The wisdom of age is ignored in favour of the cult of youth
Goya, at the age of 70, embarked for the first time in his life on painting to please himself.
He was working outside the realms of the commission, which gave him the opportunity to not only please himself, but also to exorcise some of the most horrific ghosts from his earlier years. In one sense, he was a man in exile. The exile subject of Ezra Pound's 'Into the valley of the thousand bright flowers'did not feel abandoned through a lack of comfort and power but because he was destined to be parted from his great friend by his father. In this exile's letter, there is sadness and remembrance of beauty. By contrast, Goya's exile was one of regret and horror.
In the last 10 years of his life he produced a series of etchings where the plates contain a harsh and realistic contemplation of a people's struggle. They testify to the need, felt by Goya, to compile a document which is not only an accusation, but a universal protest against war.
The series is called 'The Disasters ofWar'.
Goya stood at a poignant point in history.
He had been raised in a small hamlet in an ancient country which gave the illusion of a leisured existence. In fact, it was an appearance which tended to obscure the reality of poverty, ignorance and superstition.
He embarked on the series called the 'Black Paintings', which I believe anticipated the very beginnings of existentialism, surrealism and expressionism. These currents were already stirring, but here we find this elderly deaf man responding to political and cultural shifts in Europe, which resulted in his final exile to Bordeaux. The 'Black Paintings'depict an exploration into man's soul and destiny, a deep analysis of obsessions and hopes. Goya had seen many of the things he depicted. He had witnessed death by starvation, looting, executions, all at the hands of a 'police state'.
His sketch called Nada, 'the nothingness that surrounds our existence', was a celebration of the peasants' resistance. Liberals were persecuted and people crushed under a government of oppression. The world was changing rapidly and the old man was busy.
Ambiguity of meaning reigns supreme in these works. He attains the sublime by passing through what is horrid. In the Citadel on the Rock winged messengers come and go, bearing useless orders from the officials at the castle to the men who crawl in the valley. 'I am still learning, 'Goya writes on the bottom of one of his drawings.
All this coming from an old man working for his own delight. He screamed at society about social hypocrisy, conventions, prejudices and the dangers of religious and political idols. His exile in Bordeaux also allowed him to reflect on other qualities, and in one of his last images, The Milkmaid of Bordeaux, we see a tenderness and serene beauty. In spite of his anger, he also knew that beauty is at the heart of every truly human endeavour. This painting shows a watery gaze from a beautiful woman as she looks out from the canvas in a reminder of a warm and beautiful life, as it used to whisper to Goya in the evening breeze of Saragossa.
Today, the wisdom of age is ignored in favour of the cult of youth, which appeases the guilt of those in control. Many government bodies and agencies (and the rest) send out confusing and pathetic messages to us in an arrogant attempt to keep us happy - it does not. We are (as I write) about to attack Iraq to satisfy political dogma without due consideration for the aftermath or its effect on the people. We should all keep our eyes on allowing our own individuality to find expression and to console ourselves with beauty.