Monday, April 22, 2013

chiaroscuro

Or: the School of Protein-Deficient Artistes 
 Looking at a vista of Rome, my darling friend Kelsie remarked that looking at beautiful things is physically relaxing. Beauty, to paraphrase a common saying, soothes the savage beast. Meaning, essentially, 
Beauty is to your eyes as tea is to your stomach. 

 Say what you will but I still believe It's a beautiful world 
And I know I'm not dreaming, 
I just choose to believe it -Dierks Bentley

Van Gogh's sketch of Streatham Common in London
"Life here is very expensive. I pay 4 18 shillings a week for my lodgings, not including the washing, and then I still have to eat in town."
--Vincent Van Gogh, on living in London. 
I feel you, Vinny.

~

Perhaps I am a masterpiece of sorts—
The perfect emblem of futility. 
  --Dana Gioia


Pieta, after Delacroix --Vincent van Gogh (1889)
We have a lot for which to thank Vincent van Gogh.
And I'm although I'm not talking about Starry Night and Sunflowers, I would definitely thank him for those.
Particularly, van Gogh was one of the school of artists that saw themselves as somehow on the margins of society.
He writes to his friend and fellow artist Emile Bernard: "Being exiled, a social outcast, as artists like you and I surely are, 'outcasts' too. And finding -in this position--of outcast--an independence that isn't without its advantages."
The idea of an artist being a struggling soul of a human being was relatively new. High renaissance court painters definitely weren't on the margins of society. And thanks to their generous royal patrons, were never without protein (their mothers were probably quite pleased).
But van Gogh saw himself as an aberration.
Which brings us to the picture above, in which the Christ-figure in the picture above has van Gogh's distinctive red hair and beard.
Apparently, van Gogh, in fits of mental instability, fancied that he was Christ.
There is a phenomenon that occurs in visitors to the Holy Land called “Jerusalem Syndrome,” where pilgrims sense their own religious importance too powerfully for their mind to handle, and they sometimes begin to imagine that they are the Second Coming of the Messiah (or John the Baptist, or Elijah, or another prophet).


The few psychologists who have studied this phenomenon posit that this is not, in fact, a hallucination or delusion. Rather, this is a bizarre reaction in the individual to the power of the holy place. Perhaps these pilgrims have realized almost too powerfully for their mind to handle the truth of the C.S. Lewis quote: “You have never met a mere mortal. […] the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
There are certain extraordinary places on Earth where we find that the things of heaven are most intimately and palpably “wedded to those of earth.” 

If you’ve ever visited the geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, you will find the boardwalks lined with very comforting signs which read, in large red letters: “Dangerous Ground! Thin Crust! Stay on Walkways!” It is exhilarating and exciting to find yourself in a location where the earth’s crust is so thin that the mere weight of a human being can cut right through it. 
The veil of ordinariness wrapped around our earth is peeled away (almost literally), and you realize that the solid ground you call home is actually quite a thin layer of soil. 
It’s simply a gentle dusting on top of a whole other world of turbulent streams and boiling hot molten rock. 

 The realization that we are not mere mortals can be as scalding as the hot water boiling under the earth’s crust.
Visiting a place like Jerusalem,where Christ’s feet kissed the earth, where divinity physically touched our world, is perhaps as dangerous as stepping off the boardwalk at Yellowstone.


This idyll may yet come before our eyes again,
If you would have it so: are you not the master
Who re-created it after its first creator’s hand?

--Poesies d’Edmond Roche


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