I have an affection for the small and the insignificant. I value things which do not demand attention. I am very happy with the idea that humanity is dwarfed by the cosmos, and feel little need to make my mark on the world. Maybe I draw the line at nematodes and mites, but this is more an aesthetic preference. I admire their fitness for their environment, the intricacy of their workings and the way they occupy their niches in the amazing thing which is life. Lichens are as perfect in their operation as blue whales.
Small things have the great advantage that one can store them away without too much trouble; one’s living space remains much the same if one shares it with a snail shell or a button. A myriad of tiny drawings will not fill a whole shelf of sketchbooks. Many people might miss a leaf on the pavement or a crab-spider in a flower, but I find joy in these things which on good days is certainly enough. On the other hand, large things often appal me especially when they are man-made – their impact can be almost frightening. A low-flying aeroplane, a pylon, a skyscraper. You can’t turn a blind eye to things like that. What some might admire as a marvellous human creations I might see as hubris. Huge things in nature certainly remind us of our insignificance – crashing surf, a redwood tree, a mountain.
Sometimes the large is too large to appreciate. All the more amazing that craftsmen in Roman times could create an image with hundreds and thousands of tiny tesserae. A kind of gestalt – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Sometimes it seems that a word or even a letter can say as much as a lengthy book. Thomas Berwick’s little ‘tailpieces’ can say as much in a humorous way as a gigantic canvas. How can one really appreciate the 154 square metres of Tintoretto’s ‘Paradise’ with its 500 saints surrounding Christ and Mary? I find it rather annoying that the greater fame an artist achieves, the bigger their work becomes. They are now utterly dependent on others to cast the sculpture or fill in the backgrounds or the crowds. It must be a completely different task to supervise enormous creation than to be entirely responsible for one’s early works. Is this like the gigantism which is said to afflict an animal species when the line is nearing extinction?
Maybe to consider oneself insignificant, and to produce a few small things, but beautiful, might be seen as false humility. Rather that than cover the earth with an explosion of enormity.