Why did you drive?
Why did you fly?
Why did you walk?
Why did you swim?
Why did you listen?
Why did you stand, or sit?
The answer to these questions is to understand. Do you understand? I think not.
You stood because it had become the custom of audiences to stand in contemplative silence in that passage of Hadel’s Messiah. As the years rolled on, the world around you became more diverse and fewer people stood – to what is rumoured to be a moment King George11 was supposedly moved to stand. Standing, or sitting, the music is grand anyway. I have since learned many concert halls dissuade people standing because the noise is disrespectful of the musicians efforts.
In most concerts and operas you have seen you have remained seated. As you did before many of the huge tableaux seen in some of the greatest galleries. People often sit and absorb the masterpieces before them. It is only when they are drawn into the work they stand and give thought to individual brush stokes the artist has used in adding life to the work.
When you walk across the forecourt of a skyscraper in the financial district of the city, do you contemplate the sculpture of the bull? In other parts of the city do you you look above the plinth at the massive features where forefather stand, (it is always – forefathers). Is the individual remembered? How often is the thought for the artist?
In Florence, Michelangelo is more important than his biblical subject David. In Paris you stand and look at Venus de Milo from different angles. The Greek artist responsible is lost in history. In the Vatican the Pieta, difficult to see, behind bullet proof glass and milling crowds, the importance of the artist and the subject seem balanced.
When you drive you usually do so with a destination in mind. Sometimes unexpectedly you are face to face with roadside works of art. In your neck of the woods it is now policy a certain percentage of the roadwork costs be expended on art, and it is possible for you to question why a piece stands where it does. But some work gives rise for you to make a special journey to see it. Whether it is to see the “Angel of the North” in Northumbria England,or the Lake Ballard aboriginal sculptures in Western Australia (as yet unvisited). The sheer size, or scope of the work is motivation enough. You marvel at the work because it exists. The artist and the artistic vision dwarfed by the objects themselves. It must be noted Anthony Gormley created both works.
We sailed to Phuket when we visited the Big Buddha. However it is small when compared to the Spring Temple in China (all 128m tall and unseen by you. It is closer in size to Gustav Eiffel’s Statue of Liberty by all accounts.) Your son and grandson visited “Christ the Redeemer” in Brazil when they flew to the city for the World Cup so they have a better perspective on the magnitude of the work, even though it was not the reason for their visit.
Art can be minute and it can be grand. It moves us to think about life and the human condition. It prompts us to contemplate and to grow. Art will flourish in privation and it will be produced in abundance. Civilisation is bettered when we celebrate all art. It does not matter if it is; visual art, musical art, the written word, or performance. It is designed to entertain us, teach, or inform us. Our world is bettered by artistic thinkers.
Our government, in its reorganisation of ministerial portfolios shows it has lost human understanding when it undervalues artists as it now has.
Today my weekly read, The Saturday Paper has a poem by Maxine Beneba Clarke as it does every week. Her words have motivated my contribution but I cannot do them justice alone. Forgive my inability to attempt to do so. Without permission I include her work.
the prime minister has
killed the department of the arts
and is rolling arts in with rail and roads
all of us have encountered
in this symbolism alone
as if nothing beautiful
ever reached into his chest
and, beyond all logic,
an exquisite string of words never
turned his world upside down,
or back upright again
nobody told the prime minister
art is the closest
one can get
and in fact, exactly what it means
to have a soul
it’s a ten-year-old brown girl,
already life-weary from the world at large,
upon a copy of maya angelou’s
and still i rise
it’s her, understanding as she reads
– yes, my honey dumpling –
for the very first time
that self-love black love you love
is the only way a child-girl-woman,
will get out of here
is the memory
of your better half:
fifteen glorious years together
she fought hard, but slipped away,
after the first round
it’s the kids, the next morning,
staring at you, with fear written
on their tiny faces
like where’s our mama gone
you don’t know how to make french toast
much less do our braids
art is six months after that,
when you’re through the worst,
and her song comes on the radio
this time, it makes you smile though:
her, in that hot pink dress
twirling to the chorus, all the way
down the aisle,
and how her blunt fringe
brushed your shoulder,
after she kissed you
and became your wife
it’s how the harmony makes you feel
as you’re folding the school clothes
the way she would have liked
art is at the heart
of all that we are
the markings on the wall,
and who walked here,
and everything that came before
who cares, thinks the prime minister,
where we stick art, in the portfolios of the nation:
it’s not about coal power
or curbing welfare, or wealth generation
here is a man
not nearly enlightened enough
how closely they are linked
that painting gives pennies back to medicare, that
old-time jazz, that opera, eases congestion
in the hospitals, helps our old folk live
longer in their own homes, that cultural
and creative activity pumps more than one hundred
billion dollars into our economy
is why that kid so close to falling
through the cracks
even gets up
and walks to school, that
sometimes the books in the library
are the only good place you have to go
and there is nothing else on earth
like the hushed leaning-forward-together crowd
as bangarra dances
Maxine Beneba Clarke
The Saturday Paper 14th December 2019