On Nature and Art

Art-wise, 2018 was a stagnant year. It wasn’t the classic art block, as I wasn’t devoid of ideas or dissatisfied with the look of whatever it was that I drew. Rather, I kept wondering what the point of it all was. The idea of merely painting beautiful pictures of beautiful horses began to ring hollow to me. It felt like I had nothing meaningful to say.

I even asked myself the discomforting question of whether I wanted this at all. Even though I came to the conclusion that giving up on art would be a serious mistake and continued drawing and painting anyway, the question of where the hell I was going remained.

2018 also happened to be the year I first travelled alone. Whether I was boarding a bus, a train, or a plane, I frequently toyed with the pendant I wore each time I was on the move. With an image of Whistlejacket by George Stubbs, it is heart-shaped and possibly bordering on kitsch, but it gave me a bizarre sense of comfort. I guess this is why people wear crosses, or what writer David Foster Wallace meant by there being “no such thing as not worshipping.”

After Piornal, the remainder of my stay in Spain was spent in Madrid, in what is known as the Golden Triangle of Art. I can recall how I felt walking into the Prado Museum. To my mind, I might as well have walked to the top of Mount Olympus.

Amid the Titians, Rubens and Goyas, I was irresistibly drawn to the Velázquez room. And while I remember the awe, I also remember what thought occured to me as I was staring up at Queen Elisabeth of France on Horseback.

I noticed and studied how the ghost of a misplaced foreleg is still evident. The horse’s head was also reworked — a reassuring reminder of the humanity of my heroes. Simultaneously, I thought back to an evening in Piornal when I saw Antizar, a bachelor stallion, cantering uphill as storm clouds gathered. How purposefully he moved, knowing exactly where he wanted to go. A creature that is truly free. His own agent.

It was then — staring up at a Velázquez, thinking of Antizar and my time spent in Piornal — that I understood the words of the 18th-century French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: “Nature is more beautiful than art, and in an animated being, the freedom of its movements makes its existence more perfect.” Stubbs himself came to a similar conclusion. He travelled to Rome to, according to his memorialist Ozias Humphry, “convince himself that nature was & is always superior to art”.

Perhaps it’s paradoxical to feel inspired again by coming to the conclusion that whatever one creates, it will never be on par with the splendour of life; but it worked for me. It’s made the whole business of making art look less like an intimidating, colossal mountain to climb, for I was reminded to simply enjoy the journey and not feel abashed about creating for the sake of creating.

A bit like what Salvador Dalí said to “have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.”