Conor Walton, Allegory of Wisdom, 2011

Walton has written an eloquent essay on the meaning of this painting on his website, so please accept my apologies for brutishly condensing his words. He explains that the man and the woman here represent two types of wisdom: the man as hunter stands in for the idea that humans are active, striving, and progressing, while the woman is intuitive wisdom, or the “type of knowledge that isn’t willed or chosen but accepted.” The wisdom of humankind today is a combination of these two wisdoms. For centuries our progressive/active wisdom saw Nature’s resources as limitless, but now we are experiencing disharmony because of our abuse of the natural world.

Walton was inspired by a drawing from the Chompollion Expedition of monkeys in the fig tree of Beni-Hassan, where workers harvest figs while monkeys eat. “I was impressed by this calm, civilised image of sharing and peaceful coexistence with the natural world.” The fruit is “a gift of nature, a kind of intuitive wisdom. As the agent of its wisdom, one could say that my Venus/Eve figure is an embodiment of the sensus communis, of Mother Wit, whose lack ‘no school can make good.’”

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