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William Blake, 21st century man

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

The creators of the exhibit at Tate Britain wanted to place the poet in his own period, but he doesn't want to stay there. He created for a future audience, inspired a large number of artists, and, yes, William Blake is today a social network star.



'Rebel and radical revolutionary'... This is how the authors of this exhibition about William Blake dub this paint­er, engraver and poet who acquired a cult status long ago. That's not only because Blake is ranked 38th on the BBC's list of the 100 Greatest Britons of all time, but also because his odes and engravings are also popu­lar on YouTube. Yes, William Blake is a social network star! Hundreds of thousands of people listen to his lyr­ics, and now the luckiest among them have the oppor­tunity to check out this great retrospective exhibition of his work. More than 300 original works of art, paintings, illustrations, watercolours, including the famous 'Songs of Innocence and Experience '(1794), present Blake as a visual wonder ready for the 21st century. In addition to all of that, HBO is preparing the November premiere of the series 'His Dark Materials', which is inspired di­rectly by Blake's aesthetics. Blake's time has finally arrived!

The creators of the exhibit at Tate Britain wanted to place the poet in his own period, but he himself doesn't want to stay there, as one critic said, because he was creating for an audience yet to come. He is today an inspi­ration to many visual artists, musicians and poets around the world. Why is Blake important to today's age? Because his personal struggle, in an era of political up­heaval, the period of the French and Ameri­can revolutions, as well as his pre-Romantic vision of the Age of Enlightenment, reveals an authentic artist who made no compromis­es. The curators of the exhibition note that they wanted to present 'Blake for Everyone': he was a remarkable craftsman, which is why his earlier works are also exhibited, but he was also a pacifist, a fighter for sexual free­dom who wrote poems opposing racism...


The approach of the exhibition's crea­tors is materialist, the curators stress, so they reconstructed the appearance of a gallery from 1809 and Blake's solo exhibition, which proved disastrous – almost no one showed up! Likewise, there is also a desire to demy­thologise Blake and present his social iden­tity, so visitors can see who his neighbours were, what he ate, how he dressed, and that he was certainly a man of his own time.

Why is Blake so contemporary? He us­es motifs of bodies cut open, violence, pro­voking feelings of horror, feverishness and despair, thus hinting at the expressionism of the 20th century. On the other hand, his poetry often assumes a con­fessional tone and is filled with beauty, splendour and divine fulfilment. Yet he is a true rebel and revolutionary regarding the stiff moral values of his time. Blake also led the fight against Christianity's misconception of sexuality as a sin. His Jesus is a modern figure, a rebellious persona who launches a new civilisation, which corresponds greatly with the hippie movement and counterculture of the previous century.

Three reasons why Blake is so contemporary impose themselves. The first is his unacceptability. He was the son of lower-class parents who had a workshop in Soho, where he learned engraving and drawing, but had no formal education. Ostracised by the artistic elites of the time, Blake devel­oped the independence of his imagination. He hated the painters Reynolds and Gainsborough, who painted according to the rules of Victorian Eng­land, and told them 'To Generalise is to be an idiot'. He adored Michelange­lo and Raphael. He engraved poems and lyrics together with illustrations, using a special process he came up with on his own, which he then painted by hand. They would say that he was crazy and vulgar, but he didn't care for social conventions and compromises. He believed in his mission. After all, Blake – although not actively involved in the public life of the epoch – was present in everyday life in the way that extroverts are – he loved to sing, to drink in pubs, to engage in heated discussions, and all sensual pleasures were not foreign to him. He was married to Catherine, who he adored, and she helped him to paint and print his works. She sometimes even finalised them. She shared his vision, and occasionally served him an empty plate as a sign that he needed to earn a shilling or two.


The second reason is related to the poetic nature of Blake's creativi­ty juxtaposed to the Age of the Enlightenment and the coming industrial era. Poetry and art differ from science, philosophy and religion in that they are able to connect “fact” with emotion. Blake's poetry is bloody and inter­prets the divine “beauty of horror” and “horrible harmony”, while the po­et created in response to the English Puritanism of the time. With Blake, “all that lives is holy”. Evil is negation, nothingness. “All Act is Virtue”. He created the ideal of creative energy as a fight against spiritual weakness. He was not a moralist, and if he hated something with his soul, then that is the symbol of Urizen, an abstract philosophy - “Spectres that reason”. “More! I want more! Less than all cannot satisfy man,” wrote Blake. He stood against the cult of reason and nature that dispels the idea of imagination.



The third reason that Blake remains con­temporary is that he condemned organised re­ligion. It would be understated to claim that he was a heretic and that he created his own Christianity. He initially joined the New Church (Swedenborgian) of Swedish theologian Ema­nuel Swedenborg, and later, when he left that church, he stated how he “but only holds a can­dle in the sun”. He was part of the blossoming of Bloomsbury, where new cults were born, such as astrology, theosophy and freemasonry. Blake claimed to knows of no other Gospel than the liberation of body and mind for the purpose of practising the “Divine Art of Imagination”. He doubted the foundations of basic biblical dog­mas, referring to them as delusions: the delu­sion of instinct that comes only from the body, which is evil, and reason, which is good, (in­stinct is the only life), and the delusion that God will torment he who fol­lows his instincts (instinct is infinite ecstasy). As such, Blake's mythology is actually the story of man. God is in people, and the human spirit is filled with contradictions. The Tyger, his most famous poem, speaks of that.


It could be said that the reception of Blake's creativity is perhaps more important than the chronology of his life. Blake's poetry inspired the Pre-Raphaelites and Rossetti, poets Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, Joni Mitch­ell and Aldous Huxley, all the way to Jim Morrison of The Doors and Jim Jar­musch. The huge 1995 sculpture standing in front of the British Library was inspired by Blake's Newton. Blake is so contemporary that even the Daily Mail published an article on the exhibition mocking a sign at the entrance that warns visitors about disturbing images of violence and suffering. That's something that Blake himself would probably find interesting!


Vilijam Blejk čovek 21. veka


‘Buntovnik I radikalni revolucionar’ je kako izlozba o Vilijamu Blejku, naziva slikara, gravera I pesnika koji vec poslovicno zasluzuje ime kultnog engleskog Barda. Ne samo da je Blejk na BBC-jevoj listi 38. od 100. najznacajnijih Britanaca, vec su njegove strofe I gravire popularne I na jutjubu. Da, Vilijem Blejk je zvezda drustvenih medija! Stotine hiljada ljudi slusa njegove stihove a sada oni srecni imaju priliku da vide veliku retrospektivu Blejkovog stvaralastva. Vise od 300 originalih umetnickih dela, slika, ilustracija, akvarela, ukljucujuci I cuvene ‘Pesme Nevinosti I Iskustva’ Iz 1794. predstavljaju Blejka kao vizuelno cudo spremno za XXI. vek. U novembru HBO sprema premijeru serije ‘His Dark Materials’ koja je direktno ispirisana Blejkovom estetikom. Konacno je doslo Blejkovo vreme!

Kreatori izlozbe u starom Tejtu zeleli su da pesnika stave u njegovo doba, ali on sam nece tamo da ostane, kako je rekao jedan kriticar, on je stvarao za publiku koja tek dolazi. Danas je inspiracija velikom broju vizelnih umetnika, muzicara, pesnika sirom sveta. Zasto je Blejk vazan za danasnje doba? Zato sto njegova licna borba, u eri politickih prevrata, Francuske I Americke revolucije, kako I njegova pre-romaticarka vizija u doba prosvetiteljstva, otkriva autenicnog umetnika koji nije pravio kompromise. Kustosi izlozbe isticu da su hteli da predstave ‘Blejka za svakoga’: on jeste bio izuzetan zanatlija, te stoga izlazu I njegove ranije radove, ali bio je I pacifista, borac za seksualne slobode, a pisao je pesme protiv rasizma. Malo je poznato je da je Blejk ilustrovao knjigu Meri Volstonkraft, jedne od prvih engleskih feministkinja jer su delili isti knjizevni kruzok kao I poglede na jednakost polova I intituciju braka.

Kustosi izlozbe su svesni da akcenat moraju staviti na Blejkovu savremenost jer ne moze se XVIII vekovni pesnik staviti u trku sa danasnjom produkcijom globalnog umetnickog trzista - rizik je da bude zaboravljen. Pristup kreatora izlozbe je materijalisticki, naglasavaju kustosi, te oni rekonstruisu izgled galerije iz 1809. godine I samostalne izlozbe umetnika koja je prosla katastrofalno – skoro niko se nije pojavio! Takodje, postoji zelja da se Blejk demitologizuje, te da se prikaze njegov drustveni identitet, stoga se mogu videti ko su mu bili komsije, cime se hranio, kako se oblacio, I da je bio itekako covek svog vremena.

Zasto je Blejk toliko moderan? On koristi motive rasporenih tela, nasilja, izaziva osecaje jeze, groznice, ocajanja I time nagovestava expresionizam XX veka. S druge strane, njegova poezija cesto uzima ispovedni ton I puna je lepote, divote, bozanske ispunjenosti, no ipak je on pravi budzija I pravi revolucionar prema ustogljenim moralnim vrednostima svog vremena. Takodje, Blejk zapocinje borbu protiv pogresnog shvatanja hriscanstva da je polnost greh. Njegov Isus je moderna figura, pobunjena persona koja zapocinje novu civilizaciju, sto veoma korespondira sa hipi pokretom I kontrakulturom proslog veka. Istoricari umetnosti upozoravaju da ako stavimo Blejka u svoju sopstvenu kategoriju, da ce on ostati izolovan od mejnstrima. Ali istina je da retko koji umetnik moze da se poredi sa Blejkovim modelom kreativnosti u kome on genijalan kako u knjizevnom tako I u vizelnom zanru.

Namecu nam se tri razloga zasto je Blejk tako savremen. Prvi je Blejkova neprihvacenost. Blejk je sin roditelja nize klase koji su imali radnju u Sohou, on uci graviranje I crtanje, ali nije imao formalno obrazovanje. Posto je bio ostrakizovan od tadasnjih umetnickih elita, Blejk je razvio nezavisnost maste. Mrzi slikare Rejnoldsa I Gejnzburga koji slikaju po pravilima viktorijanske Engleske I odgovara im ‘Uopštavati znači biti idiot’. Obozava Mikelandjela I Rafaela. Gravira I pesme I tekstove zajedno sa ilustracijama posebnim postupkom do koga je sam dosao, a koje zatim rucno boji. Govorili su da je ludak i da je vulgaran, ali on nije mario za drustvene konvencije I kompromise. Verovao je u svoju misiju. Na kraju krajeva, Blejk je, iako ne učestvuje aktivno u javnom životu epohe, prisutan u svakodnevici na način na koji to čine ekstroverti – voleo je da peva, da pije po krčmama, da se upušta u žestoke diskusije, a sva čulna zadovoljstva nisu mu bila strana. Bio je ozenjen Katarinom, koju je obozavao, a ona mu je pomagala da boji radove, da ih stampa a ponekad ih je I zavrsavala. Delila je njegovu viziju, I s vremena na vreme posluzivala prazan tanjir kao znak da on treba da zaradi koji siling. Blejkova kreativna ambicija je postala simbol umetnika koji je zadrzao autenticnost svoje umetnosti, u zivotu I svojoj politici, iako nije uspeo da proda svoja dela.

Drugi razlog je vezan za poeticnost Blejkovog stvaralstva naspram doba prosvetiteljstva I industrijske ere koja nadolazi. Poezija I umetnost se razlikuju od nauke, filozofije, religije jer uspeva da poveze ‘cinjenicu’ sa emocijom. Blejkova poezija je ‘krvava’, I tumaci bozansku ‘lepotu uzasa’ I ‘strasnog sklada’, a I pesnik stvara kao reakcija na engleski puritanizam tog vremena. Kod Blejka, ‘sve sto je zivo, je sveto’. Zlo je negacija, nistavilo. ‘All Act is Virtue.’ On je stvorio ideal kreativne energije kao borbe protiv duhovne slabosti. On nije moralista I ako nesto mrzi svom dushom to je simbol Urizena, apstraktne filozofije, ‘Aveti sto Rasudjuje’. ''Još! Želim još! Manje od Svega ne može zadovoljiti čoveka.''piše Blejk. On ustaje protiv kulta razuma i prirode koji izbacuje ideju imaginacije. Blejk ga povezuje ne samo sa Volterom i Rusoom, već i Lokom koji, prema pesnikovim rečima, rascepljuje božansko i ljudsko telo, stvarajući modernog pojedinca koji egocentrično kontemplira nad svojom dušom.

Treci razlog Blejkove savremenosti je to sto je osudjivao organizovanu religiju. Malo je tvrditi da je bio jeretik I da je stvorio svoje sopstveno hriscanstvo. Isprva se pridruzio se ‘Novoj Crkvi’ Svedjanina Emanuela Svedenborga, ali posle, kada ju napustio, pricao je da je on samo drzao svecu na suncu. Bio je deo bujajuceg Blumzburija gde su radjali novi kultovi, poput astrologije, teozofije I slobodne masonerije. Blejk tvrdi da ne zna ni za jedno drugo Jevanđelje osim oslobođenja i tela i uma, u svrhu upražnjavanja 'Božanske Umetnosti Imaginacije'. On sumnja u osnovne biblijske dogme, nazivajući ih zabludama: zabluda o nagonu koji dolazi samo iz tela, koje je zlo, i razumu, koji je dobro, ('nagon je jedini život'), i zabluda da će Bog mučiti onoga koji sledi svoje nagone ('nagon je večiti zanos'). Stoga je Blejkova mitologija zapravo priča o čoveku. Bog u ljudima, a ljudski duh je pun suprotnosti. Tigar, njegova najpoznatija pesma, govori o tome da mi sami stvaramo polarne suprotnosti, jer Tigar je lep, ali I svirep, u realnosti sve ujedinjeno u celinu.

Moze se reci da je recepcija Blejkove kreativnosti mozda vaznije od hronologije njegovog zivota. Blejkova poezija inspirisala je Prerafaelite I Rosetija, pesnike Jejtsa, Alana Ginsberga, Dzoni Micel, Hakslija sve do Dzima Morisona iz Dorsa, koji naziva svoju grupu po stihu iz Blejkove poezije, kao I Dzima Dzarmusa. Ogromna skulptura iz 1995. godine koja stoji ispred Britanske biblioteke inspirisana je Blejkovim Njutnom. Blejk je toliko savremen da je cak I Dejli Mejl objavio clanak o izlozbi ismevajuci znak na ulazu koji upozorava posetioce na uznemiravajuce slike nasilja I patnje. To bi verovatno I samom Blejku bilo zanimljivo!


Izlozba je otvorena 11. septembra I trajace do 2. februara 2020.



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