An Artist's Musing on Hurricane Matthew / by Jeannine Cook

Destruction-of-the-Dormition-Cathedral-of-the-Kyivan-Cave-Monastery-in-World-War-II-image-via-Wikimedia.jpg

From Europe, following the progress of Hurricane Matthew up the United States East Coast was all-consuming in time this week. For quite a while, it looked as if our home was going to be full, fair and square in the centre of the hurricane's track. Ouch! Thanks to wonderful friends, the house was shuttered and after that, I decided that the only course of action was fatalism. Nonetheless, I had time to muse on some of the implications of being severely hit and have the house badly damaged.

As an artist, in such cases, you begin to think about all the art work stored at the house. If one loses it all, as so often, alas, is the case for artists caught in bad hurricanes and other disasters, does it really matter?

One half of me replied, no, it does not matter all that much. Because it means that the slate is wiped clean and thus there are plenty of new horizons ahead, hopefully to do different, better work in the future. The other half of me, of course, says, no, it does matter as there are things that I have done in the past that mean a great deal to me personally, quite apart from any artistic merit they may have.

Obviously also, you begin to think on a wider scale, of the art that has been lost over the centuries to natural disasters, to war, to vandalism... History is replete with instances of great collections of art and of literature, etc. being wiped out - from the fires that destroyed the famed Ptolemaic Library of Alexandria in Egypt to the ravages of World War II that destroyed or broke up and lost so many art collections. Today's recent history is no different, with the Taliban obliterating the great statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2001, or the Timbuktu mausoleums being destroyed by Islamists in 2012, to say nothing of current devastation in the Middle East and beyond. Even fires destroy great works.

 “Painter on His Way to Work” , Vincent van Gogh, 1888 oil on canvas, (Image via Wikimedia.jpg), work lost in World War II fire

“Painter on His Way to Work” , Vincent van Gogh, 1888 oil on canvas, (Image via Wikimedia.jpg), work lost in World War II fire

 Water Lilies, Claude Monet. Lost in 1958 fire at MOMA, New Yorl

Water Lilies, Claude Monet. Lost in 1958 fire at MOMA, New Yorl

Is humanity permanently the poorer for the loss of great cultural riches? I think so, for we all need to remind ourselves of the better, more noble and more upliftingly beautiful side of mankind. If we do not have such reference points, such beacons of light to guide us when times are darker and more troubling, each of us, consciously or not, is impoverished. Such riches are also a reminder, in our divisive times (but when have they not, in fact, been divisive?), that great works of art, of all kinds, transcend national boundaries and optics. They testify to human beings being true world inhabitants, not just of one religion,  nationality or country. Just as simple, quick examples - mention the names of Rembrandt, Dürer, Monet, Van Gogh almost anywhere around the world, and you will have a flicker of recognition in your interlocutor.

The great "sort out" of time evaluates continuously what is truly important in terms of artistic endeavour. Fashions come and go. I remember, for example, that in the Sixties, the Pre-Raphaelites were, for the most part, languishing in museum "basements". Now they are the subject of major retrospectives and examination. Nonetheless, keeping art safe from natural disaster or human depredation is an important aspect of life.

For my own personal and very, very humble perspective, I am thanking my lucky stars that I don't have to deal with the loss of many years' exploration in my art.