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Capturing Thought in Art – ‘A First Brush With Philosophy’

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Staff writer Nia Simeonova reflects on “A First Brush With Philosophy”, an incredibly unique experience where you get painted while having a deep philosophical discussion.

POV: You’re deep in conversation about how dreams emerge, what makes them valuable, how a dream differs from reality and “why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Dumbledore, 1998). As if such a situation is not rare enough, “A First Brush with Philosophy” places an experienced artist a few feet away from you and your partner. And while the two of you chat away, trying to solve a fascinating philosophical puzzle, the artist captures the so-called “aha moment”. When I saw the ad, I just couldn’t resist signing up.

“A First Brush With Philosophy” took place between 12-18 October in Bush House. As I arrived, I was greeted by my philosopher-friend and Kate Linden, the artist who was going to draw me. Soon we were discussing the essence of love and whether making a moral judgement upon it can be justified. Is love moral? I noticed that while being invested in the discussion, I was still very much aware of being seen and, in fact, portrayed. That actually made me more precise in what I was trying to say. At times it almost felt like performing.

Later, I talked to Dr. Vanessa Brassey, both a philosopher and an artist, who first came up with this multi-dimensional and truly interdisciplinary idea. She shared the main intentions behind the series with me; the clarity and comfort that philosophy can provide. In fact, the first edition took place over lockdown and aimed to connect people at a time when everyone was looking for a deeper sense of human intimacy.

But what makes this series so unique is the resulting art. The portraits are dynamic and one can really see the beauty of contemplation coming through. I was curious to find out what artists keep an eye on during the process of sketching. Kate shared with me that while the aha moment was key to the process, she also looks for moments when the puzzle topic comes through on the face of the person being drawn. Apart from creating impressive portraits of their subjects, Vanessa tells me, the artists are also trained in providing mental health support.

While I was having my second conversation, this time about dreams, it struck me how rarely we get to talk to a stranger on such a deeply meaningful level and even share our innermost thoughts. We are never really given the time and space to delve into a subject in that way. “A First Brush With Philosophy” sets out to provide a challenge, comfort, meaning and connection to participants while turning their reflections into art. As I am sure the portraits will soon confirm, it does that beautifully.

If I were you, I’d keep an eye on The Centre for Philosophy and Art’s website for the next edition of “A First Brush With Philosophy”. Until then, check out their other up-coming initiatives here.

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