Today’s reflection is sort of in my wheelhouse and sort of not. It is, in that it’s all about art. It isn’t, in that the art in question is abstract expressionism. Not exactly the milieu of this fantasy artist who strives for realism in her paintings.
So, yay! I get my horizons expanded. 😊
Barnett Newman died in 1970 at the age of 65. Like Simone Weil, his work gained more notice after his death; in his case, it was in part thanks to his widow Annalee, who established the Barnett Newman Foundation, which serves “to encourage the study and understanding of Barnett Newman’s life and works.” I wonder if part of the delay in his receiving his due recognition was that in life, Newman rejected bourgeois society. No famous, wealthy patrons, I’m assuming.
“We are in the process of making the world, to a certain extent, in our own image.”–Barnett Newman on being an artist
I certainly can’t argue with that.
Our AfL reflection for today takes a look at the “first station” in Newman’s series Lama Sabachthani: Why Have You Forsaken Me?, which depicts the stations of the cross. This is the image for our consideration:
Newman was interested in the transcendent, here represented by the vertical that connects the above with the below. He was a secular Jew who took on this idea of the “Passion of the Christ,” but he wanted to depict it in a universal way. Lama Sabachthani is often seen as a sort of memorial to the Holocaust, transcending any particular worldview and interrogating what remains of God after such a horrific event and profound experience of loss. Connecting to Weil, we’re looking at a purification process: can anything of God or belief in God after something so utterly and completely destructive?
There is a divided nature in this painting; the canvas is split into two sections, almost as harsh as a cut, indicating the divided nature of God Godself. God-on-the cross, demanding of God-beyond: why have you forsaken me? why have you divided yourself from me? The “line” depicting the division isn’t even really there: Newman stuck a strip of masking tape to a raw canvas, painted over it in black, and pulled the tape off. There’s no actual line; there’s nothing there; it’s a lack: God Godself owns a nature divided by a sharp lack. God-on-the cross and God-beyond lack each other; neither one is whole or complete.
This is the presence of an absence, a negative space that exists within all of us. Existence is what we see, and essence is what we cannot see but provides the foundation for all. This painting shows the pure embrace of the world and of suffering and of destruction. In the midst of the starkness and loss, we embrace our lack and incorporate it into how and why we live our lives.
I am on board with this. And I’m so glad Peter gave us this reflection, because it would’ve hard-tried my art-analysis skills to interpret all of this from Newman’s piece.
I guess I’ma hafta try my hand at abstract expressionism.
ADDENDUM: I did.
I think I shall consider this a first draft, sort of a practice piece. I am very pleased with it, but it’s still a bit more concrete than I’d prefer. Stylistically speaking, it’s definitely me, which is good. But I think it could be more me and convey my intent even more deeply. No guarantees I’ll do another draft of it — but if I do, I’ll update here.