Roy looked down from the cliffs at the man drawing in the sand. The picture that started to emerge startled him. It was an extraordinary face, not realistically rendered, but seemingly viewed from many angles at once. In fact, it looked much like a Picasso.
As soon as the thought entered his mind, his heart stopped. He lifted his binoculars to his eyes, which he then felt compelled to rub. The man on the beach was Picasso.
Roy's pulse raced. He walked this route every day, and he knew that very soon the tide would sweep in and wash away a genuine Picasso original. Somehow, he had to try and save it. But how?
Trying to hold back the sea was futile. Nor was there any way to take a cast of the sand, even if he had had the time he was actually so short of. Perhaps he could run back home for his camera. But that would at best preserve a record of the work, not the picture itself. And if he did try this, by the time he got back, the image would probably have been erased by the ocean. Perhaps then he should simply enjoy this private view as long as it lasted. As he stood watching, he didn't know whether to smile or cry.
Baggini, J., The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, 2005, p. 34.
Last week's experiment about the ship Theseus being dismantled and repaired into two new boats served as a reminder that the natures of things are always changing. This week, we see how that change can take place slowly, as in a Picasso painting, or quickly, as in the Picasso sand drawing. Of course, those speeds are relative too depending on the timeframe you choose to look at. Compared to cosmic time, even the painting that lasts a few hundred years, or several lifetimes to you and me, is around for just a tiny blink in existence. And while the sand drawing may last "half a lifetime" for a mayfly, we may find that it is gone too soon for our own tastes. Fortunately, when we really want to hold on to something, we do have long lasting nerve cells in our brains that allow us to keep memories for decades if they are important enough and if we revisit them occasionally. I hope this experiment will help me remember to savour the right things in my life more often and more deeply.
The artist Andy Goldsworthy, whose work was profiled in the mesmerising documentary Rivers and Tides, is probably the best I've seen at exploring this notion of time and ephemerality. Check out the trailer below and then consider seeing the film to let this idea sink in more deeply. It's a worthwhile experience that lasts far longer than one might expect...