Friday, 17 January 2014

The nape of a neck and emotion

Very intrigued by portraiture and emotion: why do we care about the sitter?  Brilliant letter in the London Review of Books on a recent article on Lucien Freud. Remember - but will never re-find it - a line in a Iris Murdoch novel about a man's wrists- and the sight of them moving the protagonist deeply. Two points - what it is like to occupy a certain body at a specific moment and time, but also one's feelings towards that body.

 In my view the essential thing to say is that Freud’s good paintings are not really there to be ‘read’. They are not that kind of painting. They gain their charge more from what is unknown – including personality and what (Julian) Barnes calls ‘moral likeness’ – than what is known. They are moving in the way that the nape of a neck can be. (How much moral character is there in a neck?) And they really are, as Freud kept on insisting, concerned with biology, with physical sensation. They try to get at what it is like for a person at a particular age to occupy a body over a certain duration in a specific setting. And so they pay unusually close attention to body parts in ways that few artists before Freud ever attempted. In paying this kind of close and un-neurotic attention, Freud’s naked portraits ‘bypass decorum’, as Robert Hughes once put it, ‘while fiercely preserving respect’.     Sebastian Smee/LRB 23 January 2014

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy