Inspired by Giacometti

On Wednesday I had lunch in London with a publishing friend who happens to be a member of the Tate. 

‘Have you seen the Giacometti exhibition?’ she asked.

I reminded her that I live in the sticks with small(ish) children and that my cultural life ended, or at least went on hold, c.2003.

She took me to the exhibition, and it was as if a part of me woke up – I used to love going to art galleries, in fact I was art reviewer for Festival Times magazine in Edinburgh one gloroius summer, but somehow I’ve lost the habit. 

The sculptures (and to a lesser extent for me the paintings) were breathtaking: poignant yet somehow playful, occasionally disturbing, and the range of scale at which he worked just astonishing: tiny, perfect bronze heads on disproportionately large blocks to towering elongated figures anchored by their heavy feet, stretching away from their imprisoning bases into impossible fragility. In one room a film of Giacometti himself at work in his Paris studio in the early 1950s was playing. The interviewer asked him whether he ever got bored with the same sitters (his wife and brother sat for him for years, for hours at a time, holding his gaze as he tried to capture the look in their eyes). He responded:

‘If someone sat for me for a thousand years, at the end of that thousand years I would say to them, “It’s not there yet, but it’s getting closer.”‘

This clearly isn’t a mantra designed to bring happiness and fulfilment. Nothing we create will ever be completely perfect, and for most of us most of the time ‘Done is better than perfect’ must be our motto if we are to get stuff done in the world. But I find a great humbling inspiration in it: in all our 21st-century pragmatism and speed to market, I hope we never as a culture completely lose the appreciation for the purest artistic impulse, to make something as good as it possibly can be, and that sense that although we’ll never be perfect, we’ll never give up trying to make it better.  

Giacometti at Tate Modern runs until 10 September 2017.