Art in Exile: Dignifying Work

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Art in Exile: a blog series focused on introducing beauty into the social media stream during a season of self-quarantine, social distancing, and a global pandemic.

I want to dedicate today’s Art in Exile to those facing changes in their employment due to this pandemic. Many have lost their jobs entirely, or some portion of their income stream. There are few struggles that rival the frustration of not being able to work. I offer this collection as a prayer, remembering those struggling with their job situations right now, and affirming that while our labors may be hard, the call to work is filled with dignity. Pray for both employers and employees as they navigate this tough situation. Pray for the self-employed whose work has dried up during this time of social distancing. We were created to work, and work has inherent dignity for human beings.

Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857

Artists have always been drawn to depictions of labor—from early cave paintings of hunters to early American foundries to scenes set in busy city offices. Work is an essential part of being human.

Thomas Anshutz, The Ironworkers Noontime, 1880

Winslow Homer lived in fishing villages along the east coast. The Herring Net depicts the bounty of the sea, and the work involved in claiming it. Here, Homer dignifies the industry and difficulty of the fisherman’s job. 

Winslow Homer, The Herring Net, 1885

There is something beautiful about human beings at work. Our bodies were designed for labor. Even before sin entered the world, we worked the ground. 

Van Gogh, The Sower, 1889

When we choose to be idle, we quickly drift into a sense of purposelessness. When we’re unemployed or without something to do through no choice of our own, we often battle miseries like depression.

George Morland, The Miseries Of Idleness, 1780

Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers gives a captivating picture of physical labor. Three men kneel, scraping the floor of an expensive apartment. The artist presents the workers not as less than the apartment owner, but as skilled craftsmen whose work makes the place beautiful. 

Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers, 1875

Often our work involves learning—showing up to apprentice under those who have devoted their lives to the vocations to which we feel called. 

Rembrandt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632

Farm Women at Work was part of a series of Seurat’s rural studies. Though the work being done in this painting was obviously difficult, Seurat presents the scene as filled with light, beauty, and harmony.

Seurat, Farm Women at Work, 1883

We’ll close with one of my personal favorites—Edward Hopper. If you’re discouraged in your work, know that no matter how long this season lasts, there is dignity and honor in honest work.

Hopper, Office in a Small City, 1953


Russ Ramsey
Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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