Gilded Birds interview: Jane Haynes

Gilded Birds
December 5, 2013

King’s Review is pleased to present material from Gilded Birds ( Gilded Birds offers ‘a snapshot of contemporary ideals of beauty’. Through a series of interviews with influential artists and thinkers, Gilded Birds  explores broad conceptions of beauty through the narrowest of lenses.  Interviewees are asked to discuss a significant object – a painting, a  sculpture, a photograph, a book – which, to them, is beautiful. The  objects of Gilded Birds take us beyond ourselves, into questions  of aesthetic judgment, the value of art, and the relation between beauty  and ideology. They also turn our gaze inwardly, to something common in  all of us. We may not all agree on whether a particular object is beautiful, but we all make such judgments. Beauty matters to us all. The beauty of the interviews in Gilded Birds  is their ability to bring into focus the shared experience that lies  hidden beneath a wide variety of different objects. In the words of the site’s curator, Kerry Shaw:

The porcelain  makers of the eighteenth century believed that they were creating some  of the most beautiful objects in the world. These painted figurines and  gilded vases were miracles of craftsmanship in their day but are no  longer seen by most people as beautiful objects. In fact some people  find them hideous. Artists of today and tomorrow will always reject and  react against previous ideals of beauty.  But fashionable or not, we are  still surrounded by beauty in the world. We are asking some of the  world’s greatest creative minds to show us one object of beauty that can  contribute to a bigger picture of today’s ideal.

Below is the first in a series of interviews, originally published by Gilded Birds, which will appear in the King’s Review. More will appear in the coming weeks, including an interview with King’s College’s Christopher Prendergast.

Jane Haynes, psychotherapist and author, on her husband’s photograph, ‘Dog and Grass’.

Gilded Birds:

You’ve chosen a  photograph of your dog. So is the beauty sentimental? Would you find  this picture beautiful without any personal experience of this dog or  this grass?

Jane Haynes:

I have no  interest in the sentimental and regard it as a vice. In both my  consulting room and in my private life, I remind myself that beneath the  sentimental often lurks repressed sadism. The reason I have chosen this  image is because it represents a random moment of phenomenon I regard  to be beautiful. The grass is not my grass. How could it be, and  although the dog is ‘my’ dog, she does not ‘belong’ to me. My husband’s  image captures a reflection of an autumnal dog in declining grass. The  grass matters as much as the dog. It also reminds me of Dürer’s ‘Clod of  Earth’. Snakes lurk in grass but so do daisies (which once upon a time I  wove into endless chains of love), buttercups, sexy-milked dandelions  and minute orchids with beautiful names: green winged orchid, the lesser  butterfly orchid, the bee orchid. Although I cannot possess those  exquisite seconds of nature they are re-membered in the fact that I  prefer not to work in my consulting room without purchased consolations  of moth-winged phalenopsis orchids that help me to soak up those  woven-fine joys and woes of life that I listen to every day. Oh, I  should add that the dog is a Magyar Vizsla and I regard the breed whose  eyes and nails are polished autumn amber as ‘living art’.

Gilded Birds:

Do you think your  picture is universally beautiful? Does this choice reflect a current  state of mind or would it always be an ideal of beauty for you?

Janes Haynes:

I do not think there  is any such thing as universal beauty. I am not interested in the  universal or collective but prefer the subjective. I might allow the  moon the privilege of being an universal image of beauty, but then again  how to choose between its slither and full? I also privilege the sun,  but unlike the moon, which inspires me with awe, my sensation of the sun  is accompanied by an intrusive fantasy of foolish human beings  sunbathing without realising that the God is flaying them alive.

Gilded Birds:

Do you think it reveals other things about you other than simply what you think is beautiful?

Janes Haynes:

Not unless I share  them with you. I have already indicated that I like the idea of the  grass concealing exquisite beauty and deadly snares. It also happens  that the dog’s pedigree prefix is ‘Siriusbell’. It must already be  evident that I find the natural universe beautiful and I also find it  serendipitous that ‘Sirius’ stands for the brightest star in the  universe but it is also the feared ‘dog star’. I value all combinations  of opposites. I like the fact that Keats’ last poem was, ‘Bright star  would I were steadfast as thou’; that Shakespeare immortalised the star  to every wandering bark, and that ‘Bell’ is the name of my youngest  grand daughter whose beautiful smile was born on the seashores of the  world.

Gilded Birds:

Do you think we can become more self aware through examining what we find beautiful?

Janes Haynes:

Most definitely. I  am obsessed with and by Beauty. My family would say I am  Beauty-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disordered. I am not proud of that but it is  true. I earlier referred to the fallen ‘snake in the grass’, and beauty  can become that snake. Nobody describes it better than Yeats in his  poem Prayer For My Daughter:

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

But, I am consoled by physical beauty in men and  women and when I was twelve I fell in love with the most beautiful girl I  have ever seen. I wanted to become her altar-maid because I swooned at  her beauty, which was as aloof as any white tail deer fawn. Yes, I was  fawning of her beauty.  We are still friends although I have found it  difficult to witness her decay and perish with age. ‘Bare ruined choirs  where late the sweet birds sang’. (I should add that she also became  Ossie Clark’s muse, which was perhaps one mark of a cultural beauty  pedigree. Ah, but to think of Ossie Clark is also to think of murder and  to return involuntarily to fallen nature.) It goes without saying that  she also has a beautiful mind although to begin with she did not heed  Yeats’ warning and neglected it. Beauty may be foolish but it cannot be  stupid.

To return to your question: beauty whether in  nature or the flesh – since childhood when I searched in the grass  endlessly to find a four leaf clover – has been a consolation to me for  the loneliness and ugliness that I feel in being human and separate. I  find it hard to forgive ugliness whether it is in architecture or  ignorance.

Gilded Birds:

What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

Janes Haynes:

Symmetry. Soul. Mystery. Myth. Language. The Fall… Yes, a terrible beauty is born.

With thanks to Kerry Shaw and Jane Haynes for permitting the reproduction of this material. Introduction by Chris Townsend.


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