Monday 10 September 2018


     I am starting this blog again, not with the immediate intention of reviewing any of the shows at N.A.C, but rather  with the intention of holding forth about Art and  Beauty as  I have  felt their impact at various moments in my life.

     I can clearly remember that first moment of revelation. It was a vision of colour which I have never forgotten. I must have been about four years old and my mother had taken it into her head to take me to a dance class in a studio near our home. I don't know if she had any particular reason for doing this, but she was always keen for me to acquire elegant accomplishments,  to make me into a lady.  She came from a poor, country family  herself, but she had ambitions for her children.  I remember that I was walking along,  holding her hand, full of trust and  confidence, when I suddenly caught sight of an empty Milk of Magnesia bottle lying in the gutter. I was instantly transported by the sight. It was such a beautiful blue, of the shade of blue  I  later learned to call Cobalt, that I felt I had never seen anything so heavenly.  I was far too young to think of an empty  bottle as trash. I was willing to accept everything I encountered as potentially wonderful. But this was an experience beyond anything I had come  across before.

     I was already past middle age when I  came across Abraham Maslow and learned what he had to say about peak experiences and their importance in forming a creative personality, but this was definitely my first peak  experience. So far as I have any conscious memories, at any rate. But before I came across Maslow, my studies in English literature taught me to call it an epiphany.

     For the benefit of those readers who do not know what an epiphany is, I turn to the Oxford English Dictionary.  It gives two definitions.  One is ecclesiastical:  "The festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles  in the persons of the Magi, observed on Jan. 6th, the 12th day after Christmas." The second one is more general: "A manifestation or appearance of some divine or superhuman being."  In English literature it is frequently used figuratively, which is the sense in which I am using it. The blue of my Milk of Magnesia bottle struck me as so truly glorious that it seemed almost divine, entering our ordinary world from some higher sphere. Not that I could have used those words to describe it at four years old, but it was what I experienced emotionally and only now can I find the words to describe it.

     Epiphanies do not come too often, and I can only think of one other one, although I do experience a more human, natural kind of joy every time I encounter Art or Beauty and particularly when I practice art myself.  This other epiphany came when I went abroad for the first time, to the South of France,  I had received a good grade in French on my School Certificate  examination, a test which all English high school students had to pass at the age of sixteen before going on to pass a more advanced one at the age of eighteen.  To reward and encourage me for this achievement, my father had arranged for me to go on an exchange visit with the daughter of a prefect, that is the man in charge of one of the administrative units into which France is divided. His prefecture, in the Southwest of France, was a handsome old building but the full glory of the South of France did not burst upon me until the prefect took us to their summer cabin on the beach by the Mediterranean.

     Before that I had only swum in the chilly waters off the coast of Devon, and the Mediterranean was so smooth and warm and calm and welcoming and such a beautiful blue. Furthermore I had come equipped with a shabby one piece bathing suit whereas the prefect's daughters sported bikinis, which has just come into fashion, and I did not want to be seen sitting around on the beach with them. So I was hardly ever out of the water, to the  alarm of the prefect who thought I was so much more immature than his daughters that I was hardly safe to be left on my own. He kept watching me from the beach, afraid  I would drown. But I did not let his fears stop me.

     I emerged from the water one  morning in such a state of bliss, it was another epiphany. In fact I felt even closer to the Divine than I had done on  the previous occasion. It was a true mystical experience  and just as unexpected as my first epiphany had been.  No one had  told me that such a thing was possible. Apart from getting lectures from a tiresome, Calvinistic  aunt, my only spiritual training had consisted of reading the Psalms as part pf my exploration of the  Old Testament, which my mother had told me to read but had not attempted to explain to me.  The chief thing I got out of the  Old Testament was respect for a lot of impressive characters who led very exciting, sexy lives. But no one had suggested that my own experiences might  be anything like theirs.

      My mystical experience was one of joy and love -- universal love. I felt I had fallen in love with the whole world and with everyone in it. I had heard a lot about falling in love since I came to France, especially from the prefect's daughters, but  I had been attending a single sex school  and had never experienced anything like this before. I thought "What is this? What is happening to me? Can this be love? Yes, I must have fallen in love. But  who with?  It must  be Maurice Doucet, the  prefect's secretary, who has been so kind to me."  And I did make sheep's eyes at Maurice for a while, but without embarking on much of a romance. In fact it felt like a bit of a disappointment to  be reduced to one man after  having been in love with the whole world. But the memory of that pinnacle of bliss as a reaction to natural beauty remains with me as a lasting memory and does not fade away.


No comments:

Post a Comment