This is a life,
Where poet, writer, painter,
Heat their hands from flames
Burning from the brain’s fire –
Earth’s very sky is held still
As they turn sea to words –
Rock to paint –
Wine and beer wash throats
With song and conversation –
In a bodily exchange for art –
Where to belong you climb a broken ladder
And give to words, paint, music, dance
A fire-washed agonised-pure soul –
Creation banged out of marble
Poems burning from a special womb –
Covering every last thought
With chalk-white burnt-out dust –
Until a huge soft pile smothers you
Into a deep and grateful sleep –

(after an early lunch one
Sunday, Nov 1963 with poets
painter, journalist. Lamorna
Cove, Cornwall . Much talk
much wine.)


Shänne Sands, Moonlight on Words published by FootSteps Press.

The Vagaries of Rehearsals

We have one week before we put on an Art Extravaganza in Penzance using satire to publicise, if they need to be, the profound failings of public art and recent readings of art history. And we were doing quite well considering the art world in Cornwall is stagnant.

We have a good group and were doing very well, but have had to change the format this weekend as one of our cast is ill in France. Huddle. Looks at parts. drop one. Tell audience what is going on, make it part of the joke.

These are the crises of middle class people putting on a show. Nothing too much to worry about then.

For What It’s Worth

We have an insidious value system, into which everyone is plugged, that relies on economics to judge the worth of things. We tell each other, of course, that is not how we value each other as people, but the system doesn’t value us in any other way.

In fact we have come to the place where we are not warring as peoples, but warring as the system declines. I recall 1984 and how the warring parties in the world changing their propaganda about each other as they intermittently become allies or enemies. The system of economics we have created is at war with nature, and, as such, at war with our ethical values.

It takes a great deal to ensure those who are capable of seeing this are kept blind or quiet. The weight of the system on the shoulders of everyone to be accounted for, is huge and our value to that system infinitesimal as individuals.

Art is the struggle for a voice in the crowd.

Inside Your Head

My artist friends tell me they could teach me to draw – all it takes is time and practice. While I understand the techniques associated with all the Arts can be reduced to certain rules (drawing is all about controlling light for example) the truth of the matter for me lies in the fact that when I try to draw something I am not looking at, I have no picture to follow in my mind. Whereas when I sit down to write there are all the requisite images in my head and I play with the words to describe what I am seeing.

It is of course mundane to say all art exists in the brain and the way in with the synapses make connections, makes the artist. That says no more than that we are all made by our thoughts. The real question comes when we ask why we are not all artists, why some of us go different ways and whether that is chance, education or some inborn skills with which our brains are endowed.

I actually think there are many more artists in the world than we know, but most of them use art in their hobbies not in their everyday existence. The courage to be an artist also exists in the brain and it is impossible for me to even guess at where that comes from.

Edit And Revise

I was talking with friends recently and it was pointed out to me that some people believe it is the speed with which people write their verse, or paint, or whatever art it is they practice, that proves their talent. I actually think is absurd given that even those who create might have thought about the subject for months before they actually start, and given that some fine works of art took years and decades to finish.

But I can understated the flawed thinking. Because if someone can give a great speech ex tempore without much revision and thought they are seen as having very fast brains and that makes them ‘more intelligent’ than average – or more assured at the very least.

However it is not the speed of the brain that matters. Works of art of any calibre are not better for being done quickly or slowly, and whilst we may marvel at Mozart’s ability to write his music without errors first time I know a few poets who do the same because the actual creation takes place in their thoughts, away from paper, and may take days.

Artists are always thinking. That’s how you know they are artists, their dedication is lifelong and they rush nothing. It might look fancy to the outsider to take a few minutes to make something brilliant but that’s usually smoke and mirrors.


I know we all try to do it one way or another. The subtlest way I know is used by artists of all kinds, who try to promote their own art form over-and-above all others. Perhaps not so subtle now I come to think about it. Musicians who cite the voice and song as the first of all arts, book binders who point out paintings started as illustrations inside books, story tellers who tell you you have to be literate to be a writer and for most of human history the oral tradition superseded all others, and famously Shelley who was not avowing the supremacy of poetry at all but merely pointed out that ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’.

I am sure it does everyone good to think they are practising something so profound, so superb and so intrinsic to the continuation of the human race, that they need to elevate it to the heights of human achievement and I am not going to argue that the Arts are not a fine achievement. But their importance is not what they are, it is what they do.

The world around us lacks something. We all know it. We all feel it.  Maybe it is compassion, perhaps it is the next step in the evolution of our brains, maybe it is to have the kick in the backside that would come from knowing other intelligent life exists.

If Art does not make the change it is worthless.

Lacking Skills

I love working with painters because my stick creatures never really manage to hit the mark. I recall my mother when she was younger knew the artists Sheila Fell, who tragically died quite young, and she used to pick up Sheila’s charcoal and pencil sketches from the floor and hang them on her wall. She once said to her she wished she could draw as she did and Sheila replied that she wished she could write as my mother did.

Artists in differing disciplines lack much of the ego and jealousy that can attend knowing someone in your own field, and appreciation takes over. Trying to view the world from another’s perspective, trying to understand the form and internal structures in their work, trying to understand their understanding of the history of thought in their particular art form. It becomes an expression of life which one can use when one goes back to writing.

In the same fashion when I wrote some lyrics I was interested in the background music someone else wrote for the words and one of the most difficult things I have ever done was to be given two bars of music and asked to write words to go with it. It was trying to mirror the internal music of the words with the music itself.

Marrying art forms is definitely a refined pleasure.

How Do Artists Survive?

I have in passing made distinctions between people who are active in the arts world and people who are Artists. Whether musicians, sculptors, poets etc. Perhaps I should say what I think I know about Artists, in whatever art form they are found.

Artists are driven people. If they have other work, if they make money in other ways, they hate it. It is a compromise. If they can starve successfully and still create their works they would rather do that. It is this self centred, driven character that means whilst they are often difficult to live with, they need to live with someone who can interface for them with the world. This is why men are traditionally more numerous throughout the Arts than women even today because men find it easier to find a woman to sacrifice her life to them, than women find men who will sacrifice their life for them.

And it is a sacrifice. Everything is the for the Art and the artist can get very selfish. Usefully ego destroys the Artist so you can have a Thomas Hardy who is mean and hurtful to his wives but still writes about women with a sensitivity few men have managed, whilst an Ernest Hemingway soon became no more than a parody of himself. He could have been so much better.

Artists are our conscience as a society. As such they only get one ear, if that, are often ignored in their life time and always tortured by their emotions and dedication.

Everyone else is merely creative.

(Having been upbraided by a friend I need to point out this is an observation and not at all about me)

The Art Of the ‘Thing’

There is a great debate amongst commentators on the arts, as to whether you can separate the artists from what they create, whether, for example, a painting can be looked at as just a painting or whether you need to know about he artist in order to appreciate it. Now obviously you can look at a work of art just for the thing itself, and my entries here are rarely about the obvious.

The question is whether you lose something if you do not know about the artist, and of course you do. So is what you lose important to your appreciation of what they create? After all if you had known Van Gogh and walked into his sparse room, smelling of sweat with dirty clothes around and heard him snoring with a painting still drying on the easel, would you ‘appreciate’ the painting more than seeing it on a gallery wall surrounded by guards?

My mother told me you can never ‘understand’ a work of art if you do now know about the life that created it. Because every bit of sweat, and the smell of those dirty clothes is in Van Gough’s work. Just as fascism is in Ezra Pound’s work, just as the fight for liberty is in Lorca’s work, when you read Balzac you experience his Frenchness which is distinct from Zola’s. The passion in Wuthering Heights, is Emily’s passion.

This is why artists of stature feel themselves in their work,  and uncovering that self gives the work the edginess of life itself.

Do We Understand Each Other

The simple answer is, ‘only if we make an effort.’

I think my upbringing, being with a single parent who happened to be one of the great beauties of her age and one of the most talented poets of the century, is not going to be typical by anyone’s standards. But I think if you love your mother and you see how the world treats her, any mother at all, you will have an appreciation of what I am going to remember.

It amazed me that my mother was often judged for her looks not her mind – it also amazed her. And even the men who loved her paid little more than lip-service to her art. My sister’s father told her poetry was a phase she would grow out of. My father told her he wouldn’t spend his life walking behind her. We are so wrapped up with our ego it gets in the way of understanding another person.

Then understanding the huge historical wrongs done to women and sometimes knowing that their own desires get in the way of their intellects too because after all, we are all human beings. But I thank my mother for bringing me up ‘just knowing’ things without having to ask questions. And sharing with me the way a writer does, all her experiences of her childhood. How she grew up and learned about the world. What it meant to be a daughter and  a mother and how marriage did not suit her and what bores men can be, and I know the genetic drivers that make them so.

It isn’t as if I have the best of both worlds but it is like having a mind more full of paintings than it otherwise would have been.

I Am Awake Really

Coleridge famously used opium and ended up with quite a dream. De Quincey was an addict as were many who took Quinine (opium being the active ingredient) for pain. Artists also take drugs because they are bored and they hear good things about getting ‘high’, and they seek the heightened intellectual response to reality drugs can give. Colours, sights, smells  change as all the senses are effected.

This should be something of a creative activity although sadly it does often destroy the artist. But then everything destroys the artist eventually. You can have too much feeling and be overrun with the sheer immensity of the pain of the world, or the wonders of life, or the creative force of nature. I think people who talk about artists rarely ever realise what a dangerous kind of life it is to lead. One is always on the edge of oneself which is why some people with depression and mental disorders sometimes find an escape in the arts – even a therapy.

Loneliness comes with giving one’s life to an art form. A dedication that often leaves no room for anything else long-term. It is no surprise that artists in common with all who suffer, turn to drugs of one form or another.

Of course some artists don’t take drugs but their way of being an artist makes one think they do!

The Art Of Dimensions

I am very bad at being able to visualise finished work taking shape in mid air or empty space. I look at pieces of paper wondering if I could draw anything and doodle because nothing comes to mind but words. The few times I have sat down and sketched something like my dogs sleeping or a flower it takes forever and comes out wrong somewhere along the line:)

I have great respect for people who have developed those areas of the mind that can work in imagined three dimensions but quite obviously I was not made to be an architect and I have never learned draftsmanship.

But that doesn’t mean I cannot both appreciate skills in others and get a lot out of watching them work. Because I can follow their eyes, imagine my arm muscles skillfully manipulating materials, sense the concentration as their work. Many years ago as a child I was always scared of thinking myself into someone else’s shoes in case I suddenly became them; I had visions of being at a piano in the middle of a concert and not knowing what to do next. It was an amazing thing when I told my mother this and she told me she had had the same thoughts as a child. How alike are brains!

But that empathy, that bond of human experience, is the very foundation of my own work.

Words Pander

As I have been writing this everyday I remember my mother telling me that words pander. If you are literate you can write and but just because you can write does not make you an artist of any calibre. Words will always flow. She explained this to me on many occasions telling me once that Ted Hughes used words as a therapy.  As such he was a deeply flawed writer.

I have visited many sites this past few months for writers and seen all the creative writing classes and many of the creative writing results. There is only one thing I can say about any of it and that is that it is good they are concentrating on writing as opposed to other things that occupy peoples minds. But they all prove that everything is certainly not art.

Art is not only the individual mind, it is also Nature speaking through us. It is not just one person’s experience but experience expounded for all to embrace with recognition. Art is not something just artists do, it is the creative instinct in us all that a few fight with all their lives, to bring into all our lives.

There are far more artists out there than actually live the life. Many people give up early. It is too tough an existence for them to contemplate.

Art is the life.


What can art give the rich? Actually nothing more than it gives us all.

Some people becoming wealthy turn to patronage of the arts because they have the money to pay for the art works and places to exhibit them. But the energy of the creative force in the artist, the place where men get closest to what it means to be a woman and a human-being touches the ‘mind of nature’, this exists for everyone.

Historically the places where that energy is greatest, the flowering in city states in ancient Greece – political systems which were broadly the base for the city states of Renaissance Italy, the palaces of Rajahs, are places of money but the monied like Pericles or the Medici do not have to buy art, they are driven to it. Because the acts of creation resonate within them, speak in a language they cannot fully translate but nonetheless recognise, and reverberate with the populace.

And of course the art works usually outlive the rich. A gift to the Ages and a remembrance of wealthy names which the artist also understands and uses. In the digital eons ahead artworks will vanish, eroded by time, and their images will be left in 3D for everyone to enjoy. Even to be shared by other intelligences across the cosmos. Intelligences we hope, who will laugh at our pretensions but enjoy our creativity.

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