Monday, 5 December 2011

Truth and beauty

Just back from London, where we spent a delightful weekend immersed in beauty. By which I mean, we went to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery on Saturday, then spent an amazing few hours at the V&A on Sunday morning.

After this assault on my visual senses, I spent some time on the long train journey home thinking about what I had seen. (This sounds very hi-faluting, but I do confess I spent quite a lot of time reading a Jo Nesbo thriller too!).

I was reminded of Keats: 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.' Leonardo's skills are, of course, quite extraordinary. It's not often on this planet that people of such towering stature are sent to us. So in fact, although it was amazing to see so many outstanding works gathered together in one glorious exhibition, I have to confess to being more engaged with the treats on offer over at the V&A – because they operate on such a human level.

We strolled through the Power of Making temporary exhibition, full of the most extraordinary expressions of human creativity, from prosthetics for the face, to knitted grizzly bears and 'roast pigs' made of sugar. My husband Robin then took himself off to the European history areas, while I headed to Glass, Silver and Jewellery.

Objects tell stories. I think that's why I like them so much – and combine that with the unbelievable beauty of many of the objects in the V&A collection and the remarkable skill required to create them and the result is, indeed, an extraordinarily heady mixture. Silver, being valuable, has always been linked to status and power. Many of the objects were designed to impress – ceremonial maces, vast and ornate wine coolers and salvers, trophies and presentation pieces. Others were small, but clearly treasured – a nutmeg grater designed to slip in a pocket to add spice to flavourless food, vinaigrettes to take away the stench of the streets. But each one had been thought about, crafted, honed and polished.

Just like a novel. I learned how to make silver and gold jewellery some years ago, so I know the processes involved in design and making, and the more I thought about it, the more the similarity between the crafts became apparent. It all starts with thinking, designing, the creative process of fashioning something that is absolutely right for the receiver – whether that is a reader, a wearer or simply an admirer. Then the hard work of raising the piece from the flat, making it three-dimensional, making it live and sing. In silversmithing, this might be hammering, or soldering, or some other method of engineering or linking. With a novel, it's the long hard slog of beating out those 100,000 or so words into something shapely and coherent and beautiful. Then there's the final part of the process – refining and polishing, so that every word shines and delights.

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' Perhaps, with so many incredible images still buzzing round my mind, I can now go back to my work in progress and be inspired to create something beautiful of my own to share.


  1. I like your description of the creative right

  2. What a wonderful thought. Shaping your creation sounds so much nicer than re-writing. It suggests evolution and moving forward. Just what I need at this very moment, Jenny.


  3. Sounds a wonderful trip, Jenny - and I love that brilliant analogy with the craft of making jewellery.

  4. A very reflective blog,Jenny.Perhaps we don't have enough time these days to think rather than do.

  5. I love the V & A exhibitions too, just reading what you say about them makes me feel inspired all over again by their beauty. Thank you!

  6. Glad I've struck a chord with a few of you. Thinks ... music is the food of love ... more metaphors ... play on!

  7. 'That is all you know on earth and all you need to know.' Yes, I've probably misquoted, but your post cries out for the rest. Beautiful piece, Jenny.

  8. Jenny, I can only echo what people have already said. It is a lovely, thought provoking and inspiring post.