Apollo Magazine (UK)
The preparatory drawings created by painters such as Jacques-Louis David – discussed in Michael Prodger’s essay on pp. – and the subject of a new exhibition at the Met – can reveal much about composition, the particular preoccupations of an artist and, in what is becoming a much abused phrase, the creative process. Drawings rarely rake in the big bucks at auction. While they have their devotees, they are considered by many a subcategory of an artist’s ‘real’ work. But the real work of looking demanded by art is perhaps most acute when it comes to the delicate lines of a drawn work. Drawings remind viewers that they need to pay attention.
The rewards for getting behind the detail of a work – for appreciating not just the artist’s intentions but how something is made and the context within which it is made – are myriad. Understanding complexity, as we see in Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth’s review of Rosalind Savill’s magisterial Everyday Rococo (pp. – ), is one of the benefits of an attentive eye.
Attentiveness is not merely about peering close at a work, however, though it can be that. At times, it can feel as though paying attention is part of the social contract as much as a mode of looking. The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has built a body of work on exposing what happens when states cease to pay attention to individuals. As he puts it in his interview with Christopher Turner on pp. – , ‘My voice can be amplified a thousand times simply because there is no such voice in China. That is why they have to silence me.’
Recently, Nadine Dorries, UK secretary of state for culture, has announced that the BBC is to forfeit the licence fee. There are a few ways to interpret this announcement, but ultimately it is hard to see this as anything other than the government facing down an organisation at the heart of British culture. If that is the case, it might well turn out that other cultural institutions, such as national museums, will need in future to pay greater attention to the sources of their funding and relations with the government. No matter how much we appreciate what we can see, and the rich rewards reaped from careful looking, no one has yet managed to use art to predict anything.