“Degas and the Ballet”: a personal exploration of the relationship between photography and art

So I know I mentioned a few days ago that was up in London – well, the main reason for my trip was to go to the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy. Entitled “Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement”, this is one that’s been burning a big hole in my diary since I first saw it advertised in the Spring as the theme of the exhibition ker-kluncked in my mind as something entirely relevant to my own processes as an artist. By theme, I refer not to “the ballet” but to the much more substantial one upon which this unique exhibition is built because it looks, in detail, at the impact of the “parallel advances in photography” (quote: RA) at the time that Degas was working upon his own art and processes.

I already had some vague recollection of there being some inter-connection between Degas and the photographic advances being made at the time and could only presume that he may well have used early photography as a means of capturing the moving subjects he was so fascinated by – especially dancers –as a starting point for his painting.  As someone who routinely uses photography to gather material for my own art, I could only begin to imagine how exciting it must have been to have these entirely new processes at your disposal for the first time, enabling you to capture and learn about the frozen moment in ways that had never been possible before. The prospect of examining the use of photography, as a basis for art, in the years of its infancy struck me as a promising route-in to just how valid my own approach is, not least because it is still looked-down upon, in some quarters, as compared to painting straight from “real life”.  In short, I was optimistic that a grass-roots insight into what is still a relatively new approach to art (well over a century after Degas first stuck his toe in the water) would help me to hone and, I suppose, vindicate my own artistic processes these many years later.

This exhibition is proving extremely popular, if the queue at the door and a strict “no re-entry” policy were anything to go by and perhaps that took me aback because I can understand why some people may hesitate at its very title.  For instance, to those for whom late nineteenth century art fails to resonate, those who shudder at confectionary-coloured tutus and certainly those whose vague recollections of Degas make them think of “chocolate box” paintings or maiden aunts, I imagine this exhibition (on the face of it) holds little or no appeal at all. Yet, taking as its broader subject a detailed examination of what was a real turning point in art history, a corner so sharp that the very way that people saw things (and indeed their grasp of how what people saw could be utterly manipulated by the artist) altered beyond recognition almost overnight – because this is what photography did for the world.

For my own part, I’m not all that much into the ballet  – preferring all the rumbustiousness of the opera – but then, at the heart of it, I don’t think Degas was all that much into the ballet either; well, not in the way that you might think from the way that he made it the subject of so much of his art. At the very heart of it, he was fascinated with one thing and one thing only – the living, moving human form – and he focused upon it utterly, making it his absolute mission to depict “movement in its exact truth”. To that end he used dancers, both on the stage at the Paris Opera and behind the scenes in the practice rooms to which he gained access, as the vehicle with which to pursue his passion.  In other words, his focus became a preoccupation with the following conundrum: how do you give the impression, through art, of the human anatomy doing what it does all the time in real life (that is, move) when representing it though a medium which is, itself, static (that is, using paint or pastel marks on a flat surface).

To fully appreciate where Degas was going with this preoccupation, you have to put it into the context of the times in which he was working, which were at the very tail end of an era that, for century upon century, had seen art used to represent figures that, by and large, appeared as though in a tableau. Frozen figures were depicted in scenes that were often painted through the use of models or sitters that would have been poised as though in mid-action but which were, in reality, as static as if they had been turned to pillars of salt! Degas’s career came at the eleventh hour before the invention of the world-altering phenomenon that is cinema and, as is typical of such a time, it was an era that was fizzing with new ideas and ways of looking at things; literally super-charged with all the inventive promise and new thinking that must precede such an evolutionary leap. Caught up in all the innovation of the times and with a determination to capture the authentic movement of the human figure as his absolute focus, he could not help but be drawn into some of the new processes being developed and the ways that these might be applicable to his own task.

In essence, what the ballet did for Degas was to provide him with a bottomless pit of material, an endless source of lithe, lightly-clad female bodies in an array of sublime, expansive, graceful movements – whether they were at work or at rest (much of his material was derived from the practice rooms or back-stage scenes to which he had access) – so that he could apply himself to his mission without fear of ever running out of material. Perhaps the most telling comment that Degas is said to have made about the ballet is this: “They call me the painter of dancers.  They don’t understand that for me the dancer was a pretext for painting pretty fabrics and rendering movement”. The key was that, in being able to sketch these dancers as they went about their business, either on or off the stage, Degas was provided with models that were freely moving in a way that was not prescribed by the artist; this was no tableau of models set-up in the artist’s studio.  Even faced with all the artifice and theatricality of the actual performances, the movements that he was able to study were real and so he was able to take in a constant array of physical forms in a perpetual state of motion and interaction with each other, even when most relaxed off-stage. Where else, towards the end of the nineteenth century, could he have sourced an endless supply of moving human subjects dressed in such a way as to expose perfectly lithe physiques and in a constant state of flux? Much later in his career, he briefly shifted his attention to the troupes of Russian (more strictly, Ukrainian) dancers that were popular in Paris at the time; again, a fascinating source of dynamically moving subjects to Degas although quite different in form and in dress from his ballerinas. Easy,  therefore, to conclude that the theme in common to which he was drawn was that of movement itself.  Again, he was sufficiently taken with these Russian dancers to produce numerous pieces of work on the subject, of which there are a couple of examples in this exhibition.  Once more, he had succeeded in finding a readily available source of the very material  that most engaged him and by depicting his subjects again and again, he could continue to learn everything possible about how such movement appears to the eyes and so how best to represent this – how to capture it – through art.

Central to his goal was an ambition to reproduce “vivid realism and a sense of actuality”.  Degas realised early on that, to achieve this, he needed to convey a sense of movement in whatever static scene he represented. How did you do this if just the very fact of portraying a dancer (the epitome of a moving figure) wasn’t quite enough?  Whilst dancers were a hugely popular subject for the early photographers, they were wide off the mark where it came to portraying their subjects “in the act” in a way that was convincing; using elaborate structures and wires that could often be seen in the resultant image (you can see examples of this in the exhibition), they set about holding their ballerina models in poses that were meant to suggest they were in mid-dance although the outcome is that the images appear “staged” or even comical.  Of course, the lengthy exposure times and lighting issues that plagued early photography made it quite impossible to take images of an actual moving subject – any attempts to do so were, in photographic terms, ruined by the appearance of multiple-limbs in staggered positions across the image or a general blurring of the shot.

Interesting then that, at a time when Degas would have been more than familiar with the limitations of photography and also with the kind of experimentation that was taking place in certain quarters, involving taking multiple shots of a figure in movement, or from all angles around a subject by rotating a camera around them, he began to utilise techniques in his own work which seem to draw upon these very traits of photographic freeze-framing, such as the deliberate blurring of limbs to suggest  dynamic movement.  Looking through the numerous sketches of dancing figures on display at the RA, you can’t help but be struck by how often an arm or a leg seems to have been redrawn or repositioned on the page, as though a correction has taken place but actually, more convincingly, as though this was Degas’s deliberate technique to suggest movement of the limb from one position to another as part of the motion that is being conveyed. Whereas the photography of the time still struggled to convey a suggestion of movement in such a way that the resultant image could be deemed to be a success, capturing either an indistinct blur as one extreme or an artificially frozen moment (or a sequence of moments) as the other, Degas could begin to play with select elements of what movement looked like in photography by replicating chosen elements of this in his art, thrilling himself at his own ability to suggest movement across a stage or a whole room whilst maintaining the coherence of the composition as a whole. By depicting the interaction between dancers at rehearsal or at rest and in varied stages of limbering up, stretching, relaxing – of moving – and by choosing exactly which elements to crystallise, which to soften as though in motion, Degas was able to orchestrate the whole of his composition to his own demand in a way that was far out of the reach of photography at that stage.

The process began, then, at the stage where he sketched dancing figures over and over again and in an array of postures; bending, sitting, at the barre. Numerous sketches took in the various leg and feet positions that were typical of ballet, others concentrated on leg and arm movements alone. All of these sketches were done from life-observation. Having spent three years doing life-study myself, and given that the finale of each term was to bring in a dancer for the final session, I understand all too well how difficult it is to convey with any degree of accuracy, in just a few well-placed marks made on paper, all the complexities of the moving form; altogether a very different skill to drawing a static model!  Yet Degas knew that getting the anatomical details exactly right, and from “models” that were actually moving,  was the only way to ensure that the movements he was conveying would be convincing to the eye.

Degas also knew there was much more to conveying motion than ensuring the anatomical accuracy of the form in every stage of its movement. Yes, those photographers pursing a record of moving people, animals, birds and so on – amongst them Etienne-Jules Marey, who is dealt with extensively as part of this exhibition – had a point in that what they were finding out would have “great significance for art”.  Marey used photography to record sequences of moving figures and to record birds in flight, even using the latter to produce a sculpture of the flight of a pigeon which is on display as part of the exhibition.  This whole new gathering-together of anatomical information – part science, part art – that typified the early photographic era must have been immensely useful and fascinating to any artist with an interest in anatomy and movement and yet, on its own, this new-found knowledge of how something moves was not the golden key that would enable artists to convey realism using a two-dimensional medium.

You can see, just by looking at the completed work that was coming out of the dancer sketches that he was making that Degas was beginning to think about how other aspects of the composition could conspire in such a way as to suggest movement.  One painting “On Pointe” employs a very simple method indeed to suggests his subject has been captured in the full-flow of her dance  – he depicts her on the tips of her toes, a position that no dancer could have held long enough for either a studio artist or, at that time, photographer.  In another, “The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer’s Opera ‘Robert le Diable” 1876, the very-static looking orchestra depicted at the front of the composition enhances the effect of so much movement on the stage in a scene were nuns apparently “rise from the dead” into a single mass of fluidity and movement, the equally fluid, soft-edged brush strokes that are used to depict the voluminous costumes serving to enhance the contrast. A much later technique employed by Degas was the juxtaposition of what seems to be several dancers in a variety of poses but which, on closer scrutiny, are quite possibly the same dancer captured in each of several movements in a sequence  – in these, Degas bare-facedly overlaps  what could be perceived to be the same figure in multiple positions in such a way as to draw the eye from one to the other in a suggestion of movement across the canvas, not dissimilar to the effect of taking in one of Marey’s photographic sequences captured by a fixed-plate camera aimed at a moving subject.

Another development in Degas’s technique was the introduction of panoramic canvases for certain compositions, typically ones depicting an expansive scene across a practice room, with some figures depicted at close-quarters at one side and others receding off into the background at the other, creating a sense of depth and so drawing the eye right in to the heart of whatever action is taking place.  Again, as this exhibition highlights, it is known that panoramic photography was being played with at the time and it includes several contemporary shots of views across Paris from the rooftops or at street level with carriages and people going about their business, dashing hither and thither in front of the lens.  Presumably having seen such images and learned from them, this new use of panoramic proportions by Degas for some of his own work was an experiment in adding dynamism to a scene. A suggestion of action taking place is made through the very fact that the eye is drawn from events close at hand to things taking place much deeper into the perspective; literally, as the eye is forced to move back and forth to take in the composition and, as part of this orchestration on the artist’s part, plunged suddenly into the exaggerated depth at one side of it, so a suggestion of having to move the eyes as though to scan all that is going on, as on surveying a room full of action in real life, is made to the mind and so what is really a static image no longer appears to be so. Another tactic is that of cropping figures on the nearside of the composition in a way that suggests looking through a window or viewfinder into a real-life scene.

One can only hazard a guess that Degas had learned some of these tactics from the panoramic photography that was so popular at the time and which, in some cases, was challenging the very way that reality was made to appear, distorting and flattening semi-circular sweeps of city landscape into a continuous image; in other words, the photographer was determining what and how these realities were being seen, a tactic that may well have appealed to Degas and been taken on board by him. Often, in these panoramic canvases, a very obviously static object, such as an abandoned instrument in the near foreground, is used by Degas to further emphasise the contrasting sense of flux and activity in the rest of the room.  Quite possibly he had noticed the same effect in photographs of street scenes where a heavily static object, a lamppost, statue or even building, can act to enhance the sense of traffic and people moving, of hustle and bustle and human activity all around. Applied to his own compositions, what could otherwise have remained a somewhat disjointed collection of studies of dancers in various states of suspended animation, sitting, standing, dancing and stretching are suddenly drawn together by all of these tactics and transformed into a dynamic, living scene.

It is obvious from all of this – and very obvious indeed as you stroll around the current exhibition – that the coincidence of Degas’s career with the emergence of early photographic experimentation (also dealt with in some considerable detail by the exhibition) was a timely one; you can see where he took his lead from where photography was going or, at times, learned his own strengths through the very limitations of photography since he could use techniques in his art that, in photography, would be considered a flaw – tactics such as blurring or ghosting limbs, for instance. He could choose what to bring crisply into focus, what to emphasise in all its flux – techniques that would be made much use of by photographers in the future, but not yet; not, in fact, until cameras had been evolved into something like those we have at our disposal today!

By the time I had worked my way around the whole of the exhibition, my overriding sense was that, by the end of his career, Degas had reached a tremendously important place on the road to understanding how to set about depicting reality through art; perhaps an ironic conclusion to draw in a time when the photographic image was reaching its pre-eminence, and that was the realisation that capturing “realism and sense of actuality” did not rely utterly on achieving photographic precision.  In later years, his work took on much more of a painterly quality, his brush and pastel strokes became more fluid, he often used his fingers, there are zigzags and squiggles and layer applied over layer, you can see by close scrutiny of his work that this is more about applying colour and light in the appropriate places then seeking to convey reality with his earlier draughtsmanship and slavish adherence to visual accuracy.  Instead, an altogether new kind of accuracy comes into being in these later works – a tangible sense of the experiential “actuality” that Degas is working hard to convey. My two resounding favourites of this ilk, in this exhibition, were the pastel works “Three dancers, blue skirts, red bodices” c.1903 and “Three dancers in violet tutus” c.1896: in these and other pastel-studies from around the same time, the sense of reality is all about the light that emanates from the dresses, from the tones of the skin – and where light-reality is achieved in a work of art then “a sense of actuality” must follow. The effect is of “capturing all of the scattered light in the room and the countless localised movements of dancers’ limbs and their skirts” (quote: RA) and through these devices he succeeds in capturing “movement in its exact truth”.  This is something far beyond what the camera – either then or now – can even begin to capture.  It relies on the artist’s multi-faceted perception of what he is seeing, something that consists of much more than just visual data and which includes a deep and unforgettable sense of what he is experiencing so that he can translate that into something that is far more experiential than a photograph, in the strictest sense, can ever be. It involves incorporating something of the subjective: and that is what art is all about!

On this line of thought, one of the most fascinating diversions of the exhibition is on the subject of photosculpture, a phenomenon that I had never come across before but which seems to have taken Paris by storm during Degas’s lifetime at the hands of an enterprising individual called François Willème.  The process involved taking 24 simultaneous photographs of the subject from multiple angles on a 180 degree circuit and then using a projected image and a pantograph to trace the features onto a block of clay which, by hand, would be sculptured into what would be a remarkably exact three-dimensional likeness.  You can imagine how the facility to have yourself or your dearest immortalised as a near-exact sculpture would have taken off at the time – in fact, I was a little taken aback that I hadn’t come across this before and at the fact that (as I have now confirmed) there seems to be so very little information available about M.Willème and his remarkable process, for instance there is no page on this, as yet, on Wikipedia!  Filling in the gap, this exhibition includes images of the various stages of the process taking place including the interior of Willème’s studio with row upon row of photosculptures on display in the long gallery leading to the cupola where the subject would be positioned for their photo-shots, of the subject held in exact position by various contraptions for the length of time it took for these to be taken and of the image being projected onto the clay as it was shaped.  The exhibition also highlights that, whilst startlingly exact, these photosculptures were often regarded as somewhat sterile by some; they were photographic in the sense that they were accurate to the nth degree but there was also a complete absence of whatever quality it is that makes an artistic representation of a person appear “real” in the truest sense.

Degas’s own sculpture “Little Dancer of Fourteen Years”, also in the exhibition (and the largest sculpture he ever attempted, made originally in wax and, much later, cast in bronze), conveys far more of the essence of the living figure than a photosculpture ever could; the girl’s expression and demeanour are rather more idiosyncratic than the glassy-gaze and frozen posture of those mass-produced likenesses of a decade earlier.  From the girl’s almost defiantly up-tilted chin to the wrinkles in her stockings, there is an unnerving sense of reality to this figure which only the bronze tone of her skin belies, made all the more eerie by the fact she is dressed in a real tutu and wearing an actual silk bow in her hair.  It is interesting that, in preparing to carry out the sculpture, something he was far less experienced at than painting, Degas chose to meticulously sketch his model in the chosen pose from a multitude of angles in a full circle; a collection of sketches which the exhibition has gone to some lengths to pull together for the purpose of demonstrating Degas’s methodology on this occasion.  In other words, he borrowed a technique which he must have been familiar with from the work of certain photographers of the time, including the likes of Etienne-Jules Marey, who experimented with taking multiple shots of people in motion, birds in flight, horses galloping…and his own head photographed in a full circle; and, in effect, the same technique utilised by photo sculpture. Degas could see the merit of these photographic procedures and could draw upon them for his own use as a basis for what he set out to achieve and yet far more crucial to his art-process was the contribution of his own subjective viewpoint; that is, his interpretation of what he saw and his expression of what this dancer was all about, down to the minutest nuance of her being. In other words, Degas could draw upon the very latest photographic procedures, take the best of them as he found them useful but what came out of the combining of this with his own talent for interpreting what he saw, what he experienced, what he felt when all of these living, breathing, moving beings were in front of him, inspiring him to his art, was something far beyond the capacity of the humble camera.

All of these perceived limitations of what photography was capable of achieving would come to be challenged, of course, as the marching of time brought with it the moving-picture, the possibility of reproducing colour, the ability to capture nuances of light, to tweak and to play with photographic images in ways that were beyond imagination in Degas’s day.  Yet, even with all we have at our disposal today, with the massive and ongoing advancement in photographic technology, there are still limits to what a photograph can do, what it can really capture when it comes to the essence of an experience and this is something that I not only contend with daily but which inspires me to pursue art at all because, if it were not so, photography would serve all of my purposes.

And this is really the point where I arrive at what, in essence, drew me to this exhibition and what has filled me with so much ferment of expectation in the run-up to it.  Is it that there are – and always will be – limits to the degree of “reality” that can be captured by the camera, that there are elements of that reality that are lost, deadened, the moment the camera freeze-frames an impression of what can be seen by virtue of the fact that a whole layer of human perception is lost somewhere along the way?  Is this something that Degas saw for himself with ever increasing clarity and which – perhaps – has nothing to do with the limitations of photographic technology at the time he was working (or even now) but which was, and is, a more fundamental limitation of photography of which he was aware and which places art at an advantage?

Why is it that, however much I use photography, and regardless of the ever-refined possibility of achieving a sense of “reality” through photographic art with today’s technology, do I still regard this as somehow second-rate in terms of reproducing an authentic record of (my) experience?  Why do I still feel that I can only use photography that has been manipulated and then, ideally, painted-from to recreate what I regard to be a true and intense, experiential record of reality as I recollect it? As I progressed through this exhibition and charted Degas’s own mixed relationship with the photography of his times, I sensed that he reached a similar conclusion, in the end, to the one that I wrestle with all the time as someone who both photographs and paints. Whilst drawing on much in the way of technique that evolved straight out of the photographic advances of his time, his feelings towards photography seem to have been somewhat mixed to the very end.

In fact, I learned from the exhibition that Degas only purchased his first camera in 1895 at the age of 61 following which, admittedly, he is said to have become a bit of a fanatic (but then, so am I).  However, his regular exposure to photography, to photographers, to the techniques that were evolving, is something that was happening as early as 1867 and this led to him being both intrigued by photography and a little scathing about it, in almost equal proportions, for much of his life.  What I see from his work is, as much as anything, an element of almost setting himself up in competition with photography as much as he was embracing it; a sort of “what you can do, I can do better” stance.  Certainly, it looks as though he picked up a great many odds and ends of what he was learning from the photographers and then consciously made this knowledge applicable to his art, using it to great effect: including the methodology of taking images from all angles and putting them all together, of capturing one shot after another in quick succession and putting these together to gain a sense of motion, or blurring this and focusing that to achieve dynamic contrast, of drawing the eye across panoramic scenes in which a very pronounced use of scale and a variety of figures engaged in a variety of actions is used to draw the eyes in and convince them that the scene is one of great animation. Yet these are all devices, mere tools (and he know this!) and it is what he then contributes to the composition from the very depths of his great skill, through the use of his very personal powers of perception, that makes all the different, adding  that all-important something that the camera simply cannot capture.

Like Degas, and whilst I use photography on a daily basis, I have been aware for some time that what I am striving towards is the very same “vivid realism” that was his goal and that this is not the same as photographic realism. Also like Degas, I am prepared to use what photography can now do (and that is considerably more than it could do when he was alive) as my tool; a method by which I can capture something of the essence of the moment as my starting point to which I add my own experiential recollection of that moment, my interpretation of what it was that I saw and felt. Photography alone is not enough and the ability to supply the difference is where I find my purpose as an artist.

The main difference in intention is that Degas went off in search of the human figure in motion and maybe that was a reflection of the times; the very themes of popular art being as humanly-focussed as they were in his day.  To quote Marey, the moving form was deemed to be the pre-eminent thing upon which to concentrate your attention because “Motion is the most apparent characteristic of life”.  For my own part, my preoccupation is with all that is happening in this world almost in spite of human existence; the myriad colour changes, moments of intensity and explosions of light that would still take place if there was no one here to perceive them….although the very subjective perception of what I depict is what brings the human-element into the picture.

On the other hand, Degas’s reason for choosing the living, physical form as his subject may have come down to nothing more than a fluke resulting from the limitations of his day: in reaching for a new level of realism with the newly-available techniques of photography at his disposal, where else could he focus his attention, given the short-comings of photography at the time? In 1895 he is recorded as saying “What I want is difficult.  The atmosphere of lamps and moonlight”, subjects far outside of the photographic scope of that time. If moon and lamplight had indeed been the focus of his life’s work, just imagine what Degas could have achieved if photography had been at the stage it is at today, an invaluable tool that could have helped him to capture the most transient and elusive qualities of light, the colour-radiance of a winter sunset, the phosphorescence of sunrays though autumn trees, the very last colour-fragmentation of the day as dusk turns to darkness, the unexpected luminescence of blades of grass, fleece of sheep or droplets of water as the sun lowers and shadows lengthen.  Instead, it must have been frustrating indeed for Degas that the photographic lighting of his day – far from being capable of reproducing anything even close to “reality” – had to be laboriously stage-managed and was invariably unnatural. Degas himself attempted numerous domestic interior shots, with some surprising success, at a time when it was typical to have to set up studio conditions to take even the most basic of photos and so the prospect of capturing the subtleties of moonlight, lamplight, indeed any kind of ambient light, was a very long way out of reach during his lifetime.

Not so for me! My preoccupation, for some time, has been the capturing of those fleeting moments of special ambiance, of sun glow and light fragmentation, moments when the nuances of colour taken on by very familiar things defy the expectations of the mind so that the “reality” of what you see adopts an altogether unreal quality; an event which, in real life, can be so fleeting as to make you question what your eyes tell you.  With the help of a camera, I can record something of those moments, broken down into the building blocks of colour spectrum, so as to see how they happen in much the same way as Degas studied how movement happened and then, with the aid of digital technology and my own recollection, I can work my way back to something of the experience and use that as the basis of my art.  Just imagine what could have resulted if Degas had been able to go off in pursuit of light with the same singular determination with which he pursued movement; inevitably, I’m left wondering whether the ballet would have been such a predominant theme if he’d had modern photographic technology – and the whole theatre of nature –  at his disposal.

To recap, from the very first moment that I read the blurb, I just knew that I was going to find this exhibition hugely relevant to my own creative journey and I was right.  Visiting the exhibition clarified something that I have long suspected at a very deep level; that the attainment of “photographic reality” (supposed perfection in reproductive terms; the holy grail for those who pursue photography in its own right) – rather than competing with or negating what I do – only serves to highlight all that is absent from such mirror-like replication of “what is”.  As such, my own the artistic pursuit of all that  cannot be captured by photography has been injected with more purpose and resolve than ever – in short, the more I take photographs, the more I find I need to paint!

This was not quite the vindication that I hoped to bring home from the exhibition, the thumbs up to using photography as part of my process simply because “Degas said it was alright to use photography to paint from so that means it’s an acceptable practice for me too”. Rather, I seem to have brought home with me a much more substantial vindication of the very philosophy that lies at the heart of my use of photography as a rather crucial tool in my bag of tricks, one which enables me to learn from what I see, break it down into components and rebuild it – although crucially adding my own subjective sense of reality as I see it into the whole to create something that is quite beyond photography.  Herein lies my very purpose as an artist.

Everybody’s take on an exhibition such as this is going to be different and, to many, the “Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement” exhibition  – whilst fascinating or visually appealing – may not hold the abundant relevance that it has had, on a very personal level, for me and yet I would still urge anyone that can – with just a couple of weeks left to go – to get there if they have half a mind to as there is such a huge amount to be enjoyed.  Through visiting this exhibition myself, I have gained a far greater sense of the coherence of my own processes than ever before and feel newly motivated to continue striving along a route that I had lost some momentum along of late  –  and with quite a way to go before I get anywhere close to achieving what Degas did in his career, the fact that I have a far better sense of direction as a result of visiting this exhibition is the best accolade that I can give it.  Now, if that doesn’t make a strong case for every practising artist taking time-out to visit such retrospective exhibitions whenever they can in order to more closely scrutinise the very evolution of the art modalities we have all inherited, then I don’t know what does!

“Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement” runs until 11th December.

All images of Degas giclee prints inserted as links into this post [excepting the linked-exhibition image  ‘Three Dancers (Blue Skirts, Red Bodices)’ from the Royal Academy website] can be purchased  from http://www.allposters.co.uk.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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