Impressive Impressionist

One of the things I always lamented when my family lived in areas further removed from an urban center was the lack of access to museums, particularly art museums.  You’d think that the years of deprivation would have ha td me running straight for the Nelson-Atkins museum the moment I unpacked.

I’m ashamed to admit that my first trip?  Was today.

Granted, I’d tried once before, last summer, but went running when the place was jam packed due to a new exhibit opening.

This time I wasn’t to be denied.   All three panels of a triptych of Monet’s Water Lilies were being displayed together (Nelson-Atkins owns one, the other two panels are owned by museums in Cleveland and St. Louis) for the first time since I was born.  And, Water Lilies was the first of Monet’s paintings I ever encountered (in Picture Memory when I was a first grader).  And on top of this, I had to settle something with myself where Impressionists (and Monet in particular) are concerned.

I once had an encounter with a more art-cultured friend who gave something of a derisive snort when I said I liked Monet and several of the other Impressionists.  It was followed with the phrase.  “Not a surprise.  Most average people do.”  The thinly veiled message was that liking Impressionists was something that only the bumpkins would do.  That they existed like pop entertainment for the masses who couldn’t appreciate finer things.  It’s kind of haunted me since.  I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time avoiding the Impressionists, trying not to like them.

I figured this was the test.  I’d go to see Monet, and while checking off the once-in-a-blue-moon experience, I’d look at this thing and make up my mind how I really felt about it.  If I enjoyed it, no more shame about what I liked.  If it wasn’t as impressive?  Well, then my artistic sense would have clearly matured and I could  look at the entire Impressionist movement as another school in the history of Art, no more or less good than the others.

So, I walked into the gallery room and…

I enjoyed the hell out of it.

If this is a sign of my lack of culture in the realm of visual art, so be it.  Because I spent over an hour having a total moment of zen staring at those panels, and I’d do it again.  I’m pretty sure it’s a color thing, especially with this particular work.  Blues and greens and purples and tiny bits of red masquerading as pink, all squished together into something I could stare at like a  semi-catatonic moron for hours on end.  I may have drooled a little.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m an uncultured lout that I couldn’t get the same feeling about the arrangement of orange acrylic boxes in the modern section, or the million takes on “Madonna and Child.”*  However, I’m pretty much over my self consciousness and I’ve embraced my back-water nature.


*Side note:  While there are a number of reasons for which one could vilify the Catholic church, I’m choosing to call them out for hijacking the art world into several centuries of Madonna, Child and Occasional John the Baptist.  I’m a huge fan of variations on a theme, but that’s just fucking ridiculous.

3 Responses to “Impressive Impressionist”

  1. Kristy says:

    My guess is it depends who you talk to. I spent four years in art history classes feeling like there must be something wrong with me because I couldn’t love Impressionism* the way my teachers and classmates did. And I would imagine if there’s any group of people cultured in what a sophisticated art person likes it’s art history teachers. I’m sure it’s all in my head, but I felt like they made us spend extra time on the impressionists just to torture me. (Art history teachers like to torture kids. After I was caught sneaking out of a Miro exhibit they forced me to go back in and stare and some crayon scribbles on a canvas for an additional 15 minutes).

    But I’m glad you got to see it.

    *Tho’ I’m fairly sure I’ve said otherwise in the past, I don’t hate the impressionists. I like some Renoir. As a former ballerina I’m required to like some Degas. There are even a handful of Monet’s I enjoy, but you can have Water Lilies. That may be nothing more than my aversion to nature and excessive use of the color blue.

    • Cammy says:

      For the record, it wasn’t you. You just didn’t like ’em much. I didn’t feel judged by that. This was from an art major.

      And for me, I had no art history. Other than 2 years of picture memory and my summer University for Young People class at Baylor, I had no education in visual art until I was in college. Picture memory was broad-based, the UYP class only barely touched on showing us styles (before letting us loose with paint). I *saw* art, but never studied it. I’m sure I heard the term “Impressionist” before I was in high school, but I don’t think the connection was forged in my brain until I was high school, and then it was just giving a name to something I knew I liked to look at.

      I never thought about you aversion to nature being a part of it, but that may be part of the attraction for me. Since we both know I’m far less concerned about nature trying to kill me, I like the nature thing and it’s definitely a dominant theme…..Also, for Monet in particular, the man is all about the variations on a theme and I’m sad about liking things like that. “Let’s paint the haystack again! It might look different since it’s two minutes later!”

      Of course, we’re all entitled to hate something. Fuckin’ Van Gogh and his God damn “The Starry Night” kinda makes me want to pick up a gun. I don’t know why, but I can’t stand it. I think every print of that should be paired with Munch’s “The Scream” because that’s about my reaction to the damned thing.

      I also blame the makers of art prints for some of the problem. I mean, you see the same 12 prints in every dorm room in America. One of them in “The Starry Night” and Monet gets way too much air time as well (although, this particular rendition of Water Lilies that I saw doesn’t get reproduced–it’s usually one of the other million Water Lilies….), and the Dali with the melting clocks (“Persistence of Memory”??). I mean, all the art out there in museums and it’s not easy to find prints of a lot of it, and the stuff you can find just gets….worn out. Maybe I wouldn’t want to shred “The Starry Night” if I hadn’t seen in everywhere. It is to college women’s dorm room as the Achy Breaky Heart was to the early 90s country radio stations–repetitive and annoying.

      • Kristy says:

        I’m totally hanging up my print of “Starry Night” before you get here! Kidding. I do have one, but it’s not framed and isn’t likely to be any time soon. I will totally concede it’s overplayed. I fell in love with it when I was 14 and didn’t know it was overplayed and at this point it’s a borderline secret heresy because I don’t want to be associated with all the other people who have prints of it.

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