What beauty lurks in shadows.
I am a magpie. I spend my walks combing the pavement for the interesting debris of urban decay to add to my studio nest. Rusty bits, run over bits, stomped on bits. On my way I see patterns in pavements, peeling paint and shadows. Lots of shadows. Usually created by my own big head looking down. searching for bits.
The chiaroscuro of dappled light does amazing things to bits and bobs. Patterns are deeper, accentuated. Tiny flecks are made grander by their long thin shadow. Effortlessly they double their size, only to face the harsh truth of miniscuity in the unforgiving noon day sun. Curse that light.
In a vain attempt to become more scholarly, and to explain my affection for imperfection, I routinely delve into the scary territory of Japanese aesthetics. Most recently I discovered the essay "In Praise of Shadows" by Junichiro Tanizaki.
Tanizaki's simple, unadorned writing goes some way to unravel the mysteries of Japanese aesthetics and it's ethos. Written in 1933, the West was embracing the early manifestations of modernism and Japan had been propelled into the industrial age of speed and electric light. Tanizaki pressed the pause button and contemplated the more simple pleasures of candle light, worn out paper lanterns and quiet gleam. He asks not to cling to tradition, but to consider what we are throwing away - metaphorically and literally.
“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”
The essay is a product of its time - there are many references to the Western preference for light, glass and shiny, hard surfaces. A visitor to contemporary Japan will not have to look hard to find shiny, bright and modern. Other parts reflect a Japanese nationalism that was proudly held pre-war. But it is still a lovely essay to remind us that light and dark are close companions and perhaps we should embrace the understated softness, tone and cool relief that are gifts of dimmer light.
I do always have a chuckle when the daylight saving debate come around. The argument is always that "we can do so much more" with extra light in the evening, as if somehow life comes grinding to a halt when the sun goes down and nothing of import can be accomplished after dusk. We are blessed with so much natural light but are still so greedy, as if changing the clock will somehow give us more time.
Maybe we should worry less about what we are missing out on and wonder more about what beauty we can discover in those cool evening shadows?