Beauty in the Butcher Shop

To me this red rock looks like a fresh piece of meat that hangs from silver hooks at the local butcher shop. The blood puddles in pockets around the veins and muscles and tissues. That’s what I see. That’s what abstraction can do. But I don’t like butcher shops. The smell of raw meat drowns my senses from the street, and looking at the browning blood on the butcher’s apron makes me nauseous. It’s interesting though; butcher shops have an important place in art. Some of the greatest works of the legendary classical composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, were discovered in a European butcher shop several years after his death. It is said that the butchers wrapped the fresh cuts of meat in his sheet music.

In her novel entitled Eat Pray Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert artfully describes Italian butcher shops in a small Tuscan town called Lucca:

“Sausages of every imaginable size, color and derivation are stuffed like ladies’ legs into provocative stockings, swimming from the ceilings of the butcher shops. Lusty buttocks of hams hang in the windows. Beckoning like Amsterdam’s high-end hookers. The chickens look so plump and contented even in death that you imagine they offered themselves up for sacrifice proudly, after competing among themselves in life to see who could become the moistest and fattest.”

In 1925, Expressionist artist Chaim Soutine painted a portrait of an animal carcass. Often described as grotesque, the painting is bold and rich. It has been said that Soutine’s gruesome paintings are representative of his emotional state. As a Jewish artist living in France at the time of German invasion, Soutine narrowly escaped arrest by the Gestapo.  He suffered from depression and died of perforated ulcer only two weeks before Allied forces freed the French capital. His paintings tell his story.

Butcher shops and bloodied meat portrayed in art. The photos, the music, the writing, the paintings demonstrate a profound and simple truth. That is, intense beauty can be discovered in even the most repulsive and uninviting places. This is true not only of butcher shops, but of all aspects of life. The beauty of humanity’s generosity after a natural disaster strikes a country. The beauty of love that often comes with loss. The beauty of strength as an injury heals. The beauty of light in darkness. We are never alone. Beauty and life intertwine, always.

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