Strokes of Brilliance

Blog 6

The beautiful world of art hides within it a secret treasure trove of knowledge, insights, and mysteries. We merely scratch the surface when we say “Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a piece of art” or “Pablo Picasso was a great painter”. These artists did not just put great technique into their creations, but brought them alive by investing their mind, body, and soul into them. Their works were never isolated from the world they lived in. They constantly drew inspiration from the social, political, cultural and economic environment around them. And well, why not? What’s a better subject than the man himself?

This World Art Day, let’s dive deep into the world of art and discover the thoughts and emotions that went into the making of these masterpieces.

1. Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937)

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is one of the strongest political statements ever made by an artist. It depicts the tragedies and futilities of war. Painted in 1937, it was a response to the Nazi’s casual bombing in the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. It uses only the shades of black, blue, and white to depict a world devoid of any colour due to the onslaught of war. Picasso wanted the painting to evoke emotions of disgust and horror amongst the people so that they realise the unnecessary suffering inflicted upon innocent civilians.

“Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.”

– Pablo Picasso, talking about Guernica

2. The Son of Man by René Magritte (1964)

Infused with layers of meaning, René Magritte’s The Son of Man is as a self-portrait playing with the human mind’s tendency to “always want to see what’s hidden behind what we [can] see.” Magritte broke the conventional patterns of Surrealism and placed an ordinary subject in a surrealist/abstract context. The shiny green apple hiding the subject’s face was to induce curiosity and confuse us at the same time. It makes us wonder whether it’s a Christian symbol referring to the fall of the human race or is it simply representative of the concept of food. Is the common man just working for food and we cannot see anything beyond it? This is some serious food for thought!

3. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (1665)

Painted during the Dutch Golden Age, Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of the most captivating works of art. To date, no one can say for sure whether she is turning towards us or away from us. Does she want to say something or her silence is the message itself? The political upheaval and the emergence of the Dutch East India Company altered the daily lives of the people. The oriental turban and the polished pearl, therefore, became symbolic of the emerging merchant class and their wealth. And, the enormous tear shaped pearl (which some researchers say was impossible to possess in those days) raised questions that whether it was a figment of the artist’s imagination or a deeper message for humanity to understand?

4. The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (1490)

Last but not least, let’s look at the work of a man whose birth date was acknowledged as the World Art Day – ­Leonardo da Vinci. His work, The Vitruvian Man, covers everything from mathematics to philosophy. Influenced heavily by the works of the architect Marcus Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci took the man’s navel as the centre point to draw a circle. He then took the arm span and height of the man as the measurement to form a perfect square. This methodical illustration was not only created to demonstrate the perfect proportions of a human body but also to deliver a philosophical message. Leonardo da Vinci wanted to highlight the fact that man can fit anywhere they like. They could behave like a lowly beast or an enlightened man; the choice was completely theirs.

The world of art is open to interpretations from all. We can look at it from a feminist, racial, colonial, political, historical, or even a psychological perspective. The idea, however, is to be sensitive to the world we live in and most of all, celebrate the works of such brilliant artists. Happy World Art Day to you!