Tuesday, 16 October 2012


 It's a dirty word to some people, 'Romanticism'. It conjures all sorts of bad images; airy, shallow, irrational, wooly thinking, schmalzy. It can even carry dangerous political connotations; a reek of nationalism hangs over it. Deep England, and all the problems that entails. Much of this, I feel, has to do with a lack of general understanding about what Romanticism actually entails. It doesn't have anything to do with Romans, and it doesn't have anything to do with love...

"Romanticism has very little to do with things popularly thought of as "romantic," although love may occasionally be the subject of Romantic art. Rather, it is an international artistic and philosophical movement that redefined the fundamental ways in which people in Western cultures thought about themselves and about their world." - source

The essential nature of romanticism, as opposed to aesthetic standards derived from enlightenment principals (which Romanticism can be thought of as a repudiation of or reaction to), can be reduced to the following observation: rather than the standard of 'truth is beauty, beauty truth', the romanticist sees beauty as lying in unknowing, falsehood and uncertainty. The dark forest and the unreadable expression. Mysticism and theatricality; shadows and fog. This explains the fascination nature holds for the romantics; not an understood nature of the natural historian, all binomial nomenclature and ecosystems, but an intricate, profound nature, inexplicable except in terms of poetry or religion. The tension between these two understandings of nature is very important to my work, and I think this is one of the main things that makes applying psychogeographic methods to a rural setting so fascinating, and also challenging. The previous, somewhat rambling post on the problems of dualistic thinking begins to explore the political aspects of all of this.

One thing that intrigues me is that, despite the fact that calling onesself a romantic is, generally, frowned upon in the modern art world, (or simply not done) much modern art can easily be seen as romantic: Everyone from Rachel Whiteread to Andy Goldsworthy is awash in it. The real taboo seems to be to directly evoke romanticism in two dimensional images (such as the one above, which I will devote a post to discussing as soon as I finish this one). Romanticism is something that mostly seems to be an influence at the second or third hand, and with great care when it comes to the intersection of romanticism and the rural environment. The idea of treating the British countryside in a romantic way seems, for many people of a progressive bent, to be all too redolent of the values espoused by UKIP, the Daily Mail, This England magazine and The Kinks. God save china cups and virginity, indeed! But this is a perversion of the original, radical ideas that romanticism once embodied. It's the strange transformation of ideas embodied in the (frankly bizarre) adoption of the musicalised 'Jerusalem' as a WI hymn and second national anthem. In all his visions, William Blake would never have forseen that one. In actuality, despite what might be suggested by the simplistic dialogue of enlightenment vs. counter-enlightenment, romanticism is far from an anti-modern idea. It merely rejects a certain form of modernism; one that is imposed and ordering. Romanticism, with it's emphasis on the interior life, the uncategorisable, is the enemy of the panopticon.

Vectis is both a personal work, and a work about the natural world, and thus romantic associations will creep in constantly. What I plan to strenuously avoid is the secondary associations of reactionary tweeness, which are nothing really to do with romanticism at all.

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