how to view art

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Just last week, a favorite blogger of mine, Cup of Jo, highlighted this article which suggests a different approach to visiting an art museum: choosing one or two or three art works that speak to you in some way and spending a good chunk of time in front of each one.

When I visited the Met on Friday, I tried it.

There’s a room with three or four El Grecoes; we’ve got one of his Adoration of the Shepherds (above) prints in our dining room, but this time, I was struck by El Greco’s Healing of the Man Born Blind (below).

Jesus Healing the Blind El Greco

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I sat and stared at this painting for probably about seven or eight minutes; studying its intricacies, noticing the way light was reflected off draped clothing, gazing intently at the faces and their displayed emotions.  I’d had a really strange and wonderful experience earlier in the visit (to the Metropolitan Museum of Art) with John the Baptist and St. Francis, and the tree of Jesse (more in a post coming soon!), and in this particular image I was struck by how familiar the bald man in the right-center of the picture seemed to me.

And was here was a ton of energy because of what Jesus was doing in the middle of the painting, or in spite of` what was happening with Jesus and the man born blind?

It didn’t even really register with me till I found the photo of this painting online that the characters near the center-bottom of the image, who in the little info card next to the painting in the museum referred to as possibly the blind man’s parents, seem to be at least somewhat inter-racial–of course, I’d observed their skin tone, but it hadn’t struck me as strange till I electronically grabbed the image and remembered it’s about 500 years old.

El Greco is so much about texture, it’s hard to appreciate the image without his super gloppy painting style.  It was well-worth a few extra minutes’ time.

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In hot pursuit of Spanish-influenced artists, I sought the Met’s collection of Caravaggios.  That day, The Denial of Peter caught me.  I sat and watched.  Caravaggio’s use of light has captured my imagination since I saw something of his in a museum in Dublin.  Peter’s face is fully lit–his aging bald head similar to the one I observed in El Greco’s piece–and all hand in the painting (even his own!) point toward him.  We see the glint of the soldier’s armor, and the suspicious eyes of the woman near the fire, all judging whether Peter is part of the rabble-rousing troupe who had populated the courtyard that night.

How many times had I been in that courtyard, full light glaring in my face, trying desperately, defiantly, not to shield my eyes from the truth while at the same time denying its power over me?

Meditating on a few pieces, looking deeply into the true, hard work which the artists had put into their paintings, helped me to understand more deeply God’s movements in our lives.

What do you see in these paintings?  Do you have a painting or piece of art that changed or expanded your understanding of God, or the divine, or the world?

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