Imaginary Progress

The drawing is divided in two by the concrete barrier. The characters above the line are like those in William Hogarth’s (1697-1764) several ‘Progresses.’ They are in his words; ‘Modern Moral Subjects.’ In mine; allegories of Work and Love. Look below the line to see a take on ‘Carceri d’Invenzione’ by Giovanni Piranesi (1720- 1778.)

Hogarth first. He was an artist who also wrote on Aesthetics said that observing a subtle–neither too round nor angular–curve of a ‘serpentine’ line in an art object ‘lead the eye on a wanton cha[s]e’ as exciting as gazing at real curves in real life. And that for the artist the drawing, cutting or brushing of those lines was as good as a real-life caress.

The making OF the art was to him more sensual than the sexual antics portrayed IN the art, with none of the social or venereal consequences therein displayed. So in a way, he –the artist– was isolating himself, like here, where Work and Love are on one side of the barrier and Art is on the other.

But Work and Love are no longer his motley parade of 18th century fashions, they are a march of uniforms. They are still like then made manifest as others, separate from Art. They are still composed of lines; but not of the desirable serpentine perfection. The Works’ lines are too pointy and linear, they thrust weapon-like. And the lines of the Loves are too curvy, they curl and tighten knot-like. Work stabs Love, Love strangles Work.

On to Piranesi,. A visit to his ‘Invented Prisons’ is described by Thomas De Quincey thusly, “Creeping along the sides of the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it come to a sudden abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him.”

In this drawing’s invented prison, below work and love’s highway, there is no wall to creep along but there’s a billboard to grope. There are no stairs but there is a ladder. It, too, is perceived as coming to ‘a sudden abrupt termination’ below the advertisement at a narrow and flimsy laborer’s deck which is also ‘without any balustrade.’

The personified Work and Love are shown arm in arm, but they are out of arm’s reach for Art personified below the barrier. In the old days Art had copied their images for himself on the now ill-placed billboard, when he could see them from the old road which is now buried by the viaducts.

Art has now invented a new image with him in Work’s place. The pun[n]y metaphor for that inventing is to pull a biting print from bitten copper plate. Both Hogarth and Piranesi were commercial engravers so the metaphor is apt, clever even. But the pull, as a futile attempt to reverse the isolation, has failed; the unseen image remains a private comfort against the cold of the coming night.

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