Today I was fortunate to attend a slide lecture by a truly talented photographer, Tanya Marcuse, an alum of Bard College at Simon’s Rock who has been teaching there for the past decade. She showed images from her current project, “Earthly Delights,” and talked about her process of composing and selecting these images.
Tanya explained how she drew her inspiration from the famous triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights“, in which images of love and beauty are juxtaposed with macabre scenes of suffering and death.
How strange that the odd, carefully painted fantasies of a medieval Dutchman should be the inspiration for the secular landscape portraits of a thoroughly modern contemporary photographer!
And yet as Tanya talked about her work, I understood her fascination with the strange contradictions of human existence, still so potent despite the five centuries between Bosch’s artistic vision and her own.
We are loving creatures, and yet no one can hate more powerfully than we can.
We worship beauty, and yet we create ugliness.
We wish to be admired, and yet we do shameful things.
We revere life, and yet we, like all living forms, are inexorably moving towards death.
The insight that Tanya offers us through her images is that even in death there is life. Even in the ugliness of decay there is beauty.
Hers is a powerful message of hope, shared through beautiful art that cuts a blazing path through these dark times.
All things must pass, George Harrison crooned. All things must pass away.
But in our Garden of Earthly Delights, our lovely, perishable, indestructible planet, all things will rise again, too.
There is hope and a shred of security in that knowledge.