This is my weekly newsletter, Age of Invention, on the causes of the British Industrial Revolution and the history of innovation. You can subscribe here: What’s the point of statues? That’s the title of my latest article, here, for a new online publication called Flink. My argument, in essence, is this: public art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used to be about inculcating virtue, which is something we seem to have forgotten. Public art was explicitly moralising, and not in the subversive way so often seen today, which leads us to question ourselves but rarely gives us answers. Back then, public art was instead meant to inspire. In painting, for example, the most prestigious and public-facing genre was history painting. History painting showed allegorical, mythological, and religious scenes, as well as those from actual history, in order to illustrate the exploits of the great and good, setting an example to us of integrity and public-spiritedness.
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