Enduring Creation: Art, Pain and Fortitude
by Nigel Spivey
Enduring Creation tells the story of one of the most pervasive, most revealing, most shunned, yet most voyeuristically appealing, relationships in ... Show synopsis Enduring Creation tells the story of one of the most pervasive, most revealing, most shunned, yet most voyeuristically appealing, relationships in over 2000 years of Western culture: the tender, complex rapport between art and pain. Why have artists of every age been so preoccupied with representing human agony, from the stonebound screams of Classical sculpture to the poised melee of Picasso's Guernica? Beauty and disfigurement, violence and thrill, horror and comfort - these are pairings fostered throughout Western art, for causes as various as religious martyrdom, judicial torment, artistic virtuosity and erotic gratification. The questions they raise are brilliantly addressed in this study. The ancient Greeks invented tragic drama: but how far was pity for tragedy's victims tempered by the notion of revenge? The first Christians preached Christ Crucified: why then did it take some five hundred years before images appeared of Christ on the Cross? The Massacre of the Innocents was an event that never happened: for what reasons were artists of the Italian Renaissance so eager to show it 'convincingly'? Enduring Creation treads through the territory where the images we call 'disturbing' are also often considered 'masterpieces'. Nigel Spivey's narrative begins with a meditation, amid the modern death-camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, on how it is that art can warn, console or prepare us for occasions of grief and outrage. Whether measuring the impact of photography in the American Civil War, or questing for the motives of Van Gogh's self-mutilation, he gives new context for famous names and familiar works, providing abundant resonances for our own times. Can pain be beautiful? Do we always pity suffering? Is there a link between sainthood and sadomasochism? His final conclusion is one of hope - that art essentially expresses what survives when our bodies collapse: the human spirit. The result is not only a brilliantly original work of cultural history, but one of those rare books that makes the past come alive by creating a persistent sense that it is of pressing relevance to our lives today.