• Mark Chen for Jackson’s Art Blog

    Recently, tutor Mark Chen was featured in Jackson’s Art Blog. The piece, written by Jackson’s Clare McNamara, delves into Mark Chen’s artistic practice, looking primarily at his sketchbooks. Read the feature here:

    https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/2022/11/18/inside-the-sketchbook-of-mark-chen/

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Journal Posts
LondonFineArts30th January 2023Our JournalThis February, London Fine Art Studios are holding an exhibition for tutors and de Laszlo scholars with the Gallery at Green & Stone . Featuring the work of students from London Fine Art Studios past and present, this is an exciting exhibition showcases the drawing and painting skills developed at the Studios.  As part of the two-week exhibition, we are running a workshop and demonstration programme, including painting demonstrations, life drawing classes, drawing workshops, and portrait workshops. You can sign up for these classes through this link – https://londonfineartstudios.com/upcoming-events/. Exhibition Statement Words from founder Ann Witheridge:  “We are delighted to be hosting this exhibition with Green & Stone, who have supported many of our artists in previous exhibitions. The success of the Studios is thanks to our amazing community of models, students and fellow artists who come together to learn, paint, and share in both our artistic frustrations and triumphs. We are very grateful to the de Laszlo Foundation whose encouragement and backing has given confidence to so many artists.” This exhibition is the first of its kind, bringing together work by alumni, tutors, and de Laszlo scholars, who have studied at London Fine Art Studios over the last ten years.  London Fine Art Studios champions the traditional craft of drawing and painting, and we hope that this exhibition highlights the multitude of possibilities that an academic art education allows. The paintings showcased here demonstrate these possibilities spectacularly – all the artists have trained with us, according to the atelier tradition, yet you’ll find a wide variety of styles and works. Continuing a tradition established by the European Masters, our artists develop a firm understanding of the principles of drawing and painting, providing the foundation whereby they can grow in their own direction. This exhibition may indeed challenge preconceived notions of atelier art, presenting a new contemporary, yet classical style that stems from a tradition very much alive.  After several years of support from the de Laszlo Foundation, we wanted to provide the opportunity for our artists to exhibit their work, and thanks to our friends at The Gallery at Green & Stone, they are able to do so in a wonderful location, alongside fellow artists from the LFAS community. The works displayed here are a mixture of paintings made during the artist’s studies at the studio and from their own practice.  Helena Boase, Marketing Manager at London Fine Art Studios. List of Exhibiting Artists: Alexandra BELL Ann WITHERIDGE Annam BUTT Archie WARDLAW Aspen AREN Charlotte PARTRIDGE Claudia NEWCOME Clementine ST JOHN WEBSTER  Cristina VERCESI Daisy PERKINS Domino ROE Georgie VESTEY Helena BOASE Jack FORD Jill HOOPER Joni DUARTE Lucy KENT Maddy GYSELYNCK Mark CHEN Nneka UZOIGWE Phoebe DICKINSON Rosalie WATKINS Sam CLAYDEN Scott POHLSCHMIDT Shirley CHI Stacey GLEDHILL Toby GAWLER [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts17th October 2022Our JournalThe International Artist in Residence Rubens Award is an award established by London Fine Art Studios to promote and offer an open door to artists from across the world. Named the Rubens award in honour of the revered master who traveled widely and spread his great knowledge and artistic influence, we hope this award will encourage our shared artistic journey in the pursuit of beauty and learning. The Rubens Award was officially established in 2022. Following the global pandemic, as artists we became aware of how important and fortunate we have been to live in a world of beauty and sharing of ideas, shedding light on a  universality and need to connect with other artists of different backgrounds and trainings. The award is open to all nationalities (subject to visa requirements). The requirements are as follows: – The applicant must have fulfilled a complete art program or apprenticeship outside of the UK with exemplary skills in craftsmanship – The applicant must be pursuing a career as a full-time artist – 5 images are required (1 image must be a detail) – Works submitted must be in 1 or more of these mediums: oil, tempera, watercolours, pastels, charcoals, inks, contès, clay, bronze and marble – Brief biography/CV The Rubens Award winner will have free and full access to all of the studios and models at London Fine Art Studios 7 days a week. They will be expected to give a demonstration, lecture, or museum tour during their residency. Applications will be accepted October 15-December 15. The award winner will coordinate with London Fine Art Studios to organize a time frame suitable for both the artist and school. The work submitted will be reviewed by the founders of LFAS and past award winners. For full Terms and Conditions, please email info@londonfineartstudios.com Read about the current award holder, Jill Hooper, here. [...] Read more...
Helena Boase14th October 2022Our JournalOn Wednesday evening we had the privilege of having Natasha Chetwynd speak to us about the portraits painted by John Singer Sargent of her family, the Wertheimers. Hearing such intimate insights into the artist’s relationship with her ancestors was a truly unique experience, and one very much enjoyed by all present! Ann Witheridge and the team met Natasha Chetwynd over the summer when she hosted guided tours of the ‘Sargent Room’ at the Tate Britain. Unusually for the time, Sargent painted more than 12 portraits of the Wertheimer family, a non-aristocratic but wealthy Jewish family whose patriarch, Asher, was an art dealer. The scale and number of these portraits were somewhat controversial, receiving anti-Semitic responses in the first few decades of the 20th century, and when Asher left these paintings to the nation.  On display together for the first time in 100 years early this year, these portraits demonstrated Sargent’s incredible skill of capturing not just a likeness of his sitter, but also their character.  Sadly these portraits are now back in the Tate’s vault, but it was wonderful to hear so much about them from Natasha.  Natasha Chetwynd treated us to a presentation on the portraits, providing wonderful anecdotes about Sargent’s time with her family. These stories have been passed down through Natasha’s family, and in many ways made Sargent seem much more tangible for those listening, humanising the artist so many of us love and admire. In keeping with the evenings subject, we made a ‘Sargent’s cocktail’ (in effect a Kir Royale), which no doubt contributed to the fantastic atmosphere of the evening. Here is the Tate’s description of the Wertheimer portraits when they were on display: “The Wertheimers were a wealthy middle-class Jewish family. Asher Wertheimer (1843–1918), a highly successful London art dealer, commissioned Sargent to paint them. Sargent was the leading portrait painter of the late Victorian and Edwardian elite. The group of portraits form the artist’s largest commission. It is also a unique group as nine of them were donated to the national art collection in Britain. This bequest highlights changes in British society, but also caused controversy. Asher’s father Samson, also a dealer, settled in Britain in 1830, having fled religious persecution in Germany. Asher built on his success and in 1898, he asked Sargent to paint portraits of him and his wife, Flora, for their 25th wedding anniversary. They became friends and, over the next ten years, the artist painted ten further portraits of the family. Eight of the portraits were displayed in the family’s dining room, which was nicknamed ‘Sargent’s mess’. Asher bequeathed nine of the paintings to the National Gallery. As he had wished, they were displayed in their own room between 1923 and 1926, then were transferred to the Tate Gallery to feature in a newly built Sargent room. This large gift was a source of debate, discussed in Parliament by MPs who criticised the family, using antisemitic tropes. The Wertheimers were seen by some as ‘outsiders’ to the British establishment. Traditionally, only aristocratic families commissioned portraits of this scale, for galleries in their stately homes. In the context of rising antisemitism in the 1920s, the reception of the portraits, even when favourable, often betrayed prejudice, stereotyping and racism. Some critics have perceived elements of caricature in some of the paintings, although Sargent’s relationship with the Wertheimer family was one of lasting friendship and mutual admiration.” Taken from the Tate’s website – https://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain/display/spotlights/john-singer-sargents-wertheimer-family-portraits [...] Read more...
Helena Boase4th October 2022Our JournalMany of our students have had the joy of studying under Jill Hooper during her welcomed visits to the UK. On her most recent trip, Jill Hooper hosted a fantastic demonstration evening on “Drawing the Male Torso: Materials and Techniques”, an event which raised funds for our Ukrainian Artist Fund. This fund goes towards enabling Ukrainian artists to study with us during the term. Jill Hooper’s evening demonstration on “Drawing the Male Torso: Materials and Techniques” Based in North Carolina, Jill Hooper has been coming to teach at London Fine Art Studios for 11 years. As a result, she has since received our International Artist Residency Award in recognition of her dedication to the studios and exemplary skills in oil painting, drawing, and craftsmanship. Indeed, during her “Drawing the Male Torso” workshop, she generously shared these skills with us. Drawing from a live model, Jill took us through her artistic process, from drawing the figure in conte pastel, charcoal and even making her own ink. The influence of Old Masters such as da Vinci and Michelangelo is beautifully evident in her work, and is perhaps a reminder to us all not to forget the value of master studies! Jill’s connection with the school is a long and deep one. She met Ann Witheridge, founder of London Fine Art Studios, and Ann’s husband, Scott Pohlschmidt, when studying in Florence at some point “in the last century”. Before studying the sight-size tradition in art history’s favourite Italian city (controversial?), Hooper trained under D. Jeffrey Mims for several years, as well as at the Universite de Haute Bretagne in Rennes, France. She has additionally trained under Benjamin Long VI at the League of the Carolinas, working with him on a fresco of epic proportions. With ties all over the globe, Jill’s work has been exhibited likewise. Her work is included in the permanent collection of the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston (where she was, in fact, the youngest person to have their work collected), and had her self-portrait exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery. Hooper is currently preparing for an exhibition set for 2024. Many of the works in the exhibition are inspired by her travels to Italy, Egypt, and Israel. Before lockdown, Jill was able to travel as part of a project researching for a book ‘The Current’, which is being published this coming Autumn (2022). Hooper’s contribution to this work includes paintings and drawings from marble quarries in Carrara, Italy, and Egypt. At present, Jill is designing a mural for the Eye Hospital in Jerusalem, where she spent time in 2014. Her stunning portraiture series of those she met there can be found here. All of us at London Fine Art Studios are very much looking forward to welcoming Jill Hooper back sometime soon! Let’s see if we can get her to do another demonstration evening… You can have a look at more of Jill’s work here – on her instagram and her website. Some of the work Jill Hooper produced over the Spring term 2022 [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts10th August 2022Our JournalOne of our July Course students, Mat Hill, wrote up his experience of the July Courses on his website. You can view his website here. Whilst making some CG art in autumn 2021, I began to feel that my visual skills had hit a wall! I strongly related to the idea that your taste can outgrow your ability.Doing more CG and digital painting projects would have helped, but I feel a lot happier when I spend less time using software… A few months later, I learned about the traditional ‘atelier’ style of fine art study.It long predates modern art schools, and focuses on technical skills and producing realistic representations from life. This appeals to me, especially as it involves plenty of tactile and intrinsically aesthetic mediums.A stick of charcoal has the lowest input latency out there! I am documenting my progress here. Partly to share my learning paths, but also because y’all keep asking to see my drawings :’) For specific learning resources, check out my art books & links! I spent july 2022 at London Fine Art Studios on an intensive foundation, figure, portrait, and landscape course. Unfortunately I was unwell for most of the landscape week, but I loved my time there! We did about 5 hours of drawing / painting a day, with lots of one-on-one tuition and feedback. Everyone was very friendly, but mainly focused on improving their skills.I noticed that the rate of improvement, both in myself and other students, was largely down to attitude; how willing we were to erase and re-do until we had absorbed and acted on the tutor’s feedback. I would highly recommend the school! There was a wide range of abilities, but the atelier teaching style accommodates this by design. Torso cast with willow charcoal on packing paper, 3 hours.Working on cheap packing paper lowered the pressure, and made it super easy to erase mistakes. Torso cast with willow charcoal on fancy paper, 5 hours.The fancy paper was really nice to blend into, especially with a paper stump. Erasing was less of an option though, and I struggled to keep my lines light enough to re-work. Skull grisaille oil painting, 5 hours.I’d done lots of graphite studies of skulls, but it was fascinating to approach a familiar and delicate subject through large, clumsy brush strokes. Still life colour oil painting, 10 hours.I loved painting the reflective teapot; very few strokes are needed to imply a metallic reflection. Our limited palette relied on yellow ochre, which wasn’t saturated enough to mix the bright greens in the onion’s sprouts. The tutor gave me a blob of cadmium yellow, and it immediately produced vivid green mixtures.This piece was a pretty intense intro to colour painting, but after repainting the onion over and over, I’m happy with the final result. Figure outline with willow charcoal on packing paper, 20 minutes.We did a few of these, and this was the first one that clicked for me. Finding the overall proportions with a box was tricky, but rapidly improved my ability to judge proportions by eye. Figure shadow shapes with willow charcoal on packing paper, 20 minutes.It’s hard to believe how simplified things should be in the early stages of a piece, so this exercise was really handy. Figure with willow charcoal on fancy paper, 5 hours. I really like the subtle values in this piece. You can see how much I simplified the shadows as I gained confidence.In the last 5 minutes our tutor demoed some stuff on my paper; adding the dark accent lines, the finger shadow, and the face. They made it at least 100x better. It’s worth noting that the photos in these slideshows were taken at 20 minute intervals, each time the model takes a break (and has time to dress and step out of view). Figure grisaille oil painting, 5 hours. There were so many great anatomical details to find in the drawing stage. I ended up rushing the greys, but I’m happy with the values I chose for the head and chest. Figure colour oil painting, 10 hours. I got really into the drawing stage, only to realise it gets totally painted over!The initial hour of colour painting was scary, but our tutor suggested we spend more time on the background shadows, and everything immediately felt better. I really enjoyed finding all the subtle warm and cool colours in the skin, and learning how to control edges to give a more 3D appearance. Portrait with willow charcoal on fancy paper, 1 hour. This was my favourite piece of the month! I finished quickly and didn’t want to overwork it, so I added lines to find the subtler shapes and details. Portrait colour oil painting, 10 hours. Really enjoyed finding all the bright colours in this! The bright pink shirt reflecting into her hair and skin was really cool. Well done to Matt and to all our students from the July Courses! Some beautiful paintings were produced. [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts19th July 2022Our JournalWe are delighted to announce that Kwesi Awotwi has been awarded London Fine Art Studios first Summer Artist Residency. This August, as Artist in Residence, Kwesi will be using one of the studios to develop his practice in anticipation of an exhibition next year, and following the success of his documentary ‘Tree of Roots’. The Summer Artist residency programme has been established to provide an artist with a dedicated time and space to dedicate to their work. We welcome artists both both within and outside the figurative tradition, and we are very excited to see the work that Kwesi Awotwi produces during his time as Artist in Residence. Last year Kwesi Awotwi debuted his short film, TREE OF ROOTS, a documentary exploring his journey as an artist and identity as British Ghanaian. Filming took him to Accra where he uncovered the culture and art history of his Ghanaian heritage. Inspired by the discoveries he made while making the film, Kwesi is now working on a year-long project title ‘Tree of Roots: The Exhibition’. This project serves as an extension of his film, aiming to produce artwork for a solo exhibition in 2023 that will reflect his development as an artist, again exploring his identity. Kwesi will be keeping a detailed report of his time during his Artist Residency, so keep an eye out for his updates in August! Still from Tree of Roots of Kwesi Awotwi, successful applicant of Summer Artist Residency programme [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts14th July 2022Our JournalWe are very excited to launch a new artist residency programme at London Fine Art Studios. Beginning this summer, London Fine Art Studios will offer a one-month artist residency programme to artists inspired by and drawing from the figurative tradition.  The residency will give the artist the opportunity to develop new work in a specifically designed studio space.  All applications are welcome from artists both within and outside of the figurative tradition.  APPLICATIONS ARE CLOSED FOR 2022. APPLICATIONS FOR AUGUST 2023 WILL OPEN 1ST JANUARY 2023 – DEADLINE 1ST MARCH 2023. Residency Information: Date – month of August.The successful applicant will benefit from sole use of one of our studios at no hire cost. Conditions of residency: The artist must document their residency by writing a report on their practice that includes text, images, and video.The artist must write a blog to be included on the London Fine Art Studios Website, including images and video. The artist must maintain professional and polite behaviour in both the studio and the Battersea Business Centre.The artist must keep the studio tidy, and ensure it is returned to the condition in which it was found.The artist must ensure correct maintenance of the studip – this includes turning off the lights and locking the studio when not present.Materials and accommodation will not be provided. Application Criteria: Applications are welcome from artists both within and outside of the figurative tradition.  Application Requirements: Applicants must submit a written proposal (pdf or word doc) of no more than 500 words on their practice so far/ their intentions for their residency/ what they are aiming to achieve/ how the residency would benefit their practice.Applicants must submit at least 5 images of their work to show their development (jpeg).Submit their CV.The successful artist must sign a contract with further details of residency conditions. Please send your submissions to helena@londonfineartstudios.com. To read more about our first artist residency programme, visit Kwesi Awotwi’s page. [...] Read more...
Helena Boase20th May 2022Our JournalLFAS has had lots of success this year at the RP exhibition. Earlier this May, Mall Galleries hosted The Royal Society of Portrait Painter’s annual exhibition. Several of our students and alumni gained a place in this prestigious exhibition, including Mark Chen, Nneka Uzoigwe, Jitrachote White, and Phoebe Dickinson.  This year was particularly special at the RP Exhibition. To celebrate the Queen’s 70th jubilee, the RP’s patron, the main gallery featured a wonderful selection of portraits painted by RP members.  Around two hundred artworks were displayed, each selected from thousands of entrants. Huge congratulations therefore go to Mark Chen, Jitachote White, Phoebe Dickinson, and especially Nneka Uzoigwe, who was awarded the RP Prize for her self-portrait. Highlights of the Exhibition: Self PortraitMark ChenOil, 180 x 90 cm (190 x 100 cm framed) Mark Chen’s Self Portrait definitely stood out from among his neighbours. Measuring at just under 2 metres high, this work was painted on an ambitious scale, demonstrating the Mark’s technical prowess. The perspective of the palette is particularly wonderful, showing us the colours he was using. Narcissus (Self Portrait) Nneka UzoigweOil, 85 x 66 cm (101 x 82 cm framed) We are all delighted for Nneka – her award is very well deserved! Nneka’s self-portrait appealed to the judges because it was more than just a self-portrait. Look carefully are you’ll notice the Narcissus flower, two figure, and gold thread that Nneka holds. Me Jitrachote WhiteCharcol & chalk, 96 x 66 cm This beautiful charcoal piece by student Jitrachote when pregnant, and demonstrated some fantastic technical skill and charcoal handling. What a wonderful memento of being pregnant with her child too! Girl in a Pinafore Phoebe DickinsonOil, 61 x 90 cm Phoebe Dickinson’s delicate portrait, ‘Girl in a Pinafore’, was refreshing to see among so many other wonderful, but more sombre, portraits. Notice the sheer fabric of the pinafore, and the way the pink of the dress comes through. Well done to all our alumni and tutors! We’re very excited to see what else Mark Chen, Nneka Uzoigwe, Phoebe Dickinson, and Jitrachote White will get up to this year. [...] Read more...
Maddy Gyselynck12th May 2022Our JournalAssorted small clay fired sculptures (ceramics), 2021. Maddy Gyselynck is an artist based in London. She started formal atelier training at London Fine Art Studios in 2020 having left her career in financial services to pursue her passion. She now works full time as an artist and teaches at the studios. The De Laszlo Scholarship has allowed me to continue my training at London Fine Art Studios. In this time, ideas about what direction I wanted to take my work in have taken shape. In particular, I have been able to produce a number of complete clay sculptures (portraits and figures), two of which are currently at a foundry being cast into plaster and bronze. I have also been able to spend time experimenting with firing and glazing smaller clay sculptures to make my three dimensional pieces even more unique. Foundation Course The foundation course at London Fine Arts was my first introduction into drawing and painting without the use of photographs and grids. Learning comparative measurement has fundamentally changed my practice for the better and, with time and practice, has made my approach to creating art much more direct and based on observation. I am now able to confidently approach almost any subject with the knowledge that I can, in a short time, get a representation of it down on any size or quality of paper or canvas.  “Vine Tomatoes”, Oil on linen, 10″ x 12″, 2021. Before & After Below is a side-by-side comparison of a life drawing from before LFAS, and one drawn since attending the studios. Together, with a much greater understanding of how to render forms, the most obvious difference is the improved accuracy of proportions. Both were done in charcoal in approximately 20 minutes. Before (2019) & After (2021) – Life drawings, Approx 20 mins each, Charcoal on white paper. Comparative Measurement The method taught primarily at LFAS is called ‘comparative measurement’. Other ateliers teach other approaches such as ‘sight-size’, but I have found that comparative measurement allows the most flexibility. Once I have placed a top and bottom line to anchor my drawing on the page, to fix any proportional errors I need to ask myself, ‘does it look too wide or narrow for the height that I have?’. The great thing about this method is that it can be applied to almost everything I do – including sculpture, constantly comparing distances and shapes in relation to each other. I now teach this same method to my Foundation class students at LFAS, and hope that they achieve the same sense of liberation from measuring and a reliance on photographs. One of the great things about the studios is that it caters for those who can only devote a few hours a week, and for those that want to study full-time. This results in an incredible friendly atmosphere and a community that has built up over the years.  Like any skill, the more hours you can devote to its practice, the quicker you will see improvements, and the deeper your understanding grows.  The scholarship has allowed me to immerse and push myself, an opportunity for which I am extremely grateful. “Ruby with Mandarins”, Oil on linen, 14″ x 12″, 2022. Longer Projects This term I have been attending several long pose projects. The pieces painted in these classes will take shape over many weeks, allowing me to experiment and push many difference aspects of one artwork. Whereas in a quick drawing you might only have the time or materials to focus on proportion and gesture, in a longer project you can get much deeper into composition, storytelling, colour, rendering, details and accents. Techniques such as glazing (adding thin layers oil-rich paints on top of each other over many weeks) are only possible with a lot of time, but create unique patterns of light and colour that can’t necessarily be achieved when painting alla prima (a painting completed in one sitting). As my confidence in the studio has grown, new techniques have become less intimidating and more exciting in terms of prospects and potential. I am increasingly adventurous with my painting and sculptures now, and although not every artwork I consider successful, I’m much less afraid of failure than I was, and the outcomes are more exciting. To see more of Maddy Gyselynck’s work, visit her website. [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts11th March 2022Our JournalWells Contemporary. Bob Spriggs, ‘Gathered from the Four Corners of the Earth’. We’ve selected several key art competitions to enter this year. Submitting work to art competitions like these can be daunting, but they also offer fantastic opportunities to get exposure, win prizes, and connect with other artists and buyers. Wells Contemporary. Pippa Young, ‘The Artist’ Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize The Holly Bush Prize aims to champion women artists, particularly those who have are not yet represented in the art world. Click here to enter. Deadline midnight 1st May 2022. Wells Art Contemporary Wells Contemporary presents the exciting opportunity to exhibit in the incredible setting of Wells Cathedral. This competition is open to international artists too, all in the running for some impressive prizes including a residency in Provence, France. Deadline 5pm Monday 25th April 2022. Chelsea Art Society Finally able to look forward to their annual Open Exhibition after two cancelled years, the Chelsea Art Society are once again calling for entries. Submission for this exhibition is in person. Handing in day is 13th June from 8:30-3pm. New English Art Club NEAC’s annual exhibition will once again be held at Mall Galleries this year. There’s a very exciting selection of prizes and awards available, so definitely take a look. Deadline Friday 1st April noon. Sky Art Landscape Artist of the Year Quite a few of present and past LFAS artists have featured on various Sky Arts programme – now could be your chance! Enter a landscape from the last five years. Deadline 14th April noon. The Fitzrovia Gallery – Hampstead Art Society Focused on celebrating London’s art scene, the exhibitions offers a great selection of prizes including some from Michael Harding and Rosemary & Co. Deadline 15th April. Keep an eye out on our instagram stories to stay up to date with other art competitions, or check out our Competitions to Enter April 2022 page. [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts2nd March 2022Our JournalThis Spring, London’s galleries and museums are hosting a wealth of spectacular exhibitions that you won’t want to miss. Here we’ve selected some of the ones we’re most excited for. Thomas Gainsborough, ‘The Blue Boy’, 1770. Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California (21.1) © Courtesy of the Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California Gainsborough’s Blue Boy On until 15th May 2022 at the National Gallery in Room 46. One of Gainsborough’s most iconic paintings, ‘The Blue Boy’ hasn’t been seen on this side of the Atlantic since the 1920s. Painted as a homage to Van Dyck, this painting has captured creative minds for centuries. See this work alongside the pieces that informed Gainsborough at the National Gallery this Spring. Van Gogh Self Portraits On until 8th May 2022 at the Courtauld Gallery Despite finding little fame whilst alive, since his death Van Gogh has inspired thousands. This exhibition brings together a fantastic number of his self portraits, including ‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear’. Already extremely popular, we’d definitely recommend trying to get tickets to this if you can! Walter Sickert 28th April to 18th September 2022 at the Tate Britain Part of the Camden Town Group, Walter Sickert is one of Britain’s most influential 20th Century artists. This exhibition will be fantastic to see in conjunction with the Royal Academy’s one on Whistler. Sickert’s works are surprisingly vivid and colourful, and will be a joy to see. James Abbott McNeill Whistler,Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1862. Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan On until 22nd May 2022 at the Royal Academy This exhibition takes a unique approach to Whistler’s work, viewing it through the lens of his relationship with Hiffernan, his model, friend, and muse. Whistler’s paintings of Hiffernan impacted many artists following, from Klimt to the Pre-Raphaelites. Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature On until 8th January 2023 at the V&A Beatrix Potter’s tales and illustrations have fond memories for many. This exhibition, in collaboration with the National Trust, offers the opportunity to view Potter’s works alongside items that inspired her work. Francis Bacon: Man and Beast On until 17th April 2022 at the Royal Academy Bacon’s life was colourful and dynamic, as is work. This exhibition explores his interest with animals and the human body – many of the paintings blur the line between man and beast. The paintings are selected from his 50-year career. [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts2nd February 2022Our JournalDuring her second and final week of work experience with us, we sent Molly off to the National Gallery to have a look at the fantastic Rembrandt works. Located in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is one of England’s biggest art galleries. I’ve dreamt of visiting it ever sine it was featured in St Trinian’s (2007)! I had high hopes, and it did not disappoint. Upon arriving, I was amazed by how many people were there despite the fact is was mid afternoon on a weekday! In fact, the National Gallery has remained one of the top ten most visited sites in the world, despite the various Covid-19 restrictions. After walking through security, I began my trip round via route B, which took me to Rubens, Van Gogh and Rembrandt – the focus of my trip. Eventually I found myself in room 30, which happens to home one of my favourite paintings – the Rokeby Venus by Velázquez, one of the foremost painters of the Spanish Golden Age. This painting exceeded my expectations by far – it is simply sensational. Seeing it in the flesh allowed me to appreciate the work in a way I hadn’t been able before, and to notice small details such as the different use of brushstrokes. The background is covered by loose and confident brushstrokes, whilst the paint application is much more refined on Venus’ body. It is clear where the artist intended our focus to be drawn! Awestruck, I then moved to the Rembrandt room. This small, soft grey space featured paintings including Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback and Self Portrait at the Age of 34. I was completely enthralled by what I saw; eyes that followed me around the room and breathtaking detail. I spent quite a while in the room, as to my joy I had the opportunity to speak to one of the gallery staff about the works. I was intrigued as to why there was so little colour Rembrandt’s paintings, and the guide helped me to understand more about the historical context of using colour. Brightly coloured pigments were seen as status symbols and were often associated with the Church due to their expense. The conversation also moved to value as I felt these works were particularly dark. The guide pointed out that a lot of these works would have been painted in candlelight, which also explains the warm glow and atmosphere in the paintings. Inspired, I then went back to Route A which featured a lot of religious artwork. At first I was slightly overwhelmed by so many vivid depictions of the crucifixion, but was able to view the paintings with my new understanding of the significance of colour. Seeing a Michelangelo with my own eyes in Room 61 was a moment I will not forget. The way he depicts the figures is exceptional. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the National Gallery, and left feeling very inspired! I am already planning my next visit. [...] Read more...
Charles Whitehead26th January 2022Art Articles / Our Journal / What is Art For?Evolution of consciousness in Europe 6: The Axial Age continued Dr Charles Whitehead continues his series of  blog posts on the many functions of art. Left: The Ecumenical Council, a large canvas painted by Salvador Dali, said to represent the convergence of all creation in Teilhard de Chardin’s “Omega Point”. 299.7×254cm (9ft 10in×8ft 4in), 1960.  Centre: L’offrande de la Terre ou Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin by Alfred Manessier, 1962.  Right: The Divine Milieu: Homage to Teilhard de Chardin by Frederick Hart: transparent resin sculpture within a transparent resin block, 2001. The Passion of the Western Mind For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being Richard Tarnas (1991) Karl Jaspers’ book, The Origin and Goal of History, expresses a view that few scientists would accept – the belief that history has a grand purpose, even though the vast majority of human actors – the people who create history – are not aware of that goal. This is an example of a teleological view (explaining things in terms of purpose rather than cause), and Jaspers is not alone – there are philosophers and even scientists who have concluded that history, the evolution of life, and even the evolution of the cosmos, are teleological.  The idea gets support from the Anthropic Principle (AP). In its “weak” form the AP is a fact which no scientist can deny. It holds that all the constants and laws of nature are not arbitrary, but are precisely constrained by the requirement that everything should have evolved exactly as it has. This may sound like a truism, but it cannot be dismissed so easily when we consider the enormous number of “coincidences” involved. The AP is like tossing a coin a hundred times, and each time the coin lands on its edge. To a teleologist, this looks like the universe conforms to a Grand Design, presumably planned by a Grand Designer. To a physicist, this looks like something he would rather shoot his grandmother than accept. So much so that Stephen Hawking (with co-author Leonard Mlodinow) wrote his last book, The Grand Design, largely to avoid the implications of the AP. Claiming that M-theory is “the only candidate Theory of Everything”, he notes that this theory “allows for” 10500 different universes, each with its own laws. So we should not be surprised to find that we live in the one that just happens to have all the right laws. In this way the AP is reduced to the core dogma of modern science – everything is meaningless coincidence, and humanity is an insignificant accident on an obscure planet in a vast dead universe.  Hawking’s neat-sounding argument does not stand up to closer inspection. M-Theory is not in fact a single coherent theory, but a bunch of unproven hypotheses, each of which works part of the time and none of which works all of the time. So the theory explains “Everything” in a rather piecemeal fashion. In this light, the claim that M-theory “allows for” multiple universes may not strike everyone as sufficient justification for violating Occam’s razor 10500 times. The most famous teleologist is probably the French Jesuit priest, scientist, archaeologist, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. His approach to evolution was essentially Darwinian, rejecting any literal reading of Genesis. Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been seen as a threat to any faith in a divine creator. But Teilhard was determined to reconcile science, not just with religion, but with Roman Catholicism. Throughout most of his life his views were far too radical for the Church, and at various times he was banned from teaching, banned from publishing, and effectively exiled to China (where he took part in the discovery of Peking Man). His most comprehensive works, published after his death, were The Divine Milieu, completed around 1929 and published in 1957, and The Phenomenon of Man, written in the 1930s and published in the year of his death, 1955. Teilhard saw evolution from primordial particles onwards as a process of increasing complexity and consciousness, all under the benevolent eye of a loving and all-forgiving God. Our world began as a geosphere consisting of minerals, water, and gas, but then robed itself in a biosphere of living organisms, and finally a noosphere of conscious human interaction – all but predicting the rise of the internet. He called the ultimate goal of this process the “Omega Point”, when all creation would be united in the body of Christ, in a maximum state of complexity and consciousness. This, Teilhard believed, is what is meant by the second coming of Christ. The Omega Point is like a white (as opposed to a black) hole, whose gravitational force is “pulling” all creation towards itself. Teilhard writes: “Omega point is the furthest point of the whole cosmic process: a final point where the law of universal love will have reached its climax and its crown – Christ.”  On first publication, Teilhard’s books drew scathing condemnation from scientists, and disapproval from Church authorities, though they did not go so far as to condemn them to the Index of Forbidden Books (if any of us non-clergy were to read one of those books, according to the Church, we would be damned to burn in hell for all eternity). Subsequently two Popes – Benedict XVI and Francis – and other eminent figures of the Church have made positive comments on his work, and the Vatican has softened its attitude to his ideas.  Teilhard, however, seemed to be unaware of the significance of the axial age – particularly Jaspers’ rejection of a purely Christian interpretation of history. Just less than a third of the world population is nominally Christian. Islam accepts the belief in the second coming of Christ, but denies his divinity – in the Qur’an Christ is just a human messenger and a good Muslim prophet. Many societies have evolved to high levels of sophistication without any guidance from Christianity. So the “pull” of the Omega Point seems somewhat limited in power. One teleologist who has been influenced by Jaspers, and possibly by Teilhard, is Richard Tarnas. His first book, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view, was ten years in the making, and published in 1991. As academic books go, Passion of the Western Mind became a best seller, selling over 200,000 copies by 2006, attracting international acclaim, and becoming set reading in many American university departments. Three teleological thinkers: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955);  Karl Jaspers (1883-1969); and Richard Tarnas (1950-) The main take-home message of Tarnas’s book is the one I quoted at the head of this section: “For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being.” This might seem to contradict the quote I used earlier, from the American feminist Camille Paglia: “Everything great in western civilization comes from struggle against our origins”. In fact both these authors agree that “our origins” (Paglia) and “the ground of our being” (Tarnas) lie in a primordially matriarchal society. Both also see the development of western culture as driven by patriarchy. And both see resulting problems that need to be resolved. There is no necessary contradiction between struggling against the imposition of matriarchy (Paglia) and yearning to return to its healing embrace (Tarnas). Paglia, who has been described as an “anti-feminist feminist” because she hates most other feminists, believes that western civilization became great by a patriarchal revolt against ancient mother-cults, as evidenced in the first book of the Jewish and Christian Bibles – Genesis. Her view of matriarchy is rather more negative in tone than that of Tarnas: “by reconciling man to nature, entraps him in matter”.  That implies that men were formerly not “reconciled to nature” and so the presumed “mother-cults” cannot be “our origins”. Since we share a common ancestry with chimpanzees, “our origins” were clearly ape-like, and to get from an ape-like ordering of society to matriarchy requires a revolutionary inversion of an alpha-male dominance hierarchy. Paglia is repeating the old chestnut of culture versus nature where men equate with “culture” and women equate with “nature” – not a very feminist view. As I have explained before, it should be self-evident that women were more instrumental than men in the creation of human culture, because women bear the heaviest burdens of pregnancy and child care. It is clear that culture, in its most common and primordial forms, serves to curb the philandering impulses of men, and to oblige each man to invest in one woman and her children. It is only since the patriarchal counter-revolution (see Part 6) that privileged men have been able to free themselves from such cultural constraints – having multiple wives, concubines, harems, etc. So Paglia is right to assume a patriarchal revolt, but wrong to assume that matriarchy is “natural” or “original”. Tarnas, on the other hand, has been influenced by Karl Jaspers’ theory of the Axial Age (he is not aware of Stuart-Glennie). Like Jaspers, Tarnas sees everything before the Axial Age as a relatively homogenous expanse of time. But where Jaspers assumes “a magical religion destitute of philosophical enlightenment.”, Tarnas holds that those early people lived in a state of participation mystique – a state in which individual selves are not yet differentiated from the “world soul”. Like Paglia, he also seems to think that this matriarchal state of immersion in a “world soul” is the primordial state of human consciousness. He writes: “For the evolution of the Western mind has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self by separating it from the primordial unity with nature.” This “unity with nature” equates with Paglia’s “entrapped in matter”, and both see it as an undifferentiated state from which men felt a need to escape – to become free, autonomous, individuals. There is an impossible contradiction here. If our “primordial” ancestors were so lacking in ego boundaries, that would imply that they had not yet evolved the means by which ego boundaries are forged – that is, the spontaneous behaviours of human infancy and childhood, notably communication, exploration, play, song and dance, art, and role-play (as explained previously, especially in Part 3). Lacking such abilities, our ancestors could not have performed the first ritual that accomplished the “human revolution” – overthrowing the alpha-male hierarchy and establishing matriarchy, with resulting fragmentation of consciousness and ruptured ego boundaries. Going even further back in time, I cannot imagine any ape being unable to distinguish itself from its environment, still less getting tangled up in a “world soul”. “Entrapped in matter” (Paglia) and “unity with nature” (Tarnas) cannot be primordial – they are the result of a revolutionary shift in human consciousness – a shift that was not entirely positive. Tarnas has borrowed the concept of participation mystique from Carl Jung, who in turn adopted the idea from the French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, first published in How Natives Think, in 1910. Most anthropologists today have rejected, or lost interest in, Lévy-Bruhl’s idea – I think unfairly. Participation mystique is not unlike Stuart-Glennie’s panzoonism, plus the idea that the self is experienced as being continuous with, or mystically involved within, a living and conscious cosmos. This is not in conflict with ethnographic evidence; there are people in the world – for example around the Arctic rim and in North America – who do seem to have this kind of deep spirituality. It is not unreasonable to call this a “world soul”, but it is a cultural product, or – if you are an idealist – a cultural discovery. I use the word “idealist” in a specific sense, viz: People involved in consciousness studies can mostly be divided into two camps – the idealists and the physicalists. Idealists regard consciousness as the basis and source of physical phenomena – which might rightly be called “the ground of our being”. Physicalists, on the other hand, are convinced that consciousness “arises” from “physical” processes in the brain, and face the intractable problem of how you derive consciousness from essentially “dead” matter. Note that physics and physicalism are not the same thing. Physics is the study of the movement of bodies in space. Physicalists, on the other hand, assume that this means the movement of dead bodies, propelled by meaningless forces. This assumption is sometimes called “scientism”, implying that it pretends to be scientific when in fact it is ideological. As explained earlier, ideology is always political. Physicalism arose from a conflict of interests between two groups of dominant men during the European Enlightenment – scientists and the clergy. Scientists – many of them aristocrats with enough leisure time to conduct research – despite often being devout Christians, needed to claim space for their discoveries from the Church, which previously held a monopoly of the truth market. The clergy, for their part, felt threatened by this loss of authority. Hence the apparent conflict between science and religion. Today, physicalism is a powerful political force. Scientists who do hold spiritual or paranormal beliefs are deterred from admitting it, for fear of losing tenure or research funding. The Passion of the Western Mind is a very ambitious book. It explores the development of consciousness from the Axial Age to modern and postmodern times, and describes it as a dialectical unfolding of a collective mind. Like Teilhard de Chardin, Tarnas views this unfolding of human consciousness as the way the cosmos becomes conscious of itself. Both Stuart-Glennie and Tarnas recognise that there were more than one axial turning-points in history. The belief in gods means that the mundane world loses much of its divinity which is now projected onto the gods – in the sky, under the sea, under the earth, on Olympus, in the fairy mounds, or wherever. Polytheistic religions managed to keep the natural world populated with lively beings like satyrs, fauns, nymphs, and the like. Similar beliefs – in pixies, little people, dwarves, and so on – persisted in the West well into Christian times. With monotheism, however, the natural world began to lose all of its magic. “Nature” became increasingly secular – something that could be studied, understood, and manipulated, preparing the way for the scientific revolution. Left: Heliocentric universe of Copernicus (1543) in “Description de L’Universe” by Alain Manesson Mallet, 1683.  Right: Woodcut showing a late stage of dissection from De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Vesalius, 1543. Tarnas is unique in giving a precise date for what he sees as the major turning point in the Western world view – the publication of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the revolutions of the celestial spheres) by Nicolaus Copernicus, 25 May 1543. Copernicus showed that the orbits of the planets could be explained much more simply if the Sun, and not the Earth, were the centre around which the celestial spheres revolved. The Copernican revolution meant that “man” could no longer see himself as the centre of all creation. Tarnas adds, “when recognized that the movement of the heavens could be explained in terms of the movement of the observer, he brought forth what was perhaps the pivotal insight of the modern mind.” Since then science has taken human alienation much further – our Sun is a rather ordinary star on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, which contains 100-400 billion stars, in a cosmos containing some 200 billion galaxies. Such indigestible numbers seem to reduce humanity to almost vanishing insignificance. As D.H. Lawrence observed, however vast the universe becomes according to science, it remains a prison for the imagination. Tarnas does not mention that only seven days after Copernicus published his revolutionary work, Andreas Vesalius published De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the fabric of the human body) – on 1 June 1543. Just as Copernicus’s heliocentric model deposed Ptolemy’s geocentric model, accepted since the 2nd century AD, so Vesalius’s first-hand studies of human anatomy – superbly illustrated by students of Titian – disproved theories of Galen, which had dominated medicine throughout the Middle Ages. Although Vesalius did not specifically reject mediaeval views such as four humours theory or the location of the spiritual soul in the heart, he certainly proved that first-hand investigation was more reliable than tradition, so establishing for the first time a remarkably accurate knowledge of human anatomy and an “objective” field of study (Tarnas denies than anything is exclusively “objective” or “subjective”). That these two pillars of the scientific revolution should have independently published their work almost simultaneously and in ignorance of each other, is a remarkable example of synchronicity – that is, a meaningful coincidence with no causal connection. It was as if the macrocosm (Copernicus) and microcosm (Vesalius) had to be robbed of their magic at the same time. The Axial Age itself is an example of synchronicity – parallel developments in Asia, India, and the West, despite the lack of mutual influence. Note that synchronicity does not necessarily mean that related events are simultaneous – only that they are meaningfully related without any causal connection. The concept of synchronicity originated with Carl Jung; Tarnas is a Jungian and synchronicity is fundamental to his beliefs, as I will explain later. Tarnas traces the consequences of the Copernican revolution through a number of thinkers, notably Descartes and Kant. In search of a solid basis for philosophy, Descartes concluded that the only knowledge we can be absolutely sure of is cogito ergo sum – “I think therefore I am”. From this ontological limitation, Kant developed an epistemological problem – we can never know what things are “in themselves”. All we can ever know is our own mental constructions of reality. The great success of science and technology gradually undermined belief in a transcendent God. Both the universe and its human occupants came to be seen as blind mechanisms. The great irony here, as Rupert Sheldrake has pointed out, is that this modern attitude, just as it has supposedly stripped all anthropocentrism from our worldview, has committed the ultimate anthropocentric error: we have projected the idea of a machine – something exclusively made by humans and found nowhere in nature – onto the universe and everything in it. This modern view, originating with Newton and other mechanistic thinkers of the Enlightenment, has provoked a reaction known as “postmodernism” – the belief that all beliefs are relative, or even that there is no such thing as “Truth”. Everything that we think we know is a human invention, projected onto a meaningless and unknowable universe, and the differing worldviews of different cultures are all equally valid. Many postmodernists follow Karl Marx who argued that the ideology of any society is always the ideology of the ruling classes, so that all truth claims are ultimately motivated by power politics and not to be trusted.  Postmodern art includes anything and everything.  Left: Comedian, Maurizio Cattelan.  Right:   Installation, Damien Hirst (mistakenly thrown out as rubbish by cleaners). Left: Equivalent VIII, Carl Andre, 1966. Purchased by Tate for £2,297, now valued at $2,000,000.  Right: Work No 227: Lights going on and off, Martin Creed: won the Turner prize in 2001, valued at £110,000. The beliefs of postmodern artists often seem cynical: for example, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art,” according to Andy Warhol, and  “Art is anything you put in an art gallery,” Damien Hirst. Tarnas summarises: “the modern condition begins as a Promethean movement toward human freedom, toward autonomy from the encompassing matrix of nature, toward individuation from the collective, yet gradually and ineluctably the Cartesian-Kantian condition evolves into a Kafka-Beckett-like state of existential isolation and absurdity – an intolerable double bind leading to a kind of deconstructive frenzy.” This Tarnas sees as the central problem  of our age, and it has dangerous consequences, including global warming and environmental destruction.  The solution to our problems is what Tarnas calls a “participatory framework”, which is not a simple regression to participation mystique, but a new worldview in which neither mind nor matter is exclusively subjective or objective, but rather the universe realises itself through a dialectical collaboration with mind. Meaning is not to be found in the cosmos waiting for humans to discover it, as in the modern view. Nor is it created in the mind and then projected onto a meaningless cosmos, as in the postmodern view. He explains: “In this view, the essential reality of nature is not separate, self-contained, and complete in itself, so that the human mind can examine it ‘objectively’ and register it from without. Rather, nature’s unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind. Nature’s reality is not merely phenomenal, nor is it independent and objective; rather, it is something that comes into being through the very act of human cognition. Nature becomes intelligible to itself through the human mind.” Left: Goethe studied prismatic refraction by placing white cards at different distances from the prism, showing that colours emerge at the boundaries between white light and darkness. Newton’s spectrum only appears at a distance from the prism.  Right: He also demonstrated that when a boundary between a black and a white area is viewed through a prism, the colour fringes depend on the orientation of the boundary.  Tarnas rightly points out that this is not a new idea – it has been developing in Western thought for hundreds of years. It was first proposed by the poet and scientist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), widely regarded as the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. Goethe was a pioneer of the Counter-Enlightenment, which led to Romanticism in the arts and even influenced science and philosophy. The Counter-Enlightenment was a reaction against Enlightenment reductionism which threatened to reduce humans to zombie-like robots with no conceivable role for consciousness or free-will. This is the fundamental error of physicalism. Goethe (wrongly) believed that his extensive experiments with colour disproved Sir Isaac Newton’s colour theory. He inferred that colours are not components of white light (as demonstrated by Newton), but are created by the interaction of light and shadow. He wrote: “yellow is a light which has been dampened by darkness, blue is a darkness weakened by the light.” He further claimed that “Newton’s error was trusting math over the sensations of his eye.”  Left: The “seven primary colours” of Newton’s asymmetrical colour circle are of unequal size, being based on the intervals of a Dorian musical scale, beginning with D for Red. 1704.  Right: Goethe’s more physiological colour wheel has complementary colours based on afterimages, and is also a diagram of the “powers of the soul”. The outer circle has four divisions, clockwise from red/orange: Reason, Understanding, Sensuality, and Imagination. The inner has six, clockwise from red: Beautiful, Noble, Good, Useful, Common, and Superfluous. This makes “imagination” both “superfluous” and “beautiful”. 1810. Though Goethe’s theory has been abandoned by science, in fact his research was the first systematic study of the physiological and psychological effects of colour (1810). Whereas Newton adopted the modern physicalist assumption of an objective world “outside” the human mind, Goethe approached colour within what Tarnas calls a “participatory framework”: colour is an experience resulting from the co-action of light and the human retina and psyche. Because Newton was an alchemist, he divided his spectrum into seven colours, reflecting alchemical equations between seven planets, seven temperaments, seven metals, seven notes in a musical scale, etc. This is quite arbitrary – a true spectrum grades across a virtually infinite range of colours, as Goethe recognised. Further, the colour divisions of Newton’s wheel are unequal, being based on the intervals of a Dorian musical scale. As a result, Newton’s colour wheel is asymmetrical. Goethe’s physiological approach led him to study the afterimages that remain in the eye after staring at different colours. He devised a symmetrical wheel with six colours, though he believed only two were primaries – yellow and blue. Each of the six colours matched the after-image created after viewing the complementary colour on the opposite side of the wheel – so anticipating Ewald Hering’s opponent colour theory (1872). Goethe also identified “purpur” – probably magenta, which is not a spectrum colour but necessary for the development of four-colour printing inks – cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Goethe was equally interested in the effects of colour on mood and emotion. He even sought equations between human temperaments, occupations, and “powers of the soul” (see caption above). Curiously, three years before his death, Goethe stated: “In all the things I have written as a poet I find no cause for pride. But to have been the only person of my century to see clearly into this difficult science of colours, of that I am very proud indeed, and believe myself to be superior to many scientists.” Goethe’s analysis of colour, rejected by science, nevertheless influenced many artists including the English master of landscape, J.M. William Turner, the Pre-Raphaelites, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky. To a scientist, Goethe’s ideas may seem crazy. But to an artist, sometimes “crazy” means “good”. However wrong his reasoning, his rejection of mechanistic science was welcomed warmly by many artists and others – by anyone who believes that life is meaningful. Joseph Mallord William Turner refers to Goethe’s theory in his second “deluge” painting. The two were exhibited together at the Royal Academy in 1843. Though Turner was critical of Goethe, he agreed that colour has emotional effects and sensory polarities like light and dark or warm and cold.  Left: Shade and Darkness – The Evening of the Deluge.    Right: Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis.  Goethe’s theory did not just influence romantic art, but modern art also, most notably through the Bauhaus (1919 to 1933) – the name being German for “Building House” – a school of art and design which exerted a major influence on modern art, The Bauhaus was also influenced by William Morris of the British Arts and Crafts movement, who argued that art should serve the needs of society and there should be no distinction between form and function. The Arts and Crafts movement endeavoured to promote individual handiwork against the spread of cheap industrial goods. The Bauhaus adopted the opposite strategy – the aim was to combine artistic excellence with cheap mass production and develop art forms better suited to the industrial age. It also aimed to dissolve the “arrogant” distinction between fine art and craft. Wassily Kandinsky, already a renowned artist, came to teach at the Bauhaus in 1922, where his colour theory became the basis for an entrance test for admission to the school. Applicants were asked to match three primary colours – yellow, blue, and red – to three basic shapes – square, circle, and triangle. If you think the circle reminds you of the sun, and so should be yellow, you would fail the test. Kandinsky eschewed symbolic or any kind of verbal content in visual art. He valued something much more primitive and basic – the sensations evoked by shapes and colours. In this he was influenced by Goethe’s work on the psychological qualities of colour. So there is only one correct answer to Kandinsky’s test. If you look at a square of yellow on a white ground, it has a kind of lively excitement and spiky restlessness. The edges flicker and prickle the eye, and the colour seems to rise towards the viewer. Therefore it corresponds to the shape with the sharpest angles – the triangle. Blue has the opposite effect – it is soothing and restful, has depth, and seems to recede into the surface. It corresponds to the most soothing and least angular shape – the circle. Red falls between those two extremes – absolutely stable, it remains firmly on the surface without movement either way. Therefore it belongs to the most solid and stable of shapes – the square. In his paintings, however, Kandinsky did not hesitate to include yellow circles or red triangles. The Bauhaus cradle, designed by Peter Keler in 1922, following Wassily Kandinsky’s colour theory – yellow triangles, blue circles, and red rectangles. Kandinsky first decided to become an artist after attending a performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin. He experienced the rich sounds of the music as colours and shapes in his mind. It seems that Kandinsky had a neurological condition called synaesthesia, which connects together sensory channels that are not normally linked. People with synaesthesia may see numbers or days of the week as colours, names as smells, or shapes as tastes. Synaesthesia is often related to enhanced memory or creativity. Synaesthesia helps to explain Kandinsky’s colour theory, but it does not explain his success as an artist or his influence on other artists. His work must have resonated with something that many people in the west experienced as a felt need. Earlier postimpressionists – like Van Gogh or the German expressionists – aimed to express emotions and not just appearances. Although emotion was of concern to Goethe in his colour theory, Kandinsky wanted to portray something even more primitive – sensations – something we share with all sentient animals. Kandinsky is often regarded as the first truly non-figurative visual artist. He wanted to create art that was as formal as pure music – that engages us without the use of anything representational, literary, narrative, or symbolic. I think this gives us a clue to what many modern artists have tried to do. It is as though there has been a drive to undo the entire history of western art, in an attempt to get to the absolute root of art or aesthetics (which I would call mark-making behaviour). Postmodern artists have gone even further – they seem to be deconstructing the very idea of art, as if to deny that any such thing ever existed, even though they continue to think of themselves as “artists” and enjoy the absurd profits created by the art market – a bubble that is surely destined to burst.  Several Bauhaus artists were influenced by Goethe’s colour theory.  Left: Wassily Kandinsky: Bunter Mitklang, (Colourful Resonance), oil on cardboard, 1928.  Right: Paul Klee: Red-Green and Violet-Yellow Rhythms 1920. So it is clear that Goethe, as with other thinkers Tarnas credits with the development of his participatory framework approach, contributed little or nothing to mainstream science, but in rejecting mechanistic reductionism they struck a chord with artists and many others. There is little doubt that most normal human beings have a deep aversion to accepting a dead and meaningless universe – physicalists like Richard Dawkins excepted. Curiously, most of the “participatory” thinkers cited by Tarnas are not so much “Western” as Germanic. He mentions seven figures in particular: Goethe and Schiller who, although hostile to Romanticism, were leading lights in the German Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) movement, featuring extreme emotions in the arts; Schelling and Hegel were quintessential German Idealists; Coleridge was an English Romantic who introduced German Idealism to Britain; Emerson an American Romantic with transcendentalist views; and Steiner the Austrian founder of Anthroposophy, based on German Idealism, the science of Goethe, and Theosophy. “Each of these thinkers,” Tarnas writes, “gave his own distinct emphasis to the developing perspective, but common to all was a fundamental conviction that the relation of the human mind to the world was ultimately not dualistic but participatory.” Tarnas could have sought support from physicists. For example, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the past and present states of a quantum entity are not fixed until an observation is made, and some believe that human consciousness is necessary to make the entity “real”. The renowned American cosmologist John Wheeler stated things thus: “A phenomenon is not a phenomenon until it is observed.” From this he proposed his “Participatory Anthropic Principle” (PAP), according to which the AP (the fact that the universe has all the precise properties necessary for the evolution of us) can be explained if all the properties of the cosmos are retroactively determined by the observers it contains. Sensitive to the way the PAP could be abused by New Agers, he emphasizes that his Principle does not imply anything to do with consciousness. For him, “observers” are not necessarily sentient – a trace left by a cosmic ray, or the click of a Geiger counter, count as “observations”. However, since humans have evolved, the PAP implies that human observers, who are of course conscious, have influenced the origins and evolution of the cosmos. Tarnas ostensibly is examining the evolution of culture from the Axial Age to the present and beyond, and many of his transitions do reflect cultural change. However he is not an anthropologist and what he has written is primarily a history of western intellectualism. In part, his book reads like a who’s who of famous intellectuals – philosophers, scientists, and theologians – as though cultural change is accomplished through thinking alone. I am reminded of comments made by D.H. Lawrence in Apocalypse: “For it is not words that beget new things, it is feeling”; and: “The real truth lies in the things we do, not in the things we say or believe.” The argument from ideas works to an extent but there is far more to culture – Tarnas pays relatively scant attention to art, music, sport, entertainment, economic conditions, and politics. I think he overestimates the importance of individual thinkers, who are themselves influenced by the societies that sustain them. Whole communities are involved in social change. Hollywood has probably done more to shape the American mindset than any number of American intellectuals, whilst superhero comics shape the games children play, and so the adults that they grow into. A little injection of Marxian thinking would not go amiss here – the forces and relations of production have played no small role in social change and associated shifts in consciousness and worldview. Climate change has also been important, most notably the end of the Ice Age which unravelled all the cultural systems of the Upper Palaeolithic. Further, being classically educated, Tarnas takes a rather narrow view of western history. He sees western culture as taking its “patriarchal religion from Judaism, its rationalist philosophy from Greece, its objectivist science from modern Europe.” This is far too thin.  For one thing, “objectivist science” is not primarily a European achievement. Western science and mathematics would never have emerged but for influences from the Arabic empire, which absorbed alchemy from China via Persia, and “Arabic numerals” – including the revolutionary concept of zero – from India. The whole idea of “objectivist” research came from the alchemists, who were the first to conceive and build research laboratories, and made many chemical discoveries. Astronomy, as an observational science, has even earlier roots in Babylon. Left: Ancestor of the Western dragon: the Ram Headed Serpent linked to the god Cernunnos, on a Celtic helmet from Agris, France (4th c. BC).  Right: The Broighter Collar, from County Derry, Ireland (1st c. BC). Plastic Metamorphosis style:  Left: La Têne bronze head, Bulgaria (4th-2nd c. BC).  Right: Bronze open-work mount from a wooden pitcher, from Brno-Malomerice, Czech Republic (3rd c. BC). Plastic Metamorphosis style:  Left: Bronze bird of prey heads (with traces of red enamel) from the linchpins of a Celtic chariot , Manching, Germany (2nd c. BC).  Right: Bronze head decorating an iron linchpin from a Celtic chariot burial at Orval, Normandy ( 300-250 BC). Secondly, Tarnas’s classical training blinds him to influences coming from Celtic and Germanic societies – in fact the bulk of Europe north of the Alps. Iron Age European art combines fine craftsmanship with a haunting bestiary of fantastic creatures. It has an aesthetic of swirling serpentine patterns and surreal imagery. Although Iron Age Celts were influenced by Greece and Rome much of their art remained stubbornly non-classical and persisted even during Roman occupation. I think the dynamism and individualism of Europe came more from these “barbarians” than the relatively regimented Romans or philosophical Greeks. Even a cursory look at medieval art shows a declining influence of Greece and Rome and an increasing affinity with Celtic art, and what German art historian Wilhelm Worringer called the search for “the vertiginous sensation” which reached its apogee in the soaring Gothic cathedrals with their dizzying rib vaults and stone tracery, grotesque gargoyles, and seditious and pagan vignettes often hidden under misericords and choir stalls. In fact the Celtic influence may be even older than the Iron Age. The triple spirals, lozenges, and concentric circles of the Irish megalithic tombs (c.3200 BC: see Part 7) have distinct parallels with the ornamentation in early Irish Christian illuminated manuscripts (written 4,000 years later), suggesting an unbroken tradition of Celtic art. Ireland in the early middle ages became a centre of Christian learning, and Irish missionaries spread the new faith to many parts of Europe. Illuminated manuscripts were used as tools of conversion by missionaries and, being of great monetary value, became highly esteemed diplomatic gifts to kings and other centres of Christian devotion. Worringer’s “search for the vertiginous sensation” might be seen in these early Christian manuscripts just as surely as in the German Expressionists he examined. Worringer claims that the function of the vertiginous sensation was to escape from “the agonizing quality of the cube” – which I would interpret as a fear of the biological body. The complexities of Celtic Christian art, though rich and beautiful, are in many ways ambivalent. They certainly have a positive spiritual quality, but at the same time their complexities seem to be distracting from some deeper current of anxiety that, in the middle ages, could be projected onto the Devil. Expressionist art, on the other hand, portrays the anxiety directly. Chi Rho monogram and opening page of the Gospel of John from the Book of Kells. ca. 800 AD. Triskeles and other geometric features reflect a Celtic tradition over five thousand years old. Tarnas claims that “20th century man” (sic) tended to find spirituality in modern psychology rather than in traditional religion. But by “psychology” he means the analytical kind pioneered by Freud and Jung and elaborated by his mentor, Stanislav Grof, with whom he worked at Esalen in California. Tarnas was programme director there for ten years. Grof claims to have rediscovered Jung’s archetypes in thousands of psychoanalysis sessions using psychedelic drugs and – when these became illegal in America – “holistic breathwork”. Esalen played a major pioneering role in the human potentiality movement, describing itself on its website as “a not-for-profit holistic educational center offering wild comfort and space for emergent transformation and internal exploration since 1962.” Tarnas credits Grof with “the discovery of the universal archetypes in all their power and rich complexity as the fundamental determining structures of human experience.” Tarnas seems not to be aware that Freud and Jung are far from mainstream in modern psychology, which is now dominated by the cognitive paradigm, and still influenced by the computer metaphor for mind and brain. Cognitive scientists still tend to regard the brain as an organ for transforming input into output, neglecting its spontaneous functions which are output-first. Cognitive science is very much part of the alienating physicalism that Tarnas so dislikes. Both Esalen and Stanislav Grof provoke highly polarised opinions. On the one hand, there is gushing enthusiasm from devotees; on the other, extreme scepticism from mainstream science. Grof is the only person to twice receive the anti-prize for pseudoscience, the “Erratic Boulder Award” from the Czech Skeptics’ Club Sisyphus (“Erratic Boulder” refers to the myth of Sisyphus, who was fated to repeatedly roll a huge stone up a steep hill, only to see it roll back down to the bottom each time). Regarding Esalen, The Economist wrote, “For many others in America and around the world, Esalen stands more vaguely for that metaphorical point where ‘East meets West’ and is transformed into something uniquely and mystically American or New Agey. And for a great many others yet, Esalen is simply that notorious bagno-bordello where people had sex and got high throughout the 1960s and 1970s before coming home talking psychobabble and dangling crystals.” More succinctly, in 1990, a graffiti artist spray-painted on the entrance to Esalen: “Jive shit for rich white folk”. In fact people seek spiritual experience in many ways other than in psychology. When I first studied art in the early 60s my fellow students and I, and those we visited at other schools, had an intensely idealised enthusiasm for art that was essentially spiritual in character. Modern art movements like Die Brücke (1906), Futurism (1909), and Surrealism (1924) issued manifestos revealing that members saw themselves as revolutionaries who would change the world, just like the prophets of old and revitalization movements in religion. Kandinsky’s treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1910) outlined the principles of Die Blaue Reiter. In its early years, the Bauhaus itself was virtually a religious institution, shaped by the views of its influential teacher, Johannes Itten – a devotee of Mazdaznan, a fire cult derived from Zoroastrianism. Even the school refectory served a Zoroastrian diet, and some of Itten’s ideas on teaching and aesthetics continue to influence art schools to this day. Many artists would affirm that art has always served a spiritual function. German expressionist woodcuts. Left: Die Brücke manifesto. 1906.  Right:  Die Blau Reiter almanac. Ca. 1912. In fact, a whole swathe of cultural phenomena has emerged within western populations, apparently to relieve spiritual starvation. Neo-shamanism, neo-paganism, Wicca, New Age, Rave culture, entheogenic drug use, and the human potential movement are a few examples. Whole TV channels are devoted to ghost hunting, the paranormal, UFOs, and crop circles. Even the success of Harry Potter could be ascribed to a spiritual need. Such potentially transformative forces often come from the people, not the intellectuals. Western societies seem to be groping after something which has not yet been adequately specified. I think part of the success of Tarmas’s book is due to that word “passion” in the title. Modern people seem to want to think of themselves as “passionate”. I am not particularly comfortable with this word, especially for an account of what is essentially an intellectual history of the West. To me, the roar of the crowd at a football match is “passionate”, or the enthusiasm of an audience for an idealised musician – not the kind of thing that Tarnas pays much attention to. Nazism and ISIL are “passionate”. “Passion” is an ambivalent expression, and no more important than many other dimensions of experience such as dispassionate love, compassion, or sensuality. But so far I have not mentioned what I find most interesting about Tarnas’s book, which I will turn to in my next blog. [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts21st January 2022Our JournalAs part of her work placement with London Fine Art Studios, Molly spent the afternoon at the Tate Britain this week to familiarise herself with the work of artists we admire here at the studios, particularly John Singer-Sargent. This week I had the opportunity to visit the Tate Britain for the first time. For a little context, I am currently a final year Graphic Design student, so fine art is a little out of my comfort zone. I am pleased to say, however, that I am having a really great time at the studios so far, and loved my visit to the gallery! Upon arrival, I was immediately struck by the beautiful architecture of the building, and I couldn’t wait to explore the art inside. Walking through the Tate, I felt like I was in some sort of artistic maze than spanned centuries. I went to the Tate to specifically see the recently opened Sargent room, but took the scenic route. Even the stairs leading towards the main collection were absolutely stunning, a great example of architectural design. As a design student, I have always been drawn to where art and design crossover, and the architecture of the Tate is a fantastic example. Finding the connections between the two areas can only help strengthen my own practice. The firsts exhibit I came across on my way to the Sargent room was a spotlight exhibit called ‘After Industry: Communities in Northern England 1960s – 1980s’. This display was of personal interest, as it depicted scenes from very close to where I grew up! I hadn’t actually ever associated photographs with a space like the Tate Britain, so my visit has very much helped me redefine and understand what an art gallery is. As a creative, I find it is so easy to get caught up in our own practice that we don’t clock what is happening around us, or what has come before. This rich art history so well curated by the Tate is an incredible source of inspiration. The next room I came across with covered wall to wall with beautiful Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I had never seen anything like this. The way the artists had captured the figures, and the way they painted with such realism, was immensely striking. Painting at this skill level is unsurprisingly something that needs to be refined and practised, as encouraged by London Fine Art Studios. Considering my mission was to see Sargent’s painting, I was pleasantly surprised to come across his ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’. I can see why everyone is mad about him, indeed, as I studied the painting, other viewers would comment how beautiful and elegant the work is. Even the frame was incredible. Eventually I ended up in the new Sargent room, dedicated to his portraits of the Wertheimer family. Here, you can see all of the portraits together for the first time. These works were donated to the National Gallery by the patriarch of the family, Asher Wertheimer. The were then displayed in the gallery from 1923 to 1926. The Wertheimers were a wealthy Jewish family, and it was the father Asher who commissioned Sargent to do the works. The latter built a strong relationship with the family over the years, a familiarity which is perhaps most evident in his Portrait of Ena Wertheimer: A Vele Gonfire, 1904. Set against a striking red backdrop, the paintings are accompanied by a marble bust of Mrs Wertheimer, made by James Harvard Thomas. During my time at the studios so far, I have been starting to learn how and why artists chose to paint following the atelier method. Seeing Sargent’s work in the flesh allowed me to fully appreciate his alla prima technique, as well as his sheer mastering of the medium. I definitely recommend a visit to the Sargent room – not to be missed! Molly Grey [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts19th January 2022Our JournalAlbrecht Dürer, ‘Adam and Eve’, 1504 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (RP-P-OB-1155) Need something to do to beat the January blues? Why not take a look at these 10 London art exhibitions to see in January 2022? Many London art exhibitions have been extended due to Covid, which means that you can still catch some of the most popular ones from last year. 1. The Artistic Legacy of Joseph Banks at the National History Museum. On until 13th January. If you’re interested in animal and botanical illustrations, this exhibition is sure to inspire. Banks actually travelled with Captain Cook on his first great voyage to Australasia, and was so able to document many of the flora and fauna discovered. Banks played a significant role in improving peoples knowledge of the natural world, and this exhibition presents the opportunity to marvel not only at some of nature’s most extraordinary creations, but also to understand how dramatic these discoveries were in the 18th century. Find out more about the exhibition here https://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/joseph-banks-artistic-legacy.html 2. Yayoi Kusama – Infinity Mirror Rooms. On until 27th March This exhibition has been hard to miss on instagram, but if like me you haven’t managed to make it yet – you still have time! The enormous installation piece was originally made for her retrospective with the Tate in 2012, and provides a full sensory experience. Have a look at the Tate’s website here for more information https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/yayoi-kusama-infinity-mirror-rooms 3. Sculpture in the City. On until 30th April Walk around the Square Mile and discover 19 works of art on display as part of this annual exhibition (although you may want to do this when it’s warmer!). This is also a fantastic way to explore the City. Here you can find a map of all the artworks – https://www.sculptureinthecity.org.uk/visit/ 4. Van Gogh – The Immersive Experience. On until 5th February This exhibition makes the most of what modern technology can offer. Here you can experience Van Gogh’s paintings in a completely immersive way. His works are projected to cover the entirety of the space. With VR headsets, this is sure to entertain all ages! To book click here https://vangoghexpo.com/london/ 5. Frans Hals: The Male Portrait. On until 30th January Frans Hals’ ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ is perhaps one of the Wallace Collection’s most loved portraits. See this painting alongside other portraits from the artist’s later career. Find out more here: https://www.wallacecollection.org/art/exhibitions-displays/frans-hals-the-male-portrait/ 6. Hokusai – The Great Picture Book of Everyone. On until 30th January A significant and renowned artist in his own time, Japanese artist Hokusai has remained a central figure for artists over the last two centuries. A particular influence for the Impressionists, themes of his work can be seen across works by the likes of Van Gogh and Manet. This London art exhibition displays drawings from the unpublished encyclopaedia ‘The Great Picture Book of Everything’. Book your tickets: https://www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/hokusai-great-picture-book-everything 7. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace. On until 13th February This is a fantastic opportunity to see some of the finest examples of the Masters in the Royal Collection. The likes of Vermeer, Canaletto, Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck are all on display at The Queen’s Gallery. You can book through the website here: https://www.rct.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/masterpieces-from-buckingham-palace/the-queens-gallery-buckingham 8. Late Constable at the RA. On until 13th February A showcase of the work of English Romantic painter John Constable. Best known for his work in landscape painting, Constable worked to revolutionise this genre. This London art exhibition shows all stages of his work including sketches, watercolour alongside drawings and prints. Tickets to this exhibition are available at:  https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/late-constable 9. Hogarth and Europe. On until 20th March See the work of Hogarth alongside his talented peers at the Tate Britain. This exhibition is an exciting opportunity to explore the vibrant and wittily paintings that so well captured the ideas of a generation. Tickets available here: https://shop.tate.org.uk/ticket/date?cgid=7939 10. Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist. On until 27th Feburary Last but not least, the National Gallery presents Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist. This exhibition is showcases the works of Albrecht Dürer from his travels across Europe.   Book tickets here: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/durers-journeys-travels-of-a-renaissance-artist [...] Read more...
Charles Whitehead6th January 2022Art Articles / Our Journal / What is Art For?Zarathustra, Buddha, Confucius, and Plato were major cultural innovators whose teachings shaped the modern world, according to Karl Jaspers. Evolution of consciousness in Europe 6: The Axial Age Dr Charles Whitehead continues his series of blog posts on the many functions of art. The Axial Age: How did we become “modern”? Everything great in western civilisation comes from struggle against our origins Camille Paglia (1990) Orphism (Part 9) was a sure sign that Greece – in parallel with many societies around the world – was entering the so-called “Axial Age”. The term Achsenzeit (literally “Axis-time”, translated as “Axial Age”) was first brought to prominence by the German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers in 1949, in his book Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (“The Origin and Goal of History”).  In his introduction, Jaspers quotes the German philosopher Georg Hegel: “All history moves toward Christ and from Christ. The appearance of the Son of God is the axis of history.” Jaspers points out that this claim can only be true for believing Christians – the axis of world history must be much broader than that. From there he goes on to show that, in the period centred around 500 BC: “…in the spiritual process that occurred between 800 and 200 B.C. it is there that we meet with the most deep-cut dividing line in history. Man, as we know him today, came into being. For short we may style this the ‘Axial Age’. The most extraordinary events are concentrated in this period. Confucius and Lao-Tse were living in China, all the schools of Chinese philosophy came into being, including those of Mo Ti, Chuang Tse, Lieh Tzu and a host of others; India produced the Upanishads and Buddha and, like China, ran the whole gamut of philosophical possibilities down to materialism, scepticism and nihilism; in Iran, Zarathustra taught a challenging view of the world as a struggle between good and evil; in Palestine the prophets made their appearance from Elijah by way of Isaiah and Jeremiah to Deutero-Isaiah; Greece witnessed the appearance of Homer, of the philosophers—Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato,—of the tragedians, of Thucydides and Archimedes. Everything implied by these names developed during these few centuries almost simultaneously in China, India and the West, without any one of these regions knowing the others.” There have been many criticisms of Jaspers’ concept. There was probably more contact between east and west than he thought, and some claim there are no strict parallels between his “axial” societies. But it is pretty clear that the new modes of thought emerging during this period were reactions to the prior development of civilizations, leading to warfare, empire building, expansive trade networks, the first minted coins, and state religions which were bound to become spiritually sterile. Axial changes were attempts to restore our primordial humanity. Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam could be regarded as late manifestations of the Axial Age, so extending this period to a span of around 1,400 years.  Conversion of the Achaemenid Empire to Zoroastrianism spread beliefs in free will, heaven and hell, and good versus evil. Ahriman, source of all evil, made a freely-willed decision to destroy all things good.  Left: Ahriman, in the shape of a lion, kills the beautiful primordial bull created by Ahura Mazda, who then revived it in the Moon, and created all animals from its seed. Sculpture from the Great Stairway in Persepolis, built by Darius the Great and succeeding kings from 518 BC.  Right: Fragment of a Farvahar, the main symbol of Zoroastrianism, still popular in Iran today: A guardian spirit stands in a winged and feathered torus. The expression of earnest devotion, as opposed to power and might, is quite new in art. though the winged solar disc derives from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. From the Hall of a Hundred Columns in Persepolis. Mani (210-276 AD) was a Persian prophet who founded Manichaeism, combining Christian, Zoroastrian, Greek, and Buddhist influences. He was a gifted artist in his own right, and created a book of pictures and text – called Arzhang – to teach his cosmogony, and so invented the art of the miniature. He also formulated the first metaphysical theory of art, equating the act of making art with god’s creation of living forms, making art experience superior to ordinary life in the material world. His work is now lost but Manichaeans continued his artistic tradition.  Left: Leaf from a Uyghur-Manichaean book of pictures in the manner of Mani.  Right: Miniature by Kamaloddin Bihzad, the most significant painter from 15th century Persia, whose brushwork, according to a contemporary, resembled that of the great Mani. Jaspers was not aware that the Scottish barrister, folklorist, philosopher, and sociologist John Stuart Stuart-Glennie had published a more nuanced version of the same theory seventy-six years earlier, in 1873, calling this historic shift “the moral revolution”. He included changes in Egypt and Italy as well as those noted by Jaspers, and described them as “revolts against the old religions of outward observance or custom, new religions of inward purification or conscience…”. The character of Stuart-Glennie’s “moral revolution” is spelled out clearly in Isaiah I, in the Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament: “What good to Me is your multitude of sacrifices?” says the LORD. “I am full from the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I take no delight in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats…Bring your worthless offerings no more; your incense is detestable to Me—your New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations…When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood…Stop doing evil! Learn to do right; seek justice and correct the oppressor. Defend the fatherless and plead the case of the widow.” (King James Version, Isaiah I:11-17, abridged) Left: From 5th to 1st c. BC, iconic representations of the Buddha were avoided and alternative images substituted, such as his footprints, the Bodhi tree, an empty throne, a horse with no rider, or the Wheel of Dharma.  Centre: Mandalas in Hinduism and Buddhism signify a new emphasis on introspection and personal enlightenment. Aids to meditation and trance induction, a practitioner can “enter” into the mandala and trace the route from the one to the many and back, and experience disintegration and reintegration – the process of identation in Jungian psychology.  Right: Later portrayals of Buddha emphasize tranquillity and composure. This Tibetan sculpture, considered blasphemous by many Buddhists, shows Buddha with a naked woman in the “yab-yum” (father-mother) posture, representing the union of wisdom and compassion, worshipped in India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet.  Jaspers lumped together everything before his “Axial Age” – all the transitions that I have reviewed from the Ice Age onwards (Parts 5-9) – into a single amorphous age in which “nothing of value” happened. There was only “a magical religion destitute of philosophical enlightenment.” Stuart-Glennie’s approach was far more sophisticated, taking account of material conditions, as well as the transition to civilization, which occurred well before the Axial Age. He recognised that the rise of supernatural beings – the gods of the earliest civilizations – could be used for social dominance. In particular, what he called “the Hell religions” could serve to legitimise the power of kings, and instil in the underclass fear, subordination, and hope in a just afterlife. The gods of civilization were instruments of the bureaucratic machine, and not just the dawn of a new self-awareness in “man”, as Jaspers believed. Much of what we know today was not available to Stuart-Glennie at the time, but he made an insightful criticism of Edward Tylor’s concept of “animism”, published two years earlier in Primitive Culture (1871). Tylor was a founding father of social anthropology who believed that societies evolve from savagery through barbarism to civilization. The first stage in the development of religion, associated with ‘savagery’, was animism – the belief that all natural phenomena were ensouled (from Latin anima meaning mind or soul), from without, as it were. Stuart-Glennie, an avid collector of folklore from around the world, thought this was inadequate. He proposed panzoonism – meaning “all-life-ism” – as a better term. He denied that, in ‘primitive’ religion, things had minds or souls inside them – rather, all the powers and processes of nature were intrinsically alive – made of life, in effect – and worthy of worship and devotion in their own right. There was no concept of “matter” as distinct from “soul”. I think Stuart-Glennie was right, but he has been largely ignored by anthropologists, and ‘animsm’ is the term we are stuck with. He also made some insightful predictions. For example, in 1906 he predicted that the communist revolution would occur in Russia, and not in Britain as Karl Marx supposed. He also predicted that by the year 2000 there would be a United States of Europe (the Maastricht Treaty established the EU in 1993). Stuart-Glennie’s problem was that he was ahead of his time, but also his regrettable belief in the “scientific” racism of his day – claiming, for example, that civilization began in the “Conflict of Higher and Lower Races.” Jaspers saw the Axial Age as a great awakening of human self-awareness. Stuart-Glennie, more realistically, recognised both gains and losses in this transition – as did Karl Marx. In my next blog I will look at some more critical views. The second commandment in the Jewish Bible bans iconic art: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” But the Jews, ever fascinated by foreign gods and cultures, and perhaps needing to compete with other religions, steadily liberalised Rabbinical interpretations of the second commandment. By the third century at least synagogues were decorated with iconic art showing Roman and Greek influences.  Left: Fresco depicting a scene from the Book of Esther, from the synagogue at Dura-Europos, c. 244 AD.  Right: King David as Orpheus taming animals with the music of his lyre: synagogue pavement in Gaza, 508 AD. The ten commandments and the ban on iconic art were most strictly observed in Islam, leading to a vibrant flourishing of calligraphic and non-iconic art, with a strong sense of introspection and intense spirituality. Detail of Mosaic tiles from Isfahan Mosque, Iran. To be continued… Part 10.2 [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts24th November 2021Our JournalJohn Constable RA, Rainstorm over the Sea, c. 1824-8. Oil on paper laid on canvas. 23.5 x 32.6 cm. Royal Academy of Arts, London. Given by Isabel Constable 1888. Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer: John Hammond. Late Constable – Royal Academy of Arts This Winter, the Royal Academy of Arts is holding a Late Constable exhibition to celebrate the work of one of Britain’s most renowned artists. It may come as a surprise, however, to learn that this is the first time the Royal Academy has given such attention to Constable’s work. Running from the 30th October 2021 to the 13th February 2022, the exhibition brings together Constable’s oil paintings, drawings and watercolours from 1825 to 1837. As seen so commonly with artists towards the end of their careers, Constable developed a distinctive style in his final decade, one far more expressive than his earlier work – this is perhaps why critics have been so eagerly awaiting this retrospective. It has been pointed out that much of the work exhibited was painted after the long illness and eventual death of Constable’s wife, an event which may account for the rather gloomy and dramatic atmosphere in much of his work. The general gloom of these works also reflects, however, Constable’s fascination with weather – not just from an artistic perspective, but a scientific one. Many of the paintings, both oil and watercolour, depict various cloud formations. Constable took a great interest in reading contemporary writings on meteorology, aiming to improve the accuracy of his work. By understanding how clouds formed and impacted the sky, he was able to understand in more depth the relationship between the sky and the landscape below it. So, if you get a chance to visit the exhibition, make sure to notice how the sky in each work is unique.  For more information on the exhibition and details on how to book, visit the Royal Academy’s website here https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/late-constable [...] Read more...
LondonFineArts17th November 2021Our JournalOn the 3rd November, we had the pleasure of welcoming girls from St Mary’s Calne to the studios. The girls were in London to visit the school’s triennial exhibition, ‘Presence of Absence’, held at Mall Galleries, where several of our own alumni exhibited, including Phoebe Dickinson and Helena Boase. Just under 60 in total, we managed to squeeze everyone in to the Sculpture studio while they rotated groups for tours! All keen artists themselves, we gave the students a tour of the studios, outlining the atelier method we teach here and showing them examples in both charcoal and oil paint. Whilst these tours were going on, Ann gave a live portrait painting demo. As a lot of the girls work from photos, many were intrigued to see how Ann was able to paint a likeness from life. Introducing concepts of composition, shape, lights and shadows, Ann also gave the students an insight into colour. At London Fine Art Studios, we only ever work from life, whether from the plaster casts, still lifes, portrait and figure models or even landscapes. We believe it is crucial to work from life in the initial stages of your training, and only to resort to photography in your own private studios as an aid and not a sole resource. Hopefully the girls will be able to put these ideas into practice with their own work, having seen how seeing and interpreting the world through your own eyes will always be the most inspiring and vivid way to draw and paint what you see. We wish them well on their artistic endeavours, and hope to see them all again soon! Ann’s portrait demo in its early stages. The girls eagerly hanging onto Ann’s words! [...] Read more...
Charles Whitehead4th November 2021Art Articles / Our Journal / What is Art For?Evolution of consciousness in Europe 5: The Mediterranean Iron Age Dr Charles Whitehead continues his series of  blog posts on the many functions of art, in ‘What is Art For?‘, here investigating Ancient Greece, a source of inspiration that has served artists for centuries. Ancient Greece “Athens became great not despite but because of its misogyny“ Camille Paglia (1990) E.H. Gombrich, in his magisterial work The Story of Art, entitles the first of his two chapters on Greek art “The Great Awakening”. I admire the scholarship and clarity of this book which is very enjoyable to read, but he does not define what kind of “sleep” people were in before this “awakening”. And surely some people would regard the advent of Christianity or the dawn of Islam as a much greater awakening, implying that Classical Greeks themselves were not yet fully “awake”. Others would see Christ and Mohammed as late flowerings of the “Axial Age” which began in the 6th century BC, allowing the pre-Socratic philosophers and Orphics to be at least a little bit conscious. Still others might favour the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, or even the Counter Enlightenment. At least one cultural historian proposed a precise “Pivotal Moment” on 25 May 1543, when Copernicus published his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), which showed that the movement of the heavens could be best explained by the movement of the observer. The Greek Archaic period (ca. 800-480 BC) was influenced by the monumental sculpture of Egypt but soon developed a greater sense of movement and free-standing naturalism.  Left: “Lady of Auxerre”. Kore (female grave monument). 7th century BC.  Centre: Later Kouros (male grave monument). Ca. 530 BC.  Right: “Strangford Apollo”. Ca. 490 BC. Gombrich opens the Introduction to his book with the famous line: “There really is no such thing as Art,” and goes on to say that “art” has different meanings in different societies and even for different individuals. But despite that, he cannot escape from his Eurocentric assumptions, including the idea that art must be naturalistic (though he then has to do a U-turn on “modern art” because he is an apologist and feels obliged to praise even Bridget Riley and Jackson Pollock for being so experimental and pushing the boundaries of art). But he does clearly distinguish the two main meanings of “art” – the aesthetic and the iconic. The Classical period of Greek art (ca. 480-323) has left few original bronzes because this valuable metal was usually melted down and reused. Spectacular exceptions survived on the sea bed, deposited by shipwrecks.  Left: The Artemision Bronze of Zeus hurling a thunderbolt (ca. 460 BC) was recovered from the sea off Cape Artemision, in northern Euboea, Greece. Several features were originally inset, probably with bone for the eyes, silver for the eyebrows, and copper for the lips and nipples.  Centre & Right: The Riace Bronzes, two Greek warriors, cast about 460–450 BC, found in the sea near Riace, Calabria – on the sole of Italy’s “boot”. Classical sculptors did not portray females naked until the 4th century BC.  Left: Praxitles was the first to create a naked goddess acceptable to Greek tastes. His Aphrodite of Knidos holds her right hand in the Venus pudica gesture of sexual modesty. Greco-Roman copy, original 365 BC.  Right: Female figure in the “wet drapery” style which seems to reveal more than it conceals, fetishizing the female body. Attributed to Timotheus, ca. 375-350 BC Of course the art of the Classical period is stunning and unprecedented; for the first time in history artists celebrated the beauty of the human body in all its anatomically perfect – and idealised – splendour. But, despite the cautionary notes in his Introduction, Gombrich remains part of a Eurocentric tradition that has long idealised Classical Greece and the Greek-inspired art of the Renaissance. Western art buffs in the 19th century thought of ancient Greece as the dawn of Western civilization, the birthplace of philosophy, theatre, and democracy, and a world of glistening white temples and pristine marble sculpture. They would have been shocked to learn that Greek artists painted their work in colours that would have struck them as distressingly vulgar. They did not think of Greek philosophy as ex vacuo rationalization often leading to absurd conclusions, or recognise the origin of theatre in ancient Dionysian revelries that would have shocked Victorian sensibilities. And they certainly had little idea of just how strange – to more modern eyes – ancient Greek society was. The way history was taught to me as a boy gave the impression that European civilization owed everything to the Romans and Greeks. It was self-evident, but not mentioned, that Europe got its dominant religion from the Hebrews, and that this had an enormous impact on European society, culture, and thought. It certainly crossed no one’s mind that science and scientific research in Europe began with Arabian science and Arabian alchemy, despite so many scientific and mathematical terms being of Arabic origin, and even our numerals being “Arabic”. The first research laboratories, with much of the equipment you would see in a chemistry lab today, were built by alchemists. The Arabs, in their turn, received alchemy from China via Persia, and numerals from India, including the zero sign which makes place value possible and revolutionized mathematics. The Gauls were mentioned only as “barbaric tribes” described and defeated by Caesar, though I suspect that western culture gets much of its individualism, dynamism, and ideology of freedom, from the heroic Iron Age of Gallic and Germanic Europe, and not from the stolid and regimented Romans. I do not blame my school for these biases. Ever since the Renaissance much of the scholarly thought in the West has worn classical blinkers. The Renaissance itself was triggered by a re-discovery of classical Greek and Roman literature whilst artists were influenced very much by Greek art. By the nineteenth century, the Renaissance itself was being idealised, and so was Classical and Hellenistic architecture and sculpture. And it created that fantasy of serene white columns and sublime white naked bodies.  It was a fantasy not shared by the ancient Greeks themselves. They had words for poetry, epic, comedy, tragedy, theatre, music, and dance. But they had no word for “art”. Sculpture and painting, taken together, were glossed as tékhnē – meaning craft, skill, technique, or “knowing how”. The Latin ars, from which the word “art” derives, had the same meaning. Tékhnē and ars both referred to all kinds of mechanical skill: Socrates specifically mentions playing the harp, generalship, piloting a ship, cooking, medicine, managing an estate, smithing, and carpentry. For him, the most liberal “arts” were warfare and farming. There was no concept of “fine art”, and poetry was esteemed more highly than the visual arts. Superior men work with their minds, whereas sculptors merely work with their hands – a more lowly occupation. Plato regarded natural forms as poor copies of an abstract ideal, so “art” for him was a poor copy of a poor copy, and works of art were at best entertainment and at worst a dangerous delusion. Aristotle too saw art as imitation, but he held that imitation is part of human nature, evident from childhood, and necessary for learning. But these benefits he credited more to theatre than to painting and sculpture. Hellenistic art is conventionally defined as starting with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. Alexander’s empire extended to India and Egypt, influencing art on three continents as well as bringing exotic tastes and foreign artists into Greece. Fit subjects for art became far more wide-ranging to meet the demands of a wealthy domestic market. Artists began to depict strong emotions and non-idealised themes such as suffering, sleep, old age, and death. Multi-figured groups like the Laocoön, people of all classes, and vignettes from everyday life were common.  Left: Boy pulling a thorn from his foot, 3rd c BC.  Centre: Old drunk woman clutching a wine flask by Myron, 3rd c BC (for the original).  Right: Eros taunts a lascivious Pan whilst Aphrodite prepares to slap him with her sandal. So what is meant by this “Awakening”? Does it mean that after the Ice Age (when artists proved that they could paint naturalistically) people fell asleep for eleven thousand years? To his credit Gombrich does not say that, merely noting that prehistoric and “primitive” (his word not mine) artists had different interests and intentions. But there is a real sense in which people and whole societies can shift from relatively unconscious to more conscious waking states, and vice versa. It is well known that the human mind and brain are capable of dissociation – which means different parts can get separated off, and the different parts may or may not be aware of each other. That is obvious in multiple personality disorder (or dissociative identity disorder in America). But it also happens in hypnotic trance, and hypnotherapists will point out that such trance states are a normal part of everyday life. For example, if you get absorbed in a good book, awareness of your surroundings can fade – though other parts of your mind are still aware and monitoring everything as usual. When you read a novel or watch a movie you will often identify with the fictitious characters to such an extent that you care about their pain or happiness almost as though they were your own. Similar things happen when daydreaming or playing a role – pretending to be the person we think others expect us to be. It means that the human brain can run more than one mind in parallel, which I think is one reason why we have such large brains. I have suggested – based on the logic of Emil Durkheim, subsequently expanded by Chris Knight, Camilla Power, Ian Watts, and others – that the “human revolution” was the result of the first ritual (in the uniquely human sense of the word). Since human minds dissociate so readily, ritual trance at that time was more than likely. In that experience, I have argued, our ancestors lost their essentialist perceptions of bodies, but gained an awareness of their spirituality. If you’re an atheist, of course, you will regard this “spiritual awareness” as delusional. But research in America and Britain has found that at least 40% of people surveyed have at least one spiritual experience during their lifetimes, and that in most cases such experiences have profound and life-changing effects. They usually lead to increased tolerance and compassion for others, a new enthusiasm for and enjoyment of life, and a change to a more fulfilling and rewarding life-course or career. So, however “delusional” the content of spiritual beliefs, spiritual experience is objectively real and beneficial.   So just how conscious were these Greeks? “Boy love” in ancient Greece. Such titillating scenes, painted on the tondo (inner base) of a cup, would be gradually revealed as the drinker consumed the wine.  Left: Young man and teenager engaged in intercrural (between-the-thighs) sex, fragment of a black-figure Attic cup, Archaic, 550-525 BC, Louvre.  Right: An erastes with his eromenos. The youth holds a bag of nuts, probably a courting gift from his lover. On the wall, a sponge and strygil (scraper). Tondo of an Attic red-figure cup by the Brygos-Painter, Classical, 480-470 BC, Ashmolean Museum. Greek society developed an extreme form of patriarchy in which women had very limited freedom and power. Men in their thirties commonly married girls in their early teens, and women were not free to socialise outside the home. The exception was Sparta where women more often married in their twenties and virtually ran the whole domestic economy, because Spartan men lived in military barracks and ate with other men in a communal mess. Spartan husbands and wives were encouraged to lead separate lives so that, when they did meet, there would be a powerful copulation and hence more vigorous sons to maintain the Spartan army. An unintended consequence of this abstinence may have helped to cement the morale of Spartan troops – it has been suggested that their bonds of loyalty were strengthened by unconscious or unacknowledged homosexual love. The Sacred Band of Thebes, in contrast, fought lover beside gay lover for explicitly tactical reasons – no warrior wanted to be shamed in the eyes of his beloved, and fought the more courageously in consequence. Greek and Latin had no words for heterosexuality or homosexuality. Both Greeks and Romans dissociated sex from gender – for them, copulation was not a matter of gender but of power relations between a penetrator and a penetrated, enacted by one of superior and dominant class upon one of inferior and subordinate class. Gender only came into the picture in so far as women were considered to be inferior to men. So it was seen as quite natural that men should have sexual relations with women, boys, and slaves. In Greece, pederasty between bearded men and beardless boys was institutionalised as paiderastia, meaning “boy love”. In Athens, the older partner was called erastes, and it was his duty to educate, protect, love, and provide a role model for his adolescent eromenos (beloved). This was perfectly open and above board. The boy’s parents would be well aware and hopeful that their son would attract an exemplary and generous lover. Left: A female aulos-player entertains men at a symposium; red-figure kylix (wine cup), 5th century BC, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  Right: Inside of a kylix depicting a hetaira playing kottabos, a drinking game played at symposia in which wine dregs were flicked at a target. A second institution which permitted homo- and heterosexual license was the Greek symposium. This was the major social event attended by aristocratic men from 8th century BC, and also by wealthy men of lower class from ca. 450 BC. These all-male drinking parties were held in an andron or men’s room – built for that purpose in the home of the host, often near the entrance so that guests did not see the private areas. The men would be served and entertained by boys, slaves, and musicians, often female, and sexual favours for a fee may have been on offer. Guests would also enjoy the company of hetairai – high class prostitutes famed for their wit and intelligent conversation. Often highly educated and wealthy, these women did not sell one-off sexual favours like the lower class pornai but were usually paid for a long-term relationship. Presumably the host’s wife was supposed to turn a blind eye to what went on in the andron. In fact hetairaiprobably enjoyed a better quality of life, and certainly more freedom, than married women. They had children, owned their own homes and property, and were richly rewarded by their wealthy clients. But the greatest contradiction to the idealised view of ancient Greek society has to be the mystery religions, especially the cult of Dionysus. Greek sources repeatedly insist that Dionysus is a foreign god, arriving late in Greece after roaming the world as far as Phrygia and India, who could not convince others that he was a god until he turned Etruscan pirates into dolphins, and had to struggle to persuade the established gods to allow him and his mortal mother Semele to join them on Olympus. Archaeology proves otherwise, for two tablets written in Linear B, from Mycenaean Pylos, mention the name di-wo-nu-so, and date to the twelfth or thirteenth century BC. Some scholars now think that the cult may have originated as early as 6000 BC, in the Neolithic. Certainly his cult was established well before the Classical Greek period, and Dionysus may well be one of the earliest and most established of the Greek gods. Left: Maenad (raving one) with a thyrsus. slain leopard, and snake coiled around her head. Tondo of an Attic white-ground kylix 490–480 BC from Vulci.  Right: Dancing maenad with head thrown back in traditional ecstatic pose. Detail from a Paestum red figure skyphos(deep wine cup) made by Python, ca. 330-320 BC. So why did the Greeks insist that he is a foreign newcomer, often titled “the one who comes”? This must be essential to the specific quality of his divinity – he represents a power coming from the wild unknown, outside civilization, outside state religion, and even outside human self-consciousness – as if reversing a million years or more of human evolution. It is clear from surviving hymns to Dionysus that his rites and mysteries were believed to undo the shackles of culture and civilization, releasing his devotees into a primordial and blissful state of “nature”. He is often referred to as Eleutherios(“the Liberator”), as Bacchus, his Roman successor, is named Liber. Dionysus is primarily a god of the grape harvest, wine, fermentation, and intoxication – and by extension also of fertility, vegetation, orchards, fruit, and the whole of wild nature. His followers, intoxicated by wine, drumming, music, and wild dance, are seized by a sacred ecstasy which is more than mere drunkenness. “Ecstasy” derives from Greek ekstasis meaning “standing outside oneself” and, in the Dionysian context, is also understood as enthousiasmos, or enthusiasm, meaning “inspired or possessed by a god” (en – “in”; theos – “god”). The Dionysian rite is commonly portrayed in art as a procession of dancing maenads (literally “raving ones”), or women possessed by the god, and lascivious satyrs – half human and half goat – with prominent erections. Some maenads carry a thyrsos – a staff of giant fennel topped with a pine cone, wound with vine and ivy leaves, and dripping with honey – whilst others play the tympanum (hand drum or tambourine), the aulos (a reeded double pipe with a shrill, piercing sound), or other instruments.  Dionysic processions are described as climbing mountain paths to the wild places near the summit, where women, possessed and empowered by the god, would handle snakes, tear wild animals apart with their bare hands, and devour the flesh raw. This is hardly a return to a “state of nature”. Rather, the Dionysian orgia, like that of Cybele mentioned earlier, was an extreme reaction to the oppressive constraints of formal society, probably beginning even before the Bronze Age. Left: An ecstatic Maenad with an ithyphallic satyr. Red figure kylix, 5th c BC. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich.  Right: King Pentheus torn apart by his mother Agave and his aunt Ino, who mistake him for a lion whilst possessed by Dionysus. Detail of a red-figure cup by the Athenian painter Douris, ca. 480 BC. The story of Pentheus provides the plot for The Bacchae, a tragedy by the Athenian playwright Euripides. Dionysus is a god of chaos, sexual licence, madness and insanity, of everything outside civilized society, and of the “beast within”. The subversive nature of Dionysian revels especially attracted those disempowered by Greek society – women, non-citizens, slaves, and outlaws. In both Greece and Rome there were attempts to suppress the Dionysian mysteries which were seen as threatening the social order,  but the cult continued to thrive until the enforced conversion to Christianity in 380 AD. But it never really died, and there have been brief revivals throughout history, even in modern neo-paganism.  Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy, wrote “In intoxication, physical or spiritual, the initiate recovers an intensity of feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated from the prison of everyday preoccupations.” It may seem paradoxical that this cult, apparently hostile to all things civilised, may have been the origin of much that Western culture derived from Greece. The mystery religions generally were a counter-movement against Greek state religion and social oppression. Initially they provided a temporary relief from social constraints, but they evolved into salvation faiths offering a permanent state of blessedness and a joyful after-life. By the 6th or 5th century AD, the Dionysian cult had evolved into Orphism. Left: Dionysos as a winged daimon riding a tiger, from the House of Dionysos on Delos. Hellenistic mosaic, late 2nd c. BC, Archaeological Museum of Delos.  Right: Orpheus charming the animals became a metaphor for Christ saving sinners. The eagle (on Orpheus’ head) commonly represents Resurrection. Marble table leg, Asia Minor, 4th c. AD, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens. The Orphic mysteries made the sparagmos – the rending apart – of Dionysus the central feature of its mythos. This is a very ancient theme characteristic of shamanic initiation in which the shaman-to-be has a vision of his own body being torn apart by demons, boiled in a cauldron, and then reassembled from his bare bones, with miraculous new organs often made of rock crystal. Rock crystal was thought to bestow supernatural powers because of its prismatic ability to cast rainbow colours – the rainbow being perceived as the ancient bridge which, in “the beginning times” before “the fall”, enabled people to climb easily between heaven and earth. The snake too – prominent in Dionysian and many ancient cults – has been commonly perceived as miraculous because of its power of self-renewal through shedding its skin. Hence the mythic centrality of rainbow snakes in Africa, Australia, and the Americas, and probably also the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the “monsters of chaos” slain by Marduk and Jehovah (Psalm 9:10), and the colourful dragons of Asia and Europe. There are significant parallels between Dionysus, Orpheus, and Christ. All three were conceived by a god on a mortal woman (at least in some versions of their myths); all three were regarded as “outsiders” – Dionysus and Orpheus supposedly coming from Thrace, and Christ from Galilee, a multicultural region far less “Jewish” than Judaea; all three died and were resurrected (or returned from Hades), and the last two at least founded salvation religions with concepts of original sin and redemption, opposition between spirit and flesh,  and a blissful reward in paradise for the virtuous. In the central myth of Orphism, Dionysus was first fathered by Zeus on Persephone, the wife of Hades. The jealous Hera adjured the Titans to kill the infant. Disguising themselves with gypsum, the Titans tempted Dionysus with toys and a mirror, mocked him by giving him a thyrsus instead of a royal sceptre, then tore him apart, boiled his flesh, and devoured it. Athena managed to rescue his heart, and informed Zeus of the murder. Filled with wrath, Zeus slew the Titans with a thunderbolt, reducing them to ash. Humanity was born from this ash, and as a result we have a dual nature: an earthly body (sôma) derived from the sinful Titans, and a divine soul (psyché) derived from Dionysus. According to an Orphic hymn, we are “the children of Earth and of the starry Heaven.” The soul is trapped in “the net” of the body, and we are doomed to an endless cycle of rebirths until we are saved by Orphic initiation and purification, followed by an ascetic life abstaining from sex and from eating meat, fish, eggs and beans (because all these foods contain souls). Dionysus was born a second time – either from the thigh of Zeus, into which the god had stitched his son’s heart, or from the union of Zeus with the mortal Semele. After spreading his joyful and unruly cult around the world, Dionysus was eventually allowed to join the other gods on Mount Olympus, along with his human mother Semele, who became a goddess.  Orpheus too was born of a semi-divine union, between Apollo (or King Oeagrus of Thrace) and Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. Apollo taught him to play the lyre, and Calliope the composition of songs. The music of Orpheus had the power to charm humans, animals, and even gods, to divert rivers, make trees dance, and stones to jump with joy. He even charmed Hades and Persephone when he descended to the underworld to rescue his dead wife, Eurydice. Hades agreed to let her follow him on condition that he never looked back, which of course he did. Having failed to rescue Eurydice, according to Ovid, he became  “the first of the Thracian people to transfer his affection to young boys, and enjoy their brief springtime and early flowering this side of manhood.” At first Orpheus was devoted to Dionysus but later insisted on worshiping Apollo only. For this apostasy, the Maenads angrily attacked him, first with sticks and stones. But these weapons, charmed by his music, refused to strike him. Infuriated, the Maenads then tore him apart in a maniacal frenzy. His head and lyre, still singing, floated to the isle of Lesbos and became the Orphic oracle whose fame spread as far as Babylon. The Death of Orpheus. Detail from a silver kantharos, 420-410 BC. Because Dionysus had the power to inspire and to create ecstasy, his cult had special importance for art and literature. His orgia were favourite subjects of pottery painters, and depictions of Dionysus and Orpheus are common in Greek and Roman art. Performances of tragedy and comedy in Athens were part of two festivals of Dionysus, the Lenaea and the Great (or City) Dionysia. It is well known that theatre originated in ritual, and the great Greek playwrights from the 6th to the 4th century BC owe their art to that unruliest of rites. Greek philosophy and mathematics also had their origin in the cosmology of Orphism and the closely related Pythagoreanism. Some of the Pythagoreans pre-empted Galileo in attempting to define the mathematical structure of the cosmos, as well as of music. Music was even regarded as one of the four branches of mathematical science: the others being arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Plato, whose influence on Western philosophy cannot be overstated, was profoundly influenced by Orphic and Pythagorean texts. He founded the Academy – the first university in Europe. Bertrand Russel even claimed that all Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato. Three Orphic beliefs in particular recur throughout Plato’s work – the body as a prison of the soul, reincarnation, and reward and punishment in the afterlife. In Phaedo, he even quotes Socrates as saying, immediately before his execution:  “And I conceive that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning and were not mere triflers when they intimated… that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will live in a slough, but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods. For ‘many,’ as they say in the mysteries, ‘are the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics,’ – meaning, as I interpret the words, the true philosophers.” I don’t think we should be surprised that some of the things we regard as foundational for Western culture emerged from the Dionysian sparagmos and the wilful abandonment of civilized behaviour. Widely accepted in anthropology is Victor Turner’s theory of anti-structure, according to which the suspension or inversion of cultural norms is the source of new culture. Theories of creativity also invoke playful or unruly processes. The rites of Cybele, the Great Mother, were as abandoned and ecstatic as those of Dionysus, and her priests castrated themselves out of devotion to the goddess. Lucianus tells us that men who attended the rites simply to watch, with no intention of self-castration, were sometimes seized by a sacred frenzy, throwing off their clothes, and rushing to the altar where a sword was available for the express purpose of self-emasculation. This cult too has Christian parallels, including the foreign origins of the Phrygian goddess, repudiation of the flesh and the celibacy of priests, and even a New Testament affirmation: “and there be eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake” (Matthew 19:12).  The Greek mysteries, and especially the Orphics, are a sure sign that Greece, around 600 BC, was entering the so-called “Axial Age”, or “moral revolution”, which will be the topic of my next blog. [...] Read more...
Charles Whitehead4th November 2021Art Articles / Our Journal / What is Art For?Evolution of consciousness in Europe 5: The Mediterranean Iron Age Dr Charles Whitehead continues his series of  blog posts on the many functions of art, in ‘What is Art For?‘, here investigating the Etruscans – Rome’s most significant predecessor. The Etruscans “A vivid, life-accepting people, who must have lived with real fullness“ D.H. Lawrence (1932) But from 1100 BC, whilst the Greeks were still in their “Dark Age”, another brilliant new culture was germinating in Italy. The first Villanovans lived in villages of small round wattle-and daub huts, but the arrival of Iron Age technology, combined with rich mineral resources, well-organised agriculture and trade, transformed those people, subsequently known as the Etruscans, who became a major trading power during the Greek Archaic period. Etruscan expansion reached its maximum territorial extent – from the River Po in the north to the Bay of Naples in the south – by 550 BC, as the Greek Classical period was about to dawn, and the balance of power in Italy would soon shift in favour of Rome. Dancers from the Tomb of the Augurs (left) and the Tomb of the Lionesses (right), Tarquinia, ca. 530-520 BC. The dancing phersu (left) seems remarkably casual about genital exposure, whilst the man on the right, holding a wine jug, appears to be naked. Phersu means mask or masked actor and is the origin of the Latin persona and English person. The Phersu seems to be something of a clown or trickster figure. His snub nose. large ears, long beard, and Phrygian cap, suggest a link to the god of drunken license, Dionysus. The Romans did a pretty good job of whitewashing the Etruscans out of history. Many features of western civilization which have been credited to Rome were Etruscan innovations. Rome may have begun as a Latin village, but the city itself was founded by Etruscans, who installed much of its infrastructure, including the Cloaca Maxima, or “Greatest Sewer” which is still in use today, as well as the Circus Maximus. Rome’s major temple, the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, was originally built by Etruscans. Dedicated to the Capitoline Triad – Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva – it had a cathedral-like status relative to other Roman temples. Until around 200 BC, in the late Republic, Roman temples followed the Etruscan style, far more richly decorated than the Greek style subsequently adopted by the Romans. Left: The Capitoline Wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome. The myth is a fabrication supposedly accounting for the fierce and indomitable Roman character. The irony here is that the Etruscans were the true founders of Rome, and the wolf is an Etruscan bronze (the twins are a Renaissance addition). 75 cm high and 114 cm long (30×45 in).  Right: Detail of a reconstructed Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia Museum, Rome. The finely detailed terracotta decorations would have been painted in bright colours. Ca. 300 BC. We have very little direct knowledge of Etruscan society. Latin authors such as Livy and Cicero commented on the richness of Etruscan literature, and the Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus of Sicily (90-30 BC), wrote that one of the great achievements of Etruscan culture was its literature. But none of that survives today, apart from a single book, and only then because it was written on linen and subsequently used to wrap an Egyptian mummy. We have some 13,000 Etruscan inscriptions, but most are too short to provide much information, and longer texts in the Etruscan language still await translation.  Many Etruscan settlements have remained in occupation to this day, so archaeologists lack access to sites which are underneath people’s homes or public buildings. Most of the surviving architecture is limited to city walls and rock-cut tombs. Despite plentiful fine marble in their region, Etruscan sculpture was almost entirely in terracotta or bronze. Elaborate temple ornaments in painted terracotta survive in broken fragments, whilst most of their bronzes, because of the value of the metal, have been melted down and re-cycled. So most of the surviving art consists of frescoes in tombs, grave goods, and sarcophagi – containers for the dead. Two naked boys serve three couples in the banqueting scene from the Tomb of the Leopards. Men and women dine together and wear identical laurel crowns – reflecting the gender equality that shocked Greek and Roman observers. The man on the right holds up an egg, a common symbol of rebirth and regeneration. Ca. 480–450 BC. Procession of dancers and musicians from the Tomb of the Leopards. I first came to love Etruscan art after reading a short book, Etruscan Places, by the English poet and novelist D.H. Lawrence. It’s worth quoting his response to the scenes above: “The walls of this little tomb are a dance of real delight. The room seems inhabited still by Etruscans of the sixth century before Christ, a vivid, life-accepting people, who must have lived with real fullness. On come the dancers and the music-players, moving in a broad frieze towards the front wall of the tomb, the wall facing us as we enter from the dark stairs, and where the banquet is going on in all its glory. … So that all is colour, and we do not seem to be underground at all, but in some gay chamber of the past.”  There is such a celebration of life and the pleasures of music, dancing, athletics, and banqueting in the tomb paintings, that Lawrence concluded that the Etruscan could imagine no afterlife that could be happier than life in this world. Many scholars would agree. There also seems to have been an appreciation and love of nature. The activities shown in the frescoes take place in the open air, surrounded by birds, plants, and trees, and often adorned with floral garlands. Musicians and dancers surrounded by trees and birds, from the Tomb of the Triclinium. Tarquinia. Ca. 480–470 BC. We can be sure that there was something special about Etruscan society because of the way Greeks and Romans reacted with outrage and disgust at their behaviour. Virgil, Livy and Silius complain of Etruscan cowardice, effeminacy, pride, obsession with divination, and love of luxury. Virgil, in his Aeneid, states that Etruscans are only interested in “serving Venus and Bacchus in sacred banquets where they drink, eat, make love and dance.” The unbridled enjoyment of earthly pleasures was not approved by sober-minded Greeks and Romans. In particular, their detractors were scandalised by the freedom and privilege enjoyed by Etruscan women. Theopompus of Chios, in his Histories, wrote: “Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom. Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive. The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are.” Of course the first and last allegations are laughable – Etruscan epitaphs regularly name the father and mother of the deceased. And we may detect a sneaking hint of envy when Theopompus notes that the women take good care of their bodies and are “very attractive”. The comment that “Etruscans raise all the children that are born”, however, is significant. Theopompus seems to find this surprising. Most Mediterranean societies at that time often killed their weak, deformed, or unwanted babies, and Theopompus lists this humane eccentricity of the Etruscans along with all the other shocking details. The banqueting scene in the Tomb of the Leopards clearly shows that men and women socialised as equals. Both wear the same laurel wreaths, indicating equal privilege. Women, whether single or married, were allowed to go where they pleased. They took part in public events, councils, and naked athletics. They rode horses astride, retained their own names on marriage, could inherit property, and had similar rank and legal rights as men. Such things were unheard of in any other society at that time. For misogynistic Greeks and Romans, the proper place for women was in the home, preferably pregnant. Social life was exclusively male – most famously in the Greek symposia which were all-male drinking parties (with learned philosophical discussion of course). Greek men seem to have preferred their teenage boy lovers to their wives, whilst the high number of brothels in Roman towns suggests that at least some Roman men preferred something spicier than their spouses. Sarcophagus of the Spouses, painted terracotta. Ca. 520–510 BC. (National Etruscan Museum, Rome) There is perhaps nowhere that the benign gender relations among the Etruscans is more clearly expressed than in sarcophagi. The married couple above, whose remains were interred within the sarcophagus, are portrayed reclining together on a banqueting couch. They seem perfectly contented and at ease with each other. The man’s hand rests lightly on his wife’s shoulder, his index finger pointing to something – perhaps an event in their own funeral games – which his wife seems to be looking at. She gestures as if about to comment. Among all antique sculpture, I find this one of the most attractive. The work was modelled in clay and cut in half for ease of firing, then finally painted in bright colours. This is not portraiture – there is another almost identical sarcophagus, presumably by the same artist, in the Louvre, Paris. Etruscans were also often cremated and their ashes placed in urns, some shaped like little sarcophagi, others like Etruscan houses. Each tomb was used by an extended family over several generations. Funerary games from the Tomb of the Augurs. Left to right: the deceased in a purple toga bids farewell to his grieving servants; a man with a crook referees a wrestling match; a masked phersu entangles a blindfolded man holding a club and an attacking animal, perhaps reflecting Orphic or Dionysian mysteries. Sexual troilism, erotic spanking, and flagellation in the Tomba della Fustigazione (Tomb of the Whipping). Maybe the Etruscans were even more “life accepting” than Lawrence imagined. Such depictions are very common in Greek art but rare in Etruscan art. These may be life-affirming scenes in the context of a funeral, or may have served an apotropaic function to ward off evil. There is also a procession of drunken revellers in this tomb, again suggesting a link to Dionysian mysteries. Ca. 490 BC. Etruscan funeral games seem to have taken place in a carnival atmosphere with jugglers, acrobats, and drunken revelry. Some of the games were also common to Greece, like wrestling, boxing, and discus throwing, but also included tug-o’-war and climbing a pole (perhaps greasy), not found elsewhere at this time. Some of these games are shown in the tomb of the Augurs, above. Most intriguing is the so-called “phersu game”, which seems to be a blood-letting rite. The man with the bag over his head has a club, whilst the dog or panther has a grab-handle attached to its collar which the man could use to hold off the animal. Roman authors have claimed that they inherited their gladiatorial games – which also began as funeral games – from the Etruscans, but there is no direct evidence of this. The phersu game is more likely to be the origin of the Roman bestiarii, those condemned to be devoured by animals, or who fought them for pay or glory. It has been suggested that the phersu game is linked to a Dionysian or Orphic mystery cult – and probably with satirical intent, since the pleasure-loving Etruscans seem unlikely to have favoured an ascetic salvation religion like Orphism. The Orphic mysteries in many ways prefigure Christianity, and signal the arrival of the so-called “Axial Age”, which some scholars regard as the major or even the only significant transition in the evolution of human consciousness. More on this later. Etruscan religion was a form of immanent polytheism – that is, the belief that all things are imbued with divine life, and everything that happens is willed by the gods and can be interpreted by augury. The gods themselves could be placated by offerings and sacrifices. Seneca the Younger (ca. 4 BC-65 AD) contrasted Roman and Etruscan beliefs like this: “Whereas we believe lightning to be released as a result of the collision of clouds, they believe that the clouds collide so as to release lightning: for as they attribute all to deity, they are led to believe not that things have a meaning insofar as they occur, but rather that they occur because they must have a meaning.” For the Etruscans, everything was meaningful. They were renowned in ancient times for their knowledge of the spiritual world. Romans had a high regard for Etruscan augury, which used the flight of birds, lightening, or the livers of sacrificed animals to predict the future or make important decisions. Long after Etruscan culture had been absorbed into Roman society, the Romans continued to employ traditional Etruscan augers, consulting them on matters of politics and military strategy. One such correctly predicted that Caesar would become a “god”, because lightning struck the letter “C” from his name in an inscription, leaving “aeser”, which is close to “aiser”, the Etruscan word for gods.  Left: The Chimera of Arezzo. Chimera literally means “she-goat” in Greek. The inscription on the right foreleg indicates this was intended as a votive offering to the god Tinia. Etruscan bronze, 78.5 cm high and 129 cm long (31×51 inches). Ca. 400 BC.  Right: Two winged horses, part of the pediment of the Ara della Regina Temple of Tarquinia. reassembled from over a hundred fragments. The further horse was painted in red ochre and the nearer in yellow ochre. Etruscan terracotta, 1.15 meters high and 1.25 meters wide (3.77×4.1 ft). Ca. 350 BC. By 100 BC all Etruria was annexed to Rome and by 90 BC Etruscans were granted Roman citizenship. Their frescoes became increasingly Romanised, using chiaroscuro to define form, but lost their former freshness and vitality. By the first century BC, Etruscan art was virtually dead.   Historians generally claim that Etruscan art was influenced by Greek art, but if so they certainly made it their own, and were never mere copyists. Even as Greece was entering its Hellenistic period, some of the few surviving examples of Etruscan non-funerary sculpture compare very favourably with the best Greek work. Greek and Etruscan civilizations developed pretty much in parallel, and since very little Etruscan non-funerary sculpture survives, we cannot be sure how well it compared with Greek sculpture, or to what extent Etruscan artists influenced Greeks. There were flourishing trading relations between Etruria and Greece, and Greek colonies in southern Italy, so mutual influences seem likely.  In one area in particular – the art of the goldsmith – the Etruscans excelled over anything made in Greece, and indeed almost anything made since. They learned many of their jewellery techniques from Phoenician craftsmen who settled in Etruscan lands and taught their skills to local craftsmen. But the Etruscans, in true Etruscan spirit, took these skills to new heights. Even in the nineteenth century, Castellani, one of the leading jewellery makers in Italy with a famous family lineage, when asked to produce such work, could not equal the Etruscan level of skill even with the advantage of superior modern tools. Researching Italian archives proved fruitless. But eventually they discovered craftsmen in remote Tuscan villages who were still producing similar work, and were then able to copy their methods. Exquisitely crafted Etruscan gold earrings featuring fine bezel and claw/wire settings, gold repoussé (shaped by hammering from behind), granulation (tiny gold beads fused to a base), and filigree (delicate gold wire tracery).  Left: Ear-stud decorated with a rosette, sirens, lotus-flowers and insets of dark blue vitreous glass paste. Diameter 6.8 cm (2.7 in) Weight: 318 grammes (11.2 oz). 530-480 BC.  Right: Pair of “a bauletto” (“little bag”) type earrings with composite flowers and filigree. 6th-early 5th centuries BC. Of course what we have been looking at so far is the art of the wealthy and privileged, which raises the question of what life was like for the majority of people. The evidence is scant, but the Greek polymath and ethnographer Posidonius (ca. 135-51 BC) stated that even Etruscan slaves dress luxuriously. Roman authors claimed that they acquired the custom of keeping slaves from the Etruscans. It is not clear whether the Latin servus (slave) is an adequate translation of the Etruscan etera. In tomb paintings, etera are sometimes named along with their wealthy patrons, indicating at least that they were not anonymous. Greek and Roman writers seem generally confused about the relative status of labourers, freed slaves, and true chattel slaves. A few Etruscan records indicate that etera – in contrast to Greek and Roman slaves – could own land and marry into their patron families. On balance, we can conclude that Etruscan society was remarkably egalitarian compared with others around the Mediterranean at that time. To be continued… [...] Read more...
Helena Boase3rd November 2021Our JournalYou don’t have to be an academic to appreciate the long, rich, and diverse history of London. In this series of lectures, the London Luminaries take us on a trip along the Thames, looking at the buildings and gardens which make up so much of London’s cultural fabric. Taken from the London Luminaries website: “The London Luminaries is a group of historic organisations who collaboratively work together to share knowledge and ideas about heritage. London was the epicentre of commerce and wealth, thanks to the River Thames which attracted royalty, aristocrats, artists, writers and wealthy property owners. A legacy of these luminaries is an area exceptionally rich in heritage buildings, gardens and landscapes. Drawing on the success of our Thames and Twickenham Luminaries virtual lecture series, Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust and English Heritage’s Marble Hill, with other local heritage organisations, have organised a series of twelve free virtual talks over two seasons beginning in October. Acknowledged experts will explore, explain and offer insights about a luminary and their connection to Poets, Princes, Politicians or Painters. There will be talks about the occupants and their relationships with Kew Palace, Garrick’s Temple, Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery, Ham House and Garden, Boston Manor, Orleans House, Pope’s Grotto, Chiswick House, Marble Hill, Hogarth’s House, Strawberry Hill and Turner’s House. Each 20-minute talk will be delivered using Zoom and will begin at 7 p.m. They will be chaired by Professor Judith Hawley of the Department of English, Royal Holloway, University of London. Time will be allowed for questions and answers at the end. The events will end at or before 8 pm. Attendees will be sent a Zoom link by email about an hour before each talk begins.” Find the full calendar of talks below. London Luminaries: autumn series 20th October: Kew PalaceGeorge III: the mind behind the myth 21st October: Garrick’s TempleDavid Garrick: an actor and his time 27th October: Ham House and GardenWilbraham, 6th Earl of Dysart: Patron and collector of the art 28th October: Chiswick House and GardenThe private life of Chiswick House 3rd November: Pitzhanger ManorPainters, printers and personalities: Soane the entertainer at Pitzhanger 4th November: Pope’s GrottoPoetry, painting and Alexander Pope   London Luminaries: winter series 19th January: Orleans HouseThe People’s Collection: the story behind Richmond Borough’s artcollections 20th January: Marble HillCapricci and Conversations. The painting collection at Marble Hill 26th January: Strawberry Hill.Patron and Painter: Horace Walpole and John Giles Eccardt 27th January: Hogarth’s House.Hogarth vs everyone 2nd February: Turner’s House.J.M.W. Turner and the ‘sister arts’: poetry and painting 3rd February: Boston Manor House.The benefits of befriending a Prince [...] Read more...
ann witheridge28th October 2021Our JournalRichard Schmid, Kristen Thies, Ann, and Scott Richard Schmid tribute by Ann Witheridge Richard Schmid sadly passed away in April 2021, following an incredible and inspiring career that has encouraged artists world wide. We were so fortunate to meet Richard Schmid and Nancy when they came to visit us at our London Studios in 2007. Like all events hosted by Richard and Nancy, there was a large and eager crew of artists waiting to meet the man and artist behind the voice of Alla Prima. We had all learnt so much about painting through his written word and artwork, so it was very exciting to meet him in person. We were immediately overwhelmed by his generosity and kindness to all of us as we hung onto his every word. His encouraging and giving nature was echoed by Nancy, and even though we had only just met, one felt a friendship and kinship blossom. Richard and Nancy carried on supporting Scott and myself throughout our journey in painting and with the studios. Nancy had the brilliant idea to host online sessions every Friday morning, where we would talk through “Alla Prima” as it developed into “Alla Prima II – the extended edition”. Richard would join in with humour and insight, spurring us all on to think and do exercises through the book. In 2014 Scott and I flew to New York to see the Zorn exhibition. What a treat to be met there by Richard and Nancy, to see the exhibit and then to visit the Met with them. How does one express fully in words what Richard has done for artists around the world and for painting and art? His great gift has been to demystify the world of oil painting for so many. It is only because he had such a complete and intelligent grasp of his craft, which was so complex and nuanced, that he was able to paint so well and with such a light touch. He was so generous with his knowledge. As a true artist and art lover he wanted to share and allow others the great joy he had experienced through his understanding of the visual language of paint. Like Mozart, he was able to be so light and breezy because of the depth of his skill. When you truly understand your craft, you realise that the narrative and beauty is in the craft itself; it doesn’t need another layer to make it deeper.  And his desire to share the craft is expressed in “Alla Prima” and his other written works. They are not written to be unattainable, disguised in the myth of the artist, but to clarify, explain and share a deep understanding and love.  I know that Nancy will continue to share his amazing work and message, and we will  be all the more richer and fulfilled because of this.                  With our deep-felt gratitude and love,             Ann Witheridge – founder, Scott Pohlschmidt, and everyone at London Fine Art Studios.   Left, Richard at our studios. Right, Nancy Schmid [...] Read more...
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