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Optimism in Art: Gorman and Michelangelo
by M.R.J.
Optimism is something we can chose to use or choose not to use. Although there is a time for all emotions, even despair and sadness, use this month to find the beauty and peace portrayed in many pieces of art.

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Writers find their ideas in different ways. I seem to write the feelings most people feel at the different times and seasons of the year. I get inspiration from Holidays or special weeks in a month. This month is no different. Besides the month of March being National Woman’s History Month (see my article, “Celebrate National Women’s History Month: A Look at Mary Cassatt” ), March also brings us Optimism Month. I thought this would be a good time to present some pieces of art that helps us find happiness and optimism in a world that always seems to pull us towards pessimism.

Happy Old Couple; R.C. Gorman

R.C. Gorman, a Native American, became popular in the 1960s for his art. He used as many techniques as he did materials to produce his art. However, most of his subject matter reflects his Navajo background. In one of his drawings he portrays the optimism that can allude modern art. Happy Old Navajo Couple is a black and white drawing gently sweeping all the background and lines into the soft faces of an old man and woman. Their faces are the most predominate figures in the drawing which are enhanced by the vague blanket encompassing them. All other lines are not to be noticed as an exact form, but as a way to bring the eyes of the viewer to the faces of the couple. Clara Lee Tanner describes this drawing in her book Southwest Indian Painting:

His Happy Old Navajo Couple shows two such individuals in the full contentment of white hair and wrinkles, confident in their happiness as they reflect two lives welded through the years together. Sorrow as well as joy are mirrored in the strength in their faces (Copyright 1973, page374).

I chose this painting not just because it portrays the contentment of an old couple, but it also portrays the sadness we all face in life. Optimism is not about being happy all the time, or looking through “rose colored glasses.” Optimism is knowing the sadness of life and facing it head on; all the while holding tight to the happiness that can easily evade us. This, to me, is part of great art - the ability for an artist to portray the dynamic feelings of humanity, not the stalk or striped down feelings.

David; Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti is a man that portrays optimism in all aspects of his life. Again, not because he was always happy, but because he found triumph and joy in the midst of adversity. Michelangelo was gifted and talented. He was a prime example of the Renaissance man; a man that could paint, sculpt, write sonnets, and architect buildings. Not only did he have the skills to create all of these, he did it exceptionally well .

Sadly, Michelangelo was owned by the Popes and rulers of that time. He was not always allowed to create the sculptures he loved more than any other art form. Popes pulled him from his creations to do paintings for their own purposes. Michelangelo was quoted as saying once in frustration at being asked to paint often, “ne io pittore.” Which being translated means, “I am no painter.” For a man disclaiming his love for paint, he created some of the most celebrated paintings of all times. He painted the entire ceiling and back wall of the Sistine Chapel (i.e. The Creation of Adam). Despite his hands being tied to the desires of the Popes, he created all his projects with optimism and grace.

With his well-known sculpture, David, Michelangelo portrayed the emanate triumph of a man faced with a heavy trial. We are all faced with the task of overcoming hardship and trial. The choice then is do we ignore the problem, or face it courageously just as David did with Goliath? That human dilemma is overcome by The David sculpture.

Michelangelo sculpted David not in the actual action of slaying the brute, but in the very moment he decided to face the menace – and conquer. The outcome of David and Goliath was known to all, therefore, Michelangelo portrayed that moment of unwavering decision that brought to pass the death of the giant. The very second of decision is what is most enduring about this sculpture. The figure standing as though comfortable and in thought is the clue he has not had his determination for long. It is in David’s intense eyes- staring boldly towards that person that has forced him to come to his courageous decision- that the viewer understands Michelangelo’s meaning. David’s face, in the slightest look of apprehension, shows us the fear that David has as any person would have if faced with a brutal killer. Yet still those eyes are forcing him ahead with his unwavering decision. Although he goes into the battle with fear, he goes knowing his purpose and the weight of that purpose.

So too, we all face our own “Goliaths,” whatever that may be. Michelangelo presented us with a piece of art that can help us find strength as we face the decision: Do we face the problem, or do we choose another path? Personally, Michelangelo’s optimism portrayed in David gives me the strength to find importance and beauty in the decision to go and conquer.

Optimism is something we can chose to use or choose not to use. Although there is a time for all emotions, even despair and sadness, use this month to find the beauty and peace portrayed in many pieces of art.

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