The art of living

I am relaunching my blog – apologies to those who have commented on previous posts, which have now disappeared (the posts and the comments). I want to use this space differently, to explore my own ideas about the way works of art help me – help us? – to connect with life, the world, the inner self. I have spent a lot of time encouraging students to be objective about works of art – now I want to break the taboo and think about art in a purely subjective way. Not a superficial way – I’m not interested in whether something looks pretty on the wall or not – but in a way that shows how works of art communicate and help us to understand life better or differently or more thoughtfully, even when viewed out of their cultural or historical context.  Understanding the original context should enrich our responses, but I’m interested in how great art continues to mean something to the individual.

The key is looking; we are surrounded by images in our society, in a way no society ever has been, and yet we have seemingly lost the ability to look and to understand visual language in the way of previous centuries.  As an art historian, I specialise in the Renaissance, and in particular the art of Northern Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and it never ceases to amaze me how sophisticated the visual language of that period is, the visual relationship people had with works of art; there is virtually no writing about it, no language to describe it from the period itself, it is meant to be looked at and understood on a visual, nor a verbal, level.  Words force us to be rational, logical, clear, objective; the art of Northern Europe in the Renaissance is none of those things, and deliberately so.  It helps us to connect with the imaginative, the metaphysical, the surreal, the contradictory, the mysterious, the complexity of what it is to be human in the universe.  That’s why I love it so much.

So this is a blog about looking and finding personal meaning in what I look at, and trying to understand how works of art enrich my understanding of myself and the world around me.