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Sermons from the Gallery

I’m either getting old or becoming an art snob, for I found this year’s Archibald entries challenging. Schaeffer’s withering critique about art in America came to mind when I walked through the door into the exhibition: “Mediocrity masquerading as creativity”. But one exhibit caught my eye, submitted by Leslie Rice. It was a dark picture on green velvet of the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, who had been injured in utero and born with significant facial deformities.

The sidepiece to the entry was a poem, titled ‘False Greatness’ (1706) by the great Christian hymnwriter, Isaac Watts, who himself, in the words of the Monopoly insult, had been born with the necessary looks to have won ‘second prize in a beauty contest’:

‘Tis true my form is something odd
But blaming me is blaming God
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.

If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span
I would be measured by the soul
The mind’s the standard of the man.

I understand why Joseph Merrick appreciated the poem, and perhaps out of all the exhibits, it was the one that spoke the most truth, and which gave the most counsel to a culture obsessed with its own image, and the one best resembling the heart of that great Artist who said: ‘The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’

DM 11th June 2022


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