SUBLIME ART: The Expression

By on May 1, 2023

So far in this series of articles, we have considered the idea that sublime art has an element of religious feeling within it. It also has the grandeur of nature, which connects us with concepts of the Divine. That is because of the way we relate to God and nature; metaphorically, on a grand scale.

There are other aspects of art that could be considered sublime, which are more difficult to define. In the Modern Art works of Barnett Newman, Marc Rothko and Kazimir Malevich, it is more like unpeeling the veil of mystery between us and the Divine. In this article, I would like to look at other aspects; such as the effects of culture on religious art.

I have always been intrigued by the art of Marc Chagall. Stylistically, his work appears primitive, but it contains dreamlike elements that connect us with culture and artistic expression. Chagall’s style is considered to be surrealistic, which puts him in the same category as Salvador Dalí.

As an aside, Dali’s “Ascension” is perhaps sublime due to its composition: we are looking up at the soles of Christ’s feet as he ascends. For a moment, our imagination kicks in and takes the trip with him.

Chagall has the distinction of painting a number of “Crucifixion’s” of Christ, which may seem a little odd for a Jewish painter. According to Ami Klein, who wrote an art review in Hadassah Magazine, “Chagall had been fascinated with images of the crucifixion since his youth. He grew up in a Hasidic family in Vitebsk, a Jewish town in Belarus that he also depicted in his art, but often visited the Russian Orthodox churches.”

The artist’s depiction of Jesus on the cross was among the themes featured in “Chagall: Love, War and Exile,” at the Jewish Museum in New York (2014).

Chagall said about his depictions of Christ, “The symbolic figure of Christ was always very near to me, and I was determined to bring it out of my young heart. I wanted to show Christ as an innocent child.”

At age 25, he painted a cubist “Calvary” (also called Dedicated to Christ, from 1912) depicting the crucifixion – but the figures standing at the base of the cross are his parents. “When I painted Christ’s parents, I was thinking of my own parents… The bearded man is the child’s father. He is my father and everybody’s father,” the artist was quoted in the exhibition notes as having written.

In Chagall’s crucifixions, we see his identification with the pain of a fellow Jew, as he is being executed for his beliefs. It is this immoral act that touches the inner core of our being. This expression of pain is gut-wrenching. However, the sublimity resides in its transcendence.


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