Making the best of it


Vincent van Gogh, Four Swifts with Landscape Sketches, 1887; Paris, France

The swifts are here. It may not be the Summer we wanted, it’s cold, wet and we can’t go anywhere nice but there are green things and flowers and pleasures close to home, we can make the best of things and have fun; we can even go to the pub tonight.

As a youngster I was led to believe that making the best of things was a virtue. Whilst as a child that may have meant colouring in on a rainy afternoon, as an adult the idea is more profound. It’s not the same as putting up with things, it’s a bit more than that. If things were always the way that we wanted them to be we would likely as not repeat the same pleasurable experiences ad infinitum, discovering over time that through familiarity the pleasure dulls and is overtaken by a sense of ennui.

As artists we are alive to possibility and keenly aware that one of our greatest creative friends is chance, accident, surprise and occasionally adversity or even perversity. We may intentionally spill paint on our work, stab at it with a loaded brush or molest it with a palette knife just to bring the edginess and excitement back to it. We create a possibility for the inner child to get out the crayons and start colouring in, to see disappointment and make the best of it, knowing that when we do we often discover something new.

It takes courage to work with the unfamiliar but we are artists and we will work with what we find before us, trusting that our art revels in the unexpected, that it will create order from the commotion.

This frightful year might have shown us that in the absence of outings to restaurants we can prepare our own food, instead of travelling to crowded retail spaces we can shop smaller and closer to home, instead of a weekend in Paris we can explore our local parks. Not putting up with it but actually discovering how blessed we are to just have what we have, looking up with an open heart as we hear the treening sound of passing swifts.