This is an excellent example of a whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts. Here’s the picture:
It’s called “The Bard”, and it was painted by John Martin in 1817; it was based on a poem by Thomas Gray (you can read that here; it’s a long one, but totally awesome). Whether you actually read it or not, here’s the backstory:
King Edward III killed all the Welsh-Celtic bards back in the day (the 1300′s). Finding a common thread with that idea (“The Man” suppressing “The Arts”), a bunch of Romantic Era painters decided to adopt it as a theme for their work during the age of Napoleon‘s conquest of EVERYTHING. (Also, this other painting is amazing for a whole bunch of different reasons.) “The Bard” is one of the results.
And it blows mah mind.
So lets examine this piece of mind blowing art:
There’s an awful lot of background. I think the purpose here was to drill home just how tiny the people are. It really provides a sense of scale, not just in a “man, those are big mountains” kind of way, but in a “man we’re all insignificant” kind of way. Or Martin just liked painting mountains.
The first thing you see after taking in the mountains is that old dude: he’s separated from an army of soldiers by this roaring river, and it’s entirely possible he’s flipping them off. Upon further zooming, we discover that he is, in fact…
… NOT flipping the bird. Balls.
Or is he?
What does the middle finger signify? Rebellion. Refusal to accept something, saying, in essence, “I don’t care about you or your rules, I defy you”. And while he’s not saying that with his fingah, he’s sure saying it with his posture.
There, in a precarious situation, this bard, the very embodiment of artistic expression, is rocking out in a classic air guitar pose made even awesomer by the fact that he actually has an instrument, and that instrument is a frikkin’ harp. How did he get up there with that thing? And only wearing a few bedsheets? And COMPLETELY BAREFOOT?
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s there, and right before he disappears completely, he’s letting THE MAN know that HE is defied, and as long as the bard is there to sing, as long as people hear and remember and KNOW the songs he sang, then that defiance will always be there.
This painting is a beautifully crafted “the finger” that was painted 200 years ago, and it shows that musicians knew how to rock out even before the words “rock out” meant anything more than making your shoes more comfortable.
I love this painting. Just thought I’d share.