Sunday, January 27, 2008


flowers: god's perfect masterpiece

The naturalist, J. B. S. Haldane, was once asked by a cleric about what he might infer about the Creator, based on his wide ranging study of life. Haldane supposedly replied that the creator had "an inordinate fondness for beetles"

i can't recall how and where i first got this from (most probably from that most likeable of tv naturalists sir david attenborough) but in any case this is one of the very few things i actually learnt when i was an entomology student many many years ago. while there is only one species of human beings - despite all the different sizes, colors , racism and fightings seems to suggest otherwise and our anthropomorphic hubris claiming that we the homo sapiens is the most prefect and best loved creation of god - the fact is there are perhaps about half a million species of very fascinating and lovely beetles from the scientific order coleoptera crawling and flying all over the face of this world. and that's not counting all the rest of god's creations and the remaining millions of the rest of insect species.

by this very fact alone it seems logical to infer that god loves cockroaches, bugs and worms a lot more than us humans. i can imagine the old god sitting there on a log somewhere and lovingly fashion one species of beetle after another and when it comes to homo sapien's turn , took a clod of clay and sculpted a human form and then exclaimed; oh fuck, one species is enough! even with this just one species alone human beings will go on to breed evil and create mayhem and destroy this lovely world that i created . and old god would get very depressed and stopped creating and went straight to bed on the sabbath. the seventh day. and i think he has been dozing off ever since. or at least that's how some religion seem to view creation more or less.

but as they say, the jury is still out whether human beings is the most perfect creation. and we may never know the real answer although for my money i would bet otherwise. i can't see any logic in it. how can human be perfect if we can breed the like of hitler and george w bush? and you asked; why george w? but here's the thing. human is doubly imperfect because most people can't see the evil in george w bush despite him wreaking two sovereign countries merely to hunt one man with a long beard. well, that's basically the big picture.

but you can give this to god. he has truly created at least one masterpiece which everybody agrees on.. flowers! nobody in his right mind will disagree with this. you can argue that god has created all kinds of wonderful animals , but not many will say that hyenas are lovely animals unless you are david attenborough. almost all will agree that tapeworm is a useless creation and very repulsive unless you're a helmithologist and everybody will agree that AIDS virus is something we can do without and so on and so forth.

but flowers? they are all perfect. it can be from the most exuberant orchids, roses and lilies or the lowliest creepers or grasses, it can be big or minute it can be brightly colored, or mere pale sepia, they can be in all kinds of shapes and contortions, simple, compound, single in bunches or infloresences, in spikes, racemes, umbels, male, female even hamophrodite , they can have the most pleasant smell or the most foul odour but without exception they are all perfectly beautiful. i for one have never seen a flower that i don't like.

except this. the only flowers that i don't like (and in fact hate) are plastic flowers. but on he other hand i absolutely love flower paintings. so, that's my faminine side truth be told. and whenever i have the opportunity to visit great art museums like the MET, Chicago Institute of Art, the Louvre or London National Art Gallery i will make a special point to go to the less visited rooms where they hang old still lifes and especially those dutch and flemish genre paintings of the 16 th and 17th centuries. and i'd stand there marveling at the beauty of the vanitas, still lifes and flower paintings . the rachel ruyschs, bosschaerts , de heems and the rest. I like them so much that i in fact bought copies of some of these paintings from those touristy art shops in ho chi minh city where they have young artists copying well known paintings from art books . from the impressionists to the ubiquitous boteros , gustave klimts and the lempickas and yes, some dutch flower paintings from the 17th century.

Two of the paintings that i bought several years ago were by jan van huysum (left) and jan davidz de heem (right) the original of which you can see below.

When not visiting museums i make up with buying art books and happy to say that i now have well over 200 coffee table books on artists ranging from chardin to holbein to popova and picasso and pollock to van gogh and many others... from great classical paintings to still lifes, from the impressionists and up to the expressionists . and that's where i stop. i detest pop art and most of surrealism. no warhols or rauchenbergs for me. and i collect exhibition catalogues and have quite a few lovely ones such as this one and this one which has a very lovely section on 'plants , birds and insects' with some of the most delectable watercolor of plants and roses that rival or even better than the best of Redoute's roses.

and i had the good fortune to accidentally stumble across an fantastic exhibition 'Empire of Nature" at the singapore national museum in september last year. if you have been to this museum you'll notice that there is a small room devoted solely to natural history water colors . There are perhaps around hundred or so of these lovely pictures idiosyncratically painted by unknown local artists hired by william farquhar the founder of singapore a couple of hundred years ago. i guess this is periodicaly changed in a revolving exhibition. it's my favorite room in the singapore museum. but this 'empire of nature exhibition' is a truly magnificent showpiece as it exhibited ALL of the collection for the first time and i was esctastic.

human beings may not be god's perfect creation but sometimes human can, like god create works of supreme beauty and i can't complain much when men imitate god and paint god's prefect creations of plants and flowers.

and oh there are books! and i bought this sumptuous book the naming of names a week ago full of beautiful paintings and woodcuts and prints of plants and trees and flowers. i don't know when i'll ever get to read it but just looking at these beautiful plants and flowers painted hundreds of years ago make my heart full and make me forget for a while all the sad events of the world. i can go on and on but i'll end here.

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