This blog generates a lot of email. I try my best, but I can’t always answer it all. Often I will receive an email that I don’t have time to answer that very moment, but as I continue with my day I will mentally compose a reply, usually a great reply. Later I will embarrassingly realize that I never sent the answer.
Last night I received an email that was one sentence long: why do you like Pre-Raphaelite art?
I sat there for a moment looking at my screen, dumbfounded because I did not know what to say. How is it possible that I could not answer this one simple question? It’s a question that dives straight to the point, forgoing all discussion of the usual topics of Pre-Raphaelite subject matter or artists or models. That question leaps past my interest in Elizabeth Siddal, it hurdles over my thoughts on the artists’ lives. The question isn’t technically even about the art, it’s about me. It’s just bare bones: why do I like it?
I thought that the best way to answer the question would be to think about my first exposure to Pre-Raphaelite art. What prompted the early gut reaction that told me “I love this. This is for me.” What resonates with me? At it’s simplest form, what draws me to this art? And I had my answer.
It’s a very simple answer to a very simple question. It is also the answer that I think explains everything about who I am as a person. It sums me up completely:
I love stories.
That’s it. It’s why I’ve been such a voracious reader all of my life. It’s why I enjoy all kinds of movies, from silent films to the golden years of the Hollywood studios to the current modern day box office. It’s also the source of my love for classical music. As a child, I used to listen to it with my eyes closed as I made up sagas to accompany every crescendo. That later led to an enjoyment of opera, the ultimate in musical storytelling. Give me Maria Callas any day, a true diva before our modern use of the word came to mean something different and, well, less. Is it all really about the books and the movies or the music? No, the underlying kernel of everything that captures my interest is that I want a good tale.
My first introductions to the Pre-Raphaelites were through the characters they portrayed: the Lady of Shalott, Ophelia, Proserpine, and figures from Shakespeare and Arthurian legend. They explored the myths and literature that I already had a taste for and they wrapped them up in symbolism and an aesthetic that appealed to me. Then I became interested in the stories behind the paintings and the personal lives of the artists.
I know that there are those who don’t like Pre-Raphaelite works and dismiss them as mawkish Victorian art. To which I shrug and say that may be true from their perspective. For me, though, it’s been a constant source of ideas to ponder. It’s given me themes to explore, biographies to wade through, and time lines to try to piece together. I obsessively pursue these artists who through their work and their own pursuits have given me what I consider the best thing in the world: a good story.