In class we were asked if there was ever a piece of art that revealed some sort of truth to us. At the moment I couldn’t think of a work of art that had such an effect on me. In any work of art that I engage with I try to maintain a learning attitude and bring an expectant heart and mind, in hopes of learning something new. It is my belief that I can learn something from any work of art. But there are those few pieces of art that leave a lasting imprint in your heart as a reminder of some sort of truth.
Steve Scott addresses the truth of art making and art observing in his chapter, No Time Like Now from the book: It was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Scott shares about the “aesthetic field,” an idea presented by aesthetic theorist, Arnold Berleant. Berleant explains that “object, viewer, viewing environment, and historical background all weave together to create a single experience” (Scott 161).
“How are we supposed to build a bridge between ‘Art’ and ‘Truth’ in today’s world? Does ‘truth’ reside in the object, the individual experience, or the artist’s intention?” (Scott 161).
In my experience with the few works of art that have spoken truth in my life, all those elements have contributed to my experience.
This summer I had the privilege of viewing the works of French artist, Gaston Lachaise, at the Portland Art Museum, in his show titled MAN/WOMAN. Lachaise was born in Paris in 1882 and studied sculpture at the Académie Nationale des Beaux-Arts. At the age of 21, Lachaise met the woman that would be the love of his life, Isabel Dutaud Nagle. Isabel was from America and would eventually return from her visit. By the age of 25, Lachaise followed Isabel to America to be close to her. He eventually became a citizen and married the woman he loved. Lachaise described his wife as “the primary inspiration that awakened my vision and the leading influence that has directed my forces. Throughout my career as an artist, I refer to this person by the word ‘Woman.'”
Lachaise worked primarily in bronze and is known for his nude sculptures. He was an important figure in the birth of American Modernism. His portrayal of the human body, specifically the female body, was innovative for its time.
During my visit, I was initially struck by the grander of his work. His piece “Man” and “Standing Woman” are both eight and seven feet tall, made out of bronze. The medium and size of the work reveled to me a sense of awe and humility. It wasn’t until I encountered a very special piece by Lachaise that I felt all elements of experiencing ‘truth’ became real for me.
Maxwell Armfield commented on this piece saying:
“In the dark night, man and woman lie side by side on the bare earth – naked before eternity” (1905).
The rest of my visit to the museum was spent in front of this sculpture. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the emotion expressed by the sculpted bodies. Their love for each other was displayed in such a simple sculpture. Growing up in a single parent home, such love between a man and a woman was almost foreign to me. As someone who struggled believing that love existed for myself, this piece showed me that such a love is possible. It took me back to Genesis, to the creation of man and woman, whom were made from earth. Both were created for one another, in the same way that the sculpted couple fit perfectly together like compatible puzzle pieces. The thought of knowing that the sculpted couple would forever lie together for as long as the sculpture lasts, represented the longevity of their love for each other. Lachaise’s love reveals itself in his work and it speaks for itself. Gaston Lachaise’s Dans La Nuit will be a work of art that I will never forget. It taught me the truth about love.