Poking around the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this morning I spent some time with the Renaissance paintings. Looking closely at them inspired me focus on flow and reflect on flow in my clay sculpture.
So many of the paintings depict flow, whether it's flowing clouds, flowing movement of human bodies, or in a more abstract sense flowing lines, textures, and shades. I had just come from clay lab (it's my spring break and 70 degrees so I decided to treat myself to the luxury of doing and looking at art) and looking at all this "flow" gave me pause. Hadn't I just been working on a couple of clay sculptures, trying to emphasize a sense of movement in each one?
This wasn't any kind of an attempt to copy the Renaissance masters! Far from it. In clay lab I was just trying to keep the pieces "alive" by accentuating flow. Really I was just helping the clay do one of the things it does best.
All this thinking got me hungry. But it also got me to thinking. In addition to literal "flow" that we can observe or measure, isn't there also a "flow" of aesthetic sensibility both inside and outside the arts? In a narrow sense I could be talking about "art history" and in a broader sense, maybe this is a discussion about cultural trends that move along through the generations.
I wish I had an answer. As a cultural anthropologist I assume maybe there are certain "universal" aesthetic appeals. For example a line or a shape that persists in an 11th century statue of a Buddah, a Renaissance painting, or a wooden bow of Northeast woodland native Americans.
It would be interesting to follow this idea more to see where it leads. Can it help us take apart problems that look specific but carry universal themes?