…And then we shook hands, a firm grasp, smiled at each other and walked our separate ways. For a brief moment, I thought “should I stay in touch?”, but we both seem to acknowledge that was it. Two hours when age, culture, class, race, and ignorance did not matter.
2 hours earlier
I’m not one for queues, so how the devil I could stand in one for almost two hours when there were about 20 people in front of me beggars belief. What could hold my patience for so long? Visa requirements? A table at a posh restaurant? Yeah Right! No, an exhibition of at the Royal Arts in Piccadilly, Central London, called “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse”.
Ok bear with me. This post is not about Art, which unkindly can elicit yawns and a swift pinch of the mouse. Are you still here? Good, so I’ll continue.
No this post is about something significantly more. Perhaps the power of Art, but even then I’m not writing this to be persuasive about Art’s prowess. I love art for reasons many of us are mesmerised by paintings, but I have another profound reason. Art underpins my practice as a cinema journalist — an art form to which I and many others interpret news as impressionists. Moreover, I’m convinced in this age of digital tech, we’re experiencing the equivalent of a modern arts movement in the shape of a digital journalism movement. However, unlike the artists movement, we’re yet to redirect our sensibilities to new subject matters, and to end the hegemony of broadcasters who dictate terms.
An hour or so in, the gentleman in front of me, 5, 10" wearing a flat cap, bespectacled and the look of a former bank manager turned to me. “Do you think the queue would be any slower if we weren’t in the EU?” I chuckled with him. Poor EU commission, it has a lot to answer for. We spoke intermittently, as strangers do, restrained too by our presumed differences.
The queue would move about five people and then stop for another half hour wait. It’s moving again, at which point the ex-bank manager says, “Pretend you’re with me and that way you won’t have to wait another half hour”, given I was outside the limit of the next intake.
Ok, I said, “Oh and what’s your name?”, I said hastily advancing to the ticket seller. Keith.
Two tickets to the exhibition we said in unison, and “Keith, I’ll pay for myself”. Keith paid first and then uttered that he would wait for me at the stairs.
As we climbed the stairs, I apologised for keeping Keith waiting. I mentioned to him I’d been an artist-in-residence at the South Bank Centre, so was contemplating whether I could get in at a discount. I didn’t pursue that line. “Just a thought”, but it held me up momentarily.
Keith smiled. “Well, if they can keep artists waiting…”, he said in a barbed, tongue in cheek manner, “What hope us?” . I’m just an artist, I said defensively. As we approached the entrance, squeezing past attendants, there was a mutual acknowledgment that, we hoped the wait was worth it.
It was like walking into a bright light, and somehow I couldn’t contain myself. Perhaps too my earlier repartee was a sign of assurance to Keith, but off the bat I went into lecturer mode. Ah Manet, I quipped, classically trained, but a rebel against the cause. Monet, a quiet man, self-taught, whose works radiate colours and impressionism at different times of the day.
Along the slow neck-craning, methodical pace we adopted, we complimented each other’s knowledge. Often Keith would ask why, perhaps the vibrancy of the works, could resemble each other, and at times appear starkly divergent.
The impressionists: Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Zola, Cézanne, and others became acquaintances, if not firm friends. So they learned from each other, copied each other’s works and often sought to go a step further in technique. Impressionism, just as modern journalism, is a break from traditional rules of perspective and presumed objective truths. However, it’s no more a singularity in style and purpose; Cézanne was interested in form; Van Gogh felt his paintings should reflect how he felt, than modern day journalism of data, visual, online, is a uniform form.
I’m certain anyone observing Keith and I, and odd pairing, must have thought we had been friends for life. What co-joined us was a love of knowledge. What receded in those moments we shared was ignorance. Ignorance that a book’s cover can be deceiving. Ignorance that we, of different faiths, cultures, races can indeed meet and share likes. When we see how politician’s divide us, or heighten collective ignorance, there are, we must remember many spaces that bring us together.
Two hours in of wonderment, we reached the final set. For the first time Monet’s triptych Lilies series had been brought together. They suffused by their sheer size and magnificence, bringing on a kind of meditation. Keith and I just stood there. At the top of the works. writ large, words proclaiming the time. The Germans were advancing, but Monet refused to leave without finishing his paintings. This was his joy and his gift to the world.
“Shall we get a cup a tea?”, said Keith. “I’ll tell you about the painting I own”. The coffee shop was shut, so we stepped into the brisk, chilly air outside the exhibition, still nattering away. I’m going to the theatre, said Keith. And I have a bet to surprise someone on my way home at a Salsa class.
We shook hands firmly expressing how much we’d enjoyed the last two hours and went our separate ways. It was so worth it. Two people. Ignorance can wait.
The exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse exhibition Do book before going