VoL Part IV. Old Age

Kwesi Billups


My initial reaction notes to the piece while I was in the gallery:

The Stream of Life has reached a vast ocean of infinite scope. Man’s Guardian, who accompanied him unseen throughout his journey has shown herself to the tattered and tired man. His interest in the barren rocks of the Earth [that surround him] is gone, replaced by the joy of learning that his Guardian has been present all along. As time acted upon his own physicality and terrestrial surroundings, it eroded the strength of his resolve. The background, formerly constituted by earthly images, is replaced by angelic beings welcoming man into eternity. Were the dangers of life truly enough to break man’s spirit to the degree that he cares no longer about his quest for fulfillment?

Time is arguably the most important artistic element spanning the four-parts of Voyage. As time acted upon the man’s faith in himself and in his Guardian- shifting it from the former to the latter- time also acted upon nature itself. I would suggest that time was not simply a background actor- ever-present, but never changing the context of the events themselves- but that time’s influence on the man and his environment are what directly transformed his journey from a quest for substance to a surrender to divinity. The series initially seemed thematically centered around Cole’s depiction of man’s motion across the Stream of Life, but the journey was a mirror of the forces of time acting indiscriminately. Time transformed the Earth from a colorful, undiscovered land, to one mired by the storms of wickedness. Time brought forward the image of a divine palace constructed by the clouds of man’s imagination, only to shield this image with the storms of deceit that Manhood brought about.

While I wholly enjoyed experiencing The Voyage of Life for the first time, and resolving discrepancies between my interpreted meaning and Thomas Cole’s intended meaning, there is one particular difference between Cole and I’s perspective on the effects of tribulation on man’s will. For Cole, the end of man’s journey came when the trials of life became too much to bear, prompting man’s surrender into the gracious arms of the Guardian. Man was willing to abandon all that he learned, or wished to gain, for an eternal peace. However, I prefer to envision the end as a simultaneous fullness and emptiness of self. I can only hope to be able to weather the storms of life, gaining insight into it’s very meaning, and sharing this meaning with others. On this journey to fulfillment, I would draw on my experiences to influence, and be influenced by, the people sharing this human experience, ultimately extending my vision for the world through those whose lives I’ve touched. Cole’s series was moreso a testament to man’s faith in a greater, benevolent power, than a depiction of his capability for perseverance or achievement.

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