ESSAY Katya Johnson

NWR Issue 118

On The Endurance of Art

When we think of art, we imagine something vulnerable and precious: slender canvases with cracking trompe l’oeil surfaces, sculptured torsos with shattered limbs, the faded vellum pages of illuminated manuscripts. The unenviable task of conserving this body of artworks falls to the lot of museum curators, conservators and librarians. For the conservatorium and museum staff, the duty of care is a daily battle against time and a number of external factors which threaten to impinge upon the highly policed body of the artwork. Measures to mitigate damage may result in low-level gallery lighting, restricted access or cosmetic intervention. Within this paradigm of seeing, the work of art is a liability whose vulnerability is something that needs to be constantly defended. Like the pickled body of a long-dead dictator, the embalmed and timeless body of the artwork enjoys its artificially extended life thanks to considerable behind-the-scenes effort. This essay puts forward another view: that of the endurance of art, its independence and ability to persist against the odds, dodge bombs and outwit human history...

Katya Johnson is a PhD candidate in Creative and Critical Writing at Aberystwyth University and works as a part-time teacher at the university’s School of Art. Her research interests include ecology and art history, and explore ways in which human identity is shaped by our environment and creative processes. Katya’s critical work and fiction writing has been published by New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Coeval 10 and New Writing. She was awarded the runner-up fiction prize for the 2017 Terry Hetherington Young Writer’s Award and first prize, for fiction, in this year’s Terry Hetherington Award. This is an edited extract from ‘On the Endurance of Art’, Katya’s highly commended entry to the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018 Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection, awarded this summer.

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previous essay: Darkness and Light: Liverpool Imagined
next essay: What Grandfather's Secretly Want: In the Shadow of the Mines


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