'Time for Beauty'
BSA Fellowship 2022-3
I am thrilled to have been awarded the BSA Postdoctoral Fellowship 2022-3. My project will be to explore the poorly defined concept of time-based aesthetic properties in (still) pictures, which I claim, helps to explain the representation and the expression of sophisticated emotions, such as regret, nostalgia, and euphoria. This challenges a longstanding assumption that expressiveness in a picture (and other aesthetic properties) depends solely on spatial extension - a curve here or a line there – while musical expressiveness depends on temporal properties namely, rhythm, melody, and cadence. However, given that sophisticated emotions such as nostalgia point to the past, it seems that the expressive qualities of at least some (such as nostalgic) pictures are interestingly time based.
I love philosophical puzzles. But I don't love reading philosophy papers. Mainly because they are extremely hard to understand. I find it helps to break up the reading with some listening and talking and making little videos. In other words, playing. This all helps me digest new material. I write up what I've learnt by playing with the puzzle so other philosophers will interact with me. But I find that bit fairly torturous (the writing not the interacting - philosophers are top faves). That's the way it is with philosophy. But maybe things are changing...
A Brush with Philosophy
I literally fell into philosophy. In search of a script idea for a corporate project, I bumbled into a basement room in Senate House, where a research student was presenting a paper on the links between language and vision. Two hours later I emerged, blinking, from the cave.
I didn’t know at that point that I had been listening to philosophy. I certainly had never studied it. I mean, I’d read Nausea when I was an undergrad but at that point Donna Tartt’s Secret History was more up my street. Bamboozled by the basement room I signed up for a part-time Masters in Philosophy at King’s.
And I was utterly, wonderfully rubbish at it. So much so in fact I rebaptised myself the Bad Philosophy Writer. I’ll admit that I found my incompetency embarrassing rather than funny. I’m certain others found it tedious. But the actual material was too compelling just to give up and overall I’m pleased I stuck with it. I finished my writing my PhD in Spring 2020, had my viva in the Summer and joined the Faculty in last September as a Lecturer. Owing to forces beyond my control, most of that was accomplished without leaving the chair I’m sitting in right now. Excitement is not what is used to be.
Writing a PhD is a discombobulating experience. At least it is in philosophy. You think you’ll spend hours poring over texts thinking wise thoughts. But mostly you spend time looking in the fridge or urgently seeking coffee. Or being pathologically positive. The umpteenth rewrite? Fab. What about restructuring this whole section? Marvellous. You have to pace yourself. Aren’t mid-morning maps a thing? (asking for a friend).
So why do it? Apart from the thrill of actually discovering the answer to a question, I’d say the main reason is that you get to talk with some incredible humans. Humans that are generous enough to help you find the answer to your question. Or help you refine the question. Or explain how you ask a good one. Or just tell you what someone else wrote when you can’t figure it out. Or show genuine interest in your research. Or spark new interests. Or help you locate your tiny contribution in the apparently infinite morass of ongoing investigations. These conversations clarify and console you. You are not the only nutter after all. Other people like this stuff too! You’ll have conversations that are so much fun you can’t quite believe you are having them.
And that’s how I ended up painting the portraits. I noticed that each of these humans I enjoyed speaking with had a face. It’s fairly common I guess. Their faces would change when they were talking about something they were really, really interested in. When you are learning you need to listen and watch carefully. I wanted to see if I could encapsulate something of those important conversations as a record of my PhD adventure. At first, I was lucky enough to draw my sitters while we chatted. Eventually, I would be limited to zoom or teams or someother virtual interface. I’ve tried to keep the paintings unified though – at least in terms of style. I’ve kept a visual travel journal for years, so this felt like a natural extension of that private hobby. It has been a way of slowing down. Slow processing. Quiet thinking. Patient painting.