Sunday, 18 May 2014

Don't force it

You may have heard me moaning about the bit of egg 'n' dart moulding I am carving into a bit of hard, white marble recently, but yesterday I saw this bit from the temple of Vespasian, and I now feel guilty about it. I don't know if this example makes me feel better about what I am doing, or worse. I thought my eggs were deeply in the round (stop it, John) but for Christ's sake look at these!

It only goes to show that no matter how good you are at something, there is always someone creeping up behind you who is better. I learnt this many years ago - I think my self esteem might have started off so low that I was born with the conviction - but it took me until I was reasonably old to understand that you have to offer something which is exclusive to you in order to set yourself apart from your competitors.

The best writers, painters and other general artists find this easy - once they have developed a language which others call 'style', but is, in fact, just fluency. Slaves to style quickly get dismissed as plagiarists, and everything they do looks like hard work. Everything that comes from the hand of a confident natural looks easy, despite the hard work involved in its creation.

I remember one such natural on my Foundation Course at art school in 1968, and he was a little older than the rest of us. He spent a few weeks making what looked like an ordinary kitchen table, complete with a Gingham-pattern plastic cloth thrown over it in an apparently  haphazard sort of way, and he did this in near secrecy.

At last the day came when he showed it to all of us, and we all stood around for a few minutes wondering why it had taken him so long to make a thing which he could easily have bought in a shop for peanuts, and - indeed - why he had bothered to make it at all.

He waited until our level of confusion and disappointment could get no higher, then he walked over to it and pulled gently upward on both sides of the square surface.

Miraculously, a different but identical surface rose from beneath, completely set with everything needed for a child's birthday-party tea, including real, wobbling jellies.

The teachers then had to spend the rest of term trying to persuade the rest of the star-struck students not to try and copy him and his style, and the students spent it by going off and buying bits and pieces of every-day household detritus and failing hopelessly in their attempts to make charming and magical objects of sculpture.

"Why can he do it and not us?" was the common complaint during tutorials.

"Because he is him", was the inevitable answer from the exasperated tutors.

It is the same with fighters. I have known quite a few very hard men over the years, and they have always come to a sticky end at the hand of someone who is that little bit harder than them. It usually takes quite a few beatings from people half their age before they retire into the quiet resignation of the onset of old age and give up the challenge. 'He who lives by the sword...' etc.

Now that reminds me of another wonderful piece of Greek (I originally called it 'Roman', but H.I. tells me it was stolen by the Romans) sculpture which I have actually seen in the flesh. There is nothing so sad as an erstwhile invincible champion on the ropes. Simon and Garfunkel knew that.


  1. Hello Tom,

    A relative who was an exceedingly good businessman once said that one should look at the way in which the crowd is running and head in the opposite direction. This maxim certainly served him well financially in life. However,he was pretty much a recluse......

    One can if one is not very careful be overwhelmed by the skills and talents of others which can render one impotent in trying out anything for oneself. Creativity is a hard task master but one must learn to be kind to oneself and feel satisfied with what one can achieve. It is like love......there will be pain as well as pleasure but not to love at all is to be barren.

    An egg from a slab of that is a wondrous thing!

    1. These days, most businessmen look at which way the crowd are running, then set up toll-booths every few hundred yards down the same road.

      I am never really overwhelmed by the superior skills of others, and I am never too proud to delegate a job which I think they could do better or quicker than me.

      There is more pain that pleasure in carving marble, and I wish it were only one egg - it's the rows of them which get me down.

    2. As long as you do not put all your eggs into one basket......!

    3. Actually, I am in danger of doing just that. All my work at present is for one client - a very good one, but one nevertheless!

  2. The only quality to have that is worth having is humility. I like humble people.

    1. Being humble didn't get me where I am today, my lass, and don't you forget it. Maybe I should have been more humble.

    2. You can be successful and still be humble.

    3. And you can be neither. I am the living proof.