A few months ago I was delighted to receive a commission from the South East of Scotland faculty of the Royal College of General Practitioners. The remit was to create a painting on the theme of the Scottish Enlightenment, and how that period of history relates to General Practice. It was a challenge I was very happy to investigate, particularly after looking into that theme when I did my residency with the National Trust for Scotland at Newhailes - that house was a hub for the big thinkers of the time.
I'm not a great fan of wordy artist statements, but this painting demanded a lot a specific elements and metaphors, so I thought that the recipients at the RCGP would be interested in how the painting came together:
The Pursuit of Natural Knowledge, detail
The central theme is not so much about birdlife but rather the nests are a metaphor for the ideas of incubation, structure and safety. Their representation seems to sum up:
• the three geographic areas of the faculty
• the germination, nurture and propagation of research, of ideas and of fledgling GPs
• the three areas encompassing the time of Scottish Enlightenment as itemised on the prescription (which seem as relevant today as back then).
Of the great thinkers and scientists who rocked the world at this time, medical men seem to have been a bit overlooked or forgotten. (There is of course no record of legitimised medical women!) However, the one man who stands out was an Edinburgh Professor, Dr William Cullen, whose tome "First Lines of the Practice of Physic" was ground-breaking and apparently much followed.
I learnt recently through Ed Russell-Smith that a lamp forms part of the RCGP's coat of arms. Although I could not contrive to include this image in the painting, my starting point for making this piece was to create something that had a glowing, illuminated appearance and a sense of the historical alongside 21st century clinical challenges. Looking into the general ethos of the time of the Scottish Enlightenment, I came across the definition "The pursuit of natural knowledge". This seemed to encompass the painting and so gave it a title.
Thank you to James Mayhew, author and illustrator, for all his generous advice at a National Gallery Of Scotland Masterclass. Have a look at his fantastic blog: http://james-mayhew-author-illustrator.blogspot.co.uk
And a quote I saw in last week's paper seemed to sum up a piece of his wise advice:
Random jottings with plenty pictures and little writing.
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