The Eyes of Art

The Eyes of Art

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

Why do six million people flock to see the Mona Lisa each year? Why did the Louvre in Paris pay seven million dollars to create a controlled-climate room just for this work of art? The canvas is even protected with bulletproof glass. The painting has been stolen, but cannot be insured because it’s considered priceless. Though the artist, Leonardo Da Vinci, was renown, the prevalent belief is that his subject was a 24-year-old mother of two—no one famous or special. Why does this painting get so much attention?

The Mona Lisa (1503-1519) has remained enormously popular for several centuries, way before Dan Brown’s novel became a bestseller. Many say the woman’s enigmatic smile draws people in. What do you say? Does she look like she knows something? Or does her countenance reflect some kind of peace?

The Scream

The Scream

Another famous painting, The Scream (1893), by Edvard Munch throbs with the strong emotions of fear, terror, doubt, pain, and suffering. The painter wrote down his inspiration for the work saying…

“I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”

Some editions of Arthur Janov’s book, The Primal Scream, used Munch’s painting on the cover. The ghost-like face has been recreated in movies and Halloween costumes. Clearly, the painting struck a chord.

Starry Night

Starry Night

Van Gogh’s, Starry Night (1889), is a profoundly beautiful and mysterious work of art. The artist painted the night sky from the view out his asylum window. He admitted himself to the hospital after his breakdown in 1888, when he mutilated his ear.

Van Gogh wanted to believe in an afterlife. He wanted it to be true and associated it with a larger universe portrayed by the night sky. He wrote, “”It would be so simple and would account so much for the terrible things in life, which now amaze and wound us so, if life had yet another hemisphere, invisible it is true, but where one lands when one dies.”

Don’t we yearn for the same thing—the glorious larger story that will one day wrap around our finite and sometimes tragic smaller stories?

The Return of the Prodigal Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt is known for numerous paintings, but The Return of the Prodigal Son (1661-1669) was his crowning achievement. Catherine The Great purchased the 8’ X 6’ masterpiece in 1766 for the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia. I wonder if Dostoevsky, the great novelist, spent hours in front of the painting as the parable it highlights was among his favorites in the Bible.

Years later, Dutch priest and writer Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was so inspired by Rembrandt’s painting he wrote a moving book called, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (1992). After Nouwen pondered the painting for hours, and based on what he knew of Rembrandt’s personal story, he wrote:

“Rembrandt is as much the elder son of the parable as he is the younger. When, during the last years of his life, he painted both sons in Return of the Prodigal Son, he had lived a life in which neither the lostness of the younger son nor the lostness of the elder son was alien to him. Both needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to come home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. But from the story itself, as well as from Rembrandt’s painting, it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home.”

Forgiveness from God is needed by all—from the most wretched of us to the good, dutiful, faithful people.

Countless other great paintings could be mentioned here…The Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci. Or how about Michelangelo’s painting, The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Then there’s, The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali—a thought provoking work about time and how we spend our days.

God can use art to bypass our minds and touch our spirits, awakening the deepest human feelings. He can speak to anyone who is listening. He can show us things if we have eyes to see.

The Kiss

The Kiss

And He showed me something through Gustav Klimt’s fantastic painting, The Kiss. A month ago, I had an opportunity to see it for myself. Some might consider it the Mona Lisa of Vienna. No photos are allowed. People stand and stare at this painting.

Klimt was controversial in his day. Critics said his work was too erotic. Many other remarkable Klimt paintings are displayed in the same building, but they do not receive the same attention. Souvenir shops sell the image of The Kiss on coffee mugs, handbags, T-shirts, playing cards and key chains.

Why? What is it about?

If you reread the last chapter of my book, Closer Than Your Skin, you’ll remember a certain dream I had: A prophet-like man in long robes crossed a great desert to speak with me. He came to ask me one question. He gazed at me with kind, but piercing eyes and said, “Do you know how God feels about you?” I stuttered an uncertain reply. Immediately, he swept me into his arms and kissed me on my right cheek—exactly like Klimt’s painting. Showing me God’s love in one great embrace was far more memorable than a thousand words.

When I look at the woman in The Kiss, I believe she represents a person who feels completely cherished. And isn’t that the deepest cry of our soul—to be loved and fully accepted as God’s Beloved…and even cherished? That means everything to me.

Do you know how God feels about you? He calls you “Beloved.”


  1. I love this. Thank you Susan. Standing before works like these across the world have changed me and I have a deep awe for how the combination of color, time and brush strokes speak.

    • Tricia!~ Thanks for your comment. I too love to take in art and often feel RUSHED in art museums. Fortunately there is time to ponder with good digital photos of great art. I was privileged to see THE KISS in person and also to witness how people stand for long periods to look at it.

  2. to me this is one of your best posts ever. the thought of art bypassing the mind…i love that. our minds are often roadblocks to god’s love for us. i think the look on the kissable woman says it better than any words ever could. one day i was doing my stretches and casually asked god what the heck he thinks about anyway? being god and all. i asked him what are you even thinking about right this second? can you tell me? would i understand? how can i? and he spoke one clear word. YOU. and i realized in the moment that meant every “you” in the world since the beginning of time until forever because he isn’t harnessed by time. so he has the leisure to spend eternity (starting now) with each of us one on one. woah…..!

    • Suzee…I love your account of a very tender moment with God. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

  3. Rachel Schlender :

    Thank you so much Susan! This is just what I needed today. So moving. It helped me feel the love of Jesus and by reading this, digging in deeper to hear what He has to say to me.

    • Dear Rachel,
      I have loved The Kiss Painting for a long time. It spoke to me in the same way and then I came across Song of Solomon 2:6 which says, “Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me.” AN EXACT DESCRIPTION—in SCRIPTURE!! So it is that we are truly the Beloved of God when we turn our heart over to Him completely!

  4. This comment came from Chris Syme:
    I was blessed by your piece today called The Eyes Of Art. I love art as an inspiration. I think that is why I love to visit The Getty when we are in southern California. They have a wonderful collection of famous classic paintings there.Seeing paintings in person is so much more moving that seeing them in a picture. Thanks for writing.