Cause the Audience To…

By MARIANNE WOOD

A painting that I encountered at The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth when I was teaching AP Art History gave me a new perspective on the power of art. And with it came a renewed sense of God’s care for me as an artist and art appreciator.

I’d seen this work in books and online, but nothing prepared me for the emotional experience that occurred when I saw it in person. So I approached it with the attitude of a partygoer glimpsing an acquaintance I’d once met, liked a lot, and hoped to meet again for a more vibrant conversation. This meeting with a particular painting was like that.

There it was: Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, 1594, by Caravaggio. And oh, my, what depth! I could see the background details, the brushstrokes, the mastery of the subtleties of light and shadow known as chiaroscuro and tenebrism. Known for far-ranging values of light and dark and dramatic lighting, this painting showcases Caravaggio’s genius. The intensity of emotion on the face of Francis, the tenderness of the angel, and the tricks employed by this great master suck you into the story he tells. 

Perhaps you know this feeling from your own experiences with art, from hearing glorious music, from watching Olympic skaters perform a flawless routine, or from reading a passage in a book that takes your breath away. With the nuance the maker intended us to see, this work moved me to tears up close and in person! Like a good museum visitor, I walked away after a reasonable amount of time but got no more than a few feet before I had to return to see if the reaction repeated. It did! Now, where to hide until I could compose myself? I had students to check on.

A painting of a person and person

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Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, 1594, by Caravaggio, public domain image

From what I’ve read, viewed, and repeated in classes about this scrappy genius, he reflected his time and talent with rich colors and complex compositions. His entire body of work commands a deeper look. This particular painting requires a visit to The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, when not on tour elsewhere.

Two More Examples

Seeing Camelot at the old Dallas Music Hall in Fair Park starring Richard Burton changed how I look at actors. Sitting far from the front of the stage as a young teen, I learned that the word “gift,” as in a particular skill, in an actor sometimes means that the distance from actor to the audience contracts. David Hyde-Pierce reinforced this knowledge several decades later when in New York City with my husband, we enjoyed the immensity of his talent as he performed in Curtains. He, like Burton as King Arthur, seemed to perform the role of Lt. Frank Cioffi just for us. 

When you think of other artists–visual, musical, or literary–who or what works come to mind? What made them great? What did they give you, personally? What did they or could they cause you to do…or want to do better?

Each encounter with a great work of art, artist, speaker, writer, or friend, and indeed, mostly and particularly the Friend we meet in scripture and prayer, sets up the questions I posed. One of those critical questions comes from a Bible Study Fellowship method I learned years ago. This method lingers and informs my words, actions and even my current writing and painting. A summary of this method follows:

1. Make a list of the themes, scenes, and events in the form of sentences.
2. Group the sentences into paragraphs, noting the connecting verses.
3. Create a short summative sentence.
4. Ask yourself the aim of the passage and answer what you want to Cause the Audience To… (hopefully in ten words or less)
5. Apply what you have learned by asking three to five key questions.

The CAT part sticks with me most profoundly. What do I want my readers to gain?

My CAT for you today: Examine your responses to various works to facilitate growth in grace. 

And finally, some application questions: What is the focal point, the vital message or perspective of the works I see on Instagram, in museums, books, or on the stage? What kind of experiences cause me to live more graciously? Most importantly, how do I want to change as a result? What can I deliver to help others (and myself) grasp the grace in God’s direction and care?

Marianne Wood works as an editorial assistant and researcher for Bill Wright

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