William Blake Room, Tate Britain, London

Listening to paintings

Have you ever sat listening in an art gallery? No? Then I highly recommend that you give it a try. 

First of all, it’s deliciously subversive. You can bet that you are the only listener in a room full of lookers. You will hear the odd word as people discuss the art, sotto voce. Can you tell by listening who’s confident in what they are saying and who’s not sure? Can you tell who’s genuinely captivated by the art and who’s just read the book, done the course and parroted an opinion?

People who are moved by art SOUND different. They move and speak in a different way, their attention held outwards and inwards at the same time. They even sit or stand still in a different way, a way that has a quiet reverence about it. Try it and you will hear what I mean.

Before you ask, yes, I listen to paintings. Many of them, if not most of them, are unlistenable. Very few painters know how to paint for the ears, but some do. That’s one of the reasons I like it in the Blake room so much. We take Blake out of context now, with his plates and prints peered at in art galleries and his words prodded at in books. But his songs were intended to be sung and his prophecies were intended to be intoned and the images in his illuminated books were intended to represent the energies of his words in spiritual form.

If you get into this, try listening to Blake’s words. What you do see? Then, try his art. What do you hear? Do let me know.

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