Andrew Wyeth’s “Wind from the Sea”- A Reflection

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“Repose” by John Singer Sargent

Say you walk through an art gallery immersed in opulence, all sides surrounded by a panoply colors, shapes and forms.  Say your eyes feast on Tintoretto’s tasteful nude of Susanna, or the graceful elongated figures of El Greco’s Assumed Madonna or on the sumptuousness of the John Singer Sargent’s.  Say further you are making your way to the French Impressionists and passing through a doorway on a diagonal line, from the corner of your eye, you a happen to catch it.  Catch what, one may ask?  Oh, by most accounts, nothing much.  What is it, one may ask further?  Well, what may be described as a view from a drab window unto the most unremarkable and drab of landscapes.  It does sound pretty plain, one may agree, time to get along; so many works and so little time.  Yes, but you come closer to see for yourself.  You are now, not as hurried to keep that appointment with the Van Gogh’s, with the Degas.  Intrigued by its incongruity, you let this plain painting, this apparently incorrigibly ordinary painting, have a moment with you. This is the way it looks:  Framed obliquely, you look at a window that seems to be in a house of some disrepair.  You gather this from a crack in the dingy slate colored wall, from a blind, over exposed to the sun, the blind now splotched, cracked and brittle, tiny fissures letting in the light from without, from lace curtains, stained and frayed by dry rot, floating like tattered cobwebs on the breeze coming through the opened window, the curtain’s ends so fine and threadbare they seem to be passing into another world.  Your eye now moves to consider the world beyond the window: immediately you see the two tire tracks, well worn, starting from the right corner of the window, curving and cutting across a yard of dried tannish, greenish grass, extending from the house and receding from view.  In the other corner of the window you make out a sliver of some body of water that is so colorlessly homochromatic to the sky above, only the stretch of dark trees running the painting’s length gives any sign of their demarcation. The flatness of the scene is all that can be gleaned by looking at it.  But you, for some unknown reason, do not look at it but see it.  Between the looking and the seeing, therein lies the essential difference.  Because granting all that can be looked at you can see the truth behind the fact.  The work before you has obliterated all expectation; you find yourself transfixed, no longer held hostage to self-imposed itineraries and to-do lists, freed of the compulsion to collect and catalogue every experience on social media. Maybe you are asked what has transfixed you so.  You attempt to formulate answer but like treasure laden galleons headed to Spain, creaking and groaning under the load of riches they bear, your words seem to strain beneath the weight of meaning you wish to express.  Admittedly, it seems absurd that a scene of irremediable ordinariness becomes as a celestial vision, like the ascending and descending angels upon Jacob’s Ladder.  Yet, for you, this is what has happened. You are astounded that a scene of humble impoverishment could speak such simple beauty as to be otherworldly.  You see the loveliness and are grateful, grateful for the cracked wall, the brittle blind, dried grass, for the monochromatic sky and sea, and for those curtains, those curtains stirred to beauty by the Holy Ghost, blown and borne aloft by the blessed breath of the God Man.

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“Wind from the Sea” by Andrew Wyeth