Salvador Dalí, Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951)
The first, an image from NASA TV that I saw recently in the newspaper, accompanying a story about the space shuttle Atlantis docking with the International Space Station, where it would unload building materials for the ISS. The second, a painting I’ve always found deeply powerful, even though I’m not what one would consider “religious” by any stretch. I thought of Dalí’s painting immediately when I saw the newspaper article and corresponding NASA image. The Christlike space station. The lighted parts of the docking apparatus of Atlantis reminiscent of Christ’s hands and the boat located at the bottom of the Dalí painting. The dark space of both. The otherworldliness of both. The cosmic essence of both.
I thought we were done with Christ, at least for a while, but I guess not. At any rate, hauntingly beautiful catch, this, Mr. Shipley, and quite irresistible.
I am put in mind of the following passage from Samuel Y. Edgerton Jr.’s 1975 book The Renaissance Rediscovery of Linear Perspective (pp. 164–65):
Indeed, without linear perspective, would Western man have been able to visualize and then construct the complex machinery which has so effectively moved him out of the Newtonian paradigm into the new era of Einsteinian outer space—and outer time? Space capsules built for zero gravity, astronomical equipment for demarcating so-called black holes, atom smashers which prove the existence of anti-matter—these are the end products of the discovered vanishing point.
Or are they? Surely in some future century, when artists are among those journeying throughout the universe, they will be encountering and endeavoring to depict experiences impossible to understand, let alone render, by the application of a suddenly obsolete linear perspective. It, too, will become “naive,” as they discover new dimensions of visual perception in the eternal, never ultimate, quest to show truth through the art of making pictures.
A program, perhaps, for some future galactic Dalí? On the other hand, I am also put in mind of the story about Buckminster Fuller, near the end of his life, how, following some talk or other, he was asked by a fellow in the audience whether he didn’t resent the fact that, after all he had done to help bring about space travel, he himself would never get to experience outer space … At which point he simply replied, “But, sir, we are in outer space.”