25 January 2008

Can't take them anywhere

I was hanging out with Francis Picabia and Piero della Francesca the other day. We’d gone to see the Fall in early 80s London, and Picabia was ranting about how punk rock just ripped off all the least important aspects of Dada and failed to get what it was really all about.

Piero had spent the day in the library reading up on what art historians made of his work. Apparently he got told off because he was laughing too loudly. We got into a bit of an argument about when was the best time to be a painter. Each of us maintained that we’d been born at exactly the right time.

Piero made the point that people were a lot more visually literate in his time than people in either Picabia’s or mine. He pointed out that a lack of standard weights and measures meant that people got really good at judging areas and volumes just from a single glance. He also mentioned that widespread illiteracy meant that the visual communication of ideas was a lot more important.

He used the example of gestures. In the 15th century there was an established vocabulary of gestures, with individual gestures having a highly specific established meaning that viewers in his time would understand. That’s just one example of the highly sophisticated system of visual symbols that were a part of the general culture. They didn’t need to be explained. Not knowing this vocabulary, we miss a lot of the meaning of Renaissance paintings and often misinterpret them. He went into some detail, but I missed a lot of it because I had to go break up a fight between Picabia and Mark E Smith.

1 comment:

flake said...

Picabia " Mr Smith get real!
Smith " Picabia you get real!"

visitors since 29 March 2004.