The self-education of Robert Burns continued with his decision to teach himself the fiddle. That he did so well-enough was proved by his later ability to notate and transcribe old Scottish melodies to re-work them as songs by adding new lyrics. It was all part of his re-working of himself as a creative artist. This distanced him more and more from his friends and family. Not to the extent of ill-feeling or lack of love, but only as a symptom of his increasing unease with his own circumstances. The weight of his limited environment was beginning to press more and more upon him. Taking up music was only another defence against being submerged.
This is why the wooden ceiling in the picture seems to weigh heavily upon him and why the family appear to be at a distance from him in the room. He has placed his chair as far away from them all as he can and he is lost in the sounds he is trying to make, as much as he was in books when he was a little boy. It’s just the same mechanism at work; he is feeding the hunger of his own aesthetic impulses. It is the only way he knows, to give obsessively to the thing in hand and let the world go by all round him. He was a compulsive and his compulsion was to find out how much of the artist was in him and how he might use it. He had to find out first what song he wanted to sing.
Meantime, the family look on – the father from his chair at the window, the sisters around the breakfast table and the two brothers at the door. They were seeing yet another aspect of their sibling in transition.