Robert St.John Smith

The Short

My intention is to use my website to write about both history and art — but not 'Art History'. I am a mature student, currently undertaking an MA in the History of Britain and the First World War at Wolverhampton University. My interests in this period, and what I will be mainly writing about here, are focused on people, technology, experience, and language. For my dissertation, I am researching cartoons drawn by soldiers for soldiers i.e. in trench periodicals such as The WhizzBang! and in ephemera such as journals and autograph books. While the details are being thrashed out, the aim is not only to add to the understanding of how these soldiers saw and processed the world around them, and how humour was an important psychological coping mechanism, but also to build on work related to gender, popular culture, and language.

In terms of art, I challenged myself, back in 2019, to copy one hundred paintings. Due to the emergence of Covid, and having to give up my studio space, I was temporarily stalled but have managed in 2022 to slowly resume this challenge. I have been keeping informal notes and thoughts throughout, such as about the artists I am copying, their use of colour and techniques etc., along with a few thoughts about art in general, which I want to add to this site. I tend to keep my Instagram account devoted to this challenge, along with some of my own artwork, which you can find here.

Contact Me

The Long

I originally intended to take a year out when studying A-Levels as I was unsure at the time what I wanted to do. This year turned into twenty-five as I found success early within the banking industry which led to quite a dry corporate career as a consultant. Not wishing to send anyone to sleep, what I did can be best described as working with and around data and processes. In parallel to this, whenever the opportunity presented itself, I worked in more creative fields such as the film industry, wearing a number of different caps behind the scenes; in other ventures, one of my claims to fame is I had a top 500 chart hit in Finland with the song I Shot a Frenchman at Agincourt — cruelly denied the coveted 480 spot by Kate Bush's Deeper Understanding.

Over the years, the balance between 'dry corporate' and creative leaned more towards the latter and, up until 2019, I was running a jewellery company specialising in cufflinks made from unusual materials — such as the hull of the Cutty Sark or engine blades from the Avro-Vulcan Bomber, as well as undertaking private label work. At its height, we had customers in over 30 countries and we were a finalist in a national business competition run by FedEx.

For reasons I will cover when I start adding the art side to this site, my plan for 2020 was to take a year out from running the jewellery business to spend the time being sensibly poor and learning how to paint... and then Covid hit. Fortunately, having planned to take that year off, I dodged a bullet, and as the crisis unfolded, I came to the realisation that I don't, for the foreseeable future, want to go back to running a business, nor do I want to don the corporate cape of paradigm again.

I have always yearned to undertake a form of academic study, with the caveat that I wanted to do it for the pleasure and pursuit of knowledge alone, without having to worry about any constraints or external pressures. So, with circumstances as they were, and being in the fortunate position to do so, I decided this was the ideal time to do something about it and enrolled on my Masters in 2020.

I was interested in history from a young age and my interest in the First World War began when I picked up a copy of A.J.P. Taylor's The First World War: An Illustrated History as a child. I wasn't able to understand the text at the time, but I became fascinated with the pictures of the machinery, the uniforms, and the scale. As I entered my teens, that interest expanded towards battles and then trying to understand the logistics, movement, and the reasoning behind them. As I got older, I became more interested in the events leading up to the war as well as its aftermath. Currently, my interest is more focused more around people, technology, experience, and language — the latter both in the abstract and the literal sense, especially around memory and interpretation. As well as the FWW, I am interested in the Roman Empire, and European cultural history from the Belle Epoque to Weimar Germany, and a lot of the paintings I am copying for my challenge are from this period.