The Image of Silence
Silence: (noun) the absence of sound.
Where, in these troubling times, do we go for some peace and quiet when everything around us is nothing but disquiet. We may seek the solitude needed for rest and contemplation away from the hubbub of our daily lives in what we hope will be restorative sleep but in our waking hours where is there? Stillness has a noise. You might think that if you could travel outward away from Earth into the vast darkness of the outer reaches of space that there at least there would be silence, but you’d be wrong.
The cosmos has it’s sounds too, ask any cosmologist and they will tell you that they would not be
able to study much of the universe without sound far less share what they discover. The universe is buzzing with all kinds of sounds at different
frequencies informing us of the life of stars, planets, moons, comets and more long after the light of
their existence has ceased. All we really have is the illusion of silence. It is a myth, a legend of a nothingness from which existence has sprung.
Light itself has sound which travels slower than the vibrations of photons that we call light. It is that
sound that cosmologists pick up on to be able to tell us that there was once a star in the far, far distant
heavens shining brightly. Many still do, but many have long since disappeared many billions of
years ago yet we see them still. At the risk of unsettling you, it can be argued that light too is an illusion of our mindsbcreation. Sight itself as Stephen Fry rightly points out in his ‘Inside Your Mind’ is perceived not bynour eyes, which are mere instruments to receive information but in our minds where the reverberations of photons gets interpreted and made sense of. As Einstein said everything is
vibration, even our thoughts.
Little wonder then that silence eludes us. When we look upon an image our minds immediately and automatically embark in the process of interpretation. Try as we might our functioning minds are never silent for they are continually at work striving to make sense of all things. Silence is an image we project in our minds. When we perceive light or the lack of it we could argue though that in that moment of perception, as light travels faster than sound, it is there that total silence may be found. The closer we are to the sights we see, the shorter the gap in what we hear of it. It’s that delay between light and sound, the gap between the flash of lighting and the rumble of thunder.
It is perhaps therefore not surprising then that while on social media of late I have become agitated
by the sheer amount of the noise of images bombarding me even with the sound on mute by which I encounter them. I suspect there’s a form of synaesthesia whereby people hear a colour as opposed to sensations of tasting or smelling them that manifest in other forms of the same condition. I can imagine the noise of a vigorous and rapid brush stroke as it sweeps across a canvas or the scratching of charcoal on paper without the sound of it and without even making those marks myself. Why do I need to read a tome about them if I can work out how these marks were made by myself?
Similarly most photographs silently put before our eyes we hear the sounds associated with
them in our minds. And it is that essence of being which artists throughout the centuries strive to
record. Art is a language of its own and for me just now I find words are the clumsiest form of
communication of all. I can think faster than I can write. And look what happens when you use words…
they get misread, misinterpreted and we become confused. How much more reliable is the language
of images where we can privately respond to the world as we see it, or convey all that we feel
emotionally. Music and sculpture are to me a far better forms of expression of our experiences than words alone. All too often words elude us, we stumble and get entangled and frustrated with them, piling in more to add to the confusion. Not that as a painter we don’t do the same frustrations but it can be so much quicker to impart a concept or idea with a flick of a brush than the click of tapping out words on a keyboard. An for complex things we turn to images to help aid our understanding.
Yesterday I tapped out a challenge on social media to depict the image of silence. I said, if you
could depict it, what would you paint? The first response was in words. My reply was a picture with
none. More words followed. My reply was the image of a light bulb followed by an image of a
person with one finger to their lips. They were emojis, both images of ‘silence’. I would that silence
was standard practice in all art galleries to enable our brains to indulge in the process of
interpretation to draw it’s own conclusions free from the influence of others and what they make of the works. Nothing to stop any of us communicating in words our responses thereafter, but we all need something by which wencan form our own opinions independent of others don’t we? We can not claim to have opinions of own unless we do so, can we? Without inner thoughts coming first, I would argue are not ourselves and therefore not best equipped to interpret things for others anyway. The words written here have conjured up images and images in turn conjure up, if not words, then thoughts.
What silence in your mind is it you wish to convey? Find that and we all find a language to communicate in when words fail us. My definition of ‘silence’ right now is the absence of words.
(With thanks to Einstein, Stephen Fry and John J Gorman for their inspiration)