What Sculpture is to a Block of Marble, Education is to the Human Soul

Years ago I went to the local library to ask if they had any books by Joseph Addison. ‘You mean Addison and Steele?’ the librarian said. ‘I don’t know,’ I shrugged.

‘You haven’t heard of Addison and Steele?’ She paused. I hadn’t, but  realised that I was about to get a lecture. For those of you who like me, didn’t know, Joseph Addison was an 18th century essayist, playwright and poet who together with Richard Steele, founded the Spectator. The title of this blog, is Joseph Addison’s.

The idea that education sculptures the human soul is an attractive conceit and reminds me of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting of Pygmalion and Galatea in which the figure is emerging from the block of white marble and kisses her creator.

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme

For an artist however education is often thought to be a stumbling block to human creativity. The cliched idea of the primitive noble savage creating art instinctively is contrary to Addison’s thoughts on the soul needing to develop through teaching and instruction. Picasso, whose father was an art teacher and had a traditional art education said, ‘every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’

Some children seem to be naturally gifted in aspects of the arts and have a nack or ability that others will never attain. Likewise in the world of music, musicians are sometimes described as having a ‘ good feel,’ an ability to play their instrument well regardless of what type of music they are performing. The same goes for art, some children are said to be ‘really good at drawing,’ they are born naturals without the help of education.

Does it matter whether you are educated in art or not? I personally think that a basic understanding of perspective is one of the vital building blocks on which to build a firm foundation in art, but I would say that. Others won’t agree.

But in the end whether you aspire to clamber up and be the next Jean-Léon Gérôme or are just content to once be the winner of the school prize for drawing, everyone meets the same end. As Borg said in Star Trek, ‘resistance is futile’.

Addison summed it up best of all in his Reflections in Westminster Abbey:

‘When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves,

Westminster Abbey - Canaletto
Westminster Abbey – Canaletto

I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow. When I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together’.

Once in a Lifetime, a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci

La belle Ferronière
La belle Ferronière

When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come. Leonardo da Vinci

Is it Good to be Bad? 10 Bad Boys (and one Girl) of the Art World

1. Caravaggio – a bit of a swaggering brawler by all accounts, but also a master of chiaroscuro.

Maria Maddalena by Caravaggio
Maria Maddalena by Caravaggio

Not only was he reputed to have killed a man but he himself also died under mysterious circumstances.  A big influence in later years on Rembrandt and the like.

2. Carl André – famous for selling a collection of fire bricks to the Tate Gallery, he was tried and acquitted of his wife Ana Mendieta’s death in 1979. He is still living today, some say that examples of his work would be better served at the local builder’s merchants.

Lewd sexual acts

3. Cellini – Banished from Florence aged 16 for taking part in a fracas with others, he was later imprisoned for allegedly stealing jewels from the Pope.  Accused of a variety of ‘lewd’ sexual acts he spent 4 year under house arrest. His passing  in 1571 was celebrated with a splendid funeral.

4. Daniel Ballantyne – Here I am researching my new blog on Google when up popped Daniel Ballantyne. After 10 minutes considerable research I rejected my initial idea that this was the famous gym owner, but didn’t twig until well into my first para that Daniel Ballantyne was a figment of the imagination of playwright, Philip Palmer – a forgery himself! (Daniel not Philip). So it looks like I can’t include him in my list! Unless of course I fake it …

Condoms, knickers and empty cigarette packets

5. Tracey Emin – not so much a bad boy more an angst girl personified. Raised in Margate (home of Dreamland so she can’t be all bad) she is well-known for her exhibit, ‘My bed’ – presented with used condoms, knickers, empty cigarette packets, sound familiar? She is now  a Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy.

Pornographic

6. Egon Schiele – a student of Gustav Klimt, who when arrested had over 100 drawings seized for being pornographic.

Frau mit grünen Strümpfen by Egon Schiele
Frau mit grünen Strümpfen by Egon Schiele

He died during a Spanish ‘flu  epidemic spending his last hours sketching his wife who had died 3 days before him.

7. Gauguin – in an attempt to throw of the trappings of a conventional life  Gauguin set sail for Tahiti.  Returning to France 2 years later he started an affair with a teenaged girl and dressed in Polynesian clothing.  Disillusioned with Paris society he returned again to Tahiti, where he experienced a period of great productivity. However ill health and pain dogged him until he died 8 years later possibly from a morphine overdose.

8. Damien Hurst – famous for preserving dead things he was later challenged in court for plagiarism. When I was at Eastbourne Art College I went to the butchers and made an eyeball sandwich, am I too late of does that still count?

9. Andy Warhol – an exponent of pop art, Warhol was famous for turning iconic American objects into art.  His studio, the Factory, was renowned for its parties and filled to the brim with hip, bohemian artists of the time. Looking at today’s fame obsessed society, his statement that ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,’ seems to have come true.

Chasing the nurses

10. Vincent Van Gogh –  the son of a minister, Van Gogh  once worked as a supply teacher in Ramsgate. His personal life was fraught with emotional turmoil, Margo Begemann, who he had intended to marry tried to kill herself with strychnine when both their families disapproved.

Le  Moulin de blute fin by Vincent van Gogh
Le Moulin de blute fin by Vincent van Gogh

Troubled by psychosis, he cut off his ear leaving it as a memento for Gauguin.  When committed to an asylum Gauguin wrote, ‘he wants to sleep with the patients, chase the nurses and wash himself in the coal bucket’.   The 113 year old Jeanne Calment, who met him when she was 13, described him as , ‘dirty, badly dressed  … very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick.’ What’s not to like?