Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Spiritual Picassos

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. 

A young historian once told me that much can be inferred by what is notably missing in the public record. It reminded me of an assignment in a high school art class to draw the background around objects in the foreground that, though absent, may thus be “seen." 

Vincent van Gogh praised another painter’s masterly accomplishment depicting the landscape in a painting of Jesus’ birth, but then questioned why the artist added the nativity scene in the foreground! Van Gogh believed that religious sentiment is better implied in a painting rather than literally presented. Thus his response to Gauguin’s Christ in the Garden of Olives was his own depiction of Christ’s anxiety and agony in the twisted branches and gnarled trunks of the olive trees of that garden with no figure at all. 

I have always loved the shadows out of which Rembrandt’s figures emerge, as well as Van Gogh’s seemingly slap-dash, broad brush strokes that leave details to the imagination. In fact, that’s probably why I enjoy the Impressionists, whose styles are less literal and more (sorry to state the obvious) impressionistic. And I appreciate the boldness by which some painters, like some Modern artists, leave portions of the canvas uncovered. As a child, I thought Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished painting of George Washington intentionally had his head and shoulders floating on clouds to suggest his greatness!  

As a writer and editor, I can recognize the liveliness of writings that infer and suggest and omit, leaving interpretation to the reader, even though I can also find this frustrating! For example, I loved reading David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, but other than its parallels to Hamlet, it left me mystified.  

Over the course of his long career, Pablo Picasso evolved in his art to infer and suggest and omit, eliminating unnecessary lines while preserving essential strokes. I believe this may be what we are called to do in our spirituality, letting go of the unnecessary and preserving the essential, thus becoming spiritual Picassos. That's the calling of the contemplative, compassionate Christian.


  1. As the daughter of two artists, obviously this discussion is of special interest to me. One of the things I've found most regrettable about "modern art" is something my dad Ted Schuyler pointed out to me years ago -- many people seem to be saying things that are really not "truthful" when they go off on some of the tangents that require the viewer to suspend all aesthetic appreciation.

  2. The best example of communicating a message with simple lines..Guernica..