All true, beautiful, good and useful works of art – both (so-called) high art and folk art, become worthy of passing between generations only when the artist expresses – not a vision of herself, but of common and timeless humanity. Once and future humanity is expressed in a common voice, which the accumulating generations discern, understand and pass on. In that regard the simplest nursery rhyme is often more potent – more alive – than the latest time-laden, time-frozen, fame-endowing arts-prize winner. Fame gives identity. Identity trivialises art.
The finest artistry is shamanic – a personality, with complex name and possessions sheds both by rite of passage to become simple humankind – Everyman. In that state, the pen begins to flow…
What is good ordinary time? It is lived experience. Proper artistry discovers and becomes not a personality but the species herself – in a renewed and of course, utterly contemporary sensuality. Inherited and bequeathed moral patterns both undermine and transcend the tyranny of time – the brutality of Iron Age chariot, offshore bank account and other pernicious and hopefully – soon to be ridiculous ephemera. The central form of every work of art is its moral form. Even in a simple chair – function, elegance and the growth of the wood which supplied the tree combine as a moral story – of what is fitting – of how our lives can happily endure.
What is extra-ordinary time? It is unsustainable experience. It is in contemporary licence to live as others cannot – in both time and space – by our descendants and by our neighbours. It ignores what is fitting in time and space. It defies the common humanity of ancestors and descendants. It says to viewers, listeners and readers of a contemporary piece, bring yourself – interpret as you choose – I have no binding moral – both past and future are dead.
Today, living in extra-ordinary time, we’ve decided – we’ve consciously chosen – to end settled future human times, because of the time-pressing importance of grasping some pleasurable and extra-ordinary time of our own. That is a simple truth. Move with the times, we say – this is the twenty first century. Actually, what we say is, “Forget what you see, or, at any rate, don’t look.”
Again, where is good ordinary time? In the palpable evidence of climate change – in the hole in the Earth, from which I’ve taken my materials – in the outraged cry of timeless Everyman at the sensual evidence of the cascading ecologies of living time – in all that is lovely about the sights, sounds and scents of an ordinary progression of days, nights and seasons.
Though it’s man-made, climate change is not ephemeral. It lives in deep and recurring stories of hubris and nemesis; of forbidden fruit; of bells tolling from sunken towers… Oh Everyman!
Here is Kevin Anderson speaking of his constant brushes with extra-ordinary time –
“There is a very clear understanding amongst virtually all of the academics I engage with, whether directly on projects or simply through discussions following seminars etc. that “growth” is sacrosanct. Economics trumps physics – and given, from a funding and career perspective, it is unwise to suggest that our scientific conclusions beg questions of the ‘immutable economic logic’ of modern society, we find ways of reconciling the two. Not by fiddling data but typically by adopting expedient assumptions – from the ubiquitous use of BECCS and very early global peaks in emissions through to using increasingly low probabilities of meeting 2°C and recourse to magical build rates and technical utopias. Perhaps most disturbing of all – the more we reluctantly subscribe to such expediency the more we begin to forget we’re doing so reluctantly, and the more the rhetoric becomes the only ‘reality’ – very Orwellian!” – Rambling thoughts on 1.5 Celsius, economic growth and academic freedom, Kevin Anderson
Yes – the more we reluctantly subscribe to such expediency the more we begin to forget we’re doing so reluctantly, and the more the rhetoric becomes the only ‘reality’ – with no ear for the passage of the ordinary and proper time which we witness in the mutations of space, or for the knowledge, as we receive those surprises, that we too are Everyman, who can search for the good, true, beautiful and useful.
The more we reluctantly subscribe to the expediency that gross domestic product is more imperative than the collapsing ecosystems on which all production depends – so the more we subscribe to the notion that though economic collapse is inevitable – it is in the future – and the future is abstract – and that when the future arrives, the future (our own impoverished children) will take care of it.
It’s an old tragedy that economic well-being, measured by spending (GDP) will blossom as war, flood, storm, drought and fire remove capital assets – including the lives of citizens. Costs of rescue operations, funeral and hospital services and a surge of rebuilding bring a resurgence of spending. Actually, in all developed economies, the same is happening now and un-noted. Assets shrink, while spending increases. No one measures assets, or the natural ground eroding beneath our feet.
We can measure the effect in the atmosphere – as spending increases – biomass and biodiversity shrink – and atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, just as GDP swells in the bank. GDP is exactly proportional to increasing atmospheric CO.2 – and to decreasing terrestrial assets – the inhaling breath of the Earth. GDP measures unhappiness.
The roll of good ordinary artistry is to sing the passages of good ordinary time which brings before us the current and passing mutations of currently-diminishing space. It can sing the species – their songs, scents and sights and it can sing of once and future homo sapiens. If an artist finds nuance in the self-permitted pleasures of a holiday flight balanced by the refreshment it brings to her artistry – or similarly a climate scientist – her flight to a climate conferences, balanced against her self-importance as a messenger – she argues against the species and against Everyman. She lives with the property (land, status and intellectual) narcissi – whose re-assurance is not terrestrial evidence, but the mirror. The mirror shows no children; no ecology; no economy – only the justified identity, behind a legal enclosure.
To homo sapiens, the species, and to the good ordinary artistry that speaks for her, that identity is no less than the devil. I am devilish. My friends and I move between good and evil. I regularly do wrong. There is no nuance in that. It cannot be balanced by a contrary right. We can forgive, but It is done. At night I sit and listen to the song of Everyman. Where beauty chimes with truth the tears come – or if we remain in mind and supress the heart – we shake with wild laughter. Open both and we laugh through the tears.
For a dramatist, today is the most epic of all human times – which is why no dramatist can face it. But what of Everyman? What of good ordinary time? Good ordinary footsteps will find good ordinary ground. All are capable of them. There could be a fashion for it. The sensual rewards are immense, for instance, that blackbird singing in that apple tree and then, you and I dear friends, sitting together with some good ordinary wine. Narcissus, the muse of nearly all contemporary art, is lost in labyrinthine images of himself and explorations of so-called profound fears that ordinary gusts of wind may, at any time, disintegrate the reflection.