Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thoughts on Art

There is no work of art in the world that moves me more than Michaelangelo's Pieta sculpture. I saw it in person once, on a vacation to Italy, and even now the memory is enough to raise the hairs on my neck.

The sculpture, located near the entry to St. Peter's Cathedral at the Vatican, is of course an iconic Christian symbol, but its power for me has nothing to do with religion, but comes because the sculpture crystalizes for me the essential human desire and also the central human horror. There are ways I might argue that this is one of the most significant art works of all time.

The sculpture to me is a depiction of the interplay of human life and death, and moreover it is purely, entirely about human love. When I look at the statue, I am instantly aware of both an intense, archetypal human desire to be loved, but I'm also aware of the horror of love—the annhilation of self, the symbolic death, that genuine love entails.

I instantly see myself in both the faces of Jesus of Nazareth as well as his sorrowful mother, and it shows me hard lessons about myself. For to love someone is to open yourself to the truth of their mortality. It is to be Mary, in this example. And to be loved is to surrender yourself, utterly and unequivocally, to sacrifice self in order to merge with other.

This isn't something to be entered into lightly, and I'm painfully aware that I've a long way to go, both at the giving and accepting of love. Loving hurts, because it means accepting the pain of another as if it is your own. And being loved, wonderful though this is, also means the death of the small self, the sacrifice of what is familiar and known.

It's possible that I feel this pull a little more strongly than most people—perhaps even with a little residual neuroticism—for I can still a remember a time when the mother I loved also posed a genuine threat of anhilation to her young sons. To this day, when someone loves me I am gratified and enormously touched on the one hand, but slightly panicky on the other.

But it's possible that even this personal history of mine is really just the playing out of a larger archetypal drama. It's a somewhat universal, archetypal neuroticism. Because when I look around, I see that almost everyone struggles with love. Desiring it with fierce intensity on the one hand, yet constantly thwarting it on the other.

Much as we want to love, and want to be loved, much of our behavior seems to have the opposite motive. We fear love almost as much as we desire it.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that this post starts with art and ends with love. Loving and being loved is an art form, one that's difficult to master.

I don't know a lot about the subject, other than this: when I've held too tightly, love has burned the hell out of me. When I've let it rest lightly on my palm, it has warmed and comforted me.

Lord knows that letting it rest thing isn't easy, but I'm pretty sure it's the only real answer. Maybe, in the end, that's pretty much the same as surrender.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for expressing some profound insights about the complex nature of love. We want it, need it - and fear it. Love hurts, but a loveless life hurts far more. The gains are worth the pain, even though the pain is sometimes intense.

Glamourpuss said...

This made me cry.

Profound and true.