One very loud voice in the world of art are those pieces which inspire awe and respect because of their gravitas or seriousness.
If both amazing skill and gravitas is present in the work, an artist can sometimes be taken more seriously than one who, for example, paints from a perspective of exemplifying joy or beauty. Many artists will say they don't want to paint just “another pretty picture” which is also a recipe for dismissal at the hands of art academics.
During political strife and warring in Spain in 1909, the genius artist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida could be found on the beach in Valencia, after conveying to his friend and patron, Archer Huntington, that he was painting [with] 'soul clenched in a fist, grieving, sad, and joyless because Spain's sadnesses are now more palpable than ever'. He painted thirty paintings full of joy, light, and life. It is speculated that this was Sorolla's way of helping raise morale in Spain. An article about Sorolla said that he “appears to see everything at its best, and to express what he sees in a manner full of spontaneity and joyousness...”
Examples of Joaquin Sorolla's beach paintings
In light of what is happening in Iraq with the displaced Kurds, the horrendous Ebola virus afflicting West Africa, the state of affairs in Israel, and the situation in Russia and Ukraine, it is understandable why artists who might depict the gravity of these realities with skill, sensitivity, and compassion should be greatly respected.
I find it difficult to look at the faces of weeping women who have lost their children through wars and violence and upheaval. I'm afraid I would not have the fortitude to paint such grief and pain. When Sorolla saw the scene which inspired "A Sad Inheritance", he said “I suffered horribly when I painted it. I had to force myself all the time. I shall never paint such a subject again”.
A Sad Inheritance, by Joaquin Sorolla
Despite his feelings about painting the piece, I think Sorolla has managed to depict both gravitas and beauty--there is an aching tenderness with which the priest assists these children, who are trying, despite their disabilities, to enjoy their beach day.
And where gravitas and beauty are not mutually exclusive, perhaps joy is another thing. Sorolla turned to joy as his inspiration, and like him, I do the same. (And not a day goes by that I don't remind myself of my good fortune in being able to do so....).
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