“Honey, this is a beautiful painting, isn’t it? That bridge over the water is spectacular, and the buildings are so detailed!” She is standing about six feet away from me as she speaks. Funny thing…I’m looking at an oil painting with a bridge over a river which has buildings in the scene as well, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she must be looking at a different painting. The one I’m viewing is all disconnected lines and fuzzy images. The colors are vivid, but I just don’t see any sharp detail at all. Not from where I’m standing.
I glance back and, sure enough, she is looking straight at the painting I am examining. I’ve told her a time or two that she needs glasses, but perhaps now is not the time to reiterate that thought. I back up to where she is standing. As I focus on the artist’s work once again, I am astounded to find that I now agree with her assessment. When I see the whole picture, I don’t notice the fuzziness, nor the disconnected lines. The structure holding up the bridge is easy to see; the bridge itself a masterpiece of design. The buildings in the distance look as if they could house families just like ours. I begin to wonder if I am seeing things, so I move right back up next to the work of art once more. Nope. Fuzzy lines and color, nothing more. This one is definitely a poser. Exactly what is happening here?
It is not my intent to give a lesson in art history, but the explanation for what I am seeing is tied up in that subject. The painting we are viewing is one of a genre described as “impressionist”, originally dubbed this by artists who were critical of its unfinished, sketchy style. To them, it wasn’t a real picture of the object, it was merely an impression of it. The name stuck and a new art form was established, changing the art world beyond recall. I will confess that I am not quite a fan. While I grudgingly admit to the genius of the style, I prefer more clarity, more detail, upon which to focus my attention. Still, the ability to make a picture appear clear and finished from a distance, only to dissolve into lines and colors when in close proximity, takes a talent which I admire greatly and still do not understand.
I wonder if this is the reason that art museums often have velvet ropes up in front of their art work. The ropes force us to keep our distance from the precious oils and water colors. Is it possible that they’re not just trying to keep us from touching and soiling the work, but that they want to be sure we see the paintings from the correct perspective? I don’t insist on it. It’s just my theory.
You know, I’m not so sure that we don’t see the world in an impressionistic way as well. It might be a good thing when we’re viewing art, but I have my doubts as to its usefulness in real life. Again and again, I am shocked as I learn of acquaintances who are going through crises in their personal lives. I looked at them from across the room just last week; saw their post on one of the social media outlets only a month ago. From a distance, everything looked just fine to me. How is it possible that the lines have become disconnected, the picture so fuzzy?
Perhaps, the message of the fuzzy lines is that we need to be sure and stay close to those we love. Possibly, we should hold them tight and not lose touch. It’s not a bad proposal. From the perspective of a friend and family member, it’s actually quite a good one. We should do that. As people who want to serve, we are actually required to be in the place where we can do the most good. It is an excellent and noble goal, which deserves our attention.
But, I have a sense that there is a more personal message, one of warning, which the idea of disconnected lines and fuzzy focus teaches. You see, other people are not the only ones who have issues which need to be addressed. The temptations and anxieties of our world are very real in our own lives, too. We find ourselves working hard to keep up appearances, making sure that the picture from the outside looking in is one of control and focus, all the while knowing that the lines are stretching and becoming disconnected. Instead of seeking help and admitting our problems, we work all the harder to repair the image–the facade of well-being, hoping against hope that no one will look closely at our situation; knowing all the while that it will never stand up to close inspection. If only we can keep them at arm’s length, we are confident that we can make them believe all is right in our world. All we need achieve is the impression of wholeness, not wholeness itself. It is a juggling act which will invariably wear us down, a plate-spinning spectacle which is destined to end in disaster.
The impression of peace is not the reality of the same. The impression of goodness is not the same as actually doing good. We need realism, not impressionism. I am, of course, speaking about real life, not art. You may enjoy what you will in the art world, but in our lives, in reality, truth trumps imitation every time. We owe it to each other; we owe it to ourselves; we owe it to our God, to be honest and to drop our deceptions.
I still have more than my share of fuzzy areas and quite a few disconnected lines. I’m working at connecting the dots, but I’m thinking that I need to let people get a little closer, too.
Perhaps you believe that it’s time to take down the velvet ropes as well.
Time will tell if the critics agree.
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
“From a distance, we all have enough
And no one is in need.
There are no guns, no bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed.”
(“From A Distance” by Julie Gold~American songwriter)
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.