Wednesday, 11 May 2011

One man and his dog

I was having a leisurely cup of coffee with an artist friend the other day, and our conversation turned to the subject of her children, a daughter of 15 and a son of 13. She was telling me how different they are. 

Her daughter is very systematic and self-disciplined. She has drawn up a colour-coded timetable, taking in her school work, revision and hobbies. But, as diligent as she is, she really can't motivate herself to do her art coursework. This is very disconcerting for my friend, for whom art coursework is the stuff of dreams.

Her son, on the other hand, is of a much more creative bent. He recently had to write a story for school, and didn't know where to start. But once he got going, he created an impressively mature piece of work, rich in descriptive narrative and tension.

Two parents, one household, one environment, and two very different children. One of them seems to take after his artistic mother, while the other clearly shares more character traits with her (scientist) father.

Our conversation left me to reflect on how we end up the way we do, and how certain tastes and talents are passed on from one generation to the next. And I began to think about my own heritage. 

Let me introduce Henry Keates Gazey.

I love this photograph - the only one we have of him. Henry Keates Gazey was my great grandfather. He grew up in Birmingham, the tenth of twelve children, and was at art college before World War I so cruelly intervened. He served in the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, and was killed in Flanders on 8th April, 1915, at the age of only 21.

I always think that Henry looks haunted and melancholy here. Of course, people rarely smiled in photographs at that time. But I am doubtless also projecting my own knowledge of his fate onto the image, a fate of which he was probably unaware when the photograph was made.

I like to believe that my own creative drive, or any talent I may have, came down through the generations from Henry. Every generation on that side of the family has included individuals with a strong interest in literature, art, the theatre and dance, and there seems to be too strong a connection for this to be mere coincidence.

Sometimes I muse on the idea that, had Henry not gone to war, I might have met him. I might have known and loved him. He might even have shaped and guided my own creativity, an idea I find awe-inspiring. 

But it's nonsense, of course. Had Henry lived, life for his immediate family would have taken a completely different course, different decisions would have been made, different opportunities would have presented themselves. And, ultimately, it's unlikely I would be here at all!

I may never have met him. But I can use his talent to inspire and motivate me. I can strive to make the most of my own creativity. And I can hope that, one day, I might even do him proud. What a tribute that would be.


  1. I can totally relate to this Sophie. I live in a very similar household. I am almost opposite to Geoff in every way .. he is confident, focused, loves technology, science etc. My children reflect this too, in their personalities that is. Abe is much more confident than I was but is a sensitive, self conscious child. Fleur, more confident, more out there, more theatrical :) Although they have traits from each of us. They are probably too young to say whether theirs is artistic or scientific or musically inclined .. at the moment they are embracing all. As for me, I have no idea where my love/passion for art comes from .. I think it skipped a few generations .. would be interesting to find out. Wonderful blog as always ..

  2. Thank you very much for your visit, and your lovely comments, Deborah. I find it so fascinating how we develop as we do. Inevitably, nurture must play a big part in our development, but you just can't help thinking that these things get passed through the generations somehow.

    It must be very exciting watching your children develop, and discovering where their talents and interests naturally lie.

    Once again, thank you for popping by. It's always good to see you! Sophie x