The Consoling Experience Found in the Arts

The first encounter with a painting always happens in a silent space, free of judgement and a need to defend yourself. The viewer believes the painting will not bite back or form an opinion of it’s viewer. Thus, the first encounter is of vulnerability and openness. Very peacefully, people walk up to a painting ready to examine its content, putting aside all their judgments, while having a great embrace with silence.

This open encounter is perfect for bringing to light experiences too burdensome and dark to share with any conscious being. For example this painting of St. Peter’s Lamentation

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…reveals his heart break over his betrayal and denial of his true love, Christ. It is displaying a very personal moment of shame and sorrow. This moment cannot and should not be shared with another, but suddenly this painting does. So when the vulnerable viewer sees this moment of unspoken shame, he feels welcome to share with St. Peter, his own shame.

True art brings the viewer outward, admiring and examining another being, not stuck in one’s chaos and trapped door of confusion, but free at a moment’s grasp. Most of us will find this experience when hiking or walking outside. Our mind is wandering in wonder at the beauty of such an encounter.

Take for example this crucifixion scene…

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…where Christ is at peace but within a chaotic context, displaying a new hope and wonder in one’s own suffering. This beautiful tension places a fruitful mysterious wonder before the mind. Without a confrontational conversation, it creates an experience of new hope for redemptive suffering. The arts are the best way of touching the heart directly and openly. In any other presentation, such a grotesque and gruesome scene might be inappropriate to speak about, when the arts present, Christ dying on the cross, with consolation and beauty.

Because of the applicability of an image, paintings can create a strong bond between the viewer and the subject. The viewer feels allowed to enter into the painting’s personal space, as if it is their own.

For example this painting of St. Edith Stein…

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…is a very simple painting, no heroism, or mystery. It is just a painting of a person wanting to get to know you. Normally when someone confronts you with curious loving eyes on the first encounter they scare you, but in a painting you freely let them love you. This safe encounter builds a relationship of trust and companionship. You find this also in literary characters forming a unique bond between the reader. The arts can teach an individual to love, and desire the world as a whole.

The challenge then is to not make these characters one dimensional but striking and a call to life! Just imagine if you saw an image that effected you softly, but with a call to action and vibrancy. I see this in the image of The Pantocrator, where Christ in one eye is looking at the viewer with mercy and in the other with justice.

Take for example this painting of St. Gemma…

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…She shows strength but tenderness. The contrast between the light and shadow on her face says the extreme, “do not become absentminded and lacking in love.” If someone said this to your face personally you might scold and reject their confrontation, but within this painting it is much easier to be attentive and open.

There is a crisis, people are not using images to create striking conversion. This power of the arts especially found in images has been exploited. When the innocent approaches a filthy image not thinking that it will take advantage of their openness and vulnerability, they are effected in a very tragic and intimate area of the heart, mind and soul. This is why pornographic and glorified violent images are dangerous, because the viewer thinks they are alone and can be vulnerable. I am trying to bring back true art of conversion and solace.

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John Defilippis