Suffolk Humanists

For a good life, without religion

Art & Life

Posted by Margaret on Thursday, Jun 19, 2003

If Sue Lawley asked me to go on Desert Island Disks, my luxury item would have to be a regular supply of chocolate.

It would be more difficult to choose just one piece of music. My favourite varies from week to week. I’ve been listening to a new Hoagy Carmichael CD this week, so Stardust is my current favourite.

And which book would I choose? Again, that’d be difficult, but if I were shipwrecked in the next couple of weeks maybe I’d ask for Staying Alive, an anthology of poems edited by Neil Astley. In the introduction he quotes someone saying, ‘Poetry is a place where all the fundamental questions are asked about the human condition.’

I’m looking forward to a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London, to see the painting that won the BP Portrait Award, an amazing portrait of her grandmother by Charlotte Harris, showing a lifetime’s experience in an old face.

It takes a discerning eye or ear to distinguish the best sights or sounds, but developing discernment is well worth it. Through the arts, one can feel most alive, most human. They can give an insight into the human condition, but only if you’re prepared to make an effort to understand and appreciate them. I get irritated by the way the announcers on a rival radio station keeping telling us to ‘relax’ while listening to classical music. Music can inspire us or challenge us, but it won’t if we’re too relaxed – it’s a two-way thing, and we have to listen, not just hear.

There are many good things in life. The wonders of the natural world, a good meal in the company of friends, a lazy afternoon out of doors in the summer sun, are things that happen once and soon become a pleasant memory. By developing an appreciation of the arts, we can develop another dimension to life, which doesn’t depend on the weather, wealth or poverty, company or solitude, privilege or deprivation. Art is created by human beings for human beings, about being human. Even if the subject matter is difficult, or there is no obvious subject – sounds or colours, or movement, say – we can learn and wonder. I think it’s wonderful how many creative, clever people there are to enrich our lives.

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