The Magic North

The Magic North - Human Vulnerability. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Human Vulnerability

The mysteriousness of human life was one of the central subjects of consideration in late-nineteenth-century art. There were frequent portrayals of adolescents and pre-pubescents. Adolescence was seen as the stage where one moves from the innocence of childhood and a sense of wonder about the world to an awareness of the boundary between oneself and the rest of the world. Childhood was seen romantically as a time when one does not question matters and has an instinctive ability to perceive the world’s hidden powers and wisdom.

During puberty, a youngster loses this ability. That results in sadness and a feeling of exclusion, a melancholy, which may indeed also help him or her to see matters in a new way. Carrying out one’s own decisions and realising one’s limitations may also lead to feelings of guilt. This concept of the uniqueness of the child’s world can be traced back to the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Yet in the late 1800s it also interested the new field of psychoanalysis, which was just taking its first steps.

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