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The Courtauldian

c/o The Students’ Union

The Courtauld Institute of Art

Vernon Square, 

Penton Rise,

London

WC1X 9EW

the.courtauldian@courtauld.ac.uk

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Illustration by Author 

 

‘Hero-worshipping’ is a slavish and degenerate way of living dismissed by many of us as far beneath our contempt, and rightly so. Yet, at the same time, some fellow humans appear to us to be constituted of sheer luminous stardust only; they are magnetic, enticing, enigmatically witty, clever, curious, confident, and always content and successful in a restless and necessarily doomed manner. David Bowie (or Jones, if you like) was an extraordinary creature that somehow changed many of us by being, not unlike Our Saviour Christ, both larger than life and omnipotent on the one hand, and closer to us and more fragile than anyone else on the other. Having mentioned Christ and Bowie, why not make this a trinity and add to this short list of super-humans the Neo-classical architect John Soane? At this point even the atheists will declare I blasphemed, namely by putting here this dusty old classicist next to the Thin White Duke - but keep your torches and pitchforks please, I will prove you unutterably wrong.

 

Both Bowie and Soane were well-travelled but essentially English autodidacts; both escaped partial blindness due to successful operations on the eye; both disliked organised religion and other forms of mindless tastelessness; and on both their shoulders a black-star shone in the midst of January. Both were remarkable in their life, love and death. But their true prodigy only manifests itself in after-death.

 

For those of you concerned with creating a lasting legacy for yourselves, here follows the only legitimate advice there is. Keep this secret to yourself, don’t pass it on. I never do. In November 1836, just two months before his death Soane (who spent years of his life as a lecturer in the Strand Block of Somerset House - that is, for your information, where you got this paper from) sealed up 3 separate repositories, instructing that they should not be opened until the 50th, 70th and 80th anniversaries of his wife's death, which says a lot about the dear man. By sealing up …(I Can’t Give Everything Away, but I will tell you they included a masonic apron and a pair of false teeth) he ensured continuing interest in them and himself many years after his death. Not long ago we learned that Bowie prepared a number of songs to be released after his death. Can we wait to discover their contents? No, and nor could Soane’s public in his time.

 

Finally, Soane wished to be put underground ‘plain and without ostentation or parade’. Bowie was secretly cremated without any of his family or friends present. Fans (short for ‘fanatics’) and fellow-travellers crave somewhat lugubriously for celebrating the death of public figures with an abundance of histrionic fanfare, dropping haloes on skulls that look perfectly fine without; these two gentleman-artists, however, shuffled off their mortal coils in the shadows of the spotlight, jumped past the threshold silently and quickly slipped into that unknowable night with dignity. The ugliness of death and vanity never managed to touch the hem of their reputation’s robe, and the beauty of their artistic output survived with treats planted in the future to keep the masses on their toes; and thus they hoodwinked The Hooded One, really made Death look like a real stinker in his own game, without any apparent effort. It is that quality of humble ingeniousness that makes posterity tick. Ay, that’s The Legacy Trick.

 

This article was written for the December/January edition for the paper.  It features content appropriate to the intended date of publication, and hence it might not be possible to visit or see the events/objects mentioned anymore. We apologise for the delay in the publication of the article.

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