LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
The idea that all art is new comes from the assumption that we only see art in reference to what is currently happening in our lives. The framing, if you like, and our understanding of it is always tied to our present reality. If you contemplate an artwork, you’ll find in it a commonality that it shares with today’s headlines more easily than its actual historical context. This is among the reasons why art is powerful – because it is in essence perfectly timeless. Well, the good ones at least. Recently, I received a post card in the mail – yes, my friends still send postcards in the mail – and it’s a picture of Bruegel’s The Procession to Calvary, depicting a quintessential Bruegel crowd scene – viewed from an elevated ground in his style, and featuring hundreds of people milling about in what appears initially as haphazard fashion. The disarray depicted in this work is not the same as the mayhem in, say, one of Hogarth’s
A Harlot’s Progress, but anyone from a contemporary urban metropolis who views either work may see in them a representation of current, or at least familiar, reality. The dress is different, and so is the setting, but the intentions of the characters are so relatable that you can imagine them walking around in Plaza Miranda or Tiananmen Square. Bruegel mostly painted peasant life in Antwerp, while Hogarth commemorated urban life in London – literally warts and all – yet anyone looking at their works, even for the first time, will see the familiar human condition. I remember Ms. Glenda Jackson’s impassioned speech at the British Parliament, in which she described, quoting a friend, Thatcher’s London as something that “will be familiar to Hogarth”. That statement elicited howls from the gallery for the powerful, vivid image it summoned. Ms. Jackson didn’t even have to mention the squalor, the poverty and the decay.
Just Hogarth. And that is yet another reason why great art is relatable: It is universal. You don’t have to be in 18th century London to imagine how its streets would smell.