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The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces

The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces


Touch is our first sense. Through touch we make art, stake a claim to what we own and those we love, express our faith, our belief, our anger. Touch is how we leave our mark and find our place in the world; touch is how we connect.


Drawing on works of art spanning four thousand years and from across the globe, this book explores the fundamental role of touch in human experience, and offers new ways of looking. In a series of lavishly illustrated essays, the authors explore anatomy and skin; the relationship between the brain, hand, and creativity; touch, desire and possession; ideological touch; reverence and iconoclasm. A final section collects a range of reflections, historic and contemporary, on touch.


Objects range from anonymous ancient Egyptian limestone sculpture, to medieval manuscripts and panel paintings, to devotional and spiritual objects from across the world, to love tokens and fede rings. Drawings, paintings, prints and sculpture by Raphael, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Carracci, Hogarth, Turner, Rodin, Degas, and Kollwitz are explored, along with work by contemporary artists Judy Chicago, Frank Auerbach, Richard Long, the Chapman Brothers, and Richard Rawlins.


The events of 2020 have made us newly alive to the preciousness and the dangers of touch, making this exploration of our most fundamental sense particularly timely and resonant.

  • By Elenor Ling, Suzanne Reynolds and Jane Munro

    January 2021

    Hardback, 280 x 240 mm

    192 pages, 192 illustrations

    ISBN: 978-1-913645-05-2

  • Exhibition Details

    The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

    Spring 2021


    The Human Touch Book Club

    11 March 2021

  • In the press

    "... this stylish publication unquestionably delivers a stimulating account of the power, and the dilemmas, of touch in life and art. Moreover its significance will outlive the troubled period in which it was produced." —The World of Interiors


    "A timely exhibition showcasing objects that explore touch – across millennia and in all its associations – is accompanied by a publication that reminds us just how important a sense it is..." —Art Quarterly


    "a melancholy triumph" —Apollo


    "The accompanying book does full justice to research by curators..." —i

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