I don’t know much about art. I come from the ‘new world’, where the oldest building is a colonial relic less than a hundred years old, and all the history I need to know happened during my grand mother’s lifetime.
Art is hip, and sometimes a passing but annoying fad- I’m talking about ‘spoken word’ and ‘contemporary dancing’…maybe even Kapuka. Art is over the top dramas staged by Heart Stings Kenya actors, who make up for their lack of talent with enthusiasm. Or the more sophisticated but decaying Phoenix Players.
Art is alive.
But in crumbling Europe, art is ancient. Art is history. It is hours at the Louvre and Gothic cathedrals. It’s learning about the Renaissance and Impressionism and the different styles of nude marble statues. It’s straining to admire the roof of the Sistine Chapel while slowly succumbing to a sensory overload induced headache. It’s walking in museums crammed with geriatrics and reading reassuring signs that defibrillators are available in the building….just in case anyone’s heart stops.
Consequently, my visit to Monet’s village had nothing to do with art and a lot more with lazing away a pretty Sunday afternoon. And why shouldn’t it have been? Like the average literate person, all I knew was that Monet was dead, very famous and that his pictures are often reprinted on postcards.
I might as well have spent the day taking pictures of rocks in formation, because you can only appreciate what you understand.
Has anything changed since then?
Well…Yes and no….
Jesus said we have eyes but we cannot see. And something about a candle not shining if hidden under a basket. He wasn’t just talking about heaven.
My salvation was a bouncy haired girl who had the dearly coveted ‘true’ appreciation for art. The ability to tell the difference between Monet and Pissaro. The ability to have a ‘favorite’ painting. And in those dark places we all love, she explained the fundamentals concerning Monet, and by extension, modern art as we know it. (or, as we should.)
Monet was a revolutionary. He did something that others did not dare.
He began painting with his feelings, as opposed to reproducing stiff, picture perfect and slightly boxy images that were in vogue those days.
The modern day equivalent?
Try asking a studio photographer on River Road to adjust the light to accentuate your cheek bones, as you will tilt your nose to the right and look over your shoulder to show your good side, as opposed to his standard hands-crossed-on-lap-painful-smile pose for your photo.
Then go uptown to those studios that have reflectors, black screens, golden filters, and two million different lenses, with a dreadlocked guy playing trendy neo-soul abstract-ish music, who angles you to ‘catch the light in your hair’ before frantically clicking away for an hour.
Monet was the first of the dreadlocked guys.
He was the trend setter. The bad boy of the 19th century painting crew.
And he just happens to be in Normandy.
Hence, 19th Century Normandy was forever captured by the impressionists. Boats and towns and rivers and the odd explosion from sexual repression in the form of naked women picnicking with fully dressed men.
Like most people under 25 admiring smudges of boats and rivers and flowers at Monet’s museum, I suspect we were there mostly because it was free for students (and really old people).
There are some things my limited knowledge do not allow me to understand. Such as, who decides what good art is? Its been caricatured in movies. Everyone stands around looking puzzled at some confusing and apparently meaningless portrait, before the most effeminate man in the room stands up and, in between gasps of pleasure and tears of joy, flamboyantly declares he has never seen anything more beautiful. Then everyone else claps and pretends to understand.
Think about it. Who decided skinny jeans and shorts with hideous pleats and bulky seams are cool again? When will they change their minds again?
My art buff explained to me about HER visit to Monet’s garden. She studied art for a couple of years, and was ecstatic to stand in the very same spot where Monet stood as he painted her favorite painting of his. For her, the paintings came alive. Or maybe she was taken back in time.
I still don’t understand art. I don’t even understand poetry. But since I can only draw stick men, I do appreciate people who can recreate 3D on a piece of cloth and then have full museums dedicated to them.
And, of course, we all love revolutionaries.