Tout va bien keeps appearing in Vera Muratet’s drawings of birds and squirrels and other assorted animals. Everything is fine, all is well. All is not well in this world. But for the artist, a ten year old girl who loves animals as much as drawing them, all is well. We might as well acknowledge that for us, all is not well for reasons that are beyond this young girl’s concerns and that all-too-often should be beyond ours as well.
Tout va bien (subtitled Cahier d’animaux à Paris) showcases Vera’s drawings alongside reproduction from animal guides and photographs by her father, Myr Muratet. There is a photograph of Vera drawing, taken by the father. But careful attention has been paid by the book’s makers to give the young artist the recognition she deserves.
Aside from a drawn self-portrait, there also is an “about me” at the end of the book, in which Vera telling us what she thinks we need to know about her. “Aujourd’hui,” she writes, “je suis allée à l’école, j’ai fais des maths, du français, de l’histoire et de la lecture. Demain, je ferais des maths, du français et de l’art plastique et ensuite j’irai nager et m’amuser.” (All texts appear in French and English in the book.)
One of the most previous aspects of childhood is the ignorance of distinctions that as adults we take for granted. Unlike our own adult ignorance, which often is rooted in neglect if not malice, a child’s is innocent, devoid of second thoughts.
Seen this way, even discussing whether this book is for children or adults misses its point entirely. It’s simultaneously not for children and not for adults. The former might find the way it’s put together too complicated for reasons that aren’t clear to them. The latter might find what it presents too… well, childlike (except, of course, the proud parents).
But in reality, Tout va bien really is a book for children and for adults, and it’s the adults that can learn a lot from it. After all, even as children and (well, some) adults take great pleasure in observing the world, it is only children that are able to do it in an innocent fashion, a fashion devoid of an agenda.
You can see this in action in some of the photographs taken by Myr Muratet. There’s a great photograph of his daughter standing by a railing that has a bird sit right next to her. But there are other photographs that appear to have been made with much less effect in mind, such as the photographs of a bird’s nest that first show four eggs and then the four hatched chicks asking to be fed.
Truth be told, I’m not sure that what I’m writing makes sense to anyone but myself. What I’m after is what now commonly is called mindfulness. Unfortunately, to a large extent through sheer commercialization (and a dose of orientalism) this idea has become such a vague and shallow cliché that it’s almost useless.
If you trace it back to buddhist writing, you get a better understanding — even if understanding is exactly not the point: you want to be and take the world as it is, without projecting judgment onto it. Children are able to do it. But as they grow older and get more and more exposed to adult thinking, they lose their ability to experience the world that way, and inevitably they will adopt the cynicism that is the guiding principle of contemporary (capitalist) life.
Because Tout va bien contains traces of both — the childlike wonder and earnestness, and the adult calculation and earnestness — the book can help us remember some of what we have abandoned, traces of which we still carry with us. You couldn’t achieve the same effect by looking at books made for children. You can only do it by looking at a book that to a large extent was made by a child.
To be honest, I find it difficult to write more about this book without falling into utter despair. I suppose that I don’t have to tell you about all the violence and mayhem happening in the world right now. Where’s the way out? I don’t have a good answer — other than thinking (hoping really) that a rejection of the relentless cynicism that is underpinning our existences might provide a good beginning.
We have to re-train ourselves to see the world’s wonders again, the way children do. We have to understand that life — all life, meaning: every living being’s life — is precious, equally precious. This also means accepting that all suffering is equally horrible, and one being’s suffering must not be used to excuse another’s. If that means that we finally have to elect better leaders, then, well, we should do that, too.
Tout va bien; drawings by Vera Muratet, photographs by Myr Muratet; texts by Vera Muratet, François Chiron, Luca Reffo and Francesca Todde; 114 pages; Départ Pour l’Image; 2023
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