Sunday, November 13, 2011

Christina's World

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” ~Andrew Wyeth

Scroll all the way down on this blog to see the picture, Christina's World, by Andrew Wyeth

Happening upon this quote and sensing a familiarity with the name, I had to look him up. It was one of those “Aha” moments, where I thought, “Oh, I’ve known this person all along.” Realism draws me. Wyeth’s art has subliminally been a part of my landscape as far back as my teen years. I had ruminating moments, with chin on fist, when I realized, “The world is complex—good and evil.” Much of life is toil and any image that conjures glamour or beauty has cost someone something whether it be, time, money, sweat, study, or prayer—sometimes all of these.

So when I look at this picture, Christina’s World, what do I see? This question pulls back to Wyeth’s quote—the whole story, unrevealed. I would call myself an amateur, when it comes to appreciating art.

I’ll refer to a lyric from the song, Kodachrome. “When I think back on all the c--- I learned in high school, it’s a wonder, I can think at all. And though my lack of education, hasn’t hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall.” – Paul Simon    

Four years spent at Coconut Creek High School, and a couple at the community college down the street, not withstanding, I grasp little technique and can recall few names, but I know what I like. The contrast of light against dark, chiaroscuro, to me, illustrates a point—struggle and reward. The concepts walk side by side, one accentuating the other.

Pondering Christina’s World, the eye takes in a lot of neutral, with touches of black, here and there. The beiges and grays tell of the routine and mundane of life, the day in day out stuff that this young woman probably faces. Her dark hair tied loosely in a chignon shines with a certain grace suggesting she’s bending with the winds of hard circumstance. There lies the message. What is her story? And me, how do I see myself or what do I imagine a prairie woman’s existence entails?

My husband and I make our home in the rural mountains of North Carolina. We always said, “Either, mountains or sea.” I can’t see us surviving long in land locked topography. It seems so endless, flat, uninteresting—plain.

Christina is focused on her house, some acreage away. We don’t see her expression, but her twisted torso communicates a state of being. The gray house, in weathered siding begs a coat of paint. Obvious farm land demands most of a farmers waking hours. She seems to look on the house with longing. Is she trapped? Caged in a role of relentless routine? A housewife questioning, “Is this all there is? I am overwhelmed. I can’t do any more than I’m doing, and it’s never enough. What do you want from me?” Her fatigue shows in the lower body, with capable arms propping the better half.

Reading into the explanation of the painting, I found out that the artist witnessed his neighbor, Christina in this similar stance often. Wyeth’s wife actually served as model for Christina—as her stunt double.

As with the perception of the well-known silhouette of two vases, or two faces, whatever the perception, this painting has multiple meanings. Christina’s narrative is told, and the viewer is encouraged to contemplate her own. True beauty, true art—its universality speaks to one and many.

Christina was known to be disabled, unable to walk. She may have suffered polio. Her pressed dress and posture belabors that she wasn’t born this way. There is a frustration there. She’s hindered from accomplishing hopeful dreams. It’s as if she’s crawling towards a destiny that as she gets closer, it moves farther away. The illusion that she’s almost there, her home, where she can settle and rest, stands beyond.

Andrew Wyeth died in 2009 and is buried near the Olson homestead. An authentic artist, Wyeth empathizes with Christina, standing in solidarity with her.

If we are compassionate, we can recognize our own frailties in those of others. We can capture a sense of humility and root ourselves in its paradoxical strength.


  1. lots of thoughts in art... just out of reach, is good

  2. This has long been one of my favorites of Wyeth's paintings. Thanks for the info on Christina. We can see far more there than the image on the canvas.