Her beauty, with her face a little flushed and her hair ruffled, took him freshly by surprise. This shock of surprise was in all real beauty, he thought. If one was not surprised it was only a counterfeit.
Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean's Watch, p. 310.
The painting below, by artist Timothy Jones, hangs on my wall. It was finished by commission this summer.
It has been on the wall now for almost exactly a month. As the days move into the full glory of a Michigan autumn with much sunshine, welcome in the house to take off the chill, the glowing picture of oranges and strawberries seems somehow to grow more important.
No doubt it is partly the fact that I'm still not used to having it there at all, but many is the time in the last two weeks that I have looked up in the midst of thinking of something else entirely--often something boring or vexing--and have been caught by it, like the Dean in Goudge's book, taken freshly by surprise.
If you have lived any length of time in this world you know what it is like first to be a child, to take in beauty with your full attention and without self-consciousness, then to lose that ability to be captivated, then to regain it, but only in fits and starts. We are creatures, in the words of T.S. Eliot, "distracted by distraction from distraction." It is a great grace to have one's whole attention captured by something lovely and to sense its quiddity, its "whatness." It seems to me that this is where Jones's genius lies as a painter--in drawing attention to the "whatness" of good things. See Oak Leaf 1, for example, or Oranges and Raspberries, Psalm 104, and others. These pictures can give the viewer, for a moment, the opportunity to forget the self, simply to see what is there, and to feel in some way, difficult to explain, that that moment of seeing is all that matters. Jones's use of light accentuates the significant object; the light "tells" the viewer that he is right to see this thing as important, for the light rests upon it. It is only sunlight, natural light. But can sunlight ever be "mere" or "only"? The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
If we are lucky, we have these moments of clear vision sometimes in relation to nature--a shaft of sunlight cast across a church nave, blue tree shadows on the snow on a winter's evening, a translucent leaf green against a blue sky. It doesn't happen nearly often enough. One cannot command such seeings, nor sustain them by one's own power. They come when they will, the wind that bloweth where it listeth.
Nor can the visual artist capture vision in the sense of "canning" it and making it available at will. What the work of art provides is an opportunity.
My thanks to Timothy Jones for his work on the painting I own and on all the others out there. May there be many more of his works in this dark world in the years to come.
(See here for a Christendom Review feature on Jones in 2008.)