|"Hibiscus Glory" 16x20 mixed media SOLD; prints available|
I was intrigued by a recent study about people’s fears. It was done broadly (worldwide) to see if there were any differences in race or culture. The conclusion was that what people fear most, no matter who they are or where they come from, is darkness.
I wondered if fear was a part of us at birth or if it’s simply human nature to fear what we do not understand or that which is unknown? For whatever reason, the study concluded that most people, most children all around the world fear darkness.
As a Christian, this set my spiritual wheels turning. Scripture declares that every person “that comes into the world” is born with the light of Christ in his heart. (John 1:9 KJV) It would only make sense then that coming from our creator God “trailing clouds of glory,” as Wordsworth put it, we would be afraid of the dark which has always represented evil.
Believers hunger and thirst for light in much the same way that all living things reach for the light. A seedling pushes through the dark earth in search of the life-giving light of the sun that will nourish it and feed it as it grows. Even the lowest of animal forms seeks out light for warmth. On any given morning in Florida, my sidewalk is filled with lizards that crawl out of their dark havens to warm themselves in the light.
Snakes slither from their dark holes in much the same way. They become intoxicated and lethargic as they drink in the warmth of the sun seemingly blinded by the brightness. You can walk right by them and they barely notice.
Darkness is often used as a reference to evil, and good is portrayed as light. Darkness can also be seductive and intriguing. It is more difficult to ignore sin and temptation in the darkness. We are deceived into thinking that darkness somehow hides or “covers” our sin.
Light reveals and exposes truth and evil. No wonder we run from the light when we feel guilty or “bad.” No wonder people, especially children, fear darkness because it leads us into the unknown and may cause us to do bad things.
Darkness also has its own beauty: a starlit sky, the moon glowing through wisps of clouds, the skylights of a city sprinkled across the landscape. Darkness provides contrast. In a painting it’s all about light. The tiniest glow of light against a dark canvas looks even brighter. If the whole composition were light, the objects would appear flat and uninteresting. It is the contrast in color and intensity that gives a painting life.
How an artist handles the play between light and darkness, shadow and changes in value tells you a lot about his or her style. Some creatives like subtle changes and soft values. Others passionately splash color boldly and provide luminous eye-popping light that defines shape and creates depth. In this way darkness can define space and provide a backdrop for light making it glow with luminescence.
The subject of the composition and its treatment determines whether evil is present or perceived. The color red may also indicate evil if the images are coarse and vulgar. A red rose may also appear holy and beautiful if the petals are delicate and soft. Treatment has as much to do with how evil is perceived as darkness itself.
Study the Masters and see how they contrast light against darkness. Analyze your own reaction to it to see if the painting registers somber, illuminating, inspiring or degrading. Your response indicates the power of darkness to reveal the essence of goodness or of light.