnight as yet another old building falls to the wrecker’s ball.
Allison went on to ask me if music ever inspired my painting. For me generally speaking no or subconsciously at the most unless it is sensational or obvious and appreciated by the world at large, such as The Hebrides Overture, though this may be an exception as I lived there for a while and it was also my father’s birthplace. I do, however, as a lifelong lover of the cinema have themes from all the great movies playing in the background. Stimulates the imagination if the settings have been good.
Composers I like include Bach, Puccini, Vaughan Williams, Elgar (Sea Pictures) Du Pre, Mozart’s clarinet and violin concertos, J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Fugues, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, and Radio 3 stuff generally.
Then there is singing and of course the ultimate – composing. Simple illustrations of this response are Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture (see clip above) or in the vast world of poetry, Gray’s Elegy.
Even whistling at its own sophisticated level and, particularly as witnessed in Australia, the skillful mimicking of one bird’s song by another, can be wonderful examples of music. I’m thinking here of mainly Antipodean birds such as the Kookaburra, Lyre Bird, Australian Magpie, the Pied Butcher Bird and the ubiquitous Mynah Bird, which between them, can mimic all manner of sounds such as dogs barking, chain saws noises given off by children playing and their toys, rainstorms etc.
I believe there is a strong desire to be creative in most humans (and indeed many other creatures). It is just a question of finding the right outlet. Roger Whittaker was renowned for his whistling, though ironically it is probably the song below without it that is his best known work!
Next week I’ll be talking about the media used in painting, based on what I have known.