Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hogarth and human nature

Finally went to see the Hogarth exhibition at the Tate, just before it ends. I didn't really know anything about him before, apart from the Reward of Cruelty engraving that often crops up in visual histories of dissection.

I was surprised at how contemporary his themes still are... self-serving politicians with dodgy habits and a whiff of corruption; pretentious social behaviour; groups of drunken people hanging around central London; a lurid public interest in crime and execution. He lobbied Parliament for the first artist's copyright Act in 1735, after having his work ripped off by others... it's still a problem, nearly 300 years later, as technology and artist's ways of working change. I suppose I liked the crime stuff best... I was interested to see examples of people wanting keepsakes and souvenir portraits of criminals, particularly those due to be executed. A thriving market for slightly macabre mementoes seems very much the same today.

It was curious to see how human behaviour seems so similar, several hundred years on. It did make me wonder about the 'nature versus nurture' debate... are some traits part of 'human nature', or how much of our behaviour is shaped by the culture we live in. No doubt that debate will continue for as long as people exist, but I wonder what Hogarth would think of London today, if he could travel forwards in time for a quick look. (A trip in the Tardis in Dr Who could sort that out!). It's not supposed to be the sort of thing you say after seeing an art exhibition, as it's not really about the work, but he does sound a really interesting man.

And it was really lovely being by the Thames as the weather was so summery today... 26 degrees centigrade, apparently. I think my nose will be pink tomorrow, but everything just seems nicer and more leisurely when the weather starts improving...

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