Time and the riverbank

It was my youngest son’s birthday the other day – he is two years old. I bought him a video of Tales of the Riverbank narrated by Johnny Morris (the film was in black and white – he loved the animals – Hammy Hamster, GP (Guinea Pig).It was sentimental indulgence on my part as I used to watch these when I was little. The thing that surprised me about the films was the level of language – poetic and of a high level – quite in excess of children’s programmes today – but the significant feature about the film was the time that many of the shots stayed on screen for – a toy aeroplane floated on the breeze through a forest to the gentle picking of a guitar – the camera followed the plane for minutes rather than seconds. This struck me because it made me lament the speed of life – my children will grow up in a world moving at high pace. Information has replaced experience. It is information that drives learning (at least for the masses) quantifiable outcomes, aims, objectives, evaluations and assessment – we are drowning in a sea of information and controlling information has become our passport to success. A4 is the default rectangle of the age. School lessons begin with “starters” now – a buzzy activity to get pupils up for learning. (Much like radio stations where silence is frowned upon for even 1 second.)
Information is what people get from galleries and museums – watch a person in a gallery check the blurb first and often spend longer pondering this than looking, than experiencing the work itself. When we are looking at TV, banner ads with information slide furtively across the screen.
Milan Kundera in his book ‘Slowness’ asks – where have the vagabonds of yesterday gone? -Those people who happily loafed around the countryside “looking at the world through god’s eyes”. Slowness is seen as a weakness. Yet making art takes time (at least making good art does) it takes practice, and progress tends to be slow. It takes time to speak in a new language and to develop a visual language is no different. Painters with a certain painting skill often rely on their tried and tested touch and pass over the questioning bit – accepting their language is fluent enough (it probably is when asking for a cup of coffee). It takes time to question one’s practice – quite often the answers it throws up can be uncomfortable because they always mean that more time is needed. Time is at a premium today. “I’ll see if I can find the time”, “I haven’t the time”. Having time is a truer sign of success than money – money buys trinkets, but the real bonus of privilege is not money – it is time – having time to run your own day. Having time, not money is something to aspire to. It would be nice to spend a day sitting on a riverbank watching a toy aeroplane float by.