Monday, 27 July 2015

What Do Artists Do All Day?

Giotto - The Last Judgment - Arena Chapel, Padua - 1306

A recent BBC Four television series asked the question 'What do artists do all day?' and repeatedly came up with the not very surprising answer that, on the whole, artists spend their day making art. Even so it's been a fascinating series - at least it has been for other artists.

In 2014 I became the 15th President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours which has given me a lot of things to do other than making art, the most enjoyable of which has been the opportunity to spend time with other artists talking about what we do. What has been surprising and enlightening in this is not the diversity of what artists do all day but the similarities, the shared experiences. It seems that while the making of art varies in many technical respects there is one universal constant - the thorny and intractable problem of how to turn an internal idea (a thought) into an external piece of art (a physical reality). Pier Paolo Pasolini sums it up beautifully in his 1970 film of The Decameron. The artist Giotto, played by Pasolini, appears during the film as a link between the stories taken from Boccaccio's book. Throughout the movie he and his assistants are seen working on a fresco in the Santa Chiara Church, Naples. Near the end of the film Giotto dreams of the Last Judgement which he will later paint in the Arena Chapel in Padua (see above). At the very end of the film Giotto and his assistants have finally completed their work in Naples and while they and the monks are celebrating he walks away from the group towards the painting and, standing alone, speaks to himself the final words of the film - "Why make a work of art...when it is so good just to dream?"

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