I believe it is important to embrace one’s heritage. We all have a history to be proud of and I was a “country hick.” You don’t believe me? Well, when I was a kid I was sure the only writer worth honoring was Louis L’ Amour. Between Louis handling the writing, Dolly Parton the vocals and Norman Rockwell the art, we had everything covered.
Then, I got a chance to see a Claude Monet exhibition.
Monet lived from 1840 to 1926 and he was a Frenchman. Ok, that’s two strikes against him and I haven’t seen any of his work. He was also the founder (or one of them) of what is called “impressionist” art. I don’t know what that means, third strike.
I still showed up on the day of the exhibition which was in the Art Institute of Chicago. If you’re not familiar with the Institute, it was featured in the movie “Farris Bueller’s Day Off.” Why that didn’t win an academy award is beyond me.
Anyway, I paid my dues and I get ready to take my ride. I walked into the first room and its wall to wall with people. My first thought was he’s called an “impressionist” because we were all pressed together. I work my way through the crowd and finally, I saw my first Monet. I have no idea what it was.
The painting, and I use this term loosely is nothing more than globs of paint; several different colors of globs of paint. I didn’t get it. It made no sense.
I must have had a very pained expression on my face because as I stood there, a museum cop walked by and instructed me to step away from the painting. I informed him I had no intention of damaging or making off with whatever that was.
He said, “No, step back. You can’t see the painting standing so close.”
“Oh. I knew that.”
Imagine, if you will, a box of puzzle pieces all right side up and scattered on a table. That was the painting and as I stepped back, it came into focus as if the pieces of the puzzle were magically connected.
The coast of France appeared. It was a little impressive.
So, now I know the distance needed to “see” the art. A new question enters my mind. Just how long were his paint brush handles because a person had to stand back about twelve feet. I now understand why he’s called an impressionist; it’s necessary to impress upon the other patrons the importance of staying out of my way!
The museum is packed with people and I’m being a mental delinquent imagining the fun of pulling the fire alarm and I’m getting tired of pushing and being pushed. Off to my left, I see a single wide doorway, a port in the storm.
I step into a room, roughly twenty by twenty feet. The light is subdued and the corners are all removed to make the openings for the doors. Monet was known for painting huge murals, but in front of me is a rather small painting of a, are you ready, a hay stack. I look to my right, another painting same hay stack. Behind me, yup, the hay stack again and over my left shoulder, yet another painting of the same hay stack.
I’ve been told artists go through various periods in their careers; these were paintings of Monet’s, “I’m too poor to hire a model” period. But, in all honesty, I grew up being an Idaho farm boy and I kind of liked them. I looked at each one in turn and literally turned around as I did so. Then, it hit me.
Monet wasn’t painting only the hay stack; he was painting the air around it and the various effects of the light. Each painting was slightly different from the others.
One was hay stack in early morning and I could see the elongated shadows as well as the glisten of the dew on the hay.
Two was hay stack in the evening and the dustiness of the late afternoon gloom is easily seen, as well as the almost hidden shadows.
Three was the hay stack in the rain; there is a difference between wet from dew and wet from rain. Monet showed it to me.
The last one was hay stack in winter and I felt again, the chill of hauling winter hay from Grace, Idaho.
I stayed in the little room for almost an hour and I chased other patrons away by acting a little deranged when they entered. It was the same museum cop that finally chased me out.
But, he couldn’t chase away the memories of that afternoon in the dark, with the evidence of genius around me. Louis, Dolly and Norman had to move over. They had to make room for Claude and I know now why he’s called an “impressionist.” Check out his art sometime and he’ll impress the pants off you, as well.