What ensnared me about Picasso’s trajectory of work was not, at first, his manipulation of human bodies into geometric shapes. It was how such contortions, such inhuman contraptions could evoke the most human of responses.
I remember the first time i saw an image of Guernica, Picasso’s brutal rendering of the bombing of Guernica, Spain, in 1937. It was the first lecture of my AP Art History class, my teacher flicking through some of the most notable works in the canon to illustrate how we were to speak of line and color and shape. I don’t remember how to write about line and shape, but i do remember feeling my face flush and eyes burn at the angle of the screaming woman’s neck, the baffled expression on (of all things) a bull.
“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
That’s my favorite Picasso quote. Perhaps he meant the transformation of art, how he learned to paint like a Renaissance master and then decided to break all the rules. To create, he had to first destroy. Or maybe he meant that the birth of anything new means first an old way of being must die. From decaying matter sprouts come forth, that sort of thing.
I’ve been ruminating on this cycle of destruction and creation today, on Ash Wednesday. Marking the beginning of our Lenten practice is nothing other than words taken from the Christian burial rite: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Just as spring is starting to whisper comes this macabre reminder that we are mortal beings.
The line itself – dust to dust- comes from Genesis 3, as God is telling Eve and Adam the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit. There are so many feminist ways in which this text can be read – Phyllis Trible’s tackling of gender subordination as a perversion of God’s intended equality being one of my personal favorites. And yet when i hear this text preached i always hear our damnation, our inherent tendency to be sinful.
When what really strikes me is God continuing to speak to humanity, even after humanity has wronged Her.
From destruction remains the promise of creation: new creation.
So this lent, i’m joining fellow Talking Taboo contributor Micha Boyett in her #FoundGrace photo-a-day project. She has plenty of excellent reasons for choosing this phrase, which you can read about on her blog. But for me, this process of finding grace is seeking out the creation in the destruction, the life in what has passed and the potential of what is coming. It’s seeing the beauty that can come from such horrors like the bombing of Guernica, the loss of people we love.
Lent is a time to mourn as much as it is to ready ourselves for the resurrection of Easter. And finding grace seems like the perfect way to honor this dialectic.