Shadow and Act

Magdelen2.jpg

Longtime readers know that I'm a big fan of the Met, and particularly the paintings of its western European masters. There's probably a better term for what I mean to describe, but being a newjack I guess I have to sound like ones.


This is "The Penitent Magdelin" by Georges de la Tour. I got to see it in person on Saturday, for the first time. I'd previously thought a lot about it, having spent some time studying in an art book. I find it utterly arresting mostly for what it does not show--Magdelin's face--and for the shadow and darkness all around. Kenyatta made a good point yesterday--you can't see her face, but you see the candle reflected in the mirror, almost to emphasize a kind of transfiguring from something wholly carnal, to something wholly soulful.

(MAD MEN SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP)

But on the point of darkness, I thought about this piece Sunday watching Krzysztif Kieslowski's elegant Blue, and again last night while watching the new Mad Men. In each case, I was presented with images which I wished had been the end, but ended up extending through the episode. In the case of Mad Men, I thought the image of SDP's lobby being filled with black people was so arresting that I really didn't want to see anything after that--at least not in that episode.


This isn't a judgement of absolutism--it's ultimately about taste. And the more I explore the more interested I become in how light so often obscure, and how darkness and silence can often enlighten. I'm thinking about this a lot even in fiction, where the current bias seems to be toward as much information and detail as possible, and away from allusion.

Anyway. Just some thoughts. You really should see this piece in person, if you're ever in New York. It really is stunning.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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