Friday 31 January 2014

Seminar: Museums I have known - reflections on being a guest curator

These notes were quite difficult to write up because in the end I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. I'm seriously regretting not going to the exhibitions mentioned, and given that one of them closed early Jan 2014, there is no excuse. However I wonder if I had seen it, these notes would have become a review of the exhibition rather than an intellectual discussion about the challenges the guest curators faced in their respective shows. This was also a trial of a new lecture format; each gave a brief overview of the exhibition, and then had a ‘conversation’ where they discussed the challenges, differences, goals, ideals etc of the different venues. I bring them all together because it made better sense.

Dr Tag Gronberg immediately struck a chord with the small audience which was dotted around the large theatre in lonely isolation. She stated that writing can be solitary. Therefore when an opportunity to share research and collaborate on a project with fellow scholars arises, it's a good thing to do. Combine this with working with different types of institution and it results in new challenges and opportunities. This lecture came out of the curating experiences of two academics, Gemma Blackshaw and Leslie Topp. They joint guest curated an exhibition both at the Wellcome Collection and Wien museum called 'Madness & Modernity'. Gemma Blackshaw curated the recent 'Facing the Modern' at the National Gallery - the one I really regret not seeing.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Glamorous Librarians: Or Improving Your Law Firm Website

New pic due soon, thank goodness
Lawyers and various support services staff here have embraced new challenges recently; we have been models and copywriters. An artist photographer came in to take our photos last week, whilst Business Development sent us a template so we could write about ourselves, our role and how we can help you, the client. Obviously we are completing these difficult tasks for our firm’s exciting new website.

We are striving to present ourselves as qualified, approachable and trustworthy people who, if engaged, would work tirelessly on your behalf in a legal and business capacity. This is precisely what every other law firm is trying to do with their website, so how do you differentiate between all these legal sites?

Saturday 18 January 2014

What is Sculpture Made Of?

Cava del Braschi, Monte Ceceri
This lecture opened in entertaining style with an immediate reference to the previous one. Dr Dent had practically skirted over material/technique of sculpture but here Dr Jim Harris went straight into this interdisciplinary aspect with the statement (I paraphrase):

Sculpture is what it is we do when we take a memory of people. It goes to the heart and into the very notion of humanity.

We quickly dispatched painting and slammed the door firmly in its face. Painting can be anything but sculpture is better. Materials are as varied as the sculpture they make. Painting tells us a lot but the material of sculpture tells us more. At this point we could have concluded the lecture. But as he says, we would have been rather disappointed. I think what we needed was to be in a quarried amphitheatre, sat amongst the elements of sculpture.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Study: Why it Benefits You and Your Employer

It seems I’ve spent the last few years in one of three states; eagerly anticipating study, screaming because I was in the middle of study, or suffering post-study ennui. As I’m currently in between final course work and at the pre-research/planning stage for my 15000 word dissertation, this is a really good time to evaluate the impact that part time study has on my professional life.

It also doubles as an annoyingly motivational piece for January, given the tradition for resolutions and fresh starts. What more perfect resolution could there be than taking a course of study?

One of my library friends on Twitter asked how I was finding my course - what the workload with the day job/support/etc was like - because he was thinking of doing something similar. I was honest. If I’m being frank, my friends and family get neglected, annual leave is spent in the library, stress levels rise around coursework/assessment time and lecture evenings are reserved, no matter what. Sometimes day to day work is affected because of tiredness and, in my case, total distraction with a subject I love. All this sounds very negative and yet, I advised my friend to go for it as soon as possible. Why would anyone go to such lengths for study? 

Sunday 12 January 2014

What is Sculpture?

Mama mia!
In the absence of any MA lectures this term most people are probably catching up with their friends, revisiting some nice art shows, having facials or watching Celebrity Big Brother or something. Which is why I am taking a sculpture course at the Courtauld. I was having a Christmas dinner with some similarly study addicted friends and during a conversation about how annoyed* with Birkbeck I was, she mentioned this venerable institution at Somerset House. It turns out they do some really excellent non stressy modules there, so I signed up for this term and these are my rough notes.

'Art is painting' many galleries would have us believe. Exhibitions have traditionally focused on the two dimensional, leaving sculpture, architecture, print makers, decorative arts under represented. Now, in my view, this opening gambit is being challenged, with many major institutions widening their scope to embrace other media. A glance at this years planned exhibitions show fashion, jewellery, design, architecture, which makes it interesting to be focusing on sculpture this term. A stroll around any part of London shows that we are surrounded by it - on the fronts of buildings, in our squares and churches, office lobbies and on our streets.

Saturday 4 January 2014

The Montalto Madonna and the intellectual and spiritual life of Cardinal Peretti di Montalto

My thought soars not so high ; though duly bent
In reverence, and awe, and long attent,
To study Nature and the works and ways,
So wondrous, that surround us : but no mind,
Whom earthly fetters bind,
Though led to truth, and swift to utter praise,
Can pierce the crystal that enshrines above
The Flower of endless Love ; …

Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) 'The Nativity' Rome, December 1588

The poetic extract above precisely demonstrates the ease with which the sixteenth-century patron moved between the intellectual and religious; for them, there was little distinction. With this in mind this essay sets out to explore how a private devotional image can provide an insight into the mind and life of the commissioning patron. Although we cannot be certain how individual spiritual or even intellectual experience manifested itself in relation to small devotional images, Burt Treffer offers a useful line of thought. His method applies a mix of pictorial analysis and iconography, investigation into the purpose of the painting and who it was for, as well as a close reading of the associated literature.2 

A recently rediscovered devotional image by Annibale Carracci The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, or the Montalto Madonna (National Gallery, London) (c1600) is perfectly placed to demonstrate and reflect the pursuits of its first owner, the Roman Cardinal Deacon Alessandro Damasceni Peretti di Montalto (1571–1623). Taken in its wider context, this small painting on copper enables the art historian to explore reformation church politics, familial ambition as well as flourishing city wide intellectual pursuits. 

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Tasso and the Search for En-light-enment

It has long been appreciated that an interdisciplinary approach has to be taken when looking at the arts. A book from 1922 said the 'pictorial qualities of the arts corresponded psychologically and aesthetically to the musical qualities of literature'. But it was the author's next words that struck me as particularly relevant, 'the formal objects of the art historian and the literary scholar, as far as the Baroque is concerned, are ... similar because the mode of conceiving reality is the same, and this same type of concept is anchored in the spirit and will of the men of that epoch' (my emphasis).1

It's an old fashioned way of stating that art, literature, music – and not forgetting the natural sciences – are all products of a particular time and place. Therefore although I'm ostensibly focusing on a piece of art, I feel that it is crucial to see across as many disciplines possible, whether art, literature or music because all of these offer valuable insights into prevailing thoughts. This explains why the final part of my essay moves from baroque musical monody to a different kind of poetic voice.