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Surprised by Art: Man's Loss of Faith

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

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Welcome to the first episode of Surprised by Art, a new podcast where two art experts surprise each other (and YOU) with great works of art.

This is how it works. Each week you the audience can vote on a topic. This week you voted on the topic of "Man's Loss of Faith." Then Luc Travers will select a painting and Kirk Barbera will select a poem to surprise everyone with.

This is done primarily for an audio listening audience. You can hear them wherever you listen to podcasts. The podcast is tailored to explaining is as clear terms as possible the visuals in the painting.

Of course, we recommend that you also take a moment and look at the painting itself. We have provided an image below.

Within the audio of the podcast, we have designated a spot for you to pause and go to this post and then take a moment to read the painting on your own.

Give it a title. Doesn't matter if you are correct. Just think, what is the first word that comes to mind?

Then, give a description of everything in the painting.

In the show, we have various audience members doing exactly this, and if you listen to them this can help give you ideas on how to accomplish this investigation.

Lastly, interpretation. You can do your best on your own or listen to Luc and Kirk's exploration.


Check out Luc Travers' unique method for exploring paintings.


In the second half of the show, Luc and Kirk explore the poem Dover Beach by Mathew Arnold. Then they compare and discuss the meaning of these works in relation to the topic "Man's Loss of Faith."

Below is the poem in its entirety. Kirk does a reading and discussion of the poem on the podcast.

Dover Beach


The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.



Strand - The shore of a sea

Girdle - A belt or cord worn around the waist.

Darkling - Relating to growing darkness (The darkling sky)

Shingles - Pebbled beaches

straits - narrow passages of water

moon-blanched - made white or pale by the moon

tremulous - shaking, quivering


Kirk's paraphrase of the poem:

The sea is calm tonight. There is a full tide and a full moon shining on the English channel between the white cliffs of Dover and The French coastline. I can see the lights from a city in France, but then they vanish. My love, come smell this sweet air. It gets its fragrance from the ocean mist; right there where the moonlight colors the land. Listen! Now the sea grates and roars so furiously! It draws in those pebbles at the beach and flings them at the sides of the white cliffs. This happens over & over again, like an eternal sound of sadness. In the ages before me and in the ages after I am gone, this sea will still be here with its melancholy note.

It brings to my mind Sophocles, the playwright of Antigone and Oedipous, as he too heard the sea where he lived in Ancient Athens. For him, these notes brought into his mind the ups and downs of a human life—the joys and sorrows. He and I hear a thought like a whisper coming form the sea.

Man’s faith in a higher power was once as wide and deep as the sea; faith enwrapped every man, woman and child like a blanket around their heart. Now I do not feel that faith. I only hear the melancholy roar of the sea. It is like the death rattle of the world.

So my love, let us stay true to one another, for we live in a harsh and unforgiving world. There is little else for joy or love or light or certainty or peace and no help for those in pain. Yet you and I are here together now. Out there, the whole world is a darkening plain of chaos and all of humanity is struggling like ignorant armies clashing in the night.



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