Like many artists, I find refreshment by spending time in nature. One of my favorite places to visit is Hocking Hills in Logan, Ohio. It is usually a place I go in the warm spring or summer months, however I have always wanted to experience the park in winter. I recently took a visit in order to see the large icicles and frozen waterfalls face to “face” and I left describing the place as a terrifying beauty. Experiencing these caves covered in ice caused me to ask, “Why do I find something created in such a cold and harsh environment to be so beautiful?"
I view all things in this world as a metaphor made by God. All things point to a deeper reality than what is directly seen. In other words, a metaphor is a lie that points to a truth. When looking at each of these frozen waterfalls, I asked myself: “What does it sound like?” I also wondered how an artist like van Gogh would have seen it.
Van Gogh saw this metaphorical nature of reality and he painted what nature spoke by putting nature’s words on visual display. His works help me see the deeper reality behind the scenes. When I first saw one of his paintings I remember thinking it was as if God’s riches were held in each of van Gogh’s brush strokes.
In a letter he wrote to his brother, he said:
“One cannot do better than hold onto the thought of God through everything, under all circumstances, at all places, at all times, and try to acquire more knowledge about Him, which one can do from the Bible as well as from all other things.”
In another letter he expressed how he sees through what is directly seen:
“…and in all nature, for instance in trees, I see expression and soul, so to speak. A row of pollard willows sometimes resembles a procession of almshouse men. Young corn has something inexpressibly pure and tender about it, which awakens the same emotion as the expression of a sleeping baby, for instance.”
His paintings have depth and perspective beyond the object. He also brings himself into the picture by making stars bigger and brighter than they really are. He magnifies the color yellow in so many of his works. This is not an exact representation, yet this viewpoint is still true and perhaps more real than if he painted the exact reproduction of the visual experience. Van Gogh magnified reality and made invisible things visible. He said, “my great longing is to learn to make those very incorrectnesses, those deviations, remodelings, changes in reality, so that they may become, yes, lies if you like-but truer than the literal truth”
Art holds the things we quickly pass over and shines a bright light on them so all can see. I believe this is one of the great purposes of art and music.
So, back to that frozen waterfall. What does it sound like? While standing there beholding it, I heard drops of water falling to the ground and birds chirping around me. But that is not what I mean. What is being spoken through it? What is the scene communicating? Its voice is not heard, yet its voice goes throughout all the earth.
And how can terror and beauty be held together? My next composition deals with this and in my next post I will share a reaction to a photograph that displays both beauty and destruction in a fascinating way.