The field of knowledge is vast, limitless.
A book I'm reading at the moment is Jon Thompson's How to Read a Modern Painting. Among many other artists he features Monet, Manet, Seurat, Van Gogh — all people we've heard of, of course. But he also mentions Charles Gleyre, Frédéric Bazille, Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson. Have you come across them? Me neither. But they were all well-known painters of their day. It's just the leading innovators and charismatic celebrities whose names survive in the common consciousness and crop up in quiz questions and factual digests. But beneath this top tier of artists who outwitted obscurity and became eternal (Van Gogh after death), there's another bigger tier of tireless practitioners who peaked in their time but whose names have now faded from view; and beneath that an even bigger tier of talent never popular when alive, still unknown now, and perhaps never destined to be recognised; and beneath that thousands upon thousands of striving creators, some struck (stuck?) with genius, others merely amateur followers of their craft . . .
Our knowledge of art — and of all things — is usually confined to the top of the pyramid, the tip of the iceberg of knowledge (unless we happen to be a specialist in that subject — and, even then, our specialism may cover only one deeply-worked seam of the whole mine).
We can never know everything; indeed, we can only ever know a small proportion of all there is to know. And even if we knew everything, there are still all those things which remain to be discovered, and there's also that huge and barely-explored realm of universal space-time knowledge and spiritual God-knowledge which is normally beyond the grasp of our comprehension.
And to go back to Monet, Manet and Seurat: to be honest, how much do we really know about them? Not a lot, if we're truthful — perhaps a few picture reproductions and potted biographies and soundbites. It all depends on what we're interested in, what our specialities are, how much time we've got, the condition of our memories, and so on.
Speaking for myself, I'm a generalist at heart, and like to think I know a little about a lot. I'm under no illusion, however, that I'll ever know all the fascinating things there are to know. In fact, I realise that I'll only ever know a tiny fraction of all these things, only ever nibble away at one corner of the enormous loaf of knowledge, and this only imperfectly and often half-heartedly, leaving undigested crumbs in my wake. With every book I read I'm only too aware that the list of books I want to read extends daily. With every journey I make and every place I visit I'm only too aware that the number of journeys I'd like to make and the number of places I'd like to visit is infinite.
The key here, I think, is to adopt a Zen-like calm and acceptance about this complex, brain-numbing affair of knowledge and experience. We can only ever know and experience a few things, so let's try to ensure we know and experience them as profoundly and as radiantly as we can. Let's explore depth and quality rather than surface and quantity.
As HUGH OF ST VICTOR (c. 1096-1141) wrote:
Therefore I beg you, reader, not to rejoice too greatly if you have read much, but if you have understood much. Nor that you have understood much, but that you have been able to retain it. Otherwise it is of little profit either to read or to understand.
Whatever we know or don't know, do or don't do, have experienced or have not experienced, it doesn't matter; the important thing is to live one's life as beautifully, as resonantly and as meaningfully as one can.
Live all you can — it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that, what have you had? . . . What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that . . . The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have . . . Live!
HENRY JAMES The Ambassadors