Last weekend, I rooted around at the bottom of a cupboard and dug out my long-forgotten jewellery-making stuff. Time for the resurgence of a creative hobby methinks. This was largely inspired by a visit to the London Art Fair where a number of little galleries had gathered to promote their peops and sell their work. In that context, I can tell you, it’s very hard to suppress your inner artist.
We spent a good twenty minutes in one zone debating our preferences for the work of an up-and-coming young painter. One of the next big names, so they told us. One of us – and no guesses which one given my soft spot for London in general and Battersea Power Station in particular – was getting well into the vertical cityscapes. The other preferred the slightly more abstract horizontal river scene. Unsure if our ponderations would lead to a purchase and whether or not we genuinely had an empty living room wall that was just crying out for some art work, the gallery women were quick to prop up the pictures in a better light, answer our questions and extol the virtues of each splodge of paint. It was a fun world to inhabit for the evening.
Yep; perusing art while sipping a glass of red wine wasn’t a bad end to the day. I got a little bit too enthusiastic on several occasions as different works of art resonated with something inside me. I was hit by an overwhelming desire to quit my normal existence, rent a studio and paint for the rest of my life. Jewellery-making seemed a slightly more practical solution to that one, albeit a bit of a compromise.
But here’s the thing. It was bizarre how quickly perspective got lost and how it suddenly seemed utterly reasonable to seriously consider spending £100 on a small sculpture of a porcelain tape measure. Although it was an exceptionally beautiful porcelain tape measure which could undoubtedly have been positioned very artistically on my desk, I had a feeling that it would befuddle my mum who’d have probably perceived it as frivolous clutter.
It’s all relative, I suppose. I found myself being confronted again by that funny old thing of inhabiting different worlds at the same time. It reminded me of my last job when I’d walk home in tears after a day of destitution, trying to get my head around the fact that I was returning to a warm house and a decent meal while still picturing the faces and hearing the voices of people who had neither. And those were just the people I knew by name. My tears and questions barely scratched the surface of how the juxtaposition of rich and poor, of necessity and excess, played out on a global scale.
And then there’s art. As we wandered round the Art Fair, I not only bumped into my inner artist who was longing to create stuff, but also came face to face with the me who wanted a big house that could be decorated to my liking and filled with beautiful things. Maybe it was just the glass of wine talking but – more likely than not – it was probably just another wave of that existential chatter which frequently deluges my heart and mind. Either way, my inside was awash with questions: What is beauty? What is value? What is it that lasts? What is the place of creativity in a world where a lot of stuff doesn’t quite add up?
I was in St Paul’s Cathedral the other week where some of these things fused. I’d found myself smiling as I lifted up my eyes and gazed at the ornately painted dome above me. The orchestra struck up and the immense space reverberated with a certain je ne sais quoi. It was so far removed from the messier ‘it’s all about people’ contextualisation of theology that I am used to pursuing, yet I was struck by its invocation of something more glorious. Entranced by the way that art could captivate the imagination, inspire the soul, reverse my default world-centred perspective, and point to something greater and more intangibly real and holy and magnificent.
As ever, I am juggling beauty and messiness. Glory and incarnation. Argh, I don’t know.
We left the Art Fair, enthused by a dose of culture and beautiful things (and, to be fair, slightly perplexed by some of the more random and downright ugly exhibits) and went to eat Afghan food. Tucking into aubergine, lamb and rice, I enjoyed the taste of a culture which so often evokes displacement and injustice yet which here seemed happier and richer and evocative of something deeper. Go figure.
(A slight aside, but check out the blog Transpositions. It’s edited by a close friend of mine and always prompts some interesting thinking about the dynamic interplay between theology and art…)