Hope, it is the one thing that has the ability to spur someone on even in the midst of adversity and impossibility. There are only a few artworks that can move me, cause me to shed or tear or break out in laughter. And yet Hope (1898), a painting by George Fredericks Watts caused me to have mixed emotions that I never had before.
Guess what Barack Obama’s favorite painting is—Hope. The painting is part of the permanent collection, Objects in the Tide of Time at the Iziko South African National Gallery. There is a sense of hope that one feels after looking at the painting. You tend to appreciate your life a little more; especially your gift of sight and your ability to be able to see and appreciate the artwork before your eyes.
Hope is a melancholic painting. There is a faint sense of hope in the painting that makes me almost wish the painting was entitled Despair instead of Hope. The female in the painting stands as an allegorical figure of hope. I think the painting’s message is one of optimism in the face of adversity.
The subject in Hope (1886) is hunched, barefoot and blindfolded. The blindfold symbolizes her blindness and isolation. The woman sits on a large rock and plays a broken musical instrument, a lyre, while she bends her ear to listen to the melodious musical notes. She uses her other senses—touch and sound—to lionize the art (music). The painting could be thought of as “art within art” actually. The lyrist (a person who plays a lyre) sits in her rags and plays music. Music is another form of art.
What fascinates me is that the viewer has to use his senses in order to understand the painting. You have to imagine the music that could be paying in the background and try to imagine how the woman uses her other senses to make sense of the world. Can you hear the music though? If not then imagine it. The peace or the sense thereof that resonates from the painting; for me that is the hope that Watts speaks of.
The painting is filled with hues of blues and greens the overall atmosphere is one of sadness and desolation rather than hope. The woman in the painting seems forlorn. The use of blue in the art piece adds on to the mood of dourness that is reflected by the painting. The tone of the artwork is of sadness. Only because of the title of the painting do we get a glimpse of hope. The feeling that perhaps not all is lost after all.
I found myself a lot of questions when I encountered the painting. I even sat down on the dusty floor of the Gallery just so I can put my thinking cap on for a minute or two. Who is the subject? Why does she sit on a rock? And why is she alone? Is she lonely? What was the artist trying to say to the viewer? The painting actually resonates with me a lot since I have been through a lot this past couple of years in my life and in my struggles as a student. It gave me the ‘hope’ I needed to carry on, even though by then I was hit by the UCT syndrome (fatigue) hard and all I wanted to do was to go pack my belongings and head on out to see the world. But I am no punk nor am I a quitter. Are you? If not, then grab your struggles by the throat and clasp hope with your other hand and keep moving forward.
Scientists are not doing their normally yippee-dye-yapping when they say that music has soothing and calming qualities. In some way music can help you switch off the fracas in your head. It is good to press the pause button in your mind palace every once in a while and take the time to calm the many voices in your head. At times we like romanticizing our depression and making our problems much more bigger than they actually are but actually:
“It’s not as bad as you sometimes think it is. It ALL works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. If you do your best, it all works out. Put your trust in God and move forward, with faith and confidence in the future.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley
The funny thing about life is that there is always something or someone to lean on during the hard times. And there is always an alternative. If you can’t use your eyes, then use your fingers or ears.