It was very hard for me to pick up the concept of visual art’s purpose being the paint rather than its subject. This was something that came to me early in listening to music, and I accredit this to listening often to music when I was 15-16 that I didn’t appreciate but somehow knew that I could appreciate if I kept listening to it. It’s not the words that matter, but how the notes string together to make an experience.
One day in art seminar last year, we looked at three paintings by Eugene Delacroix. You would never guess that they were by the same painter, because they looked so radically different from one another. But at the end of the lesson (which I think went nearly 6 hours that day!) I was able to figure out that the painting that looked as though it required the most ‘skill’ was one he painted in his 20’s. It was “Delacroix before he became himself,” before he started painting in the style that made him renowned.
I’m slowly but surely making that realization in writing poetry right now, and every few weeks is like climbing to a new level in Plato’s Cave. I learn something that I didn’t know I hadn’t known.
Likewise, when I write these blog posts, I semi-consciously mimic the writing styles of writers I’m used to reading, some of whom aren’t even good writers; they just happen to have ideas I find engaging. So bear in mind that I am “John before he becomes John”, and that hopefully years from now, after having broken through barriers in language little by little, my style will probably be completely different.
There was a Greek historian whose name I don’t remember, who guessed that each of the philosopher’s he was recording was age 40 when he made his greatest achievement. Naturally this probably threw off the accuracy of his writing.
So maybe I have about 19 years to go until I can finally speak with my own voice. Maybe I will only speak it to myself alone somewhere where no one can here it. What happened to all those cave-painters who didn’t live to see what T.S. Eliot refers to in Tradition and the Individual Talent?
Whatever the case, I guess that the people speaking English to each other will be speaking differently than they do now, I suspect. Just as paintings and poems and movies and novels require new forms in order to speak to their audience, so will ordinary communication. There’s a lot of people walking by me everyday who know lots of things I don’t; like chemistry or biology, histories of different countries, foreign languages, how to make films, how to play the piano…if nothing else, someday far in the future I will know how to take the risk of breaking through insidious layers of opaque language and speak with brutal, accurate honesty.