Going the extra mile – old wisdom in the modern era

Recent visitors to our studios will have noticed the addition of some new bookshelf speakers. I say bookshelf because they are sort of on a bookshelf but actually they are each the size of a fridge and have monstrously large, single drive units. They were tricky to source and we had to build them ourselves, our first lockdown project. They make a small but intensely important uplift in the quality of the sound.

We arrived at this solution after quite a lot of research and discovered that in order to get high quality sound into a large room, you either have to spend an inordinate amount of money on complex technology or you go large and old fashioned; we chose option two. The amplifier is over forty years old and like the modern yet traditionally built speakers, was made to do the job in the best way possible, not to ‘fit in’ or meet a budget. Coincidentally it was conceived at about the same time as Alison’s old Mercedes, the last one to be designed to a standard not to a budget.

If the difference in sound quality is small you might think, well, why bother, why not do what others do and be happy? Because happy is not enough. We want ecstasy.

Which kind of brings me to the point, and it relates to painting, or indeed any of the arts. Anyone can learn to draw well enough, to apply colours in a pleasing way to a surface, to form appealing shapes out of wood or clay, to do what the others do and be happy. If we were making fridges this may suffice but as artists we have to go further. To find that final, small and transformative improvement which will elevate our work and transfix the viewer. The irony is that those small changes can take far longer than the main body of the piece and are disproportionately expensive in terms of thought and reflection.

On top of this, the wisdom of going large and old fashioned is to be celebrated. So much improvement in the modern world is nothing of the sort, just tinkering to sell more product or diminishments to fit in with the privations of modern life. The materials that we use as artists tend to be old fashioned. Charcoal, such a wonderful sensitive medium, was used by Neanderthals (and still is looking at the state of our studio floor at times) and oil paint, a thoroughly modern medium, dates back to the early renaissance. Whilst you could argue that modern equivalents such as acrylic are more convenient, in every other way oil, whilst old fashioned, is superior.

Most of what is important to us has been known for ever: whilst it is unfashionable to say, I have never learnt anything from a modern self-help book that could not be gleaned from the Bible, the Buddha or the Vedas, which work with concepts that predate the written word. About as old fashioned as you can get.

Which is not to dismiss the modern, we would be fools to reject the genuine improvements of modern life, just to be sensible to the deceptive marketing of products and ideas; things that purport to give us value whilst in practice merely profiting someone else.

Our music system is simple because it works and it is big because it’s better. Old wisdom.