The raft of the medusa 1816
Late breaking news holds us 5 seconds. An artist’s news story clutches us for centuries.
Screaming headlines, bleeding video clips, and the 10-second Google news demonstrate our ever-shorter attention span. Nothing remains; all is ephemeral. So, it is ironic that a horrific news flash can rivet us from 200 years ago.
Low circulation publication Philosopher’s Mail demonstrates how our attention span can endure over centuries.
“Newspapers give us facts, all kinds of comprehensive facts from around the world. What it doesn’t give us is a reason to care or a reason to dwell on the facts for more than a second or two. We just don’t take it in. We suffer from compassion fatigue and countless other stories competing for our attention.
Consider the long-forgotten ship wreck of the French frigate Medusa… lost in the year 1816 off the coast of Africa with … 133 lives. It was a catastrophe at the time and has over time become a regrettable accident, … Each year the incident received less attention. It would now be forgotten completely but for Theodore Gericault, a French painter who immortalized the event with his well-known and imaginative depiction of the few survivors. The Raft of the Medusa now hangs on the wall of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The survivors shall remain etched in our lives forever as we can see them struggle to signal the almost invisible schooner on the horizon. For journalists to do justice to the material they deal with, the daily news must become more like art. Art has power in a way facts, blurbs, and ‘fast breaking news’ do not.”
As we skim the morning headlines, most hold our attention for a second or two. Today’s stories have a higher body count than the Medusa, still we don’t linger. The painting, however, brings the old news event back to life. Painter Gericault forces us to feel a human relationship with the survivors. The painter leads our eye from the dying to the struggling to the hopeful. The story feels personal and authentic. We care and we linger.