Chagall - Story of job - Dual versions - Extended abstract

chagall chagall

Much has been commented on the artist's propensity to insert various events in one overall theme.
His translations of the Old Testament though they may be subject to stand alone works, are linked to one another as a sole reflected vision, giving rise to various images that are interpretations of the generic story of man and his inner tribulations.To grasp the relevance and possible link of both versions of Job, one needs to ponder on the incredible story of Job and its underlying complexity.

Why has the artist made such different versions of Job ?

Are they stand alone versions, or do they relate to one another ?

Two known versions of Job are compared.
Both have been composed in 1960 by Chagall in his familiar figurative style with a total absence of geometric figures. They differ in poignancy although in both versions, Job is inflicted with plague.

However, we are enclined to read them in the following order bearing in mind that emotion is the catalyst of both versions :
In the first version, Job’s laments silently but does not cry out to God, yet.
In the second version, Job’s cries out to God asking for answers.

The versions are close ups of Job portrayed half lengh conveying an acute sense of confinement. Scaling is instrumental both in the story of Job and in the interpretations of the artist. Chagall’s usage of scaling in his work translates the inner conflicts of protagonists.
In both versions, Chagall deliberately magnifies Job’s features: his mouth and hand are the main protagonists and express emotion prevailing upon realism. There is no intermediary stage, hence mirroring the story when fortune shifts bluntly to misfortune.

Chagall is merely concerned by expressing either, repressed emotion or bursting emotion with a startling minimalist use of line, black outlines and color. The assumption that Chagall’s drawings and prints translate plain primitiveness of shape is a common fallacy.
The artist masters a salient combination within the same work, of main and secondary moods of line, color and shape. Color iseither crude or shaded, dense or gradual, turbulent or muffled, bright or dark. Lines are even or broken, outlined or dissolved. Shapes are suggested or oversized.
The magnification of emotion whether repressed or violently bursting out, is translated with contrasting and corresponding patterns that also found in his other works, when emotion does not depend on interpretive geometry.

Emotion is then translated into a given fullness of form that does not answer to academic ruling depictions, but to a given scale with its possible shifts which are not fortuitous. The size of a hand translates the scale of emotion and its loudness (cf.Abraham mourning Sarah powerful stand alone version, with the hand positioned in the central axis of the composition).

Faberge Faberge

In Job’s both versions, the shaping roundness is insistent with a parsimony of details and a limited background where spatial perspective is ignored as to not deflect attention away from the main character.
The main character is Job himself anchored to the ground of grief, not his surrounding.

The first one, presents Job covering his mouth with his hand.
The second one presents him with his mouth open.

Both versions introduce an ambivalent duality : the first one is a silent duality between the mouth covered by the prevailing hand. The mouth is either open or shut which is unclear, but is held captive by the hand acting as a buffer. The ambivalence is mirrored by the angel figure featured in green, whose intentions are ambivalent due to his close proximity.The second version expresses a visible duality between Job’s bursting out and the gentleness of the receptive angel.

Such duality echoes the adamant duality in the story of Job.

This story unfolds several interacting levels of interpretation. We will focus only on five levels such as :

The first level introduces the key notion that any state can be reversed without prior signs at any moment, thus refering to the uncertainty of variables. One of the variable being in the story, the culmination of Job’s love for God which triggered Satan’s resentment. The shift causation is known to the reader of the story but not to the main character of the story, Job himself. The shift’s motive are blurred to the unfortunate target who endures the tragedy of loss and a progressive isolation with assailing doubts and anxieties about his presumptive state of cleanliness. Job is crushed to be unworthy and feels rejected. He wanders in the unfriendly and streched darkness of the unfathomable, begging to be saved of a wretched existence.

The first version relates to such state with Job sitting in a carceral state, shut to the world and lamenting in a loop.

Those who once respected him and praised his goodness, were prompt to lecture him and became his prosecutors. The lecturing does not alleviate his affliction as he is not receptive, and wished they would silence. Repleted of the sight of his intense pain, they soon shunned him for he had nothing more to express, other than his self oriented grievance. Repentance is mixed with declared bitterness and Job remains unable to cry out to God.

Hence, his state remains sheer chaos and the new order can not take place. His sheer reluctance to cry out to God in spite of the lecturing of his friends is illustrated in the first version by the hand holding captive his mouth. His hand is impactful as the hand of Abraham mourning over Sarah’s lifeless body, but is deliberately not realistic whereas Abraham’s hand remains realistic. There is a gap between both hands as the grief expressed bears no resemblance.The story could be simply summed up as the story of resistance but it enlightens too, the cecity of man who underestimates God’s final mercy as well as his own potency to trigger another state.

The first version, depicts Job stunned by his predicament and overwhelmed by grief, but wrapped up in dignity. His stare is void of expression, and the wrinkles around his covered mouth betray his extreme weariness. Wounded to the core, he is sadly aware of the darkness of his days, weary of inspiring mockery and disdain, and weary of life. The hand covering is mouth is oversized as well as his arm, and his eyes have turned green. His green eyes remind us that he is impaired by his wrong assumption of God’s wrath. The stature of Job lacks movement and action, frozen in rigidness. Satan’s slender figure stands behind him, listening.

Finally, Job yearns for death but chooses to cry out which activates another state.

The second level confronts goodness to wickedness based on a mirror effect. Job’s persistence in goodness, mirrors Satan’s persistence in wickedness. Both are high scale characters who disallow compromise and lack soft angles.

A modern reader may find the scribe of the story quite daring in his assignement of role play with Satan himself and Job on each side of the battle field, although Job has the moral stature of a prophet which his relatives and friends seem to ignore. Quite daring of Satan, is to plan his assaults himself. It clearly points out the challenge assigned to Satan, who will underestimate Job’s perseverence and resistance.

Job is the unwilling hostage of a cordial dispute between Satan and God on the genuity of his faithfulness.

The story could be hastily compared to David fighting the giant Goliath, except that Job’s will is of equal stature to Satan’s. David relied on God’s strengh to defeat Goliath. However, both David and Job undergo a physical transformation and assert their will, although in different ways. David gains in strengh and fortitude, while Job is deprived of his physical strengh. Job relies on himself solely, as God does not interfere and relies on Satan’s eager reporting. The forces may appear unbalanced as Job endures and does not fight back physically. Job is not a warrior and has never been exposed to misfortune before and was unprepared to endure and resist. His acceptance to be deprived of all, his health included, would make falter more than one individual in his convictions, but not Job who remains persistent in his faith and hence defies wickedness’hidden faces, deeply convinced to be doomed.

Job’ story could be seen as a classic formulation of a tragic fall, but it would be a simplistic and shallow interpretation, missing the point.

The battle field takes place solely on a moral point of view.

Whereas David was fighting one tangible adversary in a single combat, Job does not see his adversary who remains invisible and impervious; worse of all, he is not aware he has contracted such a potent adversary.
Job’s resistence will last over ten chapters of the book of Job.
The incremental scale of Satan’s wickedness enlightens Job’s scale of goodness.
The notion of scale is critical and should be interpretated as, various levels of wickedness correspond various levels of goodness.
Wickedness answers goodness and goodness balances the weight of wickedness.

Hence, the anatomy of grief differs from one version to the next, reaching a paroxism in the second version, with no interval.
However, the story presents an enigma which is related to both versions :

Is there a threshold when goodness switches to wickedness ? Is Job’s goodness impacted in any way by his doubts?

Let us define briefly wickedness through its flock of zealous embodied followers (enters here the notion of persistence and continuity in their conduct in line with Satan’s attitude in the story of Job).

Indeed, the wicked rarely cry out to God and they reluctantly cry out for His mercy, but they are grateful for His silence considered a tactful non interference in their affairs. They do not relate to divine justice accused to be most partial and unpredictable. Their restive quest for good fortune does not tolerate any torpor or postponement. The wicked are hungry for fast success and respectability at all costs, driven by envy to their very core.

We may consider Satan’s scale of envy in the story of Job, who resents God’s attentions directed to Job.
Satan’s presumed figure is comparable in height, to Job’s face as to express his potency over Job’s moods.
Overcoming the lack of dialogue between the two, the artist implies an interaction by scaling the figures.

Unconcerned by the prejudice induced, the wicked naturally seize what they assume to be rightfully theirs.
Their abuses know no boundaries and they experience the inebriant power to inspire awe to others.
The wicked simply do not cry out to anyone as they trust no living or dead soul. Iniquity is their trustworthy ally and confident. Their predatory policy whenever appropriate, indulges them to express some humanity.
But their empathy is short tempered and does not last. Soon enough, their tears dry, and their words again are deadly daggers to their preys. Their composure is the result of an articulate strategy which serves their own swelling conceit.

As to the dead they have offended, they can scream for eternity, no one hears them. Fortunately, they have been silenced for good and forgotten. The wicked proceed with their life without remorse or illegitimate second thought. Their destiny is moulded by their pugnacity, not by some invisible entity.

Fate is obedient to their supreme will and bows to them. When they perish, they show some surprise as they secretely hoped to be spared. Death indifferent to their pleading, puts a brutal end to their offences.
Hence, the wicked do not relate to Job in any way.

Job is a total stranger to them.
As wickedness is a total stranger to Job who keeps aloof, but unguarded.

Who are the wicked in the incredible story of Job?
The ones who judge him, the ones who simply choose not to interfere or the ones who induce him to curse God ?
Himself ?

The framework of the story is focused on the building up occurence of grievance which enlightens our interpretation of both versions and their related significance.

Grievance is self poisoning since Job does not confide in God. Job increases the scale of suffering by chastizing himself and Satan stands behind him, watching the progression course of self indictement. Indeed, Job does not repudiate his love for God but he doubts God’s merciful ability. By doing so, he delays divine interference and torments himself further more.
Job becomes his own wicked prosecutor, liable for increasing his torment and levels down his level of goodness.
The issue is not to venture questioning the veracity of the story although the scale of indictment seems unrealistic to a modern reader. In fact, the violence of Job’s predicament was proportionate to his love, and social status. The indictment mirrors the height of his goodness in reverse balance of what he represents, and his downfall serves an exegetical function, presenting the implicit conflict between God and Satan illustrated with the observation of Job’s flurry of emotions.

The third level deals with relationships and mutual faithfulness.
Job was God dependant, and his exclusion from good fortune was aimed to make him God independant.

The story reveals the amplitude of a man’s worship for God, who loved Him more than he loved his own life.
Job loved God earnestly every day of his life and God had been favourable to him all along.
Their relationship was unquestioned and without deviousness of any kind, and his blind love was bound to inspire some resentment. Such persisting love and sustainable uprightness had to be tested in times of affliction to measure the scale of its resistance.

Both versions reflect and enhance one another with a different tempo.

In the first version, Job is condemned by his inability to cry out to God ; In the second version, Job frees himself by crying out to God. Former passiveness is replaced by activeness and independance.
The artist deliberately focused on the character of Job since he is the sole detainer of his salvation. There can be no salvation if he does not cry out to God or in other terms, if he does not refer to divine mercy.

Crying out activates mercy and a final state of restored blessings.

The fourth level of interpretation reveals our propensity to hastily condemn others and ourselves, denying hope to be redeemed. The chances were less than scarce (of weak plausibility) that Job would recover and be restored in wealth and honorability as well as health. Death was a more plausible outcome.
Job felt thunder struck him but he kept enduring his affliction without questioning its fairness.
His downfall occuring without any previous warning, was so spectacular that he was suspected of deserving it.
The suddenness of misfortune raised consternation and suspicion about his presumed integrity.
How else could a diluvian flood of misfortunes be explained ?

Job’s former shine is buried and his fall seems endless in the recesses of divine disgrace which has to be condemnatory. In the 14 and 15th centuries, popular medieval belief associated plague called black death, to a divine condemnation, which preceded an eternity of suffering.

In the second version Job exhales black smoke, reminiscent of the alleged black death.

Job challenges our preconceived ideas about whom deserves good fortune and whom does not. No one wishes to declare him a renegate of happiness, but an incremental and lasting misfortune disturbs rational explanations. Misfortune in popular belief is thought to be contagious like plague and we wonder whether in the first version, Satan propagates plague to Job or whether Job’ propagates back to Satan, although Job is not aware that he is being observed.
We assume that in this case, green is associated with bitterness : plague illustrates bitterness coming out. The green angel presumed to be Satan, bears no hand as he is merely an observer, who waits for Job to turn to wickedness.The ambiguity induced by color is deliberate and introduces a mirror effect.
Both Satan and Job are linked by the green color.

If we proceed further in our assumption, in the first version Job is under Satan’s wicked influence and is vulnerable, but he regains his strengh in the second version, when he cries out. The artist has chosen a bright and vibrant shade that strikes the eye, expressing the severity of Job’s affliction matching his escalated despair. Although, the usage of green in Chagall is not unusual and expresses contrasting emotions, with variations of intensity of color.
Job cannot conceal his misery illustrated by a spreading stain of bright green, that covers almost his body with scarse healthy skin.
The wrinkles on his forehead are deep and broken.
His wild hair is thick, and his hand is pleading and open.
The drawn attitude is awkward but disturbing.
His misery is genuine and we are thankful to be deprived of sound. Indeed, the cry of despair is lasting enough to crumble our neutrality. Our eyes are listening although the silent cry is shrilling in our deaf ears.
The spatial layout of the page is confiscated by the distressed face and hand.
Job is huge and the angel small and frail in contrast.
His distress is overcoming the angel, hastening to him and the agony is plain for all to see and speaks for all. 
How long can we bear the hurt stare of his disfigured face ?
Our eyes hurt and wish his eyelids would gently cover his burning eyes. We wish his mouth would sink his blasting grief.

No more distress to witness so close, so blunt.

No more Job’s in the world calling on our conscience, refuting the verdict, that they can reverse their own fate.
Job is not alone in the universe but his rise and fall are utmost, as the level of persecution he endures.

The fifth level deals with observation and the subject of observation.
The first network involves directly God, Satan and Job, although the ignorance of observation by the observed is striking in the story. Job neither suspects Satan to be the instigator of the indictement, nor God to be a neutral observer. Job moral stature makes him an ideal subject of observation but he is not aware of it. Satan and God being are levelled up in their observation of Job’ shift of moods. Unlike the story of David fight over Goliath, the issue is not the elimination of Job by Satan which could be expected, but the predicted occurrence of a trangression. A minute and lenghty observation is therefore indispensable to both God and Satan, and Job’s lament is extensive for such purpose, no matter how unbearable it may be to the reader. Rivalry is not anchored between Satan and Job but between God and Satan and requires observed evidence.

The second network of observation involves his relatives and friends who observe him and interfere as far as lecturing him. Job became the incarnation of disgrace for those who knew him and hardly recognized him.

The third network of observation involves the reader who relates to Job again, unaware that generations of readers might be impacted by his story and may release a set of emotions. Many variants of Job endure silently their share of misery waiting for it to end. Some loose faith, become bitter and join the wicked in their transgressions. Others endure but keep hope, that it will end the next day or the one following the next day. The Job figures of our time are plenty and they disturb our conscience with their declared misfortune. They yell within, swallow tears of blood and indeed, witness Job’s sadness turn into bitterness and despair while he remains resolute in his refusal to curse God.

And yet, do they relate to Job ?

We may be inclined to feel a blend of empathy or repulsion when exposed to others’misfortune, but do we truly relate to Job ?

Who is Job ? A tragic hero, a victim ?

His resistence should make him a hero, but heroes neither complain nor do they inspire compassion.
Job introduces a new breed of heroes, both humble and simple in his assumption of unworthiness.
He stands above the crowd, as a defeated human being enduring what he believes to be God’s wrath.
However, when he cries out to God he is not aware that he has won over Satan, contrary to David who knew deep down, that he could win over Goliath with one stone.

Satan becomes a secondary character in the story together with the resolution of Job’s former misfortune.

The cry of man is more impactful than we expect it to be.

The story of Job implies that in spite of its recurrent evidence of might, wickedness is indeed resourceful but not invulnerable, The story of Job implies that in spite of its recurrent evidence of might, wickedness is indeed resourceful but not invulnerable.

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Forceful, potent, tinted events in Chagall tales are not compliant to the Artistic rules of space perspective introduced by Masaccio since the XVth century, enhanced by Palladio and celebrated since by most artists for centuries.

Chagall stays apart from geometric forms of the cubists’ generation, and concedes his preference for repeated heavy lines but gently rounded and curved, elongated and floating in a world void of boundaries of any kind.

The artist carries with him the heavy flow emotions of the human heart with its beats of hatred, fear, joy and even hope close to despair. The calm and airy cheerfulness is genuine but deceiving on second thought, as it is the mirror of human tragic events that are taking place before our very eyes, and will weight down for the rest of the times to come.

The Otherworld of Chagall, is mastered by the spirit of man dialoguing in its quest for divine light lost.
Flesh without the spirit is brittle, the spirit deprived of light is blind, deformed and out of proportions due to its emotions hardly bearable

The emotions, flow over without being stopped or regulated by our will : he resounding silence is shrilling, while the human shout is muffled almost chocked, mixed with huge wide open eyes and open mouths gasping for air; over powering hands are pleading, calling back the invisible and intangible divine energy, hidden in the core thread of the canvas or the drawing, safe in the palette of colors of the artist.
The chaotic reading of scattered scenes is swinging in harmony with the sacred biblical texts which haunt the artist and unfold like the ancient scrolls : each page, each word, each letter, each sound, and color hidden on purpose, are linked forever, submitted to mathematical sequenced order.
A letter out of place, a modified; would provoke an alteration in the original message.
The sacred unfolding sequence of the main tale and the surrounding ones obeying to an unchanging Law which occasional shifts of course, generated in time and space cannot be retrieved.
Past events are nailed down and no coming shift can alter a letter or a color: the ancient scribes measured with poise, their warning towards any future attempt to modify the transmitted message filled with constant vibrating moves from man to reach his destiny, and the divine to let it happen.

The text is One and only.
Where is the beginning? Where is the end?
Its subtleness, its levels, its contractions, and expanding forms and colors require careful deciphering.