Friday, 23 November 2007

The Peter Pan Guide to Turning Thirty

All week, people have been asking me how it feels to be 30. My first answer was, "Much the same as 29, only it's a bit harder for people to patronise you on account of your youth!" (As James Wallbank pointed out, though, it's easier for them to say, "At your age, you really should have grown out of...")

Then I started to notice the difference. Perhaps it's all the other things going on around my life, but there's a sharpened sense that this is it: I'm never going to be a grown up, so it's time to get serious! (Or, as Andy put it to me, "We've avoided growing up for long enough, and now the rules have changed!")

With this, I was reminded of a passage from John Berger, which is ostensibly about the relationship between a painter and his subject, but which catches something larger about what might be called vocation:

How did you become what you visibly are? asks the painter.

I am as I am. I'm waiting, replies the mountain or the mouse or the child.

What for?

For you, if you abandon everything else.

For how long?

For as long as it takes.

There are other things in life.

Find them and be more normal.

And if I don't

I'll give you what I've given nobody else, but it's worthless, it's simply the answer to your useless question.


I am as I am.

No promise more than that?

None. I can wait for ever.

I'd like a normal life.

Live it and don't count on me.

And if I do count on you?

Forget everything and in me you'll find -- me!

The collaboration which sometimes follows is seldom based on good will: more usually on desire, rage, fear, pity or longing. The modern illusion concerning painting (which post-modernism has done nothing to correct) is that the artist is a creator. Rather he is a receiver. What seems like creation is the act of giving form to what he has received.

John Berger, Steps Towards A Small Theory Of The Visible

(I'll be back in a day or two, when I have more time, to take up some of the threads from people's responses to recent posts. For now, though, thanks for turning my monologue into a conversation! It's far more sociable that way.)

1 comment:

arcolaura said...

Hmm. Recently I was musing on music performed from notation, versus music improvised. For some reason, people don't seem to look down on the performance of written music the way they denigrate "paint-by-numbers." Why is that? Both can involve skill and interpretation. Does it have something to do with the ephemeral nature of the musical performance?

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