November 15, 2017

A 7.00 am rise. We were out of the flat and onto the commuter track by 8.00 am, moving like drone ants towards a hole in the ground. By 8.45 am, I was at the Barbican once again, where I waited for the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition to open at 10.00 am. There was time to review and respond to emails over a cup of hot chocolate. (I do miss coffee.):

9.45 am: I was let in early. (An obvious keeny.) Basquiat was as conspicuously gifted young artist. Too many art students equate art education with what they receive by means of tutorials, lectures, and so forth. But this is the smallest part of it. Basquiat educated himself through an intelligent observation of art and life. He subjected himself to the work of past masters and his contemporaries. Reading broadly and deeply was a further means of not only grasping the spirit and values of his own and former times but also investing his own visual work (and poetry) with gravitas. Music, too, was a love and inspiration. (Rarely is it one without the other.) Painting and drawing were his means of combining and making sense of the richly-informed culture that he’d created around him. Basquiat’s work provides a remarkable index to a period in recent visual and musical culture marked by diversity. He was able to reconcile and represent those differences without diluting them. One cannot just paint. The artist must prepare themselves first; there must be something out of which to paint.

At the heart of the Barbican Centre is the church of St Giles Cripplegate. The present building is over 400 years old. London has grown up around it, subsequently. It now seems surreally out of time and place – like the Tardis in a desert – surrounded by glass, steel, and concrete skyscrapers, apartments, and cultural centres. Somethings don’t adapt to their environment, and yet they survive. And sometimes the environment must adapt to them too:

11.00 am: I headed to the Tate Modern in the mistaken belief that the Rachel Whiteread exhibition was on show there. (This was at Tate Britain, rather.) But there were new hangs, and galleries in the Blavatnik extension that I’d not seen before. The Tate’s curatorial approach is too self-consciously educative for my taste. I feel that I’m being led by the arm. Whereas, I want to make connections for myself. But I enjoyed the Darth Vader’s bathroom aesthetic of the building and seeing school children genuinely and quizzically engaging with challenging works:

12.45 pm: I met with my elder son in Chinatown for lunch in an acceptably decent Malaysian restaurant:

Afterwards, we parted company and I travelled to Oxford Street to window browse. This was one of the rare occasions on which I shop in the real world. It was a challenge.

3.30 pm: Onto the Glasgow Central bound train, alighting at Birmingham International. I rarely want to leave London. Yes, it had been a tiring, sweaty, jostling, and driven day and a half (that seemed so much longer), but also a welcome retreat from the habitual and familiar round of life and work back at home. Even the problems that I’d to pack into my rucksack and brought with me took on a different complexion here. From Birmingham International, it was a straight-through journey to home.

Lessons learned:

  • I associate elevated feelings with a false or delusional frame of mind, and downcast feelings with a true perspective on things. I’ve never before realised this. But the principle is utterly consistent. I don’t trust joy. Perhaps I see better in the dark.
  • Hypocrisy: a contempt for the obvious failings of others, while harbouring the same in oneself.
  • It’s wise to be suspicious of even the best motives. ‘The heart is above all deceitful’.
  • Cowardice seeks the easiest, simplest, and most straightforward solution, regardless of the cost to others.
  • Bravery resists rash judgements, takes time to weigh up contrary opinions, and chooses on the basis of their other’s best interest.
  • A course of action should not be either deemed wrong or abandoned because it’s difficult, painful, frustrating, inconvenient, and apparently futile. Likewise, a course of action should not be deemed right just because it fulfils a need, brings satisfaction, and is popular and beyond criticism. Only by the application of a moral and ethical perspective can right and wrong be determined … and sometimes not easily at that.
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