Hope and Despair (and Géricault) in 2012

© Liz Hager, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1819
Oil on canvas, approximately  16 x 23.5 feet
(Louvre, Paris)

Over most of my adult life, I have habitually devoted sizable chunks of time at year’s end compiling a well-reasoned list of New Year’s resolutions. The best intentions were poured into these annual exercises.  Not surprisingly, however, very little ever came of my earnestly-wrought declarations. Invariably, by mid-to-late January I had put most resolutions quietly aside. In February, the lists themselves had become loathsome to me, glaring signposts on the pathway to personal defeat.

This year I finally resisted the urge to make a list.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, on New Year’s Eve, in a last ditch effort at helpful guidance, a friend suggested he read the Tarot for me.  Three cards pulled from his Buddhist-inspired deck provided an elegant composite answer to my burning question: “What should I focus on this year?” In order, they were:

Alertness (Technically, the card is “Laziness” but, ever the optimist, I prefer a more positive meaning. . .)
Inner Voice

We flail about during our blip of a physical lifetime.  Julian Barnes forcefully captured the emotions that shape our existence in his fictional treatment of Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (from  A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters)

All that straining—to what end? There is no formal response to the painting’s main surge, just as there is no response to most human feelings. Not merely hope, but any burdensome yearning: ambition, hatred, love (especially love)—how rarely do our emotions meet the object they seem to deserve? How hopelessly we signal; how dark the sky; how big the waves. We are all lost at sea, washed between hope and despair, hailing something that may never come to rescue us.

In point of fact, M. Géricault, the real Medusa castaways were, at long last, rescued.  Fittingly, my Tarot reading suggests hope in the face of existential despair. Snippets include:

We have forgotten how to wait; it is almost an abandoned space. And it is our greatest treasure to be able to wait for the right moment. This card reminds us that now is a time when all that is required is to be simply alert, patient, waiting. . . The poolside resort is not your final destination. The journey isn’t over yet. Your complacency might have arisen from a real sense of achievement, but now it’s time to move on. No matter how fuzzy the slippers, how tasty the piña colada, there are skies upon skies still waiting to be explored. . . There are times in our lives when too many voices seem to be pulling us this way and that. Our very confusion in such situations is a reminder to seek silence and centering within. Only then are we able to hear our truth.

My takeaway for 2012: The seas of life may toss me, but all there is to do is wait patiently, on alert, for the arrival of my next Argus. My life raft is beneath me.

Wider Connections

“Art & Perception”—The Raft of the Medusa
Adad Hannah’s Raft of the Medusa tableau vivant
Osho Zen Tarot CarddeckOsho Zen Tarot: The Transcendental Game Of Zen

9 Responses to “Hope and Despair (and Géricault) in 2012”

  1. I guess it’s possible that the “pulling and straining” are what inspired the Pogues to use this painting as the cover art for their album, “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash”. Art on top of Art!

  2. Nice post. Had a hard year and missed reading you. I felt a bit lost at sea like the painting. My resolutions are Mindfulness ,Marriage (as in yes, after 18 years a widow , I found a mate & will get hitched again this Spring), and Making, as in Maker Faire where I have shown two years in a row. It’s a sort of sea change being an artist in a tech heaven like Maker Faire but very interesting. Seems full circle to be reading the blog again. I agree totally about waiting, and it’s difficulty in our world. There is so much instant gratification out there. But to save pennies, I started baking again. Gotta wait, have to knead the bread, have to wait three times for it to rise. The reward is incomparable to store bread, but it was hard in the beginning to wait.
    I remember when I first saw a reproduction of this painting, that no one seemed to notice the dead man half in the sea on the lower right. It seemed very dark. Maybe my greatest fear to die unnoticed. Yet they didn’t give up and neither did I. Last year I had a holiday job selling at the Metropolitan Museum of Art among a staff who didn’t seem to care very much about art, and demanded all personnel must stand the entire day–even the older women. We got one short break, and one meal break. I was lucky I was a walker, but it was very disheartening to be a person who adored art and places where I could see it and feel less valued for knowing art history. I will never work in that capacity in a museum again. I could barely live on the part time salary, though I know it was keeping a few of the older women afloat, and a few of the younger ones in school. Never expected to be inside that place and feel so disheartened. Was too tired for resolutions in 2011.

  3. Long long time ago I saw this painting in the Louvre.
    I did not know this painting was so important.
    Still it is not the end of it!
    It begins with hope and despair but it will end nevertheless!

    again the last ebb
    the dead shingle
    the turning then the steps
    towards the lights of old

    A poem by Samuel Beckett

  4. Yeah, you’re back. Great post. Yes, a year to be patient!

  5. How wonderful to see you post again. I stopped making New Year’s resolutions ages ago – I can’t say that they made me feel defeated but I hate all the hoopla and hype around that holiday. When I retired which is now (My GOD – 7 years ago), I vowed to paint every day, walk every day, rejoice every day. Now, I write every day as well. If I don’t make it every day, then every other day. Cherish my friends, cook good food and try not to look back. One of my favorite sayings is a whole bunch of advice from Satchel Page in which he advises us to “keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move. ” So let’s all “jangle” through 2012. Not a bad way to go.

  6. What a joyous moment to see you are back! I would say it evoked feelings of “hope” for the year. You can’t have one without the other anyway. Cheers!

  7. Hello Liz
    It’s great to hear from you again and to come back to the V.R. columns. Resolutions for 2012 ? Yes, Patience seems to be a magic word for many of us. I’m also meditating on those voices pulling us this way and that. I just wonder if being connected to many inner voices does not belong to the artist nature? to human nature as well?
    Another card, from the “Tarot of Marseille” this time, is number 9, the Hermit : he is moving forward, holding his own light, not to loose his way.
    Maybe the inner light. When inner voices become to loud !
    Could be the wishes for the coming year too, for the coming journey even if it looks like being a stormy one.
    Patience, and Confidence.

    I Miss your posts!

  8. January 6, 2013

    Hello Liz,

    Happy New Year and all the best for the rest of the year.

    I write a blog about old and antique toys:


    Whenever I do a search, I never know where I’ll be going.My recent “search” was for a German older toy by the brand name of “Arnold”. I was looking for their lithographed series of machines.

    Anyway, I saw a nice art photo of a pice of artwork which redirected me to your site. I’n not an art enthusiast, and like what I like without any educated reason or knowledge.

    However, coming to your wonderful site, made me stop and look, and actually read a bit!

    I then looked to through your archives, and noticed that you don’t write that often. I would concur with what Hazlo write above, with regard to your posting more often.

    I can understand what you wrote, because you certainly put “scholarship” into your blog, and it’s a thoroughly entertaining and educational blog.

    But here’s a suggestion, but please take take it too personally.

    Why not write in a lighter style and just write what comes to mind? Your style of narration certainly presents your talents of writing and knowledge of the subject.

    Have a look at some of my posts. I’m no Hemingway but I’d rather be him than Balzac), but I try sometimes to bring in personal anecdotes into my writing, along with a bit of toy history.

    All the best, and I have just added you to my bookmarks.


    (Mr.) Stacey Bindman

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