Away from my home computer, I cannot load the pictures I’d like to use to illustrate these entries. And it feels very strange, for me, to be writing about art without pictures. Perhaps the strangeness can be useful. I need to write in an evocative way and let the reader’s own visual imagination be the illustration for these posts.
I wrote yesterday about my visit to the National Gallery of Art where I saw an exhibit of the 19th century artists who painted at Fontainebleau, a place that was once a beautiful and wild forest in a suburb of Paris. I was struck by the conventionality of much of the art I saw, in the works of certain lesser known artists. There’s a reason why some artists become famous and others, while good, sink back into a historical background.
Artists of the superior type — in this case it was Claude Monet — use visual skill with keen directness to record their ideas, and they are so visually adept that — well, let’s just say — they have a lot more visual ideas to record. An artist of Monet’s caliber takes such a penetrating look at the whole world around him. He thinks more deeply about it. And he translates these dense ideas back into a personal visual idiom. Living as we do at a time when there’s so much confusion and misinformation about what art is and what makes a person an important artist, I think coming into contact with something like Monet’s painting helps clear the air. It leads us toward rediscovering true originality in art.
True originality is not what many people today think: it does not consist in doing something “nobody has ever done before.” That standard applies more to adventurous activities of the famous Guinness Book of World Records. True originality is really just an authentic expression of the self. The self is, after all, Nature’s stamp. Whenever one manages to create a true mirror “copy” of the self, one makes something truly “real” and living. That order of creation possesses a categorical mark of Nature’s own types and designs and schemes and imprint. All this sounds a bit too much like dusty philosophy. All I really mean is that Claude Monet hit pay dirt. He contrived, as all really great artists do, to make images that tap into persistent, enduring ideas and experiences, things that resonate with this reality in which we move and breathe and live. He discovered, in short, life and life-likeness in his art.