This week me and my friend Adam went to see Dean Friedman at a local pizza restaurant. Having pretty much turned it into an annual pilgrimage I mused on what it is that draws me so strongly to these songs. The tunes are great, his lyrics clever and witty, but there’s something else too. If I close my eyes I can be transported back to the 1970’s when I first heard “Company” sitting in my sisters house in the back room where I used to play Ludo with my great uncle years before. So much is preserved perfectly in our minds and it’s generally art of some sort which triggers it.
Occasionally I see disgruntled or mocking comments on social media aimed at people who take pictures of their food. It always strikes me as no different from questioning why someone would gain pleasure from looking at a painting. It’s shallow and ignorant, and misunderstands the role art plays in our lives. As a cook and a baker I know all too well the pain of seeing something I have worked for hours to create finished off in a matter of minutes at the dinner or breakfast table. There is joy in seeing the pleasure of people eating my food, laced with a sense of sadness that I can’t admire it any longer. So, I take pictures of it. When I look back at a seemingly pointless snap of yet another loaf I am, once again, transported back to that time, to that warm summer day with the doors open onto the garden, remembering who was there and, what was said and, most of all, how I felt.
Art in one form or another is a line which traces through our entire lives. Books, paintings, photos, food, music, whatever your particular ‘squeeze’ it will willingly accompany you through and mark every single significant moment of your life, and it can emphasise and elongate the most precious of those times, while tempering the pain of those which were most trying.
Perhaps it’s easiest of all to attach art to a feeling of happiness. I will never forget the first time I saw the Chagall windows at Tudeley. The sun poured through the blue glass and in that moment, the church truly felt like a place of divinity. I have been back since, many times, but nothing will match that first experience. It is as if I am anchored in that moment because the joy is at its most powerful right there. Art does that to us, it seeps down into the soul, ignited by the briefest thought, returning us to a deep deep joy.
Art accompanies all the most beautiful moments of my life. The beginning of relationships, the birth of my children, the happiest of my younger years. It is art which pushes through at the end of the dark period as if to punctuate, to establish a full stop at the end of a painful sentence. On one Saturday some years ago I drove from the Scottish Highlands down through England to my home in the south. I was aware of the lifting of a weighty gloom which seemed to have hung for an eternity. As I drove across the Forth Road Bridge, listening to “Blaze Of Glory” by Boo Hewerdine, the whole of that junction in my life was marked by that song. Art has a power we can use, and is not a thin and fluff of nothing. Art has a power which interplays with our own emotion, to and fro, back and forth, gaining strength from us and instilling it too.
I have noticed too that sadness has its hardest edges smoothed a little by art. My father died, quite unexpectedly, on a Sunday. I got the call from my mother as I sat at my desk listening to “At The Beginning Of Time”. I had been due to see Jane Siberry in London that very evening but everything had suddenly changed, and I had been drawn into the very darkness that she sang about. In later years the song felt important not only because of the memories it conjured, but because it prompted me to consider pain by standing back from it rather than surrendering to the compelling invitation to fall into it. Art is good at offering wider and deeper perspective.
Waiting for Dean Friedman to resume his set Adam and I are having a conversation about tour t-shirts we bought in the 1980’s. I fondly remembered his red “Gillan” shirt, and he suggested that my “Pat Benetar” effort from the “Get Nervous” tour would be quite cool these days. Unfortunately most of them are gone now, but the memories aren’t. I went to almost all of those gigs with Adam and it is the art which both defines and emphasises a friendship which has lasted for almost all of my life. That’s what art does.
This morning I’m making Cornetti. They are an Italian cross between a croissant and a brioche. My grandfather was Italian, my dad would have loved eating them, and they remind me of beautiful holidays in Italy with my family. I will be taking pictures.