Art of Comfort

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls
Dec 2020
Yuqin (Sophia)
D.
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

What’s your deepest impression of Boston? Lobster, or the Charles River maybe? For me, it’s the rich art atmosphere. It’s not just about how good museums are, but more about how convenient it is for us students to visit them.

The Harvard art museum is by far my preferred destination. It’s right next to the Harvard yard, and the entry is free for students. At first, I was shocked to find out how big a university-affiliated museum could be. I don’t want this to sound like an advertisement, but there is one painting which served as a song of comfort for me this year.

After coming back from winter vacation, COVID-19 hit my hometown. This meant endless worries for family and friends. In these hard times, I found refuge and comfort in the art museum to pursue inner peace. The painting in question, which got all my attention, was “Mother and Child” by Pablo Picasso.

“Mother and Child”, by Pablo Picasso. Exposed in the Harvard art museum

Aren’t you immediately sucked in by the distinguishing blue color? This painting dates back from a period called The Blue Period (Periodo Azul) between 1901 and 1904. As the name implies, paintings from this period are all based on blue pigments. For Picasso, the blue also represented depression. In 1901, on his way to Spain, he heard the grievous news that his very good friend Casagemas had committed suicide in a French cafe––from that point on, his style shifted to a more gloomy atmosphere.

In this work, blue already gave us a sign; it tells a sad story. It depicts a single mother who used to work as a prostitute and was later put in jail for it. Picasso personally visited this place and found inspiration in the mother and her child.

If you look carefully, the mother has her eyes closed, giving out a sense of peace, calm and kindness. The background is vague, but smooth like water and strong like steel. Instead of the poor and dirty environment you might imagine, Picasso focused on the mother’s love for her baby. As if he was trying to tell us something. Perhaps that the purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off our souls.

I find the love emphasized in this painting particularly soothing. It still inspires me today, when I struggled with tracking the death number and COVID-19 spread, to remind myself to love friends, to love work, and to love myself. There is always a beautiful side, we just need to discover it and keep it alive.

Not only can art comfort you, it also can be your companion. When I was young, for a while, I loved reading Sanmao. She talks about painting, and loves Picasso. She said: “If I marry, I will marry Picasso.” In Picasso’s paintings, Sanmao finds her soulmate. In “mother and child”, I find a similar attraction. And this does not need to be just about art. No matter whether you are involved in liberal arts or the sciences, the reason you choose it is to find the pure land of the soul.