Surprised by Art: Righteous Defiance

Updated: Jun 22




Welcome to the second 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 "Righteous Defiance." Then Luc Travers selected a painting and Kirk Barbera selected 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.


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 literal 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.

Ok here comes the painting! Remember: DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THE ARTIST'S NAME OR THE TITLE OF THE ARTWORK UNTIL AFTER YOU SEE THE PAINTING!




Here's the full painting:

Here's a close up on our main figure:


And even closer:


The title of the painting is "The Tulip Folly" by Jean-Leon Gerome.



THE POEM


The New Jerusalem

By William Blake


And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England's pleasant pastures seen?


And did the Countenance Divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?


Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!


I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land.



Here is a performance of Jerusalem song, written by Rupert Parry and performed at The Last Night of The Proms in England.



Simple Summary:

A narrator wonders whether Jesus had in fact once come to England, and whether he brought his divine light with him. Then the poet wonders whether Jerusalem had been built in England. He asks for his bow and arrow, his spear and his chariot of fire. He will continue his fighting his battle any way he can, mentally and physically, and with his compatriots he will build Jerusalem in England again.


Some biblical descriptions of the New Jerusalem: "pure gold like clear glass," and "its brilliance is like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal clear jasper. Streets are paved of pure gold." The height, length and width are of equal dimensions.


Kirk's Note:


One thing I didn't get to mention in the show is the unique power of poetry as a medium. There is a power here that prose cannot approach.


For instance, imagine a civil rights activist writing an oped that said: "We may unhesitatingly assert that we will not lessen our efforts nor cease to struggle in this great conflict for human happiness and moral welfare, until our objectives have been clearly obtained." Here is Blake expressing the same exact sentiment: Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!


I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England's green and pleasant land.


It is a deeply moral poem, but it has no overt moral ideas in it. It is created in images of concrete physical actions. The poet is a fighter; his weapons are a bow and spear and chariot. But these physical objects become charged with emotional significance by the other words that surround them.


His boy is burning gold created from fire and light and glory of his dedication. His arrows are his piercing aspirations. His chariot glows like Phoebus the sun god. These are not just weapons of destruction but of creation.



Special thanks to our volunteers, who took one quick glance at the painting and described it: Jennifer Minjarez, Atul Kapur, Amy Chou, and Sean Doherty (in order of appearance).