Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

SO Ivan Massow (chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts) thinks conceptual art is rubbish. Oh dear. According to Pliny the Elder (who died investigating the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79), one of the finest paintings in Rome was nothing but a few lines.

According to Pliny, Apelles (fl. c. 330 BC) from the island of Cos `surpassed all painters before and after him. He published volumes on the principles of painting and was modest enough to recognise excellence in others; indeed, he thought Protogenes his equal, except in one respect - that he (Apelles) `knew when to remove his hand from the picture'. He was never so busy that he did not find time every day to practise, by drawing a line. This became a proverb, `No day without a line' (nulla dies sine linea).

Protogenes lived in Rhodes (not far from Cos), and Apelles, who at the time knew his work only by reputation, decided to make a visit. He turned up at Protogenes' studio to find the artist away, but saw that there was a large panel ready for painting, guarded by a single old woman. When the woman asked him who she should say had called, Apelles said, `Say it was this person', took a brush, painted in colour a very fine line on the panel and left. …

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