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The Art of Reading

Part 2

In contrast, John Constable's drawing of his daughter, Emily, lying on a sofa, leads us away from notions of discipline and duty and highlights the less arduous pleasures of reading – reading as leisure and escapism. Shifting from the vertical to the horizontal, Emily finds it difficult to resist the attractions of the book. Her face is so close she could almost kiss the pages. It is an image that plays on the distinct element of eroticism inherent in many depictions of both men and women reading. Perhaps this is due to the voyeuristic pleasure of looking at somebody distracted, somebody unaware of your gaze.

Books also have their uses when the artist requires his or her subject to sit still for some time. In another drawing by Constable, this time of a young man, the sitter, with the aid of a book, literally becomes a still life. His attention is so consumed by the words he reads that his body appears drained of life: his shoulders slouch forward, his right hand uselessly dangles between his legs and his mouth dumbly gapes. It is a drawing that speaks of silence and of a consciousness transported to another time and place.

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