I was wrong about Caravaggio
March 26th, 2023
As a young and naive and wide-eyed fanatic of art, the discovery of paintings by Caravaggio was fundamental to my understanding of art. It was not just the brilliant chiaroscuro and in-your-face presentation of the subject matter, it was his anti-establishment life, full of crimes of passion and just crimes that spoke to me and firmly placed him in my pantheon of artists. Then I got older and discovered more about art and suddenly I realized that his art is repetitive and lacked subtlety for the talent he had, his treatment of subjects was heavy-handed and boring — his shadow play stopped doing anything for me. And I was vocal about it, snickering under my nose when I heard opinions about how great an artist he was.
I would never deny his talent, but I thought he was capable of so much more than he produced in his short and frantic and tragic life. Actually — I think he might have been the most naturally talented painter ever, and modern art scholarship confirms it — with infrared scanning of his paintings we can know that he made only cursory sketches, and didn't have to do any prep work with a subject setting, never changed or repainted or cover what once he put on the canvas. He knew without any need for adjusting what wanted to show and painted extremely fast to keep the idea from fading with an exquisite technique of brush strokes that still seems unmatched in its vividness.
I kept this view of Caravaggio for more than twenty years, without any need for a re-visit of his art. It was simply a given and set-in-stone opinion I had. Had — because recently I engaged in a conversation where my opinion of Caravaggio was challenged. At first — I did what I’ve done most of my life when challenged and called to explain or defend my point of view — I hid from the question. And privately I said unpleasant and unprintable words about a person who dared to question my view. That was my instinctual reaction, ingrained in my psyche over decades of running away from discussion and arguments. I just knew what I knew and would never let anybody put even a shred of doubt in my head that I might be wrong on anything, especially subjective topic as art.
This time, the fact that somebody might have a different opinion than me, bothered me so much that I decided to check the works of Caravaggio to — I don't know, maybe reinforce in me the opinion I already had? or maybe to look for arguments against the opposite opinion of his art? No matter — from the first glance, and then deeper looks and thinking and analysis of his painting it become clear to me that I was wrong. My point of view of Caravaggio was very narrow and I had the unwillingness to look further than just repeated chiaroscuro in his work. There still was a moment when I didn't want to admit to myself the greatness of Caravaggio and stay in my stubbornness but doing that would be just lying to myself and that is something I no longer am able to subject myself to. I was wrong, I had a mistaken opinion without a deeper analysis of the subject. My appreciation of Caravaggio has adjusted already but I still wonder how many obstinate opinions I might have on other matters. That is a good reminder to revisit ideas ingrained in my mind — I don't want to be stupidly pig-headed. I pride myself on having an open mind — it might be time to put this stubborn opinion to the test.