The Story of the artist is everything … so tell it

The Story … I advocate this with sincerity and commitment.

You are an artist, so what does that have to do with you?

Well … Everything. Let me explain.

I recently spent a rare weekend with my daughter in Birmingham, my home town. She is from Yorkshire and her 19 year old self is grappling with the complexities of the world; news, culture, fashion, trend all having weight and power in the shaping of her opinions and self. Her opinions and aspirations crumble with her self-confidence provoked by the media presentation of both good and bad. It is a perilous age and one I do not remember as being so precarious.

I wanted to show her some of the things that grounded me in my troubled times. Things that I feel are outside of the ‘here and now’ but somehow resonate a solidity and an importance to the being that is me. Things that informed me as a scared adolescent and brought to the surface my interests and passions. Things that I have carried with me, that create, for better or worse, the man that I am today.

The story begins as we visited the Birmingham Art Gallery.

Walking my daughter around some of the most recognisable works trying to ignite her excitement provoking her to see through my eyes, I attempted to reveal to her some of my passion and hopefully that, that makes me, me.

Birmingham is well known for its association with the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and The Birmingham Museums Trust has a collection of over 3,000 pieces. Although the complete collection is not on permanent display we saw a few of the most important works. And we came across this…

Burne Jones - The Star of Bethlehem - the story of the Adoration of the Magi
Burne Jones The Star of Bethlehem

Burne JonesThe Star of Bethlehem

Waving my hands in front of Burne Jones The Star of Bethlehem, excitedly repeating the story of it being the largest watercolour in the world when it was painted, measuring 260 cm × 390 cm (101 in × 152 in). Reaching across its span I was gesturing how difficult it might have been to execute the work how the watercolour medium is difficult to control. I was enjoying myself, relishing my own storytelling.

I could not help but excitedly litter facts about the Pre-Raphaelites being the first art marketers in Britain; the story of how they put their works on tour, and selling reproductions to the masses.

And my daughter said ….

If they had the internet in those days, the Pre Raphaelites would have been all over it

It stopped me in my tracks

and I thought she is absolutely right.

They were the first to kick the establishment in to touch and market their own work to the people. Putting paintings on tour to be visited for a penny, creating reproductions that could be bought for a fraction of the paintings price. They were heralded as being socialist but the truth is that they engaged in their own conversations and found ways of telling their story and not relying on the RA. The Royal Academy, being the acknowledged institution of the time.

And oh boy did the RA not like that

The Brotherhood continued to tell their own story on their own terms and by doing so created a new audience of people that were not confined by the privilege of being able to visit the RA to see the work. Their paintings were shown in provincial galleries allowing people outside of the capital to engage. Prints were made and distributed in the thousands, only limited by the life of the printing plate. Their new audience reacted positively and they became recognised names in many households that never previously had access to their work or art of any kind.

By embracing a new idea and a new technology, they proceeded to enlarge the number of admirers. By sharing their work and the details of it in various pamphlets and newspapers they created interest, loyalty and … sales.

I suppose my conclusion…

Is that we are so imbued in the traditional route to artistic recognition and success that we have become blind to the real potential of anything else.

With the miraculous reach of the internet and the capacity to express anything we wish… Should we not be emulating the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and bringing our work to the masses?

We believe in inspiration, wonder and joy … So why should we not share it immediately and stop hankering for some justification from the establishment?

My daughter, a member of the troubled youth of today, the expressive extinction rebellion generation spotted it immediately … And my response to her is that I too have treasure to show and I shall begin to do that. It is actually my responsibility. I can share all that inspires wonder within me.


TheWonderBook has a mission to do that – A place to accept the new and to celebrate the joy in all forms of our creativity and by using the internet to share all of our vital stories with the world. For they are vital. Artists have a responsibility to express wonder and the impossible and we should invite others to be part of our journey.

Who knows … We may even make ourselves a few coppers along the way.


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