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A single pair of legs, kicking up from the ocean. Kicking up from the far right corner of a pleasant landscape depicting what may be the most tranquil morning in the history of pleasant landscapes. And there, the legs – added as almost an afterthought to the scheme of things – a splash unnoticed by the shepherd and his roly poly sheep or the farmer making even rows in the field.
In Pieter Bruegel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” I find a strange sort of inspiration and motivation; a call to action and compassion – ironically from a painting that could stand as the greatest conception of indifference in the history of art. I remember the first viewing; a sweeping glance that yielded only a mild reaction towards yet another typical renaissance painting. Then, a halfhearted examination of the title. Searching, searching for Icarus – and then finding him. Once mirth at the clever placement passed, I was filled with an unsettling feeling. Something, something about the painting was bothersome and continued to be so long after the slides had been put away.
Then, it hit me. A young boy, a boy who had flown with the birds and nearly touched Apollo’s chariot, had fallen. A young boy had just plummeted to his death. He must have cried out before slicing into the dark waters and that splash must have been audible to every figure in the painting – and yet how everything turns away.
An accurate judgment on the nature of society centuries ago, the message is still applicable yet. The tragedies of others are nothing more than background noise for our daily lives – and we have willed it so. We advert our gaze from the ringing bells of the Salvation Army outside the store we enter for the purpose of buying goods that cater to more a want than a need. We change the channel on World Vision and Feed the Children programs, choosing glamorized sitcoms over the imploring eyes of a starving child. We avoid the evening news because “it’s just too depressing,” or worse yet, because we just don’t care. We have taken to putting on an armor of apathy everyday to shield us from anything that might deter from our paths of self interest.
This is the reality.
This, I reject.
I refuse to accept apathy as protection from emotional disturbance. To me, the painting suggested the demon I have sought to banish with everything that I do. I teach to see my students excited to be playing Scrabble – not even realizing they are learning. The Junior State of America is founded on the assumption that there are adolescents who question the established and who seek to voice their opinion. Theater is all tears and screams and laughing and everything to every extreme. Yearbook documents a year with the mindset that the memories created do matter. Because everything does. I seek not to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders – one would collapse. But, I do seek to understand and to inspire. I have found my purpose in caring, in wanting to care. For so long my greatest fear was simply that nobody else would. That one day, I would awaken to find that like the painting, everyone had turned away.
After all, worse than hate or disdain is indifference. Our ability to feel is what makes us human. We are weak, we are vulnerable. We are supposed to be affected by pain – that is how we are made. So often now we allow machines and technology to dictate our schedules and thoughts, lending a sterile efficiency that has turned us into productive automatons. By allowing our minds to deny what our hearts recognize as truth is the mark not of progression, but regression. We are only able to maintain that facade of indifference so people look. My art, my voice, my words can tell the world, it is about one person. It is about every person. I can make them care.
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