Phidias and the Artists

This morning I went to the presentation, "Phidias and the Artists", part of a lecture series put on by SALT at Uppsala University.  This was the first talk of this semester's theme, "Antiquity and its Legacy".

The presenter, Elizabeth Prettejohn, is a more-than-accomplished scholar in many fields, and a great speaker.  Her lecture this morning was to introduce ideas from her forthcoming book, The Modernity of Ancient Sculpture: Greek Sculpture and Modern Art from Winkelmann to Picasso.  It turns out that when I was in Stockholm for my Vasamuseet internship I saw an exhibition she helped curate at the Nationalmuseum, on the Pre-Raphaelites--really beautiful!  A little crowded when I went, and I had wished I had more of an opportunity to look closer--The Pre-Raphaelites are one of those Special Interests of mine that I actually know very little about and for some reason haven't read one single book about...I'm hoping that this will change, now that I have lots of time on my hands.

But this lecture: not a subject that pertains particularly to my field of study, but I am so glad I went, and got quite a bit out of it:

I. The obvious value of going to lectures to be inspired to do my own work and, as someone who is interested in presenting my research, it is incredibly helpful to be an audience member to a wide range of presenters.  I found Ms. Prettejohn engaging and interesting throughout what was a much longer presentation than I expected--an hour and a half is quite a feat!  It's always a treat to be respected as an audience.

II. I always feel smart and interesting when attending talks with titles that involve antiquity and modern art!

III. A few of her points about the study of Art--without entering into a discussion about whether fashion and clothing are/not Art--I found applicable to my...self-education, let's say, or my thoughts about what I've chosen to study.  I am making superficial forays into various topics right now, as I try to immerse myself in Swedish fashion, clothing, history, lifestyles, etc as well as broaden my understanding of the young field of Costume Studies.

Which is a good place to start with the first thing I took away from the talk: Ms. Prettejohn is vying for a term other than "Art History" for the same field, finding it limiting in scope.  Literary Criticism was her example of better branding; it speaks to an interest in engaging with the subject on an interpretive level, instead of a chart of dates and artists.  This is a constant problem in the study of clothing; Costume-Anything leads the general public to think of Halloween or Broadway, I find using the word Fashion extremely limiting and equally misleading.  It's just a name...but Ms. Prettejohn was convincing in suggesting that the label of History leads its scholars to focus on linear interpretations.  This is a tempting practice in the field of the study of dress, styles of any given time apocryphally constantly forward-moving.

Of course, studying the silhouettes of clothing and the body throughout centuries or decades are like practicing scales on the piano, a necessary base for further study.  Where do we get theoretical/interpretive teaching, exposure, understanding?  Certainly not in the general media, and it seems as though a lot of students don't feel like they find it in school either?

IV. It was also so interesting to think about the reaction of nineteenth-century artists and scholars finally able to SEE these and other sculptures in person; before so many excavations took place in that century, the sculptures were only available to the interested through textual descriptions written by those living in the time of Phidias.  I thought of my inspiration to start this blog so long ago, the enigmatic costume described by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors writing for an audience familiar with the styles of the day, and how stunningly different it is to see those dresses that apparently had to be wrestled through a doorway.  And it speaks to the value of objects, which I obviously support strongly!

Along the same lines, Ms. Prettejohn noted the impossibility of the recreation of art as it was experienced at the time of its creation, and I couldn't help but think of living history programs, historic farms and houses, and historic reenactors.  What roles do the clothing in each of these settings play in helping us understand human interaction with what we wore?  Even the most prolific and rich sources are by nature limited and out of context when read present day; how do we glean the most from them?  Where else can we look for information?  Who is to be believed?

So many questions.  She actually talked about clothing, too! But I think I'll save that for a more interesting post, later.  Enough words for today!