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People and Crowd

A bustling crowd is like an absorbent sponge, sucking water in and out. It should be appreciated if disciplines and orders suddenly come in the way, and each restless, abandoned entity is made to march in straight lines, shedding the disguise of inapt boisterousness and simulating a performance of solemnity. This orderly crowd resembles piles of clouds that occupy the sky: rarely is there a prodigal son wandering off the group liberally. They always travel together; as a family they should. People can divine no explanations when seeing themselves constantly flanked by others of their kinds. The faces bespeak stupor and insensitivity, but once a knell breaks every head looks up in unquestionable promptitude.

The crowd of devout religious believers merits a close inspection in Paul Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon (1888). A slender trunk of a tree diagonally separates the present scene with the “vision”- the biblical scene of Jacob wrestling with an angel. Reality and illusion coexist so harmoniously and almost imperceptibly on the same plane. The colours, although grainy, do not show any sign of disintegrating like those in a person’s faint remembrance, where everything will eventually peter out with the smoke. These women in white do not wrangle or contend with the confusion of the real and the novel, but simply closing their palms in reverence- a placid disposition not dissimilar to a peaceful lake, where water flows unconcernedly even when a leaf falls.

Blind submission renders each member of the crowd a wooden doll. Any emotional display seems like a jagged trigger of the doll’s limbs: ostentatious and unnatural to a fault. For sure a tumult will ensue when silence and calm no longer reign. The solidarity is still there amongst the crowd, but this time it is predicated on the people’s irrepressible urge to rebel, fuelled by their inner strife. In Otto Griebel’s The International (1928) an imposing group of people, despite their miscellaneous vocations, stand shoulder-to-shoulder as they belt out, presumably, the song of the downtrodden. Rarely in Western art do we frequent upon dauntless depictions of civilians in revolt. Mostly we are presented with the aftermath of the remonstrance (the graphic violence of martyrdom) or the stasis of those who are too sheepish to make a difference and preferring to while away their lives with a hangdog look about them.

It is moot whether the protestors will gain the upper hand. In a pessimistic light the song they sing might be so thunderous that in the end it leaves no impression on the superiors. But what they merit is the spectacle they create; as long as there is a crowd the attention is on them. The orderliness of a crowd is finally broken when attending a funeral, as seen in Gustave Courbet’s A Burial at Ornans (1849-50), some hang their heads in bereavement, others shed tears like opened floodgates, but the majority is stinted on exhibiting undue emotions. Blankness predominates.


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