Time Is An Artist

Hathian | Nikon D60, 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX | 30/01/11 | Click image for larger view.

The notion that only what is new and young is beautiful poisons our relationship to the past and to our own future. It keeps us from understanding our roots and the greatest works of our culture and other cultures. It also makes us dread what lies ahead of us and leads many to shirk reality…

Many people have a very limited interest in art. … Most people have no in­tense concern with antiquity. But the central problem of the effects of time concerns all of us, even if millions refuse to think about it. It is not easy to get at this problem.

The philosophers who have written on time are not much help here. Almost all of them have ignored life at the limits and have done their work in the eye of life’s hurricane.

My experience of time owes more to Rembrandt than to Plato, and more to the Hebrew Bible than to Kant. It has also been shaped by the contemplation of sculptures and ruins and of alarming “restorations.” To Plato and Kant it never occurred that our experience of time could be shaped by looking at works of art, tree bark, erosion, and sunsets, or by reading stories like those of Jacob, Samson, or David.

Of course, “Old is beautiful” is as paradoxical as “Time is an artist.” What meets the eye is the opposite. Yet photographs show how both claims are true. Still they do not tell all, and it may be objected that this aesthetic approach is overly optimistic. My approach, however, is not merely aesthetic. It does not concentrate on surfaces while ignoring oppression, suffering, and death…

Time is an artist. But an artist is not only an artist. Old is beautiful. But old is not only beautiful. As long as we fail to see the artistry of time and the beauty of age, we are far from understanding man’s lot. But to understand it more fully, we still need to ask: What is man?

— From Walter Kaufmann’s Time is an Artist (1978)


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