Why is this work famous? A countless amount of dots on a monstrously sized canvas, showing a sunny, lazy afternoon. Why does this deserve to be in a museum?
Many would say it's the dots, that painstakingly precise technique of pointillism which George Seurat pioneered with this painting. Truly new ideas are hard to come by, and this technique, at least to my uncultured eye, feels new. It doesn't look easy either, and the effort to cover this 7x10 foot canvas with nothing but the tip of the paintbrush. But I suspect that not just any wall of dots would have gained such a foothold in pop-culture.
Others might say it is the composition. The strong blue triangle of water, jutting into the frame on the left, with the larger triangle of green grass dominating the frame, your eye being carried down the gallery of lazy late-day strollers. There are strong lines from the tree trunks in the upper right, and the few people standing, which make you look up and down the piece of art at all those empty faces.
The dabs and dots of paint accumulate into a grand work of countless figures, yet they are all seemingly, sad. Or at the very least, bored. It seems as if everyone in the painting is sharing some great feeling, one of wishing they had something to do, and yet not wanting to do anything at all. The people seem frozen, they stand, sit, lie down, waiting for their feeling of waiting to end. I think what resonates in this painting is this feeling.
I think at some point we have all felt this way. We wish there was something to do, yet, anything we could do has lost its meaning. The 20th-century philosopher Ernst Bloch once described this painting as depicting "endless boredom". Perhaps what is so intriguing about this idea is; why are they bored?
Most of the people in the painting seem to be well-to-do, they are, at least for the most part, able to have the Sunday off from work and enjoy a stroll in the park, is that not everything we are taught to strive for? To get a decent job so that we can have weekends to ourselves to relax with?
This painting seems to me, and Mr. Bloch, to say that leisure isn't the answer to what life is about, it only leads to boredom. But there is one thing remaining. If the painting is telling us not to choose leisure, what are we to choose?
Let us look once more at the painting, and here notice the peculiarly off-palette boarder. The painting is contained in itself, I would venture so far as to say, the painting knows it is a painting. And in the middle of the painting, challenging you not to leisurely look at the painting, but to examine it, by force of her gaze, is a girl in all white.
The painting is telling you to analyze it, but not only itself, but to analyze the world. To live a passive life of leisure is to be trapped in a world of boredom but to engage in it is to live.