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Time and again

My theme is discovery. Or perhaps, rediscovery. The two are confusable, and so are we, alas. An eminent art dealer recently observed that the children of art collectors rarely if ever continue collecting what their parents did. His point was that tastes in art go in and out of style, with about a generation's gap between them. This caused me to reflect a bit on the phenomenon of things passing in and out of fashion and, specifically, on a few odd developments which are taking place in the realm of art.

The world of painting, for all the profress people have made in understanding and living with the avant-garde,m is embracing representationalm art with more and more sincere respect and with less scorn than anyone would have thought possible twenty years ago. Representationals might today hang together in the same room with abstracts, it's been said! They are, as it were, coming into their own (again?).

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A lot of quite good, substantial, masterful, rhymedm poetry is coming our way today, which fact is a bit of a shocker to both devotees and dectators of modern verse.

A decade ago, no "respectable" composer would have dreamt of writing serious tonalm music -- music which makes a reach for a rooted, traditionally centered approach, however tenuous. Yet exactly thatm has recently been offered by several leading -- and unlikely -- composers, to the astonishment of the music scene.

In each case, the spreading of these "new trends" in artistic style causes me to wax pensive about the words "revival," "rediscovery," and "time." "Rediscovery" is exciting because what we're seeing is, for the most part, youth's finding again something which was already around, and always had been, and which it had been taught to consider anathema -- or at least inadmissible.

But what grips me even more is to encounter timem and the somehow richer tones of meaning -- even of infinity -- which the word has taken on as a result. What do these "rediscoveries" say to us about time? Obviously, that time is a great restorer; that, given time and its silverhaired cousin, patience, things will come again, will have their day, which are and have been "true for more than a day." It seems to me that this has happened in the world of art so many times that we simply cannot fail, "this time," mnemonically to recognize ourselves and our prejudices in what we carve in jade every so often as aesthetic truth. Surely we shall wake up to the fact that though society may be temporarily surfeited with a particular product, the inevitable day of renewed curiosity will come with its dawning recognition that artistic truths wear many different kinds of vestments, but that underneath all of them is really the same artistic truth, informing and uplifting all of us with its gold-solid message.

Time gives us a promise of these things, but only if we are willing to expand our viewpoints and definitions of time -- even ultimately, I am persuaded, willing to abandon our habits of building our lives around time. Looked at through these circuitous revivals, time tells us, "Hold onto that old necktie: it'll come back someday!" To the artist, it also whispers, "Hold onto that b- flat minor sonata, to that sestina: they will yet have their day. when the current battledust lifts!"

But it encourages us to "stick to our guns" only by dint of getting a new handle on time. Only by seeing the artistic truth directly, instead of through calendars, seasons, ins and outs and caprices, only by seeing this very unlimiting timelessness can we arrive at the point of dealing with what's behind these "amazing" comebacks -- and the promise of more.

The Chinese have a startling outlook on time. To the Eastern mindset, "modern" has happened since the 1850s or so; "recent" goes back to our 1700s or 1600s, "old" to far beyond that, and "ancient" . . . well, they weren't writing down anything then. beginning to think in these terms sets us on a righter track, I beleive, as we use them to look for threads of sturdy stuff where only transient seams appear.

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So, we may continue to see art's "arresting" re-dawnings, to watch them -- as trends and styles, people and schools, today's truth and yesterday's -- bob up and down in a sea of opinion. But those of us who have caught hold of a line of permanence about the gift which is art can know that this sea is, after all, contained in a bigger world. And we can no doubt nod in agreement with the eloquent words of composer Paul Hindemith:

The old is not good just because it's past, nor is the new supreme because we live with it; and never yet a man felt greater joy than he could bear or truly comprehend. Your task it is, amid confusion, rush, and noise, to grasp the lasting, calm, and meaningful, and finding it anew, to hold and treasure it.

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