The only tangible result of the recent postal strike was the delayed arrival of our various magazine subscriptions. Once rural mail delivery resumed, there was a sudden rush of Economists, for some inexplicable reason TWO copies of Harpers (disclaimer: I don't read it, but it has excellent Cryptic Crosswords, plus twenty years or more of accessibly archived dittos. "Angels at play arrive monthly? (7)"), but no New Yorker, past or current. Not that this was greatly disturbing, as magazines in any case arrive only fitfully and sometimes in clumps, like the old Number 27 bus. (Chiswick to Twickenham via Kew Bridge, Kew Gardens and Richmond.)
When a solitary New Yorker did finally crawl into the group mailbox on Mereside, it was worth the wait: an Alice Munro short story, a long account of thievery and malfeasance in the world of New York hedge funds, and, most welcome of all, an essay by Adam Gopnik on Learning to Draw.
(Here I have to take a break and head out for a friend's 64th. birthday. Must not forget the Tiramisu for the potluck which J. left in the fridge.)
Back again; anyway, the Gopnik essay did shed a little uneasy light on my mild depression which followed last week's delivery of the finished book-press. Partly of course it was just the usual let-down that follows a time of intense activity - post [whatever] all is sad - but it was more than that. It was also a sense of being uncool, (old?) somehow un-with-it. Gopnik, an art critic and remarkably intelligent essayist, describes his attempts to learn to draw in the classical style, and ruefully discovers that despite taking an intense series of lessons, he is, ultimately, incapable of drawing. The essence of the art is more than technique, although technique is necessary, and not at all mere.
Gopnik draws like I do - grip the pencil firmly, look at the object, draw a nice line around the "shape", and then decorate this shape with appropriate details. His teacher, on the other hand, hold his pencil loosely, brushes it suggestively over the paper, and denotes the essence of his subject with a few lines, which are not in any way "outlines." All Gopnik's efforts to imitate this inevitably fail. Proper drawing (cool) is natural, lifelike, curved, shaded, and (god spare us) organic. (Manley Hopkins knew a truth or two about dappled things). Uncool is straight, right-angled, level, square (now there's a word with another meaning), precise; a carefully outlined shape (rectangular box) with fiddly detailly stuff filled in to make it "interesting". It could also be characterised as a sort of sterile formalism, technique substituted for natural forms, style over substance.
When it comes down to it, I'm just not comfortable with natural things. I like wood to be straight, dry, free of error (shakes, checks, knots, bark, sap, stain, mould, rot, pitch &c.). predictable, even-grained, biddable. Which doesn't leave much natural woodiness over. How uncool is that?
Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the starlit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.
"Complexities of mire and blood" - exactly.
Yesterday was basic joinery: laminating (which involves much judgement about how to make joined up pieces of wood look as much like one natural piece of wood as possible), jointing (to produce a straightness unknown in nature), thicknessing (ditto), and then the cutting of mortices, tenons, chamfers etc., etc. (Observe that tree branches are not morticed into the trunk.) At the end of the day the green and living Beech Tree had been reduced to this:
Notice the butcher's tools: the gauge, the 2H pencil, the square.
And now for something completely different:
From the 100 Mile show: "Clear Cut Coffee Table", Peter McFarlane.
"Prototype 1A Chair", Ian Cobane. In the background, "Cedar Throne" by Tom Johns and Liz Gay.