Archive for the Art Category

A Memoir of Thomas Bewick

Posted in Art, Education, History, Politics with tags , , , on January 11, 2022 by telescoper

Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) was a superb illustrator and natural historian who lived in the North East of England. He is celebrated primarily for his fine engravings and woodcuts of wild animals and birds, and humorous vignettes, some of which are quite cheeky, such as this one called “Man Pissing”…

Man Pissing (c.1797, wood engraving on laid paper, 8.9 x 12.5 cm)

You can find many other examples of his fine work here.

Bewick also held radical political views in a time of great social unrest across the continent of Europe. His views were heavily influenced by the terrible conditions of the rural poor in his native Northumberland and the corruption of the Government. In 1822 he began to write his Memoir, which is absolutely fascinating, not least because part of it is devoted to his views about the British Government and the media of the time. Two hundred years later, many of his words still ring true.

Here’s an excerpt from a section covering the period from about 1818 to 1823, a period of domestic instability in Britain that led to acts of protest and brutal suppression, including the Peterloo Massacre of 1819:

The pen of literature was prostituted to overshade the actions of good men, and to gloss-over the enormities of the base. The energies of many members of both Houses of Parliament were unavailing against this compact confederacy of undeserving placemen and pensioners, who were bound together by fellow feelings of self-interest, in which all ideas of public trust were lost in private considerations. They had sinned themselves out of all shame. This phalanx have kept their ground, and will do so till, it is to be feared, violence from an enraged people breaks them up, or, perhaps, till the growing opinions against such a crooked order of conducting the affairs of this great nation becomes quite apparent to an immense majority, whose frowns may have the power of bringing the agents of government to pause upon the brink of the precipice on which they stand, and to provide in time, by wise and honest measures, to avert the coming storm.

A Memoir of Thomas Bewick, Written by himself, CHAPTER XVII.

Plus ça change

P.S. Not far from where I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne there is a school for children and young adults with autism called the Thomas Bewick School. His name is well known in the Newcastle area for that reason and his artistic legacy, but I’m not sure his memory is as widely celebrated as it should be. He was a fascinating character.

Art Attack

Posted in Art, Biographical on December 14, 2021 by telescoper

Untitled, by Peter Coles (2021), 2m by 1.2m, chalk dust and oil on panel, Castlebridge Art Museum.

Creating art from your thesis title

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 5, 2021 by telescoper

Looking for displacement activities to enable me to avoid working I noticed that people are having fun on social media by using AI apps to generate art from thesis titles. I thought I’d give it a go, and this is what I got for my thesis title Stochastic Fluctuations in the Early Universe:

Stochastic fluctuations in the early Universe

Actually, I rather like it! It’s much better than I’d expected. I’ve been told it looks like Christmas wrapping paper which gives it a seasonal twist too!

There are several apps that will create images inspired by text you type in. The one I used for the example above was this one. Why not try it yourself?

The Messenger of Autumn – Paul Klee

Posted in Art with tags , , on November 2, 2021 by telescoper

by Paul Klee (1922, 24cm x 31cm, watercolour and pencil on paper, Yale University Art Gallery).

Freedom (?)

Posted in Art, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 21, 2021 by telescoper
Freedom

The photograph above shows the sculpture Freedom by Polish-Irish sculptor Alexandra Wejchert, which has recently been installed on the North Campus of Maynooth University. It was formerly located outside the former headquarters of AIB, the bank, in Ballsbridge. AIB has now moved its HQ – the old one is now occupied by Facebook – and the sculpture became surplus to requirements but managed to offload it on graciously offered it on loan to Maynooth University. I won’t comment on the artistic merits of this piece but it seems to me a very strange decision to plonk it right in the middle of the main pedestrian entrance to the North Campus so everyone has to walk around it. I’m also wondering how long it will be before a traffic cone is found on the tip of one of the prongs…

Views of Maynooth University Campus

Posted in Architecture, Education, Maynooth on September 16, 2021 by telescoper

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing various webinars and the like to help welcome new students to Maynooth University for the new academic year. During the course of this I discovered we had some semi-official photographs to use as backgrounds for Zoom or Teams. I thought it might be fun to share a few of them here as they provide nice views of some of the buildings you might see while walking around campus…

Musée des Beaux Arts

Posted in Art, Poetry with tags , , , on September 11, 2021 by telescoper

Reminiscing about the events of twenty years ago I was reminded of this poem by W.H. Auden, arguably his greatest, which for some reason I have never posted before. The painting referred to in the second part of the poem is Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel the Elder which is in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels, a visit to which inspired Auden to write this poem in 1938. I remember being quite amused when I saw it in the same gallery about 15 years ago, because it took me a while to spot Icarus! It made me think of one of those Where’s Wally cartoons…

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Messers, Dreamers and Misfits

Posted in Art, Education, Music with tags , , , on September 5, 2021 by telescoper

After the death of Charlie Watts last week, Fintan O’Toole wrote a piece in the Irish Times (here, unfortunately behind a paywall) pointing out that, along with a large fraction of the English rock musicians that began their careers in the 1960s, Charlie Watts went to Art School; Harrow Art School in his case. O’Toole goes on to argue that society needs to find ways to nurture its creative talents and that modern education is far too utilitarian to allow space for “Messers, Dreamers and Misfits”.

I agree with the broad thrust of Fintan O’Toole’s argument. I think the School and University systems are far too focussed on examination and assessment at the expense of genuine education. What I disagree with is the idea that creativity is only to be found in the Arts. When I saw the phrase “Messers, Dreamers and Misfits” it struck me that this could very well describe many of my colleagues in physics, and in science generally – and I don’t mean that in any way as an insult!

There is an explicit assumption in much of the world that creativity is only to be found in the Arts. That’s just not true. Who can say that Einstein didn’t have a creative mind? It is true that if you want to be, say, a theoretical physicist you do have to do formal training in the methods used, especially mathematics. But that is no different from an art school really. To be a painter you have to learn the techniques needed to manage the media you are using. To be a musician you have to learn the basics of harmony and solve the technical problems involved with playing an instrument. Artists have to pay their dues just like scientists. I wrote about this here, in the context of the great Jazz pianist Bill Evans, where I said:

All subjects require technical skill, but there is more to being a great jazz musician than mastery of the instrument just as there’s more to being a research scientist than doing textbook problems. So here’s to creativity wherever it is found, and let’s have a bit more appreciation for the creative aspects of science and engineering!

Anyway, here in Ireland, the Leaving Certificate results came out on Friday and next week we’ll begin the process that determines how many students we’ll have doing Mathematical and Theoretical Physics at Maynooth. It always surprises me how many students choose study subjects other than Physics, but then I remember that I went from School to Cambridge in 1982 to read Natural Sciences, fully expecting to specialize in Chemistry but just found Physics more interesting and, yes, more fun.

I don’t know whether I count as a creative person at all, but I’m definitely a misfit, prone to dreaming and – especially at the moment in the middle of unpacking my belongings – my house is a mess!

Anyway, here is a message for students just about the start their Third Level education here in Ireland or elsewhere. The most important advice I can give is to choose the subject that you will enjoy most, but pursue your other interests too. Charlie Watts was interested in music while at art school. There’s no reason why a theoretical physicist can’t pursue an interest in music too. I can think of at least one prominent example of a person who managed to become a pop musician and a physicist.

Given my own background I read Fintan O’Toole’s article as clear encouragement to students to pick theoretical physics.

Remembering Charles Byrd

Posted in Art, Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , on September 4, 2021 by telescoper

Most of the belongings I’ve just had delivered to Maynooth are of sentimental rather than financial value so I suppose it was inevitable that I’d get a bit sentimental opening them up. The painting above is by a Cardiff-based Welsh artist called Charles Byrd and it was painted in 1963, the year of my birth. The story of how it came into my possession over a decade ago can be found here.

I unpacked this yesterday along with most of my other artwork but I haven’t decided where to put it yet so it’s sitting on my desk until I decide where to put it.

It was with some sadness that I found out recently that Charles Byrd passed away in 2018 at the age of 101. There’s a nice little tribute to him here. I found out reading it that in the least years of his life he lived in a little flat on Llandaff Road, very close to where I lived in Pontcanna, though I never met him, which is a shame because he seems to have been quite a character!

Rest in peace, Charles Byrd (1916-2018).

The Irish Population

Posted in Art, History, Politics, Television with tags , , , , on August 31, 2021 by telescoper

Not long ago I did a post about a documentary series called The Hunger which was broadcast on RTÉ just before Christmas. It was, of course, about the Great Irish Famine, which led to the death of one million (mainly poor) Irish people and the emigration of over two million in the subsequent years. It was a shattering episode that altered Ireland for ever. I remarked at the time that “the population of this island still hasn’t recovered to pre-Famine levels”.

Well today saw the announcement of a significant milestone in the trajectory of Ireland’s population. According to the Central Statistics Office, in April 2021 the population of the Republic of Ireland exceeded 5 Million for the first time since 1851. To be precise Ireland’s population was estimated to be 5.01 million in April 2021, which is the first time the population has risen above five million since the 1851 census, when the comparable population was 5.11 million. By “comparable” I mean the population of the 26 Counties that now constitute the Republic of Ireland.

The total population on the island of Ireland in 1851 was 6.6 million. Including the population of Northern Ireland brings the current population on the island of Ireland to about 6.9 million. The population of Ireland (ie the whole island) in 1841 was over eight million.

The following (rather old) graphic shows that catastrophic drop that was an immediate consequence of the Great Hunger but also the long period of decline caused by emigration and poor public health leading to low levels of fertility. The population did not begin to grow significantly until the 1970s.

Although the population is still nowhere near the level it reached in 1841, Ireland is in the grip of a housing shortage that the present Government seems reluctant to do anything about, not surprisingly when you realize that the present Government represents the property-owning classes in whose interests it is to keep housing scarce and rents correspondingly high. Ireland’s housing crisis is not an accident, it’s a matter of policy. Irish landlords oppressing the poorer classes and exploiting them for monetary gain. Some things haven’t changed…

It fascinates me that, with political will, human societies have made enormous changes – including financial interventions, inventing new vaccines and delivering mass vaccination programmes – to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Poverty and homelessness do not require new inventions – we already know very well how to build houses – only the political will is needed, and that’s just not there.