Dear friends and colleagues – it is our shared fate to endure remarks like this:
So you do stained glass do you? Oh, I’d love to paint stained glass – it’s just I don’t have time
How often I hear this … and what about you?
… As if it were merely the world-changing busy-ness of the speaker’s life which – unfortunately for us – prevents them from giving birth to artworks that would put Harry Clarke to shame.
And what is the implication here?
Is it that we do glass painting because we “have the time” (- when really it’s because we choose to make the time, thank you).
No one gets better at something unless they really work at it. Even Charlie Parker worked hard – boy! how he worked. He made the time to be the best saxophonist he could become.
As do we all work hard – for the things we choose to do.
It’s just that some folks work hard at watching TV or planning their next holiday …
Ultimately I reckon it’s every one’s own choice how they lead their lives, and I never reckon my way is better than someone else’s. It’s just my choice, that is all, just like their choice is … theirs.
But … but … but: speaking for myself, I love and celebrate excellence just about wherever I find it.
I love the spectacle and beauty of another person’s talent. Yes, another person’s talent. Because, unless we’re egomaniacs, probably our own talents are too close and unremarkable to us to make us think, “Yes, this says something wonderful about the human race”.
On the other hand, someone else’s talent – yes, that does say something wonderful about the human race.
But the kind of person who often said to John Piper (and I know they did say this) “So you paint, do you – well I’ve an aunt who also paints” – that person will always be there to make us grit our teeth – unless we acquire the Dalai Lama’s ability to smile.
I’d really like to be always cheerful like the Dalai Lama – it’s “just” I don’t have the time …
And maybe the one thing which makes it funny is when someone at least comes up with a new way of ignoring another person’s talent by talking about themself.
So let me tell you this revealing story …
I cycled home last Wednesday and, as I turned into Watling Street where I live, I saw an old friend – a water-colourist and map-maker of enormous distinction …
Simon Vernon, map-maker to England’s aristocracy (yes, even Simon admits it’s a shrinking market).
Click here and you’ll see what I mean. (How may folks, in these egalitarian days, have properties that size?)
Now Simon was looking very excited. Positively fervent. – Messianic even.
“Look at this,” he said, opening the back of his van. (When painting, his studio is his van.)
My heart missed a beat.
Had Simon’s market shrunk so far he was perhaps now selling “white goods” and reconditioned televisions to make his living?
I shouldn’t have worried.
As the van doors swung open, my eyes fell on a magnificent map of his.
“It’s a new technique I’ve developed,” he said. “It allows me capture even the minutest details.”
I gasped: Simon’s precision was such that even a surgeon with no sympathy for Art would admire his skill.
And now to the heart of the story …
Just that moment, walking up Watling Street on the opposite side of the road, was a couple who had only recently moved into the village.
And, wishing to be friendly, I called them over.
They hadn’t yet entered into the spirit of our village – maybe they never will – and clearly thought my greeting rather odd. Or perhaps they felt themselves to belong to a superior social class, who knows?
I introduced them to Simon, and then said: “Look at this? What do you think? Isn’t it beautiful?” (I meant the map.)
I had already established this was the map of Lord such-and-such’s estate.
A vast estate it was.
But that’s not the point – the point is, Simon’s water-colour map was … beautiful. It was astonishing.
Which, when the newcomers saw it, clearly put them out, because instead of admiring the beauty of Simon’s painting, they started to talk about the number of rooms in the house they’d just moved into.
30 rooms, they told us.
Yes, there are some big houses in our street. (Ours only has 15, so I probably do belong to an inferior social class. Whoopee!)
Simon and I let them get on with it, waiting to see if, once they’d exhausted the topic of their new house, they might look properly at the huge display of hard-earned talent which lay before them.
Not a bit of it.
After a few minutes, they started to talk about the last house they lived in.
Apparently it had 97 rooms, of which 20 were bedrooms.
Yes. Like you I was thinking, “So what?”
Eventually, without even really seeing Simon’s work, they moved on, and somehow managed to convey the impression that, even though it was they who’d done all the talking, it was we who had detained them and kept them from matters of great importance (maybe like making sure none of their rooms had disappeared while they were out).
I caught Simon’s eye and we both smiled.
Both of us are seasoned enough not to care about approval.
There’s just an intense practical delight we share in doing something well.
And the suggestion …
The point is, other people are so different and strange that, if you’ve done your best, you’re wasting your time if you worry about rejection – even if you’ve poured your heart and soul into the work which they so casually dismiss.
As I say, other people are so different.
When they see something beautiful, they need to talk about themselves. Or something on TV …
Of course they do.
We – and you – might as well get used to it. I will. So long as I really am sure I’ve done my best.