The Artistic Hair Shirt

The artistic Hair shirt

I recently went to the national gallery to help out the local school in taking a class of eight year olds to look at the Art. It was fantastic to see the children's reactions to the paintings that were there. These kids have grown up on a diet of very sophisticated imagery, from the latest CG films to video games, so I expected them to be distracted and bored. Far from it! They were engaged and wowed by so many of the images but delightfully free from any of the baggage that one picks up at art school etc. Here are a couple of the paintings I showed them:

The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1533)

 The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein The Younger

If you have ever seen this painting, you should know the detail is incredible. There is also a fantastic and curious shape at the bottom of the picture that when viewed from the side reveals itself to be a morbid reminder of our mortality.

Paintings by Caravaggio

Salome receives the Head of Saint John the Baptist, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1607-10)

  Salome Receives the Head of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio

This both scared and amazed them – brilliant to see a centuries old painting can have that effect. Any way, the long and the short of this was that it made me reappraise my own odd relationship with art. Art fills me with inspiration and dread in equal measure; I always come away from a session at the gallery feeling like I am not worthy to call myself an artist. It’s like wearing an artistic hair shirt.

A Definition of a hair shirt – from wise geek:

A hair shirt is a coarse garment which intended to be worn next to the skin, thus keeping the wearer in a state of discomfort and constant awareness of the shirt's presence”

So my new, mid year resolution is to just enjoy and be inspired instead of castigating myself on how rubbish I am compared to Caravaggio, Holbein and many others.

When teaching my Games course many of my students come from a non art background and I always try to encourage them to delve into art. I try to remind them that an artist’s development is a life long pursuit of continual development and not to be too hard on themselves.

Just remember: if you ever get a bit too comfortable with yourself, then slip your artistic hair shirt on and remind yourself that a little bit of discomfort and self awareness is good for the artistic soul.

0 Comments Simon Fenton

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Simon Fenton
Tue 11 Aug 2009: 10:33am

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