“Always look on the bright side of death…..just before you draw your terminal breath”. So sang the Monty Python crew in the film Life Of Brian.
A recurrent theme in Alain De Botton’s School of Life is the concept that life cannot be perfected, and the sooner we acclimatize to this the better off we will be. This is not to say we should be dismissive of the pain of others. I could get into deep depressions over the state of the arts in Australia, how governments seem to ignore the benefits the arts can bring to a nation in terms of creative thinking, mental health and economic activity. But is this going to prevent me from painting? Never.
I only have to visit my father at his nursing home to make me realize that I have to make the most of my remaining years in spite of everything that has happened in my life. Perhaps there is nothing sadder than to listen to a 90 yo talk about the regrets in his life. The question I ask is “now what?”
Vincent Van Gogh knew all about pain yet he was still able to engage with the beauty of nature. The light of southern France captivated him, as became clear in his many letters to his brother Theo and to Gauguin, who he hounded to join him. De Botton argues Van Gogh’s paintings of Arles “express a cheerfulness that has taken complete stock of all the reasons for despair”.
Seventeenth century Dutch painter Jacob Van Ruisdael knew that the sun needn’t be shining to make fine art. “His paintings reveal an accommodation with the flawed but endurable and occasionally beautiful nature of reality.” He made a case for overcast skies, muddy river banks and infinite gradations of grey where he saw a special kind of beauty.
The wise know that all human beings, themselves included, are prone to folly: they have irrational desires and incompatible aims, fantasies and delusions. After several cost overruns and an almost complete re-engineering during development, the DeLorean DMC-12 was finally released onto the market in 1981. The car was made famous in the feature film “Back To the Future” starring Michael J Fox. But for all the hype, the DMC-12 was sheer folly. Only 9000 were built and in 1983 the DeLorean Motor Company went bust.
Do we really need a 24 hour news channel? Do we need a torrent of bad news from around the world (about which we can do little) to assail our ears? As De Botton asks, what impact would knowledge of an earthquake in Peru have on Australia’s aboriginal people?
When I produce my images of Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens, I’m not running away from reality, I’m seeking some solace within it. The appreciation I get is that there are places like these where we can regain some sanity in a world seemingly full of tumult.