12 Nebamun: the lesson of looking
What makes the Nebamun paintings stand out for us is the comparatively subtle modifications wrought by the ancient artists on a given register of canonical subjects and forms. These changes – wrought for reasons we may never fully understand – but unmistakeable nonetheless, happen to make them particularly vivid and engrossing to our eyes, despite our being encultured into a vastly different scopic regime.
Watch this video in which Richard Parkinson and Paul Wood talk about our engagement with the paintings in the British Museum.
One of the miracles of ‘art’ is that we can perform these leaps across chasms of time and space. But we have to remain constantly aware that we are making those leaps, otherwise we plunge into the abyss of believing everyone everywhere to be reflections of ourselves, reinforcements for our own rightness. Quite the reverse, by learning to read ancient art, we should be empowered to relativise our own prejudices, our own apparently ‘natural’ assumptions about art and life, which themselves more often than not are conventional too.