As I approach my 87th birthday and occasionally protest that I am too old to do one thing or another, some people argue that this is never true. Generally, I disagree because as I was once a physician, I know that most elderly folks are definitely too old to do certain activities. Few are able to run marathons, for example, (although one classmate still plays tennis!) But, I am obliged to agree that the reprimand is probably true for many other things such as various mental exercises (including, perhaps, crossword puzzles – see earlier blog about ‘how to cheat’*), trying new foods, certain cultural activities, or making new friends. The list is undoubtedly much longer but I am too old to remember what else I should add.
All of which is to say that earlier today I discovered that addressing and possibly removing some preconceptions should be on the list of exceptions. The lesson I have in mind has to do with painters (and, by extension, composers). I love art and classical music. My favourite galleries are the National, the Portrait, the Courtauld, and, especially the Wallace Collection – all in London. Staring at certain paintings seems to release my endorphins. My preferences in artists are equally broad although there are some who I long ago decided I did not like. Among these were Picasso, Dali, and Calder. My reasons for disliking them varied: I thought Picasso was teasing us; that Dali was exploiting us; and that Calder was sterile.
However, a few years ago after discovering the Picasso museum in Paris, I realized that he was far more versatile than I realized and that even the ‘silly’ bits were splendidly rendered. So I changed my mind about Pablo. I still believe Dali was prone to doing the same piece on different papers to persuade buyers that print editions were smaller than they really were.
As for Calder’s ‘sterility’, well, that is the essence of this blog. I confess I had come to this conclusion without ever seeing an exhibit of his work. I only thought of him in terms of cubes, triangles, bright colours, and bits hanging on strings. That was true until I visited the Calder exhibit now on at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. As they say, I was simply ‘gob smacked’! A one-trick pony he is not. Set aside the idea that Calder is all triangles or mobiles. Or bright coloured square abstracts. What I saw covered an astonishing range. He painted; the mobiles are varied and ingenious; his circus is fun and clever; his jewellery breathtaking; and his sculptures intriguing. Above all the wire stuff? Amazing. The gallery has an old movie of him working with pliers and the bits of wire come alive. Wearing my old paediatrician’s hat I especially enjoyed the few drawings and clever bits he assembled as a child.
While I am indulging in this mea culpa, I had also ruled out liking the music of Olivier Messiaen. But after watching an episode of Mozart in the Jungle in which bits of his music is played, I completely reversed that judgment. Similarly, I told a musical son that I did not like Faure’s chamber music. He urged me to listen again and I changed my mind.
The lesson I learned from all this was that it is foolish to convince yourself that your mind cannot change in old age. I am resolved to try to avoid longstanding prejudices especially when it comes to art or music.
*PS – to cheat when struggling with a Crossword Puzzle try using the website Wordplays.com . My own favourite puzzles are the Quick Crosswords in the Guardian Weekly. (Not ‘quick’ for me, only quick for younger folks I guess). For them, when my frustration has reached its limits I go to theguardian.com.