I just came back from a very long seminar about the sublime. It’s a course I’m doing the next 6 months and already I have been enlightened. Sometimes different art forms, but also happenings in real life, can have a strange impact on you. You are amazed, but also maybe a little thrown, scared and intrigued. In this blog, I want to find out what things or events cause this complex emotional feeling. How sublime strikes us..
The example we talked about during the seminar was an art piece by the painter Caspar David Friedrich. I was always amazed by the work of this brilliant man, but today I understood (a little bit more) why. The particular piece I want to talk about is Mönch am Meer. The piece mainly shows nature. Nature with the capital N. The sublime is often shown (doesn’t always have to be) in nature and the way it cannot be tamed by humanity. We feel small and fragile when facing this type of aggressiveness that can be shown by nature. The monk is so small he almost fades in the black and rough sea.
Now, place yourself in his position. Feel the wind blowing and see the sky grow darker and darker, closing in on you. Hear the rough see almost roar, so close you feel spatters of water on your head. What do you feel? Scared, intimidated? Of course! But the sublime is more then that. You also feel kind of strong. It gives you power, it inspires you! I think that the sublime shows itself in the combination of these emotions. It’s like when you see a thunderstorm. You’re actually kind of afraid, but it also puts a spell on you, it fascinates you. We are all in some way drawn to the huge and destructive character of nature.
In some kind of way I think a sublime experience happened to Lieutenant Dan in the movie Forrest Gump. Religious connotations are often made with events in nature; it would be a reflection of the power of God. Lieutenant Dan challenges God when the boat Forrest and the lieutenant use for catching shrimp finds itself in a big storm at sea. He calls it a duel between the almighty and himself as a tiny human being. Ultimately he finds peace in the storm, it changes him completely. Lieutenant Dan got rid of his anger (and in some way his fear) by surviving the storm and becomes a humble man. He finds some inner peace that maybe we all feel when facing this type of nature violence. A feeling of zen, like you absorbed the power and made it your own.
I’m very curious if any of you who read my articles ever had a sublime feeling. Maybe through a painting, maybe you survived a tornado of some sort?! I’m very intrigued by the subject of the sublime and how it really affects someone’s life.
– Gracia Visscher