A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is a painting that’s always intrigued me. Especially now, knowing the whole piece is made of dots and dashes. The point of view is a calming, yet rigid feel. The artist, Georges- Pierre Seurat, used color theories and divisionism that trick the human eye into blending them on their own. Seurat spent large amounts of time on sketching and playing with the science of this piece.
Initially, the piece was a flop. In 1866, it was critiqued that it was too harsh or resembled hieroglyphics. In 1889, Seurat went back and revised the piece to create a border of red, orange and blue dots.
I am amazed at the strategy that this piece took. I would of gotten frustrated after just a few dots in.
For 30 years his work was underappreciated and misunderstood.
And fast forward to today, this piece is one of the most duplicated pieces ever. The subject matter was set on the Seine River on a suburban island and people are relaxing on a Sunday afternoon, a common retreat spot for the upper and middle class.
Ernest Block described this piece as “one single mosaic of boredom, a masterful rendering of the disappointed longing and the incongruities of a dolce far niente [idleness],” “The painting depicts a middle-class Sunday morning on an island in the Seine near Paris…despite the recreation going on there, seems to belong more to Hades than to a Sunday…The result is endless boredom, the little man’s hellish utopia of skirting the Sabbath and holding onto it too; his Sunday succeeds only as a bothersome must, not as a brief taste of the Promised Land.”https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/63510/15-things-you-might-not-know-about-sunday-la-grande-jatte-1884
My immediate response to this quote of the piece was, WOW, that’s harsh. But upon further speculation of the actual piece, a biblical truth washed all over me.
If the upper and middle class considered this a retreat and a way to spend their Sabbath, you would think there would be more joy on their faces. The way that Seurat depicts the body figures is extremely cold and not fluid. Even the people that are grouped together aren’t enjoying each other. Block is right, they seemed bored and unfulfilled. Almost like they are searching for the “getaway” but aren’t even appreciating it. The figures seem forced and not relaxed and there’s no emotion on any of their faces.
Over the last two years, I’ve made it a priority to study the historical aspect of Sabbath (I’ll cite my resources below). I’m an Ennegram 2 with a HARD 3 wing so basically I don’t like to rest. Sabbath always felt like a punishment to my spirit and I didn’t practice it. As you look at the faces of the people in this piece, it’s so forced it’s almost uncomfortable. This resonates so much with me.
Here they are on a beautiful island, just google it, and they look as if “someone licked the red off their candy.” Ya’ll can thank Nana my for that borrowed phrase.
Seurat used dots and dashes to create a scene that I could honestly talk about all day. Or ask questions like, why does that woman have a monkey on a leash?
But rather than focus on the semantics, I want to ask you, the reader, what if those dots and dashes were representative of our days? What picture would be the outcome? Would it be one of strategy like Seurat so creatively crafted over 60 draft versions or would it be thrown together? Would we throw in the towel because we feel under appreciated?
I was challenged to be more like Seurat and focus on my strategy (my mission, my calling, my roles) as a whole.
The revision of this painting can also speak volumes to us. It’s never too late to go back and add in COLOR (fun or rest) into our life. We can always edit and emend.
We are best when we take time to rest and re-center. You don’t need my permission, you have the Creators (Genesis 2:1-3).
- Bridgetown Audio Podcast: Sabbath Series, 2019.
- The Holy Bible. Christian Standard Bible. Zondervan: 2002. Research focused on (Exodus 20:8-11, Mark 2:27,Leviticus 23:3, Genesis 2:3, Isaiah 58:13, Hebrews 4:9, Ezekiel 20:12-24, Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
- Comer, M. and Jefferson Bethke. Fight Hustle, End Hurry Podcast. 2019.
- Pryor, Jeremy. Family Revisions: How Ancient Wisdom Can Heal The Modern Family. 2020.
If you want to use the photo it would also be good to check with the artist beforehand in case it is subject to copyright. Best wishes. Aaren Reggis Sela
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