Leitrim boy's dam was a work of art 'holding back the shite'

Michael Harding: ‘It’s not brains you need to appreciate art,’ I shouted, ‘it’s love’

My friend was talking about his son. “He has no time for anything but John Deere tractors. Sits in bed at night with a lamp on his iPhone gawking at agricultural magazines like they were pornography.”

My friend was talking about his son. “He has no time for anything but John Deere tractors. Sits in bed at night with a lamp on his iPhone gawking at agricultural magazines like they were pornography.”

 

I met a friend in the cinema in Carrick recently. He was sitting in front of me and Anna Netrebko was on screen, her voice flying across the orchestra pit in New York like a ballistic missile, hitting me between the two eyes with the letter song from Eugene Onegin

“She sings like a bird,” my friend observed.

Afterwards he confessed that he was only in the cinema to get away from the son. A seven year old who loves farming. 

“He has no time for anything but John Deere tractors,” my friend declared. “Sits in bed at night with a lamp on his iPhone gawking at agricultural magazines like they were pornography. And him that only got his Communion last May. On Tuesday I was fixing the hydraulic filters on the Massey and he comes up behind me. Fear the Deere, he whispered, cos John Deere is the best. And he’s never done sweeping the yard or drilling screws into 2x4s with a machine he got with his Communion money. And he loves chickens.”

It’s why I like Aosdána meetings. I can bond with all the other misfits that huddle, like a flock of geese at the gable wall on a windy day, taking a kind of shelter in their meagre Arts Council pensions.

 I was walking through Trinity College the following afternoon when a seagull as big as a Monaghan chicken walked up to me and spoke straight to my face.

“Where are you going?” he inquired.

I said, “I’m going to Waiting for Godot at the Abbey.”

“It’s well for you that has the brains for that stuff,” the seagull croaked, and waddled away towards a floating tissue paper that was moving across the cricket field.

“It’s not brains you need to appreciate art,” I shouted after him, “it’s love.” 

Unruly artists

Which I believe is true. Art given, and art received, are both acts of love. Even though literature and music are often composed by unruly artists whose lives are in tatters. It’s why I like Aosdána meetings. I can bond with all the other misfits that huddle, like a flock of geese at the gable wall on a windy day, taking a kind of shelter in their meagre Arts Council pensions.

On the Abbey stage that night the Druid Theatre cast were moving like old crows in a rookery, singing the wounded songs of Samuel Beckett, himself a neurotic and depressive old bird during the times when he suffered from writer’s block. And I was remembering the first Waiting for Godot I ever saw directed by Dermot Healy; yet another flapping coat upon a stick, that stretched the linguistic possibilities of his imagination to absurdity, fighting with the shadows of his own psyche. Dermot lived on the lip of the ocean listening to the sky talking back at him, listening for the geese that crossed the ocean every autumn with a mouthful of prayers for him.

You can’t conjure poetry from the wounded mind like an annual report. 

I suppose you could say that all artists are a bit nuts. But that would be to misunderstand them. Artists can be child-like, but not childish. It’s just that they make things from the brokenness of the heart. They take the dead trees of their inner world and fling new shoots of life on them, plaster the dingy rooms of their psyche with brushstrokes of begonia.

Artists are not good on productivity. You can’t dovetail them into a finely managed industry to reliably produce books or paintings suitable to the fashion of the age. You can’t conjure poetry from the wounded mind like an annual report. 

Depression

Anna Netrebko’s voice would be an empty bag if Tchaikovsky had not written his depression into arias as pure as bird song, pulling heart breaking melodies out of the shite that depression visited on him, so often and so brutally, before cholera finished him off. And every singer, poet and storyteller is driven by an instinctive love for those that might listen. 

Just like the little boy in Leitrim who loves his farm and wants to show his work to everyone. One day the cow dung overflowed into the street; it was running down the yard from the back of the byre because they didn’t have a properly slatted shed. But the wee man was disgusted. He got his drill and a dozen planks of wood and built a crude damn at the lower end of the byre to block the slipping waste. And it worked. Then he brought his brother out to show him the planks, zigzagging like an abstract sculpture, and effectively holding back the shite.

“Now just take a look at that,” the child said. “It’s a fecking work of art.”  And the pair of them stood there like two pagans without god or Godot for a little while, listening for the geese in the sky that Healy waited for, and that in the end, all of us humans hope to hear.

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