I am planting an orchard. I have been ‘given’ a field by a friend and have 13 trees in it from last year and now he has seen it doing so well we have extended the planting to another 40 or so trees. They will be a mixture of old varieties of fruits interspersed with berry bushes and a few roses. In five years there should be so much fruit we can help feed the village.
My uncle used to enjoy driving and would point to distant hills and tree lines and commend the aesthetics of God which humanity could never equal. I didn’t like to tell him that the trees he was pointing towards were all planted by people as in England we have long ago cut down and replanted all our forests. Why burst his bubble? But his words come back to me now-and-again, especially after reading Spinoza whose thoughts on nature and the nature of God were the most advanced in the 17th century, and still resonate today. All we know is based on our senses and their interactions with nature. We cannot know anything else. We can reflect and we have; we can create a mathematics that extends insight, but everything flows from nature and the natural world.
So we invent. Human beings have been inventing for hundreds of thousands of years. From stone tools, song, music and hand imprints onwards. Evolving stories and fairy tales and creating ‘the arts’. Our visual world is the birthplace of everything we are and everything we think. We have attempted, inside and outside the arts, to shape the world into something it is not, but now nature is hitting back because whatever we create, whatever we invent, we should never cease to care about the effects and outcomes we are producing. It is very easy to grind up insects and prepare the skins of animals and create something beautiful in the paint and canvas out of the death of something that is already beautiful. We honour ourselves but we never seem to want to honour the sacrifices of the natural world. That lack of honour is our vanity. Vanity kills the artist stone dead.
We would do well to remember that we can create nothing that physics does not allow to be created in our universe. That everything we create is a discovery of what is possible, and everything possible has a price in life. We are nothing more than children in a toy shop, finding new toys to play with to destruction. There is sacrifice in everything.
That price is the true value of our visual arts, the blood that has been sacrificed in the creative process. Many times that is the life of the artist themselves. Actual blood, and actual human suffering depicted in a thousand ways across the globe down the ages.
volume 35 no 5 May / June 2021