Saturday, October 03, 2009

Into the deep


Recently, I mentioned Monet's "Water Lilies" on the same day the APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) was a spectacular panorama of the region of the constellation Orion between the belt and the scabbard. It occurred to me to juxtapose the two images. (Click to enlarge.)

The one, on a scale of meters. The other, on a scale of tens of light-years. A difference of 17 orders of magnitude.

Monet said of his work: "Everyone discusses [my art] and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love."

He shortchanges understanding.

The first question of the old catechism asks: "Why did God make me?" The answer: "To know, to love, to serve." Understanding is a prerequisite to love, and love is an invitation to greater understanding. The two are inseparable. The naturalist John Burroughs, who was Monet's almost exact contemporary (and late-life look-alike), said, "To know is not all, it is only half. To love is the other half."

The painting of the pond at Giverny and the Orion photograph invite us into the depths of nature, there to encounter as through a glass darkly the source (or sources) of our wonderment. Anyone who looks at Monet's water lily paintings (of which there are many) or the Hubble photographs of the universe, say, and is not stuck dumb with love is simply not paying attention. But to love without understanding is only half. Art and science are our left foot and our right foot as we go praising through the world.