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Art, Lux, et Veritas

Art, Lux, et Veritas: Personal Responses to Collections at Yale is an annual publication of undergraduate essays, written by students of all years and majors, in response to art in the collections at Yale.

About the Publication

Art, Lux, et Veritas was conceived by the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Center for British Art, and Yale’s Department of the History of Art in 2011. The two-volume publication features a selection of undergraduate student responses to works of art in the two museum’s collections. The brief essays abandon footnotes, canons, and theories in favor of personal reflections. The essays in the series reveal the diversity of Yale’s collections and of the responses they inspire. The 2013 volume features essays on works by John Constable, Anthony van Dyck, Eva Hesse, and John Everett Millais, among others.

Art, Lux, et Veritas 2013: Featured Essay

John Everett Millais, Yes or No?, 1871. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery, Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903, Fund

John Everett Millais’s Yes or No?

Stephanie Cheng, CC ’15

She is a young woman, though her melancholy wistfulness casts a shadow upon her youth. My eye was drawn to her by the light cast upon her from within the painting and by the light in our world that illuminates her image. Beside her, several sheets of a letter lie read—or unread—on a tabletop. But the woman does not look at them, and neither does she look at us.

There are no visible doors or windows in her world, no visible exit. Behind her are musty curtains, streaked and mottled with shades of tarnished copper and black. They gather in heavy waves and crests against the wall, appearing permanent and inalterable. The heavy, distressed gold frame that surrounds the painting also serves to separate the woman from the warm light of the gallery. She is trapped by the room, by the frame, and by the implications of the leaves of paper on the table beside her, yet all she does is look away, toward the glow that casts a tired light on her youthful face. Confined physically and imprisoned mentally, she is trapped by her choices, and in this moment, halted by her indecision.

This feeling of claustrophobia is familiar. I struggle with decisions and am too often caught up by the gravity of decision making. I spend too much time worrying about the consequences of each choice. But until I make the choice, the anxiety and feeling of confinement remains and sometimes suffocates me. Escape is tempting, but ultimately, freedom can only be achieved through choice.

Maybe Millais’s young woman could escape too, one way or another, if she would just choose. Yes or no? Choosing implies a solution, liberation from the stagnant worries. Still, the question lingers: which was the correct decision?

Is it possible for us to make decisions that allow us to break free, or are we always hopelessly imprisoned by our past choices and regrets? Ultimately, in order to move forward from moments of suspension, of claustrophobia and anxiety, we must choose. In painting her, Millais captures the young woman in indecision. But in life, we have the opportunity to escape, to progress, and to decide.