Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Lift Up Thine Eyes" in the Blogosphere

My book and blog are named after a lesser-known Rockwell.  The painting has not been reproduced very often.  It was in a private collection, I believe, for many years.  And now it belongs to Brigham Young University.  Because the picture isn't all that well known, it's not talked about very much by Rockwell lovers.  So it's a delight to find a (somewhat) recent post about the picture on a very nice blog by Theresa, a Catholic homeschooling mom of five.  As it happens, I am married to a Catholic homeschooling mom of five (not Theresa).  So she and I have a fair bit in common.

Here's a little bit of what Theresa wrote:

"Rather than see this painting as a depressing commentary on the busyness, self-absorption, and distracted preoccupation of modern life, I actually find this image full of hope and encouragement.  Someone is about to look up.  Who will it be?  Which fortunate passerby will raise his eyes to the majesty of the church and be simultaneously overwhelmed and comforted by its immensity, its enormous presence?  Someone is about to realize the awesome presence of God in the midst of the busyness, in the midst of the crowd, in the midst of his very own simple, but significant, life.  That someone will continue walking down the street, but will not be lost to the drudgery.  Instead, he'll continue on transformed.  He will go about the same tasks, but now with his eyes fixed on that which sanctifies them - the holy presence of God in every bit, every tiny, seemingly insignificant corner, of our lives."

This take on the picture is remarkably similar to mine.  (I'll post more about my views later.)  But here are a couple of questions.  Did Rockwell intend the viewer to draw this kind of meaning from the picture?  If not, does that make it wrong to see the picture this way?

To the first question, I'd, I don't think so.  It's a little bit too spiritually-charged as Theresa puts it.  Rockwell does want us to appreciate the things around us, and I believe that ultimately this is connected to his belief in the Goodness of the Created world.  But I think Rockwell's view is not religious in itself.  He wants us to be grateful, and that's a profound basis upon which to arise to an explicitly religious appreciation for things.  But I am not sure he quite got to that point himself.  You'll have to decide, when I get around to posting more clearly about my own views, if the distinction I'm hastily drawing here really holds up.

To the second question, I'd also say no, at least not in this case.  Even if Theresa is taking the picture a bit more spiritually than it was intended, she's doing nothing to violate the obvious sense of the picture.  Adding a bit of specificity that the painter might not have intended is no abuse.  Theresa has produced a lovely meditation on a beautiful and inspiring painting.

1 comment:

  1. T says:

    " Did Rockwell intend the viewer to draw this kind of meaning from the picture? If not, does that make it wrong to see the picture this way?"

    In short, the answer to your questions are "Probably not." and "No!"

    Great artists who produce enduring works do not begin with the intention of producing enduring works. For them art is a language, a means of communication. It is through their art that they speak.

    To get more out of a work than the artist ever thought s/he was putting into it is not over-interpreting the work, but testifying to its greatness. That is why great works are great works, whether they are Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Beethoven, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Duchamp or Albert Einstein; they are in touch with their own age even as they continue to speak to ages that follow.