I suppose everyone comes away from an art exhibition with different impressions. My wife and I did. We went to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth yesterday and slowly soaked in every painting in the special exhibition, “Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland.” Then we went back through the floor and played our game: “Pick out one piece you’d like to take home with you.” That’s were you realize what you value. I had to select two, but they both had one theme to me: CHOICES.
I’ve never been a big fan of Paul Gauguin’s paintings, but this one, Three Tahitians (1899), gripped me. In it, the young man is faced with a choice. The woman on the right with flowers represents virtue. The woman on the left, holding a mango, represents sensuality. I think every human being faces this choice at some level every day. Do we opt for virtue or vice, worthwhile or worthless?
I’ve always been a fan of Vermeer, but this one is a little different that his usual style. Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1655) depicts the New Testament narrative in Luke 10 in which Christ talks to Martha but points to Mary. Mary has chosen to worship the Lord and listen to what He has to say, while Martha is preoccupied with the worries of her actions and with serving. Certainly, nothing is wrong with serving others, but when we have a choice of good deeds (works?) versus worship, the latter is always the better choice.
In my more virtuous moments, I’m really interested in aligning my attitudes and actions with what delights God. I want my visible life to represent God’s work in my heart. I want a godly humility and gentleness to characterize my dealings with people. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, showing tolerance for others in love. It’s easier to be divisive and judgmental than healing and redemptive. In addition, since I tend to be a driver and a doer, I need to emphasize more of Mary’s attitude of worship and meditation over action. Way back in the Old Testament, God has made it clear that He delights in loyalty rather than sacrifice and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) It’s hard for me to get past the notion of trying to please God or worse, to impress Him, with my hard work.
It’s hard to tell what any artist has in mind about the impact of his art, but when good art strikes a deep chord about what life is about, it transcends time and culture to stir many personal reactions. These are my reactions to these two pieces.