We’ll get it out of the way before any misunderstanding occurs: that is not my dog but I bloody well wish it was! That bundle of cute is named Tilly and I recently had the pleasure of a short walk around Castelton in her company. The strolling pace had been enough to encourage our group, doggo in tow, to seek a nice spot for some refreshment before we ventured further. In one of those rare perfect moments, when we had found a perch in a small cafe, Tilly instinctively jumped into position on a stone bench and preceded to relax.
The above pose was one she returned to frequently in between bouts of trying to chase insects and eyeing up our sandwiches. It is one of the curious reversals of expectation to see an occasion of life imitating art and I couldn’t shake the image of Tilly as a great stone sculpture guarding the entrance to some aristocrat’s garden path. I imagined the great Sphinx’s stern expression replaced with the majestic Cokapoo gaze that Tilly cast across the tiny babbling steam adjacent to our table. My vision was broken as she became distracted by some small winged creature buzzing nearby but the impression of the closeness of life and art remained.
Later that day I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and stumbled upon one of the greatest writers of the 19th Century describing my thoughts better than I could ever hope to. In his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde discusses the position of anti-memesis that “results not merely from Life’s imitative instinct, but from the fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realise that energy”. Wilde recounts that there had been fog in London for centuries but no one had ‘found’ its beauty until it was described by his contemporaries. In the essay Wilde opined that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” and you know what? I think he might be flipping right.
For me, the art and literature we engage with must fundamentally shape our worldview and what we can find in our experiences of life. So here is part of my motivation to putting pen to paper or finger to key this week – those artful moments that I find in the everyday. Sometimes all it takes is a small, relatively mundane moment to provoke memories of literature that have read or works of art that I have seen. In those moments I can see the genius in the depiction or description in someone else’s work and for a short time at least I’m reminded that art can be profoundly influential, if you let it.