Welcome to the Finding Blake project, where we explore the vision and imagination of artist, poet and mystic William Blake.
Blake was a one-off but he speaks to people across generations, centuries and cultures. And it’s his imagination that speaks to ours, even if we do not always understand or share his vision. For Blake, imagination and vision were central. He explained this in a letter to the Reverend John Trusler in 1799. Trusler had commissioned Blake to illustrate some of his texts but complained about the results as ‘too imaginative’. Blake’s response?
“I feel that a man may be happy in this world. And I know that this world is a world of imagination and vision. I see every thing I paint in this world, but everybody does not see alike. To the eyes of a miser, a guinea is far more beautiful than the Sun, and a bag worn with the use of money has more beautiful proportions than a vine filled with grapes. The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and by these, I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees. […] You certainly mistake, when you say that the visions of fancy are not to be found in this world. To me, this world is all one continued vision of fancy or imagination…”
Why ‘Finding Blake’?
Because we want to re-imagine William Blake for the 21st century. To discover how relevant he and his impassioned vision are for us right now. To understand through our work and encounters on this project that imagination is as crucial to finding our way through the tumult of life today as it was in his own day — and often seems to be in as short supply now as then.
The project is not about creating a definitive, comprehensive account of Blake, his life, times and work. There are many sites offering many insights into Blake in all his guises, and we will share and link to these here.
Finding Blake is about finding some of the multiple ways in which human imaginations today resonate with his and what we can find from these encounters with him, with each other and ourselves.
Our current age needs Blakean vision as much as any generation, facing the great issues and predicaments of the 21st century: social, cultural, environmental, psychological, spiritual and more. As we seek to move beyond the Industrial Age — two centuries after its ascendancy and Blake’s death — in a time of digitalisation and artificial intelligence, plastic oceans and heated atmosphere, political fragmentation and national intolerance, fake news and echo chambers, and our irreversible entry into ‘the Anthropocene’, a new global age shaped by humankind’s past and present actions — we need to reengage imagination as our greatest renewable and life-affirming resource.
On a more pragmatic level, this project arose from the great work being done by others to recognise and honour William Blake. In particular, the new gravestone that is being designed and cut for Blake’s grave in Bunhill Fields, London. Commissioned by the Blake Society, this new stone will be put in place in August 2018 and filming of that ceremony will form part of our project.
Finding Blake is a small but spirited project, taking a few practical steps to explore some Blakean ideas. At its heart are three things:
- We’re creating a three part film, blending documentary, recreations of Blake’s imagery, and a series of interviews with contemporary creatives, doers and scholars from all walks of life who can situate Blake here and now.
- This website will document the process, encounters and learning, and prompt further conversations along the way.
- And the growing network we discover, build and share with other Blake-related activities will spark new ideas and possibilities.
In our conversations with interviewees, new Blakean contacts, and each other, we come back to three questions which capture the essence of the whole project and which we hope this site will encourage us all to consider. And you can share your responses to these same questions — see the sidebar for ideas on how you can get involved:
- How has William Blake influenced you, personally and professionally?
- What examples of his work — poems, engravings, images — or his life resonate with and inspire you?
- How do you feel William Blake is most relevant to the current day: as artist, spiritual visionary, political inspiration?