Art does what religion fails

For the second time ever I go to the Mauritshuis. Even without all that art, the crowded museum would be like a palace. The wallpaper, the stairs, the carpet: man, what a beauty. ‘Why have I never been here as a child with my mother, for example, it’s only a stone’s throw from my parents’ home, or even in a museum?’, I wonder as I walk along with my hands in my pants pockets, the paintings stroll.

At Paulus Potter’s ‘The Bull’ (1647) I stop for minutes and take a small step to the side, hoping to make eye contact with one of the two bulls on the huge canvas. I am reminded of my late grandmother, whose face or character I cannot remember. I remember that early morning, probably just after prayer, when I hopped with her and the cows to the other side of my native town as a baby. The grass was greener there. After mom, my sisters, brother and I came to the Netherlands for family reunification, I never saw my grandmother again.

“Hello bulls,” I say; the tourists around me won’t understand anyway. I stroll on.

I dwell even longer on ‘Mennesket liv’ (1662) by Jan Steen. My art teacher once told me about the bubble popping boy, next to a skull, at the top. Steen would like to say that you have to be on your guard, because life in the brewery can explode. I also got that message in my righteous nest. It is now a voice in my head. And I stop at ‘Old Woman and Boy with Candle’ (1617), painted by Peter Paul Rubens. And in ‘Dancing peasants in front of a Bohemian inn’ (1610), by Roelant Savery. And with the suffering Jesus, painted differently each time. Everyday life – resting with the cattle by a tree, lighting candles with Omalief, dancing and God and suffering – can apparently be very beautiful.

A large part of the works touch my life, my environment, which already occupied me as a child. And that is exactly why it would have been so good if I had come here more often. Art is more than beauty. After all, art can also be uplifting.

Art is more than beauty. Art can also be uplifting

I know: exaltation is a thing of the past. Or, as novelist Christine Otten writes in her essay The other does not exist. Prayer for courage in literature: today we don’t often use the word ‘exaltation’, or a variant thereof, ‘because of the condescending connotation’. As a girl, Otten did not even dare to dream that she would become a writer. It was not possible, not for her, not for girls from a background like hers. Her parents and grandparents had the same idea. They also saw literature as ‘higher’ art.

Literature for them was ‘something they did not automatically have access to’, but they needed because ‘they wanted to develop and free themselves from the yoke of ‘church, state and capital’.’ For example, Otten’s father read books and found his ‘way out’ that way. He transcended his environment.

The cruel thing is that elevation brings growing pains. Otten in his essay: ‘My father became an accountant at a carpet factory, which was already very much for the environment (we would say ‘underprivileged’) where he grew up. Despite, or perhaps because of, his upward social mobility into the lower middle class, and because he actually disliked numbers and loved language, he became alienated from himself and his environment and developed a severe anxiety disorder which left him incapacitated and regularly stayed in psychiatry. hospitals.’

I think the upliftment of art lies in the simple fact that it makes you think about the present, about the happiness and suffering here, and because it allows you to ask yourself questions, to question at all, to give your own answers. Unlike religion, I was never allowed to question God and religious norms; it was diabolical, almost blasphemous. Art is all the more uplifting because it shows you what a man can create, what he is capable of.

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