First published in The Guardian, 29 October 2014.
Einstein had a good line: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”
In the early 1400s, Donatello carved and cast the first large-scale, free-standing statues since the fall of the Roman empire. Why did it take so long? As always, there are some fairly valid reasons – relief sculpture (shapes carved in shallow relief from a plane surface) is ideally suited to architectural projects, which were the main source of sculptural commissions. It’s a hell of a lot easier to depict complicated scenes in relief. Try carving a battle scene in the round – how much more marble do you have to carve, and waste? How much more time and energy do you have to expend? Also, the problems of weight and balance, critical in freestanding sculptures, don’t arise with reliefs. But still, Donatello did it. Someone else could have, but didn’t. For nearly a thousand years. What the…?
I think it’s hard, in an age of mass media, to conceive of how difficult it is to think outside the box; the internet, in particular, makes it seem that there is no box. As a kid I was baffled by regional schools of painting in 14th and 15th century Italy. Why did artists in the same city have similar styles? Why couldn’t they just do what they wanted, something completely different? As a kid I was also baffled why Scooby Doo and Shaggy got so scared every single episode when they had seen hundreds of similar supernatural incidents, all of which turned out to be bogus. Life can be confusing for children.
Nevertheless, Donatello did manage to think outside the box. The cartoon shows him trying, and subconsciously sabotaging himself. This happens more often than you might think. Michelangelo was hired to paint the floor of the Sistine Chapel but his father was a famous floor painter and Michelangelo had severe paternal issues.
The cartoon above is a bit different from the one that actually appeared in the Guardian (see here). I have changed it (hopefully for the better), along with a few others, for my NEW BOOK. Yes, that’s right – Virgin Books are publishing a collection of my artoons, called “Peter Duggan’s Artoons” (rimshot) – an essential item for anyone who aspires to have a meaningful existence. There’s a bunch of brand new, never-before-seen cartoons in there as well. It comes out on October the 29th. If you can’t wait till then you can pre-order it on Amazon UK here or Amazon US here.
If you are French and can’t read what I am writing don’t worry. A French version will be published by Flammerian in Spring 2016.