Entrance to the exhibition
The little ash-grey brain cells start leaving us the minute we're born and by middle age they've
taken early redundancy and when we're OLD they've emigrated in droves to wherever brain cells go when they're not in our skulls. The stubborn handful which remain to await final expulsion are just about capable of turning on the tv or perhaps taking up a hobby that doesn't take up too much room or make a mess.
This, in an exaggerated nutshell, is what scientists, academics and other highly qualified authorities assert is fact. Some of them have also done research which proves that ground-breaking innovation in art, as in other areas of human creativity, happens, when it happens, only in the young. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.
In my un-authorised opinion youth is a flexible definition, one that can be stretched like elastic if the pull is strong enough. And the strongest pull of all is creativity itself, if persistently exercised, sustained and nurtured. Which is why certain individuals, Rembrandt for example, throw the facts about ageing out of the window.
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait with Two Circles 1665-69
Old Mastery, such as I was privileged to witness last week in the magnificent National Gallery exhibition of Rembrandt's late work, is proof that brain cells can and will obey the instructions of genius rather than the robotic agenda of nature. He died aged only 63, a mere stripling by modern standards, but the old man who looks out of his uncompromising self-portraits has reached a state of understanding which transcends age and a mastery of his craft which grants him freedom to focus only on what really matters to him - to the genius in him - and to discard the rest.
..In ancient Roman religion, the genius was the individual instance of a general divine nature present in every individual person, place, or thing.
...attendant spirit present from one's birth, innate ability or inclination’, from the Latin root of gignere ‘beget’.
Rembrandt, Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1669 (the year he died).
More than Rembrandt's bold, astonishingly modern handling of oil paint and the miraculous fluency of his drawings and etchings it was the compassionate yet unsentimental truth of the portraits which struck me. Technical virtuosity was always evident throughout his career but it is in these late works that you can feel he has jettisoned all desire to please, to compete or to be 'correct'. His eyes are not looking at the audience, fans or critics, but into himself - the sadness, the losses in his life, his own failings and disillusions - but also beyond himself to the unknown and unknowable.