Sunday, 26 June 2011

Strictly Casual

Tom’s view:

‘There’s a new chap come into the office…  Long hair and some queer sort of tie.  More like an artist.’  He laughed heartily, and added: ‘Seems a decent sort of chap, though…’

Grace sees him later:

…his features, she decided, were plain.  More like an artist, Tom had said.  What characteristic nonsense to apply a label simply because he did not shave his head and oil the stubble, and generally take precautions against a certain appearance of individuality.

It reflects the difference in quality and temperament between them.  Grace outcast from the educated life of her father, and sensitive to the vagaries of culture; Tom a conventional office worker; who lives inside a myth of thwarted honours – if only his family hadn’t lost their money he would have gone to university… and so be weird looking and a bit queer?  This will never walk down the safe streets of his homely mind! 

Her last observation is superb.  It is still the same now; so little changes when it comes to human beings.  Though we are told, these days, indeed all the time, how everything has been transformed!  The better it is the younger we are…  We are all individuals now, so young and creative, and so intelligent. All so bright and free!  We are all the same, it seems; though each in their own way, of course, of course…


Anna does love that house.  She says one could paint all one’s life within a two-mile radius from the door.  Morning, afternoon, evening, she scuttled out with her easel – whenever she wasn’t cooking, in fact.  She likes cooking, she did more of it than me.  She had depressed times about her painting, and scrapped two-thirds, but she thought she was getting on better on the whole.  All the rooms smelt of turpentine and wet canvases.  She was preoccupied at meals and forgot to comb her hair, and had streaks of paint on her face…  She’s independent, her judgment is right, just on the sour side.  Though she’s not at all serene or confident underneath – quite the reverse – she makes no demands.  When she’s very low she just gets quietly drunk.  She lives an intensely concentrated inner life of thought and feeling, but never highbrow, priggish or pedantic; and when she’s enjoying something – a picnic, a drive , a party – she’s almost ludicrously irresponsible, as unselfconsciously extrovert and simple as a child.  A grotesque element comes up in her – something there is in her of the clown of the world…  The most unvulgar woman I’ve ever known….  Colourless…  Unperspicacious people think dull, insipid; they’re wrong.  If you break up white, there are all the colours….

A marvellous description that ends by sparking us off with a brilliant metaphor.  Interestingly, in the earlier book Hugh is described as full of colour; which highlights even more the contrast. 

What this wonderful description captures is that play of facade and interior; and the depth and freshness, and a certain oddity, of the artist’s mind; the most significant element; and the one least likely to be seen by strangers and the dull-witted.  Who pick up the accidental signs, such as the long hair, which the artist shares with those just a little (a little) unconventional – the designated oddity, that can be heartily laughed at, so different from ourselves; the standard measure of all quality.  In Hugh’s case his one strike out at individuality may be the influence of his lover; he’s copying like so many others.

These misunderstandings are reinforced by the art world itself: the artists surrounded by people who look like painters and poets; but who are not; although they do have a function; providing the baroque decoration for the studios where the actual work is done.   No wonder the outsiders and the ignorant misread the signs, equating strange hair with genius. 

There’s a place in Islington called the London Art House

For something different, consider the London Art House. This special venue in Islington enables your delegates to get creative. There are lots of different sized spaces and every room has been hand-painted. (Alistair Wood, Vector Group)

I visited it once for a staff conference.  We were told before the event not to wear our usual work clothes, but to dress informally.  This, the chief executive said, would let our ideas out.  I called it, inevitably, Strictly Casual.  The day was very annoying, though not without its comedy.  Late in the afternoon everyone was told to think in the same way.  Arrows were drawn, all pointing in the same direction.  A company VIP got angry because I had an alternative view – thinking for oneself was simply not allowed.  Perhaps he was the artist, I merely the canvas…

It was also instructive.  For here was the naif’s idea of art.  People who believe in this kind of thing have never seen an artist at work.  They have never really thought about art at all; for if they did they would surely see what this view entails: that creativity resides in one’s skirt and blouse; and possibly one’s underwear.

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