Gently altering the world – the arts

March 30, 2020 at 11:24 pm | Posted in art, arts and health, Common Good, creativity, humour, humour as medicine, rural Ireland, Stand-up comedy - Australian, stress management, value of the arts, writers' health | 5 Comments
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Returning from a writing residency in Cill Rialaig, in Ireland’s County Kerry – – it was weird to be back yet not be able to hop on my bike and see friends, go to tango lessons, films, cafés and libraries or walk around the lake.

I watched that ingenious ABC program You Can’t Ask That and this time it was on nudists. I thought they would just answer the questions in their clothes.

But no – there they were, all shapes and sizes, in the nude. It reminded me of an unusual art exhibition I heard about in Cork.

Near Kilkenny I stayed a week at the fabulous Shankill Castle – – home of painter Elizabeth Cope and her husband Geoffrey. I have one of her beautiful paintings, pictured above. You can see her work here – she does landscapes, still lifes and portraits. She had an exhibition in Cork of only her nudes. A group of nudists asked if they could view the exhibition in the nude. The gallery said yes. I suppose it wasn’t winter.

I love the passionate self-expression that seems to come easily to most Irish people. You hear it every day, when someone describes a person being stupid and ‘in general behaving like a maggot’. I heard this one on TV: ‘Sometimes he won’t give you the steam from his piss but other times he’ll give you the whole bladder.’ And my Dublin taxi driver I was glad to give money to on my last day, seeing everything closed because of the coronavirus, said, ‘It’s brain-wrecking and heart-breaking!’

I like the pace of life there, specially in the rural areas where I mostly hung out, in the south-west. Brendan Behan was a bit of a linguist as well as a writer and he once said that he’d found 30 equivalents in Irish for the Spanish word manyana but none with the same sense of urgency.

There was some amusement in the wonderful newspaper The Irish Times. I think it was there that had a piece about English comedian David Baddiel. He’s friends with Richard Dawkins and when the latter’s mother died, Baddiel tweeted to his fellow atheist: ‘Sorry to hear that, Richard. She has not of course gone to a better place.’

I also liked the following satire of literary fiction (the kind of novels I write) – Irish author Anne Enright has a new novel, called Actress. A character in it, who clearly writes literary fiction, say that there’s not much sex or violence, and that people ‘just realise things, and feel a little sad.’

Writers of novels like this (if anything like me) will just burst out laughing and then be wailing, ‘Oh, God – why am I doing this again?’ It’s a lot of time and effort and most readers prefer novels crammed with car chases, murders or sex. Maybe all three.

There aren’t many car chases in TED talks. I spend some of my self-detention time watching them and felt vindicated the other day by Scott Adams’ Dilbert, where in the first box the boss says: ‘The moron I hired keeps watching TED talks and getting smarter.’

Second box he continues: ‘He’s only about three TED talks away from taking your job.’

In the third box, the employee says: ‘There must be a way to slow him down.’ The boss says: ‘I’ll see if I can interest him in Instagram.’

Some favourite TED talks: Peter Ammer’s ‘How drawing makes you think’ here

Loretta La Roche on ‘How to humour your stress’ here

Michael Junior’s ‘More than funny’ here

James Veitch on ‘This is what happens when you reply to spam email’ here

Plus a perennial and everybody’s favourite, Ken Robinson’s on creativity and how our education system crushes people instead of teaching them how to use their potential here

So we have laughter to survive self-detention and to cope with the inevitable worse things that some people are going through. And we have music. In her latest blog, Churchill Fellow and award-winning recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey asks, ‘What might we do to hold hope and to take care of one another?’ She quotes John Berger: ‘Art makes sense of what life cannot.’

In these times we need art more than ever. Lacey takes heart from the burgeoning evidence of online communities creating optimism, music and laughter out of solitude and exile. She lists optimistic programs and websites – – and reminds us that ‘as we make art and meaning together, we’ll be gently altering the world, fragment by fragment.’




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  1. Thank you for mentioning the paintings. It was in Cork, at the Crawford Gallery 2018 when a group of Nudists asked the museum if they could come to the show in the nude. It was a group show including Elizabeth Copes three large male nudes and one female nude. Elizabeth asked them if she could draw them while they were picked looking at the paintings and she agreed. The exhibition was called “The Naked Truth” Thanks so much Penelope. Hope you are all keeping indoors at the moment. Xxxxx Elizabeth

    On Tue 31 Mar 2020, 12:24 a.m. Pen Hanley’s Blog, wrote:

    > penhanley posted: “Returning from a writing residency in Cill Rialaig, in > Ireland’s County Kerry – – > it was weird to be back yet not be able to hop on my bike and see friends, > go to tango lessons, films, cafés and libraries or ” >

    • Oh sorry – my mistake – it was Cork! xx

  2. Hi Penny

    Love reading about your time in Ireland – and thank you for telling us via the blog about The Salt Path. Loved it, got two copies by mistake so am happily lending them out to friends.

    Nancy >

  3. Hi Nancy, so glad you liked it! Good to hear from you. xx

  4. Beautiful painting. Enjoyed the blog, Penny. Liked hearing about your residency!

    Sent from my iPhone

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