A friend of mine likes to cook. He’s of Italian heritage, so he’s very particular with his food, spending hours at the market selecting the right ingredients, examining each tomato or floret or broccoli to ensure that it’s the right firmness or texture. When you have breakfast with him at a café, he always offers his critique of the dish, moaning if it the eggs aren’t poached properly or the spinach is too soft. I like to eat good food, but I’m far more tolerant. If the food is edible and doesn’t leave me writhing with stomach pain, I’ll happily eat it.
This came to mind on the weekend, when I was giving my own critique of some DVDs he had shown me the previous night. “I just like to sit back and enjoy them,” he said. “You have to analyse everything! Why can’t you just sit back and laugh your head off?” As we had previously had breakfast, and I had just been (as expected) subjected to his lengthy appraisal of some cheese-and-asparagus crepes we’d bought from a local craft market, I thought he was being a little unfair.
But as we agreed, it all comes with being an artist. Sorry, that must sound slightly ostentatious, but it’s true. My friend is a true culinary artist, appreciating the artistry food. I am a writer - not Shakespeare, or even Ben Elton, but someone who does it for a living. I was also a film reviewer for a while, and I have even written some TV scripts (and a prize-winning movie screenplay… so there). When I watch a TV drama, even a comedy, I can’t help but watch it as a writer: analysing what works in the script, what doesn’t, what the story means, why it’s funny (or not). It’s educational for me, if nobody else.
Occasionally, I watch something so incredible, so utterly brilliant, that my analytical mind is momentarily switched off, because I have no idea how the filmmakers could possibly have done something so good. I’m simply carried away by the magic.
But not often enough.
Happily, with other artforms, I am able to just sit back and enjoy them. A few years ago, I loved visiting the Louvre in Paris – and I know nothing about painting, apart from the fact that I’m a complete klutz when it comes to holding a brush. I never learned anything past high school. But that allows me to enjoy the works of the great artists in a completely different way. I look at their work and think “How can they do something so beautiful?”
Ditto with music. When I listen to a well-played piece of music, composed by one of the masters, I am transported. Trying to explain this would be like a scientist trying to explain the meaning of life. I can’t do it! I’m, like, transported. Simple as that.
Actually, I used to want to be a rock star. I imagine that you could say that about most boys born after 1950. But I went so far as to start a band with some classmates and even learn how to play bass guitar… sort of. I never really got the hang of it (and if you handed me a bass guitar now, I probably wouldn’t be able to play anything beyond Smoke in the Water). Later, I started to learn piano, but gave up after a few weeks. Even as my hands became coordinated enough to play simultaneously (not as easy as it seems), I realised that it was all becoming too technical for me. Music was losing its magic!
Now a more natural musician wouldn’t have that problem. Due to their artistry, they appreciate not just Mozart and McCartney, but also Wagner and Jimi Hendrix. (Mark Twain liked using the quote “Wagner's music is better than it sounds,” which was actually invented by his fellow humorist Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye.) But I prefer to sit back and have no idea of how musicians can be so talented as to make such brilliant sounds… just as I have no idea how God can make the beauty of nature.
It’s all magic… so there!