Saturday, 19 September 2009

A single oak tree

Everyday hats off to the artist Stephen Taylor, who spent two whole years in a wheat field in East Anglia painting the same oak tree in different lights and weathers. You can see some of his work at:

I was introduced to Taylor’s work by Alain de Botton’s book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, which has this to say about it:

‘Our exertions generally find no enduring physical correlatives. We are diluted in gigantic intangible collective projects, which leave us wondering what we did last year and, more profoundly, where we have gone and quite what we have amounted to. We confront our lost energies in the pathos of the retirement party.

‘How different everything is for the craftsman who transforms a part of the world with his own hands, who can see his work as emanating from his being and can step back at the end of a day or lifetime and point to an object – whether a square of canvas, a chair or a clay jug – and see it as a stable repository of his skills and an accurate record of his years, and hence feel collected together in one place, rather than strung out across projects which long ago evaporated into nothing one could hold or see.’

I am filled with the desire to drive all the way down to East Anglia and buy one of these beautiful paintings. But given that there are no prices on any of them, I suspect my bank balance would violently disagree with me.

De Botton’s book, btw, is wise and funny. It ends with this persuasive defence of the meaninglessness of work:

‘The impulse to exaggerate the significance of what we are doing, far from being an intellectual error, is really life itself through coursing through us … To see ourselves as the centre of the universe and the present time as the summit of history, to view our upcoming meetings as being of overwhelming significance, to neglect the lessons of cemeteries, to read only sparingly, to feel the pressure of deadlines, to snap at colleagues, to make our way through conference agendas marked “11:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.: coffee break”, to behave heedlessly and then greedily and then to combust in battle – maybe all of this, in the end, is working wisdom. It is paying death too much respect to prepare for it with sage prescriptions … let death find us as we are building up our matchstick protests against its waves.’

This is another matchstick protest written to deadline, a short piece about the Birmingham Bull Ring:

Mundane quote for the day: ‘All great civilisations are based on parochialism. To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields - these are as much as a man can fully experience.’ – Patrick Kavanagh


  1. Or- Patrick Kavanagh style - that moment when a student sees what you mean and wants to know more...rare and fine as that moment is.