Tuesday, August 20, 2013

heaven + earth: reflecting on an encounter

Bellini, "Virgin and Child"
As I mentioned last week, my actual work over the past several weeks has been limited—and that’s a generous description. But I also admit that the few projects I’ve been involved in have been unusual, even remarkable—like the Year of Faith column that had me reflecting on a specific paragraph of Pope Benedict's Porta Fidei document.

In addition, during the 10 days that my dad was in the hospital, I received a Facebook message from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art about an exciting exhibit entitled: “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums.”

As the assistant curator explained in his message, the organizers of the exhibit recruited local people to choose one of the art pieces featured in the exhibition, and then provide them with an oral reflection or response to it. And I was invited to participate.

From “personal stories” to a “visceral reaction,” the request was for an “authentic and engaging” reflection—in no more than 30 to 40 seconds!

As I understand it, the recordings will become a community-sourced audio commentary for the collection.

When I looked over this attractive collection, my first choice was an unusual presentation of the annunciation by Botticelli—but I was told that our Archbishop had already picked it! 

So as a close second choice, I turned my amateur attention to this painting by Sassoferrato, titled “Virgin and Child with St. Elizabeth and the Child Baptist” (ca. 1640s

Sitting in the hospital room while I kept my Dad company as he slept—and doing my best to stay away from researching the painting or investigating its artist, I came up with this “response,” which I’m copying here in the exact outlined way that I wrote it:
good art shows me something NEW  - something that I haven't THOUGHT or experienced before, as distinct from CONFIRMING what I already know 
for example -- earlier this year, visiting the GREAT French cathedrals, I was SURPRISED at Amien by a “hipped Mary,” – an image of a woman whose hip stuck out one side carrying Jesus, much as any mother would!  
In THIS image it’s the HANDS that surprise me. There are a lot of hands around that bowl -- There’s Jesus, already acknowledging the goodness, the presence of John the Baptist by lovingly TOUCHING his back – but what about Elizabeth? 
When I put up my hands the way I see Elizabeth’s, my imagination lights up- - I WONDER -- what unexpected thing surprises her? Is she TAKEN BACK BY worry OR FEAR about her son’s future – in relation to this DIVINE baby? 
Or Perhaps -- what REALLY surprises her is how fully human this baby Jesus, son of God, truly is??
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Note: thanks to my amazing mother in law MarySue Schriber for inspiring me with her quote about good art!

And if you live—or will be traveling near—central Oklahoma, don’t miss this exhibit, running from August 24–November 17, 2013. Let me know what you think, please?

Here’s a local news story announcing the exhibit. And a couple of other sources here and here.

After leaving Oklahoma City, the exhibit will travel to:
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada (December 13, 2013–March 9, 2014); 
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY (April 17–July 13, 2014);
Milwaukee Art Museum (October 1, 2014–January 4, 2015); and
Santa Barbara Museum of Art (February 6, 2015–May 3, 2015).