Is Art a gift – and non-stop rain...

Is Art a gift – and non-stop rain...

by Charles Harris
article from Thursday 15, June, 2017

DEAR READERS, I was touched this week by a letter I received talking about the gift of art. However, while very kind, I do not really believe art is a gift. And if it is, it is a very small one and acquired through years of effort and the labour spent gaining practical skills and understandings. I really think any gift instead is probably a gift of patience, and the willingness to honestly accept failure again and again, until you achieve those standards of craftsmanship and skills required, all to begin to make art in the first place. And probably the same with most other things.

Art is certainly a misrepresented subject today, after years of modern art double speak dismissing all standards which a gift suggests, or just claiming any gift of art is simply the 'idea' or 'subject' presented in a conceptual fashion. Thus I find myself talking regularly about standards and art craftsmanship, and how I really enjoyed one of the characters of writer Lloyd Alexander who said, "Craftsmanship isn't like water in an earthenware pot, to be taken out by the dipperful until it's empty. No, the more drawn out the more remains. The heart renews itself." And another character, apparently without having success asks, "Must the one skill I sought above all be denied me?"- "Is the gift forbidden me?" And that first voice says again, "Indeed no man can answer it. There are those who have laboured all their lives to gain the gift, striving until the end only to find themselves mistaken; who had it born in them and never knew; those who lost heart too soon; and those who should never have begun at all."

I thought this perfect. Together, these sentences put a lie to all kinds of dishonesty around conceptual art today. With just those few words, the first voice talks about how the heart always has a part to play in real art and life. Where, unlike today's cold theories of conceptualisation, art it is not just abstract clever intellectual wordplay, with proclaimed or taken art statements, but is indeed a practically-based discipline. For its success follows constant endeavours and activities, all of which are usually strongly supported by our positive human feelings and they are never subjective or tired, like a stale task. 

While having explained this gift process, that first voice also rightly mentions those who should never have begun at all. For I entirely agree that nothing which is written or painted, can be very good, if it doesn't have the heart in it. And consequently, what a shame it was to see those Japanise tourists recorded taking photographs of a pair of abandoned glasses on a wooden floor, believing this was art in an American Modern Art Museum. It is both sad and humiliating, that the inheritors of such a long proud culture, should be so hopelessly lost today with modern art. And I do feel so often ashamed by these people who exist in my profession.

And then perhaps to question that idea of a gift is our weather, and I enclose a picture of rain falling on The River Almond. It is not large and was one of the first of the Sma' Glen paintings I completed and in poor weather such as we have been experiencing.

For these past two weeks, and for those who paint the landscape in Scotland, there is always weather and rain to consider naturally, a continuous Spring of circumstances, ready to test the fitness of any. It is a subject which has constantly appeared in my Running Diaries, which Brian calls Artist Diaries, but both activities are frequently drowned by the stuff. We do expect it in November, but it becomes somewhat a sore trail, to need to account for it in such volumes in June. I recall it was like this last year, just after I started a big six feet x four feet riverscape in sunshine in May, then it never stopped raining. It made regular painting times impossible. I was obliged to go out silly hours in the morning to work with the only sunshine in very early light, then going home, then going back to work again in the daytime, evening, whenever! And needless to say, I couldn't get anything else done in between. For yes there is a limit to how long you can sit it out in a vehicle listening to the rain on the roof. And with wet clothing. While as had happened before, the working place became a quagmire of mud that sucked your wellies off each time you moved and I needed a wooden pallette to stand, or sit my folding chair upon to work. And no big fishing umbrella that lifts up and flies off down the glen, or floats sedately across the river perhaps; please, no!

Writing this feature, I was also reminded of another rainy occasion in the Sma' Glen. I was standing on a narrow slip road at the entrance to the Glen and it was in October. I had on my wellies, and water proofs, plus a thick bobble hat under the hood of my jacket underneath. With it pulled down to eye level, there was little peripheral visibility between that and the hood. There was little sound to be heard in that isolated spot that time of the year, except for the wind; and I stepped back across the little road to view my work that morning, as I regularly do. Unsatisfied, and just in the process of stepping forward to continue, a large motorcycle arrived suddenly between me and the painting standing on a big easel a few feet away. I had not heard nor seen anything and had a fright. It made me jump and really gave me a big shock. Upon the bike was a rider in black leathers, with a female passenger behind dressed the same. And before I could recover from that first surprising shock, a big voice boomed out from under the helmet and I made me jump a second time. For unused to seeing anything but this scene and the rain, I was also unused to hearing anything but those constant wind sounds. He clearly wanted to ask me something, but I was speechless and waved him away. As he drove off I heard his voice boom out to his passenger, "Excentric artists." And standing there that day, wet, cold and shaken, it was unlikely I would ever have said this was a gift.

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