To be a visual artist.

You are lying on the grass in the sun. Above is a beech tree. A slight wind lifts the lighter branches and turns the leaves. From a distance this constant movement of the leaves makes it look as if green snow is falling in front of the tree’s green surface-just as once silvery snow seemed to fall in front of the grey cinema screens. Through half-closed eyes you gaze up. They are half-closed because you are watching intently. One bough extends further than the others. It is impossible to count the number of leaves on it. The blue sky which you see through and arround these leaves is like the whiteness of paper round the letters of words. The distribution of the leaves against the sky seems far from arbitrary. You find yourself wondering whether it might not be possible to explain their sequence as one can explain the sequence of letters and words in a book. Then you discover an image which, like a good teacher, gives direction to your confused thinking. Everything-you begin to say to yourself-in order to archieve existence at all, must pierce the very centre of a target; anything which misses that centre simply does not exist. But a teacher’s words after he has gone often prove a disappointment. So you are left puzzling how the bough above you can be said to represent the entire Spring….Thinking like this you may be a philosopher, but I don’t think you’re a visual artist.
You are lying with your head on your carefully folded jacket. The tree, you calculate, must be a good twenty meters tall. You can discover any buds? You screw up your eyes. There are none left. Things must be at least a fortnight further advanced than at home. It’s lower, of course, and protected by the hills. Then you try to see if you can distinguish the inconspicuous flowers. The bough is too high and the light is too bright.You remember that during famines men ate beech fruit. After all, the beech belongs to the same family as the sweet chestnut; and pigs are turned into beech woods in the autumn. But then pigs eat anything. Your eye travels along the bough. Its shape is like the outline of a horse’s hind leg seen from the side. You are becomming sleepy, but as you look up you imagine throwing a rope over that bough. You are not longer thinking, you are drifting, and your eyes are almost shut. Yet the palms of your hands and insides of your knees go tense at the memory of climbing along such twisting branches as a child. For you the parts of the tree are there to master in one way or another….but not through drawing.
Idly and every so often you close your eyes. Then the image of the pattern of the leaves remains for a moment before fades, imprinted on your retina, but now deep red, the color of the darkest rhododendron. When you re-open your eyes the light is so brilliant that you have the sensation of it breaking against you in waves, reminding you of how small an island you are in the grass. You are aware of the children playing around you, and by some association too quick for you to notice-although you will remember it in retropspect-you marvel at how many birds a tree ca hide. At dusk, when a man approaches, a flock of forty or fifty starlings can scatter upwards from a single may tree to circle the sky once more; like painted birds on a fan suddenly opened and then slowly shut again. The tree is full of incidents, imagined and remembered. But for you, above all, this tree exists in time, and its size and its green-ness and the reasoning of the man who originally planted it, no less than the reasoning of the man who may order it to be felled, all remind you of this fact. Suddenly you notice that the sky is not a uniform blue. There, above the tree, is a vertical streak of paler blue,branching out at ist top end in several directions. In fact, it`s like a tree itself, you say. Then you watch it change into a lion´s head….You are using your eyes-like a poet perhaps; but not like a painter.
You lie there. You can smell the grass. You are more than usually concious of the warmth of the sun. You have the sensation that you are stretched across the world and so can feel the curve of the earth. Nothing about the tree surprise you. You look at it as an actor may look at the auditorium. And your drama? Your arm is round another waist; a hand strokes through your hair. You may be anybody, bit at the moment you see the tree as only a lover sees it. The tree is an X marking a spot for you both.
You do not look at the tree. What sense is there in lying down if you have to use your eyes? You half listen to the wind. The leaves sound like sand beeing tipped. When you wake you look up very warily. You see green, blue, green mixed with dirty white. The green has taken every trace of yellow out of the blue. That fact is certain. Everything else is confused. Without concentrating very hard and, as if with your hands, you begin to sort out what you can see. Imitating the skill of the flowersellers who know exactly which sprig to put with which, you learn to distinguish the swags of foliage, allotting each to ist own branch and to its own proper position in space. You begin to test the angles of the branches, like a fitter, not like a mathematician. You do your best to belittle that tree: to reduce it to a tangible size and simplicity. You close your eyes again. But now you are concentrating.You are thinking of graphic marks. How can they adapt themselves to admit such a tree? How can they keep such a tree in its proper place? Gradually you are able to imagine it appearing as a brushed-in image. When you open your eyes to look at the actual tree you try your hardest to see it as you have just imagined it. But you can´t. It remains there towering against the sky.You belittle it again. Close your eyes once more. Adapt the tree that is only an image. Then open your eyes to check. The image is getting close,but the beech still towers and shimmers above you.Again and again. And so you may lie until it is dark…and be a visual artist.

John Berger