I stared at the image in the book, I was captivated by the scene before me. I felt deeply disturbed by the artwork but also amazed. The image was the work of a Spanish artist, Francisco Goya and created between 1810 and 1820 in his ‘The Disasters of War’ series. The particular image I discovered in that art book in my high school library 25 years ago is plate 37, Esto es peor (This is worse) if you care to explore it for yourself.
That image was etched into my mind and has stuck with me all this time. Last week I decided to google and find out more about it and the artist that created it. His work has definite darkness to it, at times macabre and others fantastical. Goya was a brilliant portraitist and rose to the highest position that a court painter could hold. He suffered an undiagnosed illness at the age of 47 that left him nearly deaf and from that point, you can see a blackness expressed in his series. This particular series was created for himself and wasn't printed until 35 years after his death
My question to myself was why this image was one that stood out. So I’ve been thinking about that for a while. And with that question, I began to recall the type of art that does impact me and why. The answer is that it made me feel deeply, a strong emotion emerged when I first viewed ‘This is Worse’, it expressed a truth that the artist was willing to capture and convey. It is not pretty, lovely or positive and that is precisely what caught my attention and what makes it beautiful. Goya used no colour even though as a portrait artist of the court he would have had any painting materials he desired at his disposal. Imagine all the beauty and riches he would have had access to yet he chose to draw a decapitated, mutilated, dead nude male impaled on a tree surrounded by French soldiers. He chose to depict the horrors of the war engulfing his nation at the time and the horrors felt within himself. All these choices are why this painting is incredible and why the artist himself was considered both the last of the old masters and the first of the moderns.
To me this is what art is about, making you feel something, not necessarily good. It’s about exploring and asking questions that may never have an answer, like war and love.
I’m not sure how you feel now with the current state of the world, but I know if I’m honest I can relate to the mood of Goya’s war series. It’s why it came to mind. There are good days that the world feels normal and there are other days where the world feels depressive, dark and sad.
Why do we gloss over the ugly, the not so nice? We have an attitude of ‘focus on the positive’ and I absolutely agree, but not at the expense of burying the beauty in the shadows of life. The contrast makes a beautiful painting and that’s truly reflected in life also. If everything was beautiful, nothing would be admired. We need lightness, positivity and loveliness but remember we can find these in the hardest of times, it doesn’t have to come packaged as a familiar “don’t worry, be happy”, positive affirmation or mantra.
Without emotion, life and art are boring!
I understand the dark places. I’m not a typical bubbly, happy person and I’ve lived with negativity and depressive thoughts that can hold you hostage. I think that is why I could relate to Goya’s artwork, and I love that. I’ve received a plethora of advice over the years from well-meaning people, to “smile more”, to “journal every day”, to “don’t worry, be happy” and honestly it does more harm than good. You see when I set my mind on something I’m very dedicated and I’ve taken on a lot of the advice given and practised it wholeheartedly, always hoping to find that inner euphoria and buying into “this will change your life”. I always end up back in the same emotional place, and it is simply because those giving the advice are them and I am me.
True change comes when you stop thinking there is something wrong with you, with what you are feeling, you are not broken! You have every right to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling. But always question it with a curious mind, ask why? Now I don’t have the answer to living a completely positive, happy, euphoric life because there isn’t one, it does not exist. Even the happiest of people feel all the other emotions. So my question to you is what do you want to feel and how can you go about creating that for yourself? You are the artist of your life, you have choices and hold the brush.
I do believe art is a key for me and many others as it plays a role in living a fulfilling and enriching life. I wonder what Goya would have said about the role of art in his life, or even Picasso, or their collectors.
And now let me ask you “How do you feel when you look at my art?”. And that is my hope, that I can capture and you can connect with deep emotion in your soul when you see that visual reminder of beauty. I want you to feel, to open up, to be vulnerable, to it all. The full spectrum of life and beauty is awaiting your exploration.