Imagine a time where art pushed boundaries of what was right and accepted by society. Imagine a time where art was taken off at a tangent which resulted in pieces being labelled as ‘morally shocking’ and ‘assaults on the eye’.
When art is described like that, one can’t help but wonder what kind of horror might be in store for the onlooker. By today’s standards, pieces of art that had been labelled as morally shocking back in the 19th Century would be gazed upon today without so much as a raise of the eyebrow. How quickly it seems that acceptance is far greater today in worlds such as art compared to society expectations one hundred and sixty years ago.
And who was to blame for these extreme and shocking pieces of art of the time? A group of painters, some poets and writers, who labelled themselves the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’ as a way of demonstrating fierce opposition and externalising their disenchantment with contemporary academic painting.
Founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the movement expanded with the addition of William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederick George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven member “brotherhood”.
The brotherhood’s early doctrines were expressed in four declarations:
- to have genuine ideas to express
- to study nature attentively, so as to know how to express those ideas
- to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote
- most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues
Many objected to the brotherhood’s artwork on grounds of blasphemy (e.g. a painting depicting Christ in his parents’ house as a child caused uproar for the ‘everyday’ scene and ordinary-looking characters it portrayed), artistic style (strange body contortions, the use of vibrant and bold colours and sharp focus techniques) and subject matter (the artwork was a statement against current movements in the art world). It doesn’t sound much, but at the time it was revolutionary and caused uproar. Charles Dickins for one was incensed by several of the movement’s paintings. These were the Damien Hirst’s and Banksy’s of the 19th Century.
With a keen personal interest in art and to find out more about the Pre-Raphaelite movement, I headed to the Deptford Lounge to view an exhibition currently installed there. I have never visited an art exhibition quite like it. If you’re imagining large galleries, ornate gilded frames and creeping around silently, then you are on the wrong track completely. This family friendly based centre, surrounded by books and community activities makes this an ideal home for the exhibition so that it can be accessed by all. And that really is the point of the exhibition and project as a whole:
..the first in a series designed to raise local spirits at a time of unprecedented austerity and to promote a greater interest in the visual arts, particularly among young people. In addition to featuring many of the classical masters, its subjects will include modern, pop and graffiti art and the art of today’s generation of local artists and Lewisham teenagers.
The professional display of paintings are backlit using light boxes, an ideal way of viewing the work as it is clear to read and to look at the detail in the paintings. For those who are technologically able and minded, further information can be accessed digitally by mobile phones, laptops and tablets. A most friendly way of getting up close and personal with artists who helped shape the way art was perceived and made such an impact on a society that was suffering from European revolutions.
Another huge plus point about this exhibition is the involvement of teenagers from local schools playing active roles. From stewards and physical contributors to the art on display, children of varying ages are being encouraged to take part and pride in a project which could help shape their future. This is an excellent opportunity for schools, being able to showcase talents, and what children can achieve when they have been positively motivated.
My favourite part of the exhibition as a whole, was reading about schools being involved in the project, and how they contributed. As a teacher, I know how hard it is to get children motivated and talking about art. Many children become disillusioned because they believe they cannot draw. “I’m no good at art” is something I get told every single year, sadly by more than one child. But having something like this exhibition to view is of huge encouragement to others, proving that art isn’t always about being able to draw or paint.
In our society today, art in all its wondrous shapes, sizes, concepts and ideologies is accepted – you’ve only got to visit the Tate Modern to see that art is literally found everywhere and can be interpreted in any way you wish.Art is personal and you learn and take from it what is right for you.
I would be keen to find out if the Deptford Lounge in the year 2176, would be holding an art exhibition dedicated to the works of Damien Hirst!
Sadly, I won’t be around to find out.