As I may have mentioned, all this week I am avoiding work, even more than usual — taking a break from “reality,” as it were, in the hope that when I return, it will have gone away. Casting about for some old piece or post to fill my daily space, I found this from a former Maundy Thursday. It is typical of me that having selected this topical destination, I then set off in the opposite direction. Perhaps I should have entitled it instead, “The cyclopean vision.”
My relationship with watercolour goes back to early childhood. My papa wanted to be a painter, but had to give it up for war, family, and other common distractions. Once he had a boy of his own, however, out came the paints. I was a Winsor & Newton baby, and until the age of nine or ten — given the sort of people my parents naturally hung out with — was under the impression everyone was an artist. I considered myself a great authority on the drawing and colouring of trees. My little sister focused on portraiture: men in suits, from the waist up, almost entirely in the medium of ballpoint.
The end came — “reality” if you will — when I was parachuted briefly into a Canadian public school, from my earlier life in Asia (and before returning to Asia again). Canadian school came as a shock; quite unlike what I was used to. I had difficulty at first adapting to the sudden disappearance of anything resembling academic standards. Later, parachuted again, I was better prepared for life in the perpetual kindergarten. I found myself in something called a “high school,” with a curriculum that seemed especially designed for children with learning disabilities. Oddly, it considered itself to be an elite high school, which perhaps it was by Canadian standards. I bid my time until age sixteen, when I could legally drop out. For in my humble but unalterable opinion, these public “schools” are great crushers of the human spirit. No responsible parent will allow a child to be exposed to them. Ditto, no aspiring teacher should work in one, even if the alternative is starvation. The administrators should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
In my case, perhaps the greatest traumatic event of childhood came from a teacher having a bad day. Let us call her Miss Gangruel, for that was not her name. I met her again by chance in later life, when she was no longer implicated in public schooling, and found her to be a very charming woman. I was further surprised to discover that she now had two eyes. For when I first met her, she’d had only one, plus an eye-patch like a female pirate, owing to some medical issue. I didn’t, at first, hold this against her.
One dark afternoon she had her “art class” covering paper with layer over layer of thick crayon in different colours, perhaps with the intention that we do something with the product, eventually. I considered this to be an unconscionable waste of my time and, seeing a wonderful elm outside the classroom’s industrial window (not yet felled by Dutch elm disease), used my crayons to draw that, instead.
Miss Gangruel had had perhaps one too many discipline problems that day. When she found me (characteristically) ignoring her instructions, she freaked. Being unable in that moment to communicate her displeasure in rational terms, she began shrieking, “That’s ugly! That’s an ugly tree! That’s the ugliest tree I’ve ever seen!”
I stood in what dignity I could summon. Then shouted back: “Miss Gangruel, you have only One Eye!”
Soon after, in the principal’s office, I found myself having to explain this remark. But how does one explain a fact that is self-evident? It was perhaps my earliest encounter with political correctness. The old British legal principle, that the truth is an absolute defence against a charge of libel, was already in retreat. Indeed, liberalism must have been spreading fast in Canada, about 1963, for this principal had not even the guts to whip me. (Brother Berg at Saint Anthony’s School in Lahore would have whipped me first, and asked questions after.) All he could do is tell me I’d done a Bad Thing. “What a wimp,” I was left thinking, as I returned to the hated classroom.
Later, at home, mentioning nothing of what had happened in school that day, I retired to my bedroom for morbid contemplation. (Canadian children are assigned separate bedrooms: another grievous moral oversight.) Before sleeping that night, I ripped up every drawing or painting I had ever made. I resolved, solemnly, “Never again.” And for the rest of my childhood, I never touched any art material voluntarily.
Yet here I am, half a century later, wasting more paper, and paint. But quietly, privately. I do it only because it makes me absurdly happy, and because I recover my native ability to see. Incompetently, I render botanicals and landscapes. Ironically, I sometimes play with plain colours. To this day, from the event described and from other incidents in Canadian schooling, I carry an irrational fear that someone will discover me drawing, or see what I have drawn. From another incident — this one with the town librarian, who caught me trying to borrow a book that was deemed “above my age level” — I also fear discovery of what I am reading, and must fight a powerful desire to conceal any elevated work behind, say, a comic book or pornographic magazine, so my fellow Canadians will not be affronted.
So far as I can see the purpose of the Canadian education system, or modern public education in general, is to suppress curiosity and enterprise in children; to cripple them morally, aesthetically, and intellectually; and make them identical on a bed of Procrustes. Hilda Neatby spelt this out in her remarkable survey, So Little for the Mind, published at Toronto in 1953. One must read it to realize that the demonic ideas of John Dewey, the American “philosopher of democratic education,” had already far advanced in Canadian schools by that year; and that as a result, standards once achieved and maintained through the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth century, had already collapsed. It is a myth they collapsed in the 1960s. Look at the schoolbooks for the Province of Ontario from that earlier period, and compare them with those introduced after the Second World War (we once did this for an article in the Idler magazine). The degeneration is obvious. The hippie generation was not the cause of this catastrophe. They were instead the effect.
For part two of today’s sermon, I will simply quote from some remarks by a fine art teacher, Bruce MacEvoy of California, whose Handprint website is, to my knowledge, the most reliable source of hard information on art materials and techniques (especially pigments for watercolour) on the entire Internet:
“The traditional method of teaching painters how to use paints emphasizes the map — the colour theory map. ‘Colour theory’ does not define the laws of nature that determine the behaviour of paints, it’s just a story about colour contrived in the 18th century — when it was stylish to stuff tobacco up your nose and lace hankies up your sleeve.
“The facts of colour are learned by hiking through the landscape — that is, by actually using materials and experiencing how they perform in different situations or applications. So the first guiding principle is to rely on your senses: to learn colour with your eyes and hands rather than with your mind.
“This sensory, hands on awareness helps you to appreciate that paints do what they do as unique material substances, not as interchangeable ‘colours’. Paint mixtures do not conform to an abstract ‘colour wheel’ geometry, not because paints are impure or tainted, but because they are real. Each paint has a unique personality. Colour theory abstractions either fail to describe the actual colour mixtures of these unique personalities (leaving the student even more confused than before), or they encourage the student to think in terms of colour stereotypes, and paint with dogmatic concepts in place of living eyes.”
Mr MacEvoy is rejecting, whether or not he fully realizes, the heritage of the Enlightenment, in which precedence was given to the abstract, and withdrawn from the concrete. That vicious assault on the human soul, known as “liberal education,” is by now the dry wharks of that heritage. From kindergarten through post-graduate studies, students are taught to be abstract, to take everything as fungible, to eliminate anomalies, to interpret each fact in the light of “theory.” And these theories, although usually false, are not necessarily so, for e.g. the colour wheel does abstractly represent certain miraculous prismatic qualities of sunlight. But when imposed upon the extraordinary breadth and variety of pigmentation not only in paints, but in every creature and object in nature, this theory becomes fatuous. Like Darwinism, or Marxism, it explains everything by explaining nothing.
It is not only watercolour we are discussing here. For every other discipline, students are taught “the theory.” The systems of tutoring and apprenticeship by which concrete knowledge was once imparted were systematically replaced, over time, by the schools and colleges of the Nanny State, in the name of “democracy.” The result gentle reader may see all around him.
Christianity does not flourish in such an environment, for this religion speaks to actual men and women, not to “people” in the abstract. In order to become a Christian, a person must today begin to disengage himself from this “culture of theory,” usually — given the refusal of the post-conciliar Church to teach the Faith — on his own. To some degree the scattered Christian communities offer mentoring or advice, but the novice must make his own stand against the current demands for Sovietization. He will need a supernatural courage; which is to say, abandonment to divine grace.
It is for instance “theory” that now requires Nanny State to lower the jackboot on the human face of marriage. For humans have been systematically reduced in “rights theory” to interchangeable “persons.” Such particular expressions as husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, have been struck out of all laws in the Province of Ontario, and many other jurisdictions. They were an embarrassment because they showed that human beings are particular, in ways defined by nature and her God, and not by theory. Similarly across the whole range of social issues, in every one of which “theory” now prevails.
It is the cyclopean vision, conducting us into the Cyclops maw.
In my old Anglican days, when I was a parishioner in an extremely High church, the Tenebrae was sung on Maundy Thursday. It was, for an unedifying reason, a liturgical event I looked forward to. The lights were extinguished one by one; and then the strepitus sounded in a tremendous clash, as the last candle in the sanctuary was extinguished. On this one day in the year, polite Anglican people — who queue so nicely for Communion row by row — were instructed to leave the church “in disorder.” In the darkness, the parishioners would collide, shove, step on each other’s toes — all in the proper liturgical spirit. It was all so particular. One might wait all year for one’s opportunities.
The symbolism is plain. Christ is no longer with us. Through the hours of Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, to the Easter Vigil when the lights come suddenly up again, and the full Gloria is sounded — we contemplate a world in which there is no Christ; and no salvation; and no absolution for our sins, and indeed, no sins: only departure from theory. A world in which we are abandoned to the ministrations of Nanny State, in which Christians are already mocked, and will soon be punished unless they bow before the public gods (sodomy; infanticide; self-murder).
And since God is dead, or has at least gone Gnostic, we can no longer be in His image. The whole race is reduced to animals — to roadkill in the passage of time. We are, according to the latest teaching of the “deep ecologists,” one of more than 8,400,000 species on Gaia; our own too numerous, taking more than our share of the planetary resources, and thus due for a radical culling. The apes and dolphins and whales cannot rule; they haven’t the equipment for it. And so they must wait patiently for what Christians call the Antichrist — whose reign of terror will free them from subservience to the humans, and grant them their (theoretically) equal rights.
Even within quite “mainstream” Christian folds, Christ is being reduced to an abstraction. The Gospel Jesus is too particular, the times call for a generic Christ, who will treat everyone the same. For a Christ who will not be objectionable to the authorities; who will mind his own business and not create a scene. A democratic Christ, who will bless everyone equally, and preach multicultural homogeneity if he must preach at all. A Christ who would not have to be crucified, whose case would never come before the courts, because he would never offend anyone. A nice Christ, who embodies our own frequently proclaimed niceness, and looks faithfully the other way whenever something he doesn’t like is happening. Not man in the image of God, but God in the image of a deracinated “humanity.”A Christ who has received a liberal education, so that he does not speak of demons but only of scientific theory. For we are nice people, and we do not want to hear about demons. Our science is settled: we have no theory for that.
And please, would this Christ not rise from the dead. For that is disruptive.
Against which, what can we say?
What John said, to the seven churches that are in Asia:
“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last. I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore; and have the keys of Hell and of Death.”