Monday, January 25, 2010

Watson and the Shark

I happened to see this painting--John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark, 1778--right after reading this New York Times article, which a friend posted on Facebook. Said friend is a geologist, so I assume he considers the article's grim predictions of future earthquakes in the Caribbean to be well-founded. This time Haiti took the hit, next time it might be Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. A big quake could happen countless places, even here in Tennessee. (Or maybe not.) In any case, the article is a reminder that nature doesn't discriminate, whatever Pat Robertson might say. Haiti's pitiful infrastructure contributed to the death toll, but an earthquake of the same magnitude would be a catastrophe anywhere. And where earthquakes aren't a problem, there are hurricanes, blizzards, floods, tornadoes, landslides, wildfires, epidemics--and, even in our paved-over world, the occasional hungry or pissed-off critter, like Copley's shark.

I love this painting for the way it captures the destructive power of nature, before which we are all ultimately helpless. There's no injustice and no malice in that destruction, it just is. That's not to say we don't commit harmful sins, such as failing to aid Haiti long ago, or building defective levees in New Orleans, but no amount of intelligence, wealth or virtue will make us invulnerable. All we can do is help each other in the struggle against our shared condition, as the men do in Copley's painting, risking their lives for a brother they could easily leave to his fate.

You can read more about the painting here.


Olfacta said...

Hi M -- That painting has always freaked me out. I have a better understanding why now. Very astute, as usual.

Bozo said...

The sources and discussion on the NGA website are wonderful.