I’ve been silent the last month or so, because–though I’ve had lots of arts-related thoughts bubbling away in my head–I’ve had little time to convert those thoughts into words. Today’s thoughts require very few written words, so I thought it would be worth the brief interruption in my work day.
When I read about the shipwreck of refugees in the Mediterranean this morning, I had my usual reaction. I tried not to think about it, because it is just too horrible to contemplate. But that also seems irresponsible. So I’m actively thinking about the refugees who died, which brings to mind a work of art that I think can do what words perhaps cannot.
Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (1819) shows desperate, shipwrecked survivors shouting for help as they see a ship in the distance. Géricault was inspired by a real-world event when he painted this very large painting. You can read more about that story on the Louvre’s website. The circumstances of the story are altogether different from the shipwreck in the Mediterranean last week, but the desperation of the image seems relevant.
When I teach, my students invariably perk up when we reach this period (Romanticism) in an art history survey course. The intense drama and emotion of Romanticism is undeniably moving. Perhaps drawing parallels between such moving works of art and the struggles of people today can have some sort of effect. Or at the very least, bring us out of our apathy and willful blindness as we sit at our computers and drink our morning coffee.