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Alexander Stoddart: Culture as Communion with the Dead

Podcast 2nd June 2021

  • a stoddart Alexander Stoddart
a stoddart
Our Guest Alexander Stoddart

Alexander Stoddart is a Visitor of Ralston College. He is a sculptor, architect, and philosopher of aesthetics. He is the Queen's Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland, a position he has held since 2008. His neoclassical sculptures and friezes can be found on the Royal Mile of Edinburgh, at Princeton, Oxford, Buckingham Palace, and in many other famous institutions of the West.

“In the twentieth century we forgot about the dead, paid little heed to the yet-to-be-born, and just concentrated on ourselves. That’s why the West went terribly philistine: because it gave up on culture. Culture is above all a communion with the dead.”

In Part II of their discussion Stephen Blackwood and Alexander Stoddart speak about the transhistorical community of past, present, and future. Stoddart explicates his Schopenhauerian view of art as life-denying and thus paradoxically able to help us relinquish our own will to power. He contrasts this view with that of a shallow presentism, a self-absorbed modernist outlook that views the present as inherently superior to both past and future, cutting off its own vital resources and neglecting its fundamental obligations. Stoddart shows another way.

Artists, Art, and Writings Mentioned in this Episode:

Br’er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Arthur Schopenhauer
Jean-Paul Sartre
Michel Foucault
Friedrich Nietzsche
Walter Scott
Richard Wagner
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Charles Dickens
Walter Pater
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Buddhas of Bamiyan
Trajan's Forum
The Colosseum
Bartolomeo Colleoni Monument
The Shard of London
Albert Speer’s Volkshalle ("People's Hall")
T. S. Eliot: “Four Quartets”
Gone with the Wind, House of Tara (Antebellum architecture)
Richard James Wyatt:
Lincoln Memorial
John Flaxman: Am I Not a Man
Thomas Banks profile of Thomas Muir of Huntershill (https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/artists/thomas-banks)
Edgar Degas
Paul Cézanne
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The Acropolis
Statue of Tyche and Plutus in Istanbul
Statue of Liberty
Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro
Mount Rushmore

Video Timeline

  • 2:00 – Stoddart’s beginnings
  • 5:13 – Relationship between time and eternity in sculpture
  • 11:10 – Present, past, and future in art
  • 14:58 – The impulse of iconoclasm
  • 22:05 – Idolatry of the present
  • 26:32 – Iconoclasm as amnesia
  • 30:11 – Stoddart’s other artistic interests
  • 37:54 – Monuments and the sins of the past
  • 45:34 – Dying and life-affirmation
  • 50:03 – How to have a fruitful relationship with the past
  • 1:00:13 – How to fight despair through sculpture
  • 1:06:17 – Advice for young people making things



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