An Artist’s Date at the V&A

I met my cousin from Canada and her friend at the Victoria and Albert Museum yesterday. We headed for the new medieval and Renaissance gallery. Last time I went there, I didn’t get past Romanesque before running out of hours; this time I got stuck at a champleve and cloisonne reliquary.

The new gallery is sublime. It makes you feel you are alone with each exhibit and here and there are little video displays showing how a thing was made, as with the enamel reliquary. My next stop was to find out why a life-sized wooden carving of Jesus on the donkey was leading a procession of fabulous ecclesiatical copes, and stood to watch a little video of a Palm Sunday procession in Austria. By this time I was getting heady and neglecting my companions.

Having done the gallery, they presented me with a brass rubbing they’d made and went off to see 20th Century Fashion, so we agreed a time to meet and I turned back to the past. This time I made a concerted effort to hack my way through the distractions to get to the Renaissance rooms.

St Roch's dog - Spanish carving.

Wow! Hangings and chairs and cressets and chandeliers and paintings and fireplaces and tiled floors and bronze knick-knacks. Oh yes, and a full suit of armour for Mr Renaissance Man. If like me you thought you knew what a vestibule was, let me tell you that yesterday I touched one and it was made of wood.

Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, a big hit in the 90s, advocates two main methods of stimulating creativity. One is Morning Pages, the other is The Artist’s Date. I find the pages easy but the date phenomenally difficult. I manage it perhaps once a month (more now that I’m walking so much). The idea is to go out on your own to somewhere that gets the juices going, a walk, a charity shop, a park, a museum.

Cardinal Giovanni - his Facebook Gravitar

So there I was in the Renaissance gallery and suddenly on my own. When I found I could take photographs, everything in me soared, and I went about taking (terrible) snaps on my rubbish new Canon, but connecting with so many beautiful things, including a Botticelli (Portrait of Smeralda Brandini). Highlight: terracotta bust of Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici taken from a life-mask. I could have been looking at the man himself. You’d think he’d have shaved for the occasion.

Do these exercises stimulate creativity? I’m not sure. I can’t point to any particular piece of writing and say, ‘That came out of two hours browsing gentlemen’s suits in a charity shop’. But I am sure that these exercises and others like them get you over blocks. Morning Pages in particular gets the writing arm nicely flexed. If you’re not familiar with the exercise, it is this: Get a bound notebook, A4 or Letter-sized, and write three pages non-stop every morning, first thing. I think it’s a brilliant way of finding your own true voice (which is not the one you start with). I was always a bit annoyed that Cameron sort of implied her system was all her own when Morning Pages at least comes from the real doyen of creative writing, Dorothea Brande (Becoming a Writer).

Naturally I ran out of time and as I was hurrying to keep another date, this one with a slab of cake and a cup of tea, I passed by a little room which didn’t say it was for children only. With a few more minutes (or hours) to spare, I’d have had a go at drawing in perspective or writing a mini-story about a Durer engraving.

After the V&A, where I get blown away just by going to the loos (amazing stone-slab sinks and optical illusions only to be seen in mirrors in one, or original Victorian tiles in another), we went on to Harrods. What a toy shop that is! And then I walked alone across Hyde Park to Marble Arch, by which time I was positively happy. Ah yes, the nurse would say, endomorphines released by exercise. Let’s just call it happy. I feel very creative today. Up early to find time to write brilliant short story as told to me by my cousin’s friend, it’s now 5.14am and, with this post, my morning pages are done.

3 thoughts on “An Artist’s Date at the V&A

  1. It’s amazing what these visual fragments can do, isn’t it? I often get a moment of dizziness looking at Romanesque lettering (hence banner picture on this blog) and wonder what – and who – it is that’s responding. It’s like the canary within hearing the canary without. No doubt there’s a chemical in the brain that’s responsible but I really don’t want to know about it!

  2. Do these exercises stimulate creativity? They surely did in my case! Several years ago my sister asked me to accompany her on a “Sound of Music” tour of Austria. I was skeptical on two counts–I had never done an organized tour, and while I enjoy The Sound of Music now and again I wasn’t that invested in it as a tour theme. As it turned out, it was a wonderful experience and my two reservations quickly became irrelevant.

    We had a tremendous guide who knew her history and mesmerized us with the stories she told as we explored all of the magnificent treasures of Austria.

    And now to the point…when I got home I was overwhelmed by the compulsion to write, and write I did. My first novel, THE TRUST OF THE HAWK is the product of that trip. I have never before or since been so…inspired???…to create my own version of an experience. It is amazing what a missing jewel in a crown in a museum case in Vienna can trigger!!!

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