Art is passion. It is the artist’s drive, his love. The artist pours his lifeblood into his creation and so, as long as the art survives, the artist is never truly gone.
Using my project for AP European History class as an excuse to go to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., I pass wide-eyed through the halls filled with paintings and sculpture. Jittery with excitement I look forward to rounding each corner, aware that there lies some new wonder. As I turn into one room I cannot avoid directing my attention to a medium-sized painting hanging on the left wall, unembellished under theater-like spotlights. The little plaque beneath the painting dubs it “The Mill” by Rembrandt. The furrows of clouds draw my attention, more closely resembling smoke that seems to swallow up the last clear patch of sky. On closer inspection, my focus is diverted to the winding dirt path that lies in shadow, seeming to dare the onlooker into the painting. On the path there are a few plainly clad children absorbed in mundane tasks, taking no notice of the world above them. A river stretches forth around a bluff and on into the depths of the painting, past the onlooker’s vision. Over the river, over the road, over the children, and silhouetted against the sky the mill looms in grand solitude.
The lines and definitions of shapes are made more accurate when standing a few paces away. That perfect distance of viewing must be where Rembrandt stood as he painted nearly four hundred years ago. Through this time portal, I see him by the light of candles bending over a bowl and pestle grinding his own pigments. Faded rags protect his hands from the cold as the seasons change while, still, he works on his creation. No electric lighting aids him as he squints to make out the exact color he is mixing. A little raw umbra will cause the paints to dry faster he says to himself, realizing that he needs to work quickly. He alternates between loving and hating his creation, but is compelled to begin again and again.
Staring at the glory of the simplicity of a painting that portrays so many subtle intricacies that renders it anything but simple, I realized that this – this piece of art that survives today – is a view into the life and soul of a man. There is such a thing as immortality, and I have witnessed it.