I enjoy all art forms. I love music, poetry and also visual art, painting, and photography. Some visual works affect me in a way that music or poems do, they make me feel and think. This is where I appreciate an artist’s effort of creating an object that is living and breathing its own life, having a strong impact on the audience. It forces you to stop, go deeper, beyond appearances, to discover the story unfolding before your eyes.
One of the paintings that moves me like this is Potato Eaters, by Vincent Van Gogh. It always takes me to my childhood, when I was 8 or 9 years old, a moment in my life that someone else might not pay attention to or keep alive as a memory.
The obvious image here is of a poor family seated around the dining table under a single light. But look at their gnarled hands, the tired but loving faces, their gestures that show they care for one another. This painting portrays the dignity of sitting down to a humble meal after a long day of hard work. They aren’t dressed in finery but their clothes are simple and neat.
The image transports me to my family gathered around the hearth in the evening. We were all facing the great tiled fireplace that today would look like an elephant in the room; it was the heart, the source of warmth and nourishment for all of us. The story here is not about being poor or my father being away, or not having material things, but a rich moment of connection and dignity in coping with life. The story is about a mother, who, despite the weight of her responsibilities (dishes, laundry, cleaning), takes time to sit down and tell other stories—about good people in trying situations, some of them horrible, but each ending with a ray of hope. As she spoke the potatoes would be baking in the embers, and they came out with crisp skin and moist, steaming flesh. With a pinch of salt, it was the best meal on a cold night.
While dusk nestled
in frames of our living-room windows
our minds became blank verses. Still
wearing an apron, purple-stained from plums
and flour, my mother sat
in front of a blazing tile stove,
surrounded by her children.
Together we gazed into the flames
as she browsed in her memory
for another story to tell.
She combed her inky hair, and with each stroke
the tales shimmered like brushed-out snowflakes
behind the glass window
falling into our wide-open ears.
As the evening passed,
the relentless, ticking clock and music
from the radio reminded us
of the place and time.
Care is an aspect of dignity—caring for your body, your environment, your work, others around you, and the principles that guide you.
Class is another element, not in a literal way, but in the quality of your manners and awareness of how you impact the world with your kindness and respect.
What does the word dignity mean today? Is it how you carry yourself physically through your posture? Is it how you respond to people and situations? Can you think of someone who represents that quality or a time when you possessed it yourself? Is it something you learn from others or that you have naturally?
Leave your response below in the comments.