The Arts as vehicles for Identity and Truth


In his statement to his film Mr Turner, Mike Leigh says:

“Back at the turn of the century, when ‘Topsy-Turvy’ was released, I wrote that it was “a film about all of us who suffer and strain to make other people laugh.”

Now I have again turned the camera round on ourselves, we who try to be artists, with all the struggles our calling demands. But making people laugh, hard as it is, is one thing; moving them to experience the profound, the sublime, the spiritual, the epic beauty and the terrifying drama of what it means to be alive on our planet – well, that’s altogether something else, and few of us ever achieve it, much as we may try.

Yet Turner the man was eccentric, anarchic, vulnerable, imperfect, erratic and sometimes uncouth. He could be selfish and disingenuous, mean yet generous, and he was capable of great passion and poetry.

Mr Turner is about the tensions and contrasts between this very mortal man and his timeless work, between his fragility and his strength.”

I enjoy films which are about complex people and I read this after seeing the film. Too often it feels as though society puts people into boxes and has no time to consider those who are outside the box. The business of the arts is to explore characters and the world they lived/live in.

Timothy Spall as Turner

Timothy Spall as Turner

Turner seemed not to engage with the reality of his own responsibilities yet his paintings engage realistically with the world of nature. I look at the paintings and their wildness strikes a chord with me – the emotions I can’t always engage with are almost acknowledged by the art and artist instead – on my behalf.

The same could be said of Beethoven the composer.  The classical pianist James Rhodes says ‘his music is the very definition of “interiority” – music became about feelings, about looking within and expressing things hitherto unsayable…Study Shakespeare and he will show us who we are.  Listen to Beethoven, a man tormented and isolated, who wrote simply to justify his artistic and intellectual existence, and he will show us who we could be.’


Another who was labelled as odd was Alan Turing – the code breaker in World War Two.  At the time, he didn’t behave or talk like ‘the group’ he was working with, but they learnt to respect and work with him – all portrayed brilliantly in the film The Imitation Game. We should be careful of the word ‘odd’ – life is complex, and we sometimes need complex people to illuminate our own lives, whether we see our lives as black and white, or grey.  As Oscar Wilde says ‘the true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.’  And let us remember we are all human – so complexity generally comes with that.

The superb Benedict Cumberbatch as the persecuted Alan Turing

The superb Benedict Cumberbatch as the persecuted Alan Turing


Being truthful whilst performing


Here I go again with this theme (I’ll be brief) – but again, we see that the best dancing on Strictly Come Dancing comes from those who give themselves to it in an honest way.  The dancers are as real as they can be whilst ‘performing’ (and yet can often express much more whilst performing than they could off the dance floor).  It’s good to see this, and hear the comments of the judges on this, on a fairly light-hearted programme on Saturday night.  You don’t have to read philosophy to think about all this deep stuff – it’s in the everyday.


Christmas Thoughts


It feels like ages since I wrote – I’m aware my themes are sometimes similar and I’ve been lacking fresh ideas in the last few months; you’ve probably given up on me!

The John Lewis advert I think is delightful – it is simple in its message on one level but on another reminds us of the power of the imagination: the boy projects onto his toy penguin a real emotion, thus making the toy penguin live as a real penguin. What the unreal/real penguin desires is companionship – a very real need.  However fantastical the advert is, its deeper meaning is universal. And, when the penguin gets this companionship, his other friend – the boy – is as happy as he is.  Happiness gives happiness.

John Lewis

Robin Williams R.I.P.


One hopes that the peace he couldn’t find in this world (which let’s face it offers no peace) has now been found following his death.  As President Obama and many others have said – he knew every human emotion and this allowed him to be exposed to his own suffering.  He gave all and was also wholly generous in how he listened to others.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” – John Keating (Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society (1989)

The last line has a haunting resonance with me personally – these deeper emotions that we ‘stay alive’ for are often the ones that, in the end, take us away in searching for them. Losing Robin Williams is like losing someone who understands those on the edge – the person who wears the mask to conceal the truth.  There are very few like him who don’t pass judgement, or who understand.



Inside Out Theatre


Richard Armitage, currently playing John Proctor in The Crucible at London’s Olc Vic theatre, says he approaches John from the inside.  He says he is not a character who can be ‘put on’ from the outside.  The fact that he draws from within himself is displayed for all to see on stage.  It is a raw and honest portrayal of a man exposed for all the wrong reasons; John Proctor is a beacon of truth in a society ravaged by its own paranoia and eaten up by its abuse of religion.


It is fitting that Armitage is so willing and able to act this part from the inside, as the play’s subject matter is that of a society being attacked from its inner core; the values it thinks it lives by are the very values which are responsible for its destruction.

As with all Arthur Miller’s plays, we should learn from this.

Phoenix Rising


I’m not saying anything new when I say that this year’s Eurovision winner won for more than a song (if people do win for their songs).  It was a win for anyone who feels that they cannot be who they are – Conchita not only is who she is but stands up and sings about it.  She has been interviewed many times since winning, and she talks about a difficult childhood – as usual, those who are seen as different are sidelined, or worse, bullied.


Her song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ is about identity – she has also said since winning, that she is her own truth, which is as close as you can get to living authentically and being truly who you are.  It’s ironic in one sense that there is still a stigma against people who want to do this – and have the guts to do it.  You can be punished in this world for being truthful – be dishonest about who you are and this is preferred!

In Greek Mythology, the phoenix is a powerful symbol of rebirth and regeneration – it is also associated with Early Christianity for the same meanings.  It can also mean the ‘exceptional man’.  All of these apply to Conchita Wurst and as one person said, she not only provokes questions about identity, but she also provides the answers to them, all within herself.  She won for the quality and power of her singing voice but also because thankfully, we saw that what she represented is not something so very foreign to all of us, that we all have a voice and with that an identity, and we should look to her to know that it is possible to be ourselves.  Eurovision this year was meaningful.


Magic in the gem that is Genoa: another view of Easter


I don’t always have material to write about so don’t like to write unless I’ve something new and meaningful to share; thankfully I’ve got something for this month’s post.  I recently spent some time in Genoa Italy – which I found enchanting, beautiful, but with a shade of sadness within the town and its streets.  I can’t put my finger on it, but some kind of ache for feelings and people past, got into my skin.  It is also a place where time can stand still if you let it even though at times it is a fast place with people rushing about.  But head out into the restaurants, coffee shops, the harbour with its views if you climb high enough, and the coast, and you are transported to a different time and level.

My fascination is with a statue in the rock at Monterossa, on the Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands):

man in rock

Bombs and harsh seas have reduced the giant man, ‘Il Gigante’ to an armless, over-powering figure keeping watch over the sea.  He is Neptune, built in 1910.  It was designed and built by Arrigo Minerbi, a Jewish Italian sculptor who had works in several cathedrals.  In 1937 he was forced into hiding due to his Jewish ancestry.  The statue is far from timid and shows its strength in its ruin – it is a ruin yes but its beauty is in its decay – it retains its watchful and perceptive eye on humanity.  Is he holding up the world, and suffering as a result?

As I write this I can’t help but think of this figure as the ‘Ecce Homo’ – ‘Behold/Here is the man’ – which is especially poignant at Easter.  The figure is not a personal one but nor is it removed from us.  It is a human and we can identify with this.  It is solid, yet at times, probably crumbling.  Like our fragile world, and its people.

I was also interested in the writing on the walls in the streets in Genoa – in its alleyways mainly.  Again there are links with my feelings for the giant – the words in the photo below mean ‘we are dead to the dead’ and ‘we have lost our meaning/centre’.  Powerful and worrying words.  If this is the case, this is tragic.  Have we?  What meaning do we have in our lives?


I leave you with the image of The Man; weak and strong at the same time, like us all, and always vulnerable.

man in rock 2