International Writers Magazine: Comment
Strange Affair With the Impressionists
high school, I was part of "academic decathlon" in which
we took tests on ten subjects, one of which was art. My junior
year the specific subject was the Impressionists. At the time,
I didnt know an Impressionist from a doorknob, and guessed
every multiple-choice question, alternating Manet, Monet, Degas,
and Renoir with random, offhand swipes of my pencil. Inconceivably,
I won the category, but it certainly wasnt through any affection
to painting. Perhaps it was because I had no talent for drawing
or colors that I had loathed "art" my entire childhood,
preferring the latest technology and toys.
My hatred of painting
and drawing seemed to feed a teenage devotion to photography. I snapped
photographs by the hundred, capturing moments, getting across ideas
when possible. "Painting," I would say, "was something
people did before they had cameras." When college began, the profusion
of Monets "water lilies" posters, usually bad copies
that made these paintings look like muddy messes, did little to spark
any interest in the other visual arts. "I hate Monet," I told
my college girlfriend, who had the ubiquitous waterlily print on her
wall. "Youre an idiot," she returned, annoyed. "Who
do you like?"
I thought about it, studied some of the hated paintings, and determined
grudgingly that I liked Salvador Dali. His uncanny paintings spoke to
the phase of life I was in, the disturbed adolescence where the boundaries
of society had been distorted by too much knowledge. The real world
stretched like taffy and holes opened into alternate dimensions in Dalis
paintings, much as they were doing in my mind. Besides, they were of
things that could not be photographed, of the universe of madness, of
symbols, and of hyper reality. What I really hated, I decided, was that
Impressionist twaddle that took the natural world and dipped it in blurry
This preference continued until the millennium, when after spending
New Years Eve in London, two friends and I traveled to Amsterdam.
The Van Gogh Museum was one of our stops, and as we wandered around
I was shocked at the thick, nearly three-dimensional paint that gave
such texture and luminosity to the landscapes of Provence. I had recently
read Irving Stones classic biographical novel, Lust For Life,
and had been moved and impressed by the story of Van Goghs persistent
toil. But now I saw that works results in all its glory, and it
was not the fuzzy nonsense I thought it was. I stared and stared and
began to wonder if I had been wrong all this time.
I framed a print of Van Goghs Wheatfield With Crows and
hung it over my bed. I read art books, paging through collections of
works at the library, and gradually absorbed enough to appreciate the
differences, realizing that now I could pass that academic decathlon
test without guessing. I visited museums near my home, expanding my
appreciation and respect to other Impressionists like Camille Pisarro,
Paul Cezanne, John Singer Sargent, and Winslow Homer. I found that for
many years in the nineteenth century the majority of people had felt
the same way I had as a child, and indeed some still did. These Impressionist
paintings were like fine wine or cheese, something that the sugar-cravings
of youth do not allow for, and only after my palate had been trained
had I fully understood their genius.
I have even made my peace with Monet, coming to love his eye for color
and light, finding new visual notes every day. My girlfriend and I have
included prints of three of his lesser known masterpieces in our house:
The Boat Studio, Fisherman's Cottage on the Cliffs at Varengeville,
and Fishing Boats at Sea, 1868. This turn-around is probably quite typical.
Our maturity of eye parallels the maturity of spirit, and though art
appreciation can be as fickle as the fads of technology and toys, the
Impressionists have beaten the initial criticism and thrived for over
a hundred years. There are reasons for that victory, for why great art
lasts, and as adults we should try to discover them.
© Eric D. Lehman October 2006
University of Bridgeport
Fungus of Friendship
Eric D Lehman
Money has ruined many frendships...
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