John-Paul Stonard ‘The Creation Art Talks’

DR JOHN-PAUL STONARD is an art historian, author, artist, curator and lecturer. He trained as a painter, before studying art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, completing a doctoral degree in 2005. His book Creation. Art Since the Beginning was published by Bloomsbury in 2021, and was selected as a Sunday Times Art Book of the Year. In the same year his acclaimed history of the art collection at Chatsworth House, Chatsworth, Arcadia, Now was published by Penguin Books. Stonard’s previous books include (as editor and contributor) The Books that Shaped Art History, and the catalogues to the exhibitions Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation (Tate, 2014), and Germany Divided: Baselitz and his Generation (British Museum 2014). His first book Fault Lines: Art in Germany 1945-55 was published by Ridinghouse Press in 2007. He lives and works in London and Suffolk.



Dr John-Paul Stonard


The Creation Art Talks 2024, THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF ART, offer a captivating voyage through the history of art, reaching back to the earliest images made by our ancestors, tracing the story through to the present day. Each lecture will take as its starting point a single work of art, using this image as the key to unlock a different era of human image-making. From ancient Egypt to Song Dynasty China, and from prehistoric Africa to modern-day Mexico City, the the CAT talks will trace connections between works of art made all around the world, by different cultures at different stages in human history. Together these works will help us to understand why for forty thousand years humans have made images — why we make works of art.

Underlying the lecture series is the idea of the ‘lives’ and ‘afterlives’ of works of art. Artworks live in the moment in which they are made and first appreciated, but also change over time, and are subject to history, and also natural degradation, which can often change their meanings. The story told in these lectures is one of the life and afterlife of works of art: the creation of works of art in the minds and hand of artists, and their recreation in the minds and memories of those who encounter them in their time after their first creation. This story is told through four major themes, Animals, Gods, Nature and Ideas, each of which roughly shapes the subject of two lectures.

Each lecture will last around 60 minutes and will be followed by a Q&A.

1 (Wednesday 10th April) THE HUNTER IN THE STARS

IMAGE: The Swimming Reindeer, mammoth ivory, 13,000 years ago. British Museum.

We begin with the origins of art in the images projected into the night sky by our earliest ancestors. How and why did we first images patterns of stars as the forms of animals, and how did we arrive at the idea of the Zodiac? And why was it only with the first great migration out of Africa that humans begin carving and painting images, creating the earliest surviving works of art? And what does it mean that for the first thirty thousand years of image making, there was only one subject — animals? We take the story up to around 10,000 years ago, setting the scene for the story of art to come.

  1. (Wednesday 17th April) ANIMAL IMAGINATION

IMAGE: Scythian golden stag, gold. Seventh century AD, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

We continue with the theme of animals, as we look at the images that arose from the first settled human societies, of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. With settled agricultural and pastoral forms of human life, the long tradition of animal imagery was pushed to the peripheries. We look at the afterlife of animals in the art of the plain and islands, from ancient Scythia to the ‘barbarian’ art of Celtic and pre-Christian Europe, to the art of the Northwest Pacific Coast of America. How did images of animals fare in the new era of civilisation — and what has been the legacy of animal imagery in our own times?

  1. (Wednesday 24th April) IMAGES OF THE DIVINE

IMAGE: Buddhapada. Amaravati, 2nd century AD. British Museum

How do you make in image of something you have never seen? How do you make images of invisible things? This was the dilemma facing the first religious artists, those charged with the task of making images that would become the focus for worship of the gods. What role did the images of art and architecture play in the rise of world religions? This lecture will look at the different forms of imagery and visual experience in the polytheism of the first city states, and in the religious images of ancient Greece, India and ancient Mesopotamia.

  1. (Wednesday 1st May) SPIRIT OF THE MOUNTAINS

IMAGE: Fan Kuan, Travellers Among Mountains and Streams, early 11th century. National Palace Museum, Taipei.

In this lecture we look at how in different parts of the world the task of representing the otherworldly, the invisible forces of divinity, were represented, in terms of nature in China and Japan, and in the words and images of Islamic decoration. How did invisible forces, not only a feeling for the natural world, but sound and light themselves, come to shape the images and architecture that provided the setting and backdrop for religion? And what has been the legacy of these forces in our own age? If the origins of the images of art were in religious experience, has art itself become a religion?

  1. (Wednesday 8th May) THE HUMAN MEASURE

Image: Giotto, The Lamentation, c.1303-1306. Arena Chapel, Padua.

The idea of a ‘Renaissance’, of the ‘rebirth’ of the art and literature of the Greek and Roman age, has dominated our thinking of the art of the 1400s and 1500s in Italy and Northern Europe, as part of a wider ‘rediscovery’ of natural appearances in the work of artists from Giotto in the south to Dürer in the north. But how much was it a break with the past, and how much was the work of artists during this period in Europe in fact an innovation?

  1. (Wednesday 15th May) THE ART OF REAL LIFE

Image: Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656. Prado Museum, Madrid.

This lecture examines the currents of realism in painting during the seventh-century in Europe, contrasting two great works, both in their own way summaries of the art of painting: Johannes Vermeer’s The Art of Painting, c.1666 and Las Meninas, c.1656 by Velázquez. What made this new great realism of painting, in the works of artists from Caravaggio to Rembrandt, possible? And what was the legacy of this realism in the art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? We will look at works by Constable, Adolf Menzel, and finish with Edouard Manet’s great painting Un bar aux Folies-Bergère, 1882.

  1. (Wednesday 22nd May) AN IMAGE OF THE MIND

IMAGE: Cézanne, Les Grandes Baigneuses, 1898-1905. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In this lecture we launch into the art of modern times, and the simple idea that art became a form of philosophy — a representation of the human mind, and the processes of seeing and thinking. We look at the origins of this revolution in the work of Paul Cézanne, and trace the story through the work of four major artists: Picasso, Matisse, and Mondrian. But what were the alternatives to this story of Modernism, and how has it been revised in the ‘Afterlife’ of modern art?

  1. (Wednesday 29th May) TIME REGAINED

IMAGE: Rachel Whiteread, House, 1993. Destroyed.

The history of art is full of rediscoveries of the past — memory plays an important role in the creation and interpretation of works of art. The ‘Renaissance’ has traditionally been seen as the great moment of rediscovery, but we might also say that the rediscovery of prehistory during the nineteenth century was more far-reaching, and had a deeper impact on human life, that we are still witnessing unfold. This lecture examines the theme of memory in contemporary art, and draws many of the themes explored throughout the lectures together. We return to some of the fundamental questions asked along the way — has art become a substitute religion? Why have humans everywhere, always made images? And what might we imagine to be the future of art?