Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Dark Side of Life

Hot Summer's Afternoon in Bruges - Judy Adamson

I’ve just unsubscribed from a daily email, ‘Thought for Today’, that a friend passed on to me years ago.

Its constant, well-meaning exhortations to be ‘pure’ and ‘radiant’, ‘sweet’ and ‘peaceful’ were getting me down – especially when my life seems particularly difficult or painful! I’d tried just not opening the emails but the subject lines were there, staring at me, filling me with shame at my inability to live up to all these positive traits. And then it suddenly occurred to me that I could unsubscribe  - so I did!

Somehow these emails seemed unbalanced. They didn’t take into account the reality of being human, with all the messy, negative thoughts and feelings, the ‘shadow side’, that entails. So when I happened upon Jill Badonsky’s blog  post about ‘the gifts of the dark side’, it felt somewhat like coming home. Just as a painting needs the shadow to make us aware of the brightness, we need to embrace our ‘dark side’ and even use the creativity it contains, if we are to be whole, authentic people.

I sometimes think that perhaps too much emphasis is placed on ‘beauty’ in art. So often we read that an artist is inspired by the Beauty of Nature. And yet, in reality, Nature is also ‘red in tooth and claw’, the ‘Shadow’ side. Can we just brush that under the carpet?

To me it is one-sided to focus only on the ‘beauty’, as one-sided as those ‘Thoughts for Today’ that irritated me so much. It leaves something out, something that can add depth and authenticity to a piece of work and often it’s that ingredient that has the power to move us.

I grew up with various old art books around the house, mainly with black and white reproductions as printing wasn’t as advanced as it is today. But one colour painting that always drew me to it was this one by Goya: it’s hardly what I’d call beautiful and yet it’s certainly powerful:

The Third of May, 1808 - Goya

The same could be said of a print that hung in my childhood home:

'When did you last see your father?' W .E. Yeames

Later I discovered Picasso and his absinth drinkers – again, far from beautiful in the usual sense of the word.

One of Picasso's Absinth Drinkers

And Picasso was not the first artist to be drawn to ‘squalor’ rather than beauty. Manet and Degas also portrayed absinth drinkers and Hogarth is known for his engravings depicting the debauchery he observed in 18th Century London!

Detail from Hogarth's Beer Street and Gin Lane

Of course Beauty has, without doubt, its place in Art; it has the power to uplift us and fill us with awe. But as human beings we can be moved by a whole range of things, not just by Beauty. And, to me, the whole point of a piece of art is that it makes a connection to something within us. So sometimes it can make that connection by force of its sheer beauty but equally, it may resonate with 'darker' emotions.

As in the paintings above, a work of art may horrify, sadden or even disgust me and that is perfectly valid. The ‘great’ painters, as opposed to the ‘good’ ones, have not been afraid to create from their Dark Side.



art2cee2 said...

You know Judy, this is so true. I have often said that you can never know joy until you know pain. You cannot create beauty without feeling ugliness. I sit here, 4:00 a.m. my time with tear in my eyes. My husband has left with my 19 year old son in order to take him to the airport so he will go to his distant base. I am sad, but I know that the next time I see him I will be doubly happy. That is just how the world works. I hope that rainbows always follow your rainy days. :-)

Judy Adamson said...

Hy Crystal - thank you very much for your comment and I'm glad you are able to accept the sadness of your son leaving in the knowledge that there's another side to the coin!

You've reminded me of a few lines from Kahlil Gibran: 'When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.'

UmmSuhayb said...

there are certain blogs (of the parenting kind) I have reduced looking at as they are just too good to be true (although of course they leave out the bad bits).
I remember looking at pictures on our walls, thinking I'm glad I didn't live back in those days!

Sadami said...

Dear Judy,
In my view, a fasionable trend in current art market is the issue. The issue is commercial value/publicity vs what artists want to make. Regarding uploaded sample works are on social justice or subjective emotions. Many exhibitions accept quite provocative and controversial themes. They often win awards, but hard to sell.
Kind reagrds, Sadami

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Louise - I can understand why you would want to avoid the one-sided blogs. If the 'bad bits' are missing, they lack authenticity so their value is greatly diminished!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Sadami - thank you for your interesting angle on this subject.

Maybe once fashionable trends and commercial issues become an issue in Fine Art (as opposed to Design), we are talking about 'Wall Decor' rather than 'Art'?

Ulla Hennig said...

Thanks for this interesting post, Judy! I am with you regarding what you've said about art. I remember the German wood sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider who did a great sculpture of Jesus on the cross. He really showed a person who died in a most cruel way. And I also remember the famous Goya drawings.
However I am not so much with you regarding those daily "Thought of the day" mails. But I think that depends on the state one is in - I think I could have beared with them in the year Wolfgang died. These mails may be good for one person, and useless for another person. That's up to everybody.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Ulla - thank you for your comments and especially for reminding me about Tilman Riemenschneider! Somewhere I have a postcard of one his marvellous alterpieces, bought on one of my stays in Germany all those years ago when I was a student!

As for the 'Thought for today', I've found another one that I like much better and the link to it is right down near the very bottom of the righthand sidebar of this blog, in case anyone is interested! Ralph Marston seems to have a better grasp on the realities of life but still manages to extract the positive from any situation!

Jean said...

Judy, I really agree with you.This reminds me of a photo of a Hawk devouring a songbird. It was horrific but at the same time fascinating.
My fear is if the dark side is suppressed it will come out side-ways and someone or more will get hurt.
You really did a great job with this topic. Wishing you a Ying/Yang Week!

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Jean. You are absolutely right about 'coming out sideways' and sometimes whatever is suppressed comes out as physical pain or disease - and Art can be one of many ways to bring things out into the open and create some balance.

cjhardy said...

wonderful post, Judy. I have an online friend who ends every status with "Life is Good". And while I'm delighted that for her, that appears to be the case, some days, it's hard to read. Loved the fine art uploads; it does give a peek into the dark side of other eras.

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you very much for your comments, Candace, and I'm glad you enjoyed this post.

I totally agree about people who seem to want to force their positivity on others. Sometimes it's very hard to take!

Norman Young said...

So often on the web it needs to be 'pretty to be popular' but you are so right that the greatest art often reflects a dark side.

Coincidentally, although this is an older post that I'm revisiting today, I've just recently put 2 articles on my 'Focus on Scotland' website of photos from ‘Red on Green’, an installation by Anya Gallaccio. It features 10,000 red rose heads laid out and left to decay.

She often works with organic materials and the installation has been fascinating to see, to watch how it develops already, although it is only one week so far.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Norman - thank you for your comments.

And for anyone who is interested in he 'Red on Green' Installation that Norman mentioned, here are some links: