Lent: Aaron Douglas' Noah's Ark
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This is a continuing Lenten exploration of non-religious artists' take on religion.
About the artist:
Aaron Douglas (1899-1979): Was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas. He was the most influential artist of the Black Harlem Renaissance. In 1924 he moved to Harlem, and continued his art, teaching, and becoming an art critic. His style was within the art deco genre, and synthetic cubism. His bold and simple color pallet uses range to draw attention to specific parts of the painting.
About the art:
About the art: Noah’s Ark is a classic Biblical story of Noah being the last redeemable person on the Earth, and God saving that person, while destroying the rest of humanity. It is a big do-over. Painting over the canvas to start again.
It’s one of those stories that is unbelievably horrific, yet we paint pretty images of the story in our Children’s Bibles and on baby’s nursery walls.
Douglas has quickly become one of my favorite artists. It’s because of him that I even chose to take on this project. He is not afraid to use religion to speak to broader stories, especially in the African American context.
I love his use of light. You don’t have to have an art degree to know where he has placed the focus.
In this piece it’s two-fold. First, there’s the Godlight shining on Noah. You see him giving orders, as the last minute preparations are being made on the Ark. Only, that light doesn’t radiate out.
There are two places the light radiates.
First, there’s God, stopping short of touching anything but Noah. Nothing is going to stop the rising waters, and you can see them in the background. Devastation is going to come, and God will not stop it.
Then there’s the real focus. In the background, if not for the waters, as far back as you can get, there is a worker making last minute fixes to the boat. That man is going to die. In fact, all the people, apart from Noah, are working on their death. The man in the foreground is dragging a log. Perhaps it was a log holding the boat in place. Then there is a man carrying up supplies, or pitch to the boat. All three of them will be dead.
That’s when I realized he painted Noah’s Ark to be a slave ship. Noah, in this painting, is not the “good guy” at all, just as God is not a loving God.
As Christians, we are told where to focus. How dare we draw our attention to the footnotes or the margins. God and Noah. That’s it. Practically speaking, if Noah’s Ark is to be believed, Noah couldn’t have built that Ark on his own. It was, in the truest sense, slave labor. It was slave labor because none of the workers would have gained any fruit from their hard work. No wonder Noah got stupid drunk after the waters receeded, and it was dry enough to get off the boat. If you’re that Noah, in Douglas’ painting, you would have to see the immense loss you could have prevented had you looked in the shadows.
How does Douglas’ “Noah’s Ark” preach the Word of God to the people of God?
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