Monk by the Sea by Friedrich Caspar David
I saw this painting for the first time today in my Modern Art I class. Though you can’t get the complete effect without seeing in person, viewing it projected on this huge screen was so jarring for me. I rarely have kind of extremely intense emotional reaction to a painting. Immediately I felt pulled into the landscape. I could hear the waves, I could smell the sea, I felt the breeze hitting my face, and the sand squishing between my toes. I was immediately transported to this cold beach, watching the monk stand alone against this vast sky. This work creates such a sense of awe at the majesty of nature and thus an awe of some kind of God or at least creation itself.
It’s funny, because someone in my class said they really disliked this painting because it was somber and depressing. It is true that along with this sense of seeing a scene of overwhelming beauty, I also felt a little bit of discomfort. However, I did not see this as a bad thing. It reminded me of that moment when you realize how insignificant you are relative to the world, to the universe. It is a feeling that can produce both great relief and profound anxiety. It is wonderful because you are a small part of this greater picture, but at the same time it makes you feel helpless against these powerful forces.
In short, I adore this painting.