Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study presents a public lecture by IAS Fellow Professor Nigel Rapport (University of St Andrews): Distortion in Human Creativity and Distortion in Human Communication: the art of Stanley Spencer as case-study.

Why did Stanley Spencer distort the human figure in those paintings that he deemed to be his most important and best? What has the viewing public made of Spencer’s distortions and of his vision of a beloved world that he took to be his gift to humanity? And what does the case of Stanley Spencer and his art reveal of human artistry in general, of an artistic consciousness and of human attempts to communicate experience?

Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) is one of Britain’s foremost artists, arguably its most original and idiosyncratic. Devoted to his native village of Cookam, on the Thames, Spencer painted not only landscapes and portraits with loving detail but also the ‘memory-feelings’ which he felt were a ‘sacred’ part of his consciousness and by which he came to walk with God. If he could but convey the vision of heaven-on-earth that he himself was vouchsafed when he saw the world through the lens of love, there would be a global revolution in behaviour, mores and science, Spencer was convinced: he was ‘a new kind of Adam’. In this talk Professor Rapport introduces Spencer and his artistic vision, and examines how his attempts to communicate this vision were received by his contemporaries. Spencer was a controversial public figure: were not the representations of human beings in his visionary paintings ugly distortions, even marks of an immoral nature?

Distortion is a key concept here, an intrinsic aspect both of creation and communication: Stanley Spencer’s story opens up to an appreciation of significant aspects of a human condition. What we intend to make, to say, to manage and arrange, to do and have done is not necessarily what comes to be effected: we live amid distortion.

The talk will take place on Monday 05 March 2018, 17:30 to 18:30, Sports Hall (Howlands), Josephine Butler College, Durham (see Directions to Josephine Butler College and a Map – Josephine Butler College is denoted as building No. 55).

Please contact IAS if you require more information about this event.


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