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Personal Identity And The Art Of The West

14 January 2021 - 16 February 2023

Recorded sessions - 90 minutes each

£50.00 – £225.00

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Sessions are recorded and 90 minutes duration. Joining instructions on acceptance of booking.


This short series of lectures suggests that the notion of personal identity ‐ the sense of ‘me’ or ‘I’ that we all think and feel ‐ is not a natural and permanent phenomenon but a psycho‐social construction that has evolved over many centuries.

While this subject has been much discussed as a philosophical issue, these lectures will explore how the notion of a personal self is accommodated in cultural and material conventions, especially the convention of art appreciation.

"Andrew is very knowledgeable and the outings on his previous series were an added bonus. It is such a privilege to learn with someone like Andrew."

Course Outline

Lecture 1 – The Communal Identity Of The Church & The Emergence Of Feeling.The 13th and 14th Centuries.

The first lecture will set the stage by exploring how medieval societies revolved around a sense of communal identity under the protection of the church. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Christians were expected to reverse the effects of ‘original sin’ by conforming to the precepts of the church ‐ for instance, by partaking of the sacraments. However, in the 13th century, a legitimisation of the experience of personal feeling began to occur, as reflected in art works that were clearly intended to move individual viewers emotionally. As a result, an emotional dimension of self‐hood was gradually established as a cultural convention. This lecture will show how the process unfolded, over many years, with numerous illustrations.

Lecture 2 – The Status Of The Artist.The 15th and 16th Centuries.

The second lecture will explain how, during the renaissance, the elevation of painting from the level of a ‘craft’ to that of an ‘art’ reflected the emergence of a completely new capacity for creative imagination in its makers and viewers. This shift in the scope of painting corresponded to the emergence of the ‘artist’ as an archetype of personal creativity. It is reflected in the development of perspective, the secularisation of the subject matter of art; the development of ‘academies’ of art and many other innovations.

Lecture 3 – Rooms And Chattels: Changing Environments And Behaviours.The 17th and 18th Centuries.

The third lecture will show how the archetype of ‘personal identity’, elevated to the level of an ideal by ‘art’, was interiorised by individuals to such an extent that it pervaded the environment and life‐styles of individuals. It was so taken for granted that it became unnoticeable. Its presence, however, is reflected in the development of such phenomena as private studies and boudoirs, bedrooms and mirrors; but it is also reflected in new activities such as the writing and reading of letters and novels, and walking in the countryside.

Lecture 4 – The Emergence Of Modern Technology.The 19th Century.

The fourth lecture will show how, as modern technology developed, the uniqueness of objects was replaced by uniformity and regularity to the extent that the experience of individuals was increasingly homogenised. This was largely due to the development of printing and the mechanisation of the production of goods.

Lecture 5 – The Science Of The Mind.The 20th and 21st Centuries.

The fifth lecture will explore how the discipline of psychology emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in an attempt to understand the mind not as a function of personal identity but as a manifestation of objective laws, like other functions in nature. This enquiry was paralleled by numerous experiments in the arts and sciences, including the development of abstraction in painting, and is reflected in the architecture of modernism all over the world.


14 January 2021
16 February 2023
£50.00 – £225.00
Course Category:


RECORDED sessions online (full details on acceptance of booking)
United Kingdom


Andrew Spira
Our Lecturers


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