Friday, October 3, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 17)

This famous 1948 work of art, Christina's World, has become one of Modern Art's iconic images.  Recreated in several movies, the scene shows a woman strewn on the ground of a field, her fist clenching the earth, looking up ahead toward a farmhouse on the horizon.  Once again, this painting is accomplished through hard-edge approaches to technique; each blade of grass is especially distinguished to give a thorough vision of the field.  This attention to the detail of the ground brings us nearer the earth, as if we are seeing the grass and dirt up-close.  And amid it is the stark contrast of the woman's pink dress.  Christina refers to a real person, a neighbor of Wyeth's, who was crippled and suffered from polio.  Her struggle in the painting is then a very literal, or physical, one: she must slowly, painfully crawl up the hill to reach the farmhouse—and the distance is daunting.  Suddenly the specificity of the grass all around her has meaning, for all of this she must traverse—each blade of grass—with strained effort and great difficulty in order to reach the house.  Her destination, however, appears grim rather than inviting, resting dark and ominous in the distance.  The struggle is vast and intimidating, and the end result appears equally hopeless: this is the world in which this woman lives, as the title alludes to.  Thematically, the pictured struggle of this woman has come to be recognized also as a spiritual battle, fighting against the nature of the world itself, its apparent cruelty and hopelessness.  She digs her fingers into the earth in defiance and holds her head up to face the horizon while a faint gust of wind lifts a couple locks of her hair to the side.  We never see her face, but we can identify with her anyway to a degree almost as thorough as the realism of the grass all around her—we might as well picture ourselves in the scene, holding such a posture (though it is quite an exaggerated pose).  Faced with similar circumstances, all alone in the world, beaten down by our own infirmities to the bare soil of the earth, and plunged into the desolate waste land of an empty field, would we be able to make it safely to our destination?  Surely, this is not a life for the faint of heart.  But Wyeth's painting broadens its contexts to all of humanity.  It is the state of the modern world; that things are difficult and nature is cruel.  The literal situation for Christina in the painting is for the human race the imminent metaphorical situation in the Postmodern Age.  The poeticism of such a painting still rings cords of profundity in American popular culture today: this is probably the most frequently imitated painting in modern motion picture history.

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