Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Théodore Géricault, Raft of the Medusa

In a modern world, news and media have become a constant. The stream of information one gets almost instantaneously by logging on to the internet or turning on the television is one that has not been paralleled in the past. As a result, it is not an uncommon claim that one could make that people have become in a sense numbed to the harsh realities some face in the world. Blood and gore are elements of video games and horror films, highly accessible to even the most innocent human being. Thus, at times the shock of gruesome realities disappears. Not being receptive to these components of life today begs the question whether we could be capable of relating to or even being cognizant of realities that past cultures have experienced. For example, in Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa,  pain and suffering is the primary premise of the work. Bodies are strewn across a sinking ship, families are losing their loved ones in a setting of intense agony. And this all happens at the helm of a captain whose ineptitude has been at fault for the entire situation. The French likely heard of this incident through the news and word of mouth, pictures and depth were highly unlikely however. Thus, the painting’s detail, accuracy, and almost obscene context undoubtedly provoked shock. Once more, the shock that came for the French at the viewing of this gigantic portrayal - especially in its relation on a larger scale to the French monarchy at the time- was in a setting and time period in which the full effect of its impact can not be fully experienced once again. With the setting that we live in now, for works like Théodore Géricault’s  Raft of the Medusa to be experienced in even the slightest capacity of it’s original effect, its display and observation must be in a context in which we can at least experience in some capacity the setting in which it was originally experienced. One way of doing this could be to display a somewhat rapid slideshow of other art of the time which is more delicate or sensitive as a preface to the viewing of the Raft of Medusa. By creating an artificial context that is necessary to the work’s viewing, we can in some small way bring back the viewer to the time it was meant to be displayed in. Furthermore, lighting could play a part in this viewing as well. By displaying other works with bright and luminous backgrounds, before switching to dark and ominous backgrounds, the effect of change can be seen more dramatically by those who may not notice a change otherwise. In short, whatever way the Raft of Medusa is displayed, it is essential that the viewer’s current context is taken into consideration. Beyond that, one can only hope that a work of it’s time can still carry it’s intended effect on the vastly different audience it will receive today.

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