April 9, 2011


Realising what furrows are (Christopher Howse, 07 Oct 2010, The Telegraph)

In the Paul Nash exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery earlier this year, his studies of furrows, in photographs and sketches (below), were eye-opening. A brilliant artistic insight was to relate them to the parallel waves of the sea, as appears from some of his finished paintings.

Furrows are not often considered, but deserve to be. Now I have come across as striking a treatment of furrows as Nash's in an essay only 862 words long. It is by G K Chesterton, a writer repeatedly overlooked, on account, I fear, of some of his less discerning disciples.

Looking back to winter, Chesterton writes: "From some accidental turn of a train-journey or a walking tour, I saw suddenly the fierce rush of the furrows. The furrows are like arrows; they fly along an arc of sky. They are like leaping animals; they vault an inviolable hill and roll down the other side."

Yet the men who ploughed the furrows tried to make them straight and had no notion of giving great sweeps and swirls to the eye. Where did their arrow-arcs come from? "Those cataracts of cloven earth; they were done by the grace of God," he writes. "I had always rejoiced in them; but I had never found any reason for my joy."

It is a characteristic of Chesterton that he found joy in the way things are. As an art student at the Slade in the early 1890s he confronted in a deep crisis the lure of nihilism and despair, which he associated with moral evil. "Murder must be classed among acts distinctly improper and, indeed, morally wrong," he wrote 40 years later. "But suicide seems to me the supreme blasphemy against God and man and beast and vegetables; the attack not upon a life, but on life itself."

His lifelong optimism after this early crisis was based not merely upon a resolution to be cheerful, but on a conviction of the inherent goodness of reality.

Posted by at April 9, 2011 4:16 PM

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