Jean Baptiste Simeone Chardin "A Vase of Flowers"
When Jesus said, and I quote the language of the King James Version, "Consider the lilies how they grow", Matthew uses a word that means to learn thoroughly, observe well, consider carefully. This lovely painting shows the artist has done that.
The peremptory summons of Jesus, to "consider the lilies", is a wake-up call. I know. I also resist the overuse of that cliche. Except this time the metaphor fits the occasion, and sends a text message into our lives. Life today leaves many chasing after their own life just making a living, cramming time with activity, with no time to see, or to be. Our society leaves people with few choices but to get on with it. Still. Jesus words, "Consider the lilies...." are an invitation to be still. Just now and then, stop. Look. Consider, observe well.
Elizabeth Jennings, that so careful observer of things, loved this painting and wrote a brief poem in tribute to the artist:
Is it the lack of self that most of all
Challenges eyes to stay
And linger over the petals that will not fall
Although they have some way
Of suggesting that Chardin, had he wanted to, could
Have moved the steady light?
Here is still-life that tells us Nature is good,
Here is a seize of sight.
It takes three quarters of the poem to ask the question about contemplation, and the power of beauty to take us outside our selves. The last line is brilliant. It says exactly what happens when loveliness in all its fragility demands to be attended to, not ignored.
Another artist, Johnny Cash, (yes he was an artist and one of the greatest in his field), was arrested in Starkville Mississippi for picking flowers by the side of the road. Mind you it was 2am. But the satire of Cash's Song, Starkville City Jail, nites deep into a culture where armed police, handcuffs and a jail cell are needed to deal with someone picking flowers. Wonmder what would have happened if he had quoted Jesus and said he was just considering the lilies..........