Art can be a powerful force. We bring some of ourselves to all art, whether it be a painting, novel, or work of music. Of course, the artist is also communicating with us, so if we allow ourselves, we can enter into an active conversation with art rather than it being a passive exercise.
When it comes to visual art, we often pass by pieces quickly. But if we spend time with a work of art we can enter into a conversation with it. That may sound a bit strange (and it is if you literally hear it speak — then I suggest you seek professional help!), but if you don’t spend time with a work you don’t allow yourself to connect. Art is often seen as spiritual expression and like our conversations with God, sometimes we have to be quiet in order to listen.
The painting above is by Tarsila do Amaral, a Brazilian artist. And, being International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate that I talk about this work (and I would love to say I planned this, but…). I only saw this photo of the painting a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been returning to it often. It speaks to my grief in life. No, not every painting I see speaks to me in this way, but this one is powerful.
Leah Dickerman of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), which now owns the painting, notes that the abstract painting is “very, very rich in its ambiguity.” In other words, it starts a conversation but certainly leaves us to direct where the conversation goes.
The focus is the moon and a cactus that looks like a person or is just a very abstract person. The landscape is a lush green and featureless except for the blue, half-circle of a river separating the cactus into its own little world. The river is so defined you can imagine it being a circle and leaving the cactus on an island of its own. By contrast, the sky is alive with its own blue river and a crescent moon swimming in the middle. The oval of the landscapes river is reflected in an arc of the atmosphere.
Separated and together is a good analogy for grief. Those in grief may feel like the cactus, not just alone but actually cut off from the world. And, let’s be honest, no one hugs a cactus since it has needles to protect itself. I can see my little boy, Oliver, in the moon, swimming in a world alive and active, but keeping an eye on me. We are together, but separated. It is so confusing to be in this state. Oliver is gone and yet at times I feel closer to him than when he was cuddled up on the couch with me. At other times, he is a picture I’m looking at and can’t reach. I’ll be afraid I’m going to forget his laugh or his voice or how hard he could hug with those little arms. And the next day something happens and I can hear that laugh. Together yet separated. But I do like the idea of us being in the same painting.