The free gift that inspires
Rev Suzanne Cooke has been inspired by great works of art, and draws a parallel with God’s gift to us of Jesus.
I have recently become quite fascinated by modern art. It started at the time of my 50th birthday, when my husband, Adrian, and I visited Amsterdam. We made a trip to the Van Gogh Museum and I was thrilled to find that there was an exhibition of Matisse’s “Cut-outs” at the Museum of Modern Art next door. Both collections are housed in beautiful galleries but for me the experience of getting to know these two artists and their work could not have been more different.
Before visiting I knew very little about either of their work, and entered the Van Gogh Museum with very few preconceptions. As you may know Vincent Van Gogh was a very troubled man, who ultimately ended his apparently painful life by shooting himself in the chest. I am not a trained art critic, but to me Van Gogh’s art screams with the extreme agony of his life.
It felt as though in his desperate attempt to make sense of his own identity he painted, among other things, images of himself over and over and over again, and although ultimately hailed a genius for his incredible ability to understand and interpret the shapes and colours of his world in paint, Van Gogh’s work felt fragmented and so clearly the expression of a very troubled mind. Personally, experiencing his work and knowing the story behind it was a little like living amidst an ongoing, real life Greek tragedy.
The following day we visited the Matisse exhibition, an innovative endeavour to bring Matisse’s work together with that of his contemporaries and those who had influenced his work. In the later years of his life Matisse experimented increasingly with the minimal use of colour and form. This culminated in the “Cut-out’s”; painted paper, cut with scissors and purposefully placed to form simple pictures and/or designs. In contrast to Van Gogh, the work of Matisse is spacious and free flowing and although meticulous in his use of colour and form, seems far more at peace with itself.
I found Matisse’s work inspiring. Compelled as he was to push the boundaries of his discipline, to consistently remove restriction after restriction, his genius was to nonetheless create beauty from the most minimal of form. In contrast to Van Gogh the minimalism of Matisse’s work seemed to be striving to create beauty and to stand outside of itself. The determination of that task, to produce something beautiful, is I feel a profoundly spirit-filled endeavour and filled me with hope.
We live in a visual culture where modern people want to be immersed in experiences. I love the immersive unconditional nature of art - the artist pouring out his or her own creative offering to whoever might be looking on. I am very attracted by this idea - I like the fact that the artist has to ‘let go’ of her creation, and in so doing it becomes a little like a free gift - a gift of creative love or passion.
I wonder if, in church, we often feel the need to convey a particular thing, an idea, a message, maybe even an instruction. However, I came away from being immersed in the work of Matisse, ready to change my world, not because he had told me to do so, but because I was inspired by his example. What an incredible Christ-like legacy!
The image of Henri Matisse, above, is courtesy of Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Rev Suzanne Cooke is the priest-in-charge of the Upper Tas Benefice in South Norfolk and the founder of Soul Circus, a regular creative, experimental service supported by the Diocese of Norwich and the Youth Task Force. You can find out more at www.soulcircus.org.uk.
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