American Impressionist painter Francis Brown once said:
"It's not so much the painting that excites me
as that the painting unlocks all kinds of valves of sensation in me
which return me to life more violently"
These words hold true to me not just for visual art, but music, and utmost, people. I've decided to share some of the artworks that I've seen which have struck close to home and embedded themselves within some memory of a certain phase or person in my life.
1. Self Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940) Frida Kahlo
This portrait of Frida is a stark comparison to her previous works complete with delicate cultural dress and elaborate braids. Frida had drawn this portrait after her husband had divorced her, and she has painted in the lyrics of a Mexican song "Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don't love you anymore." It is as if losing her hair has changed her as a person, and she is turning this insult into a weapon; equipping her in her new circumstance.
In many ways i can relate to this attempt to physically emancipate yourself from the former you; the victim. To renunce yourself from the weak side who fell prey to circumstance, and front like you have everything in control. Even her ill-fitting suit is a barrier against anyone seeing Frida's true form. The funny thing is that sometimes the front can be the most telling thing of all; sometimes the strongest born from the fire are the ones who seem like they haven't even been touched by a flame.
2. The Japanese Foot Bridge (1918-1924) Claude Monet
Monet had painted this same footbridge much earlier in his life; Water Lily Pond (1899), except the former representation was far more serene and delicate. By the passing of time, Monet's cataracts changed his vision, robbing him of his ability to see blue/green hues, as well as his acuity. This in turn made for a more conceptual, caustic and unsettling portrait of the foot bridge. Some see this artwork as a tragic demonstration of his loss of vision, but I love it because it shows that the most destructive thing one can do is look back and dwell on one's former self. Neglecting the dynamic nature of our spirits, and focusing on a single shell that has been shed is only a vehicle for escapism and creates a cyclone of hollow pseudo-fulfilment. True, with time we do lose some of what we believe to be our most defining features, but we gain new perspectives and grow and evolve in other dimensions. Accepting ourselves and continuing to try enables self acceptance and possibly further success, as demonstrated by this emotionally salient artwork.
3. The Twilight of Life (1894) Sydney Tully
This rolls off of the former idea. Sometimes it gets hard for us to embrace our hardened selves, and understand that this is our skin, a part of us, and not a circumstantial imposition blameable on the winds that have roughened us. When you can't admire yourself, it gets hard for you to love yourself. And If you can't love yourself, you become hard to love. But sometimes love doesnt manifest through admiration, excitement and attraction. Sometimes what moves us most is generosity- time and effort taken to understand and see value in someone. Trying to understand what is behind someone's actions and ways of thinking, as if they were an extension of your own conscience. The artist here took the time to look past the subject's brash exterior, and delve into the emotions and substance within her. Sometimes that can be the greatest thing you can receive from a person.
4. The Impossible, III (1946) Maria Martins
I saw this sculpture at MoMA in NYC and was taken aback by it. To me it represents the dichotomy of symbiosis and discord in a relationship. In any powerful relation between two people there is always the fine line beween moulding together, and corroding each other; and this always manages to get tangled. The two bodies are simultaneously giving to each other, and attacking one another; opening up your vulnerabilities to a person inherently brings out your claws (or teeth) for the offence. Are they baring their flaws to one another or showcasing their arms? There is a beautiful darkness when it ends up being both.
5. Kneeling Woman (1921) Fernand Leger
We judge ourselves based off our intentions and our personal histories that shape our learned behaviours, but we always tend to simplistically think that someone else's strange behaviour is a deliberate stance to make us unhappy. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality , and not because of you. We each are complex and have contradictions...just like the figure in this painting, she is recognisable as a woman at first glance, but the details are less clear- one foot seems to be missing; a hand has become an abstract pattern. This is a faithful record of the distortions and strange juxtapositions of the inner self, or mind. This painting is a reminder that when judging someone's actions, we must start from the assumption that they cannot be wholly consistent; he or she must be contorted to some degree.
6. Mme Kupka Among Verticals (1910) Frantisek Kupka
To me this painting represents all the labels -both self constructed, and externally placed upon us- that we become accustomed to using to help define ourselves. Our jobs, friends, hobbies- or for some of us, having to be the best at something e.g. best looking; smartest; sportiest. These labels can help describe us, but sometimes we can get lost behind them and struggle to define or understand ourselves once we lose the label; leading to the loss of our self concept. The hardest thing is to see yourself as the dynamic entity you are; through the filters of labels and achievements or dissapointments. But once you do this, you feel the most secure, and dont have a self concept prone to shattering like the fragile mosaic the subject is peering through.
7. Three Musicians (1921) Pablo Picasso
The three figures in this painting though from different backgrounds - a harlequin, a pierrot, and a monk- are all just playing out to sheets of the same music; they are not following their organic roles or desires, nor are they behaving independently. This painting is a reminder of the behaviour of crowds that flock, and the way they love a narrative or show. The crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading; It is nice to enjoy the limelight, but to construct your esteem from that is playing with fire. I find this relevant particularly with the power of reinforcement that our generation surrenders to social media.
8. Allegory (1675) Luca Giordano
This painting haunted me for a long time and showed me the value of self awareness. The centaur's inability to confront his true face appears cowardly when the cherub himself is forcing the centaur to look at what lies behind the mask. "A wise man can lie to other people, but a fool lies only to himself"; the most arrogant and presumptive behaviour is to hide behind your actions when people can see through to your intentions. If the victim can look you in the eye after being wronged, then you have to be able to at least look yourself in the eye and confront the truth; as the arabic saying goes "al amal bil niyat", actions are dependent on their intentions.
9. The Starry Night (1889) Vincent Van Gogh
Although whimsical and detached from the real world below, the sky in this image is beautiful and powerful in its ability to evoke serenity and release. Sometimes, we knowingly preoccupy ourselves with a cloud of smoke; although temporary, these are sometimes necessary to help dissociate ourselves from our binds and allow us to recallibrate. just because something is fleeting, doesnt mean that it is trivial.