Connect with Nature
There are many times when a small group of independent thinkers has challenged the status quo to affect change in society with dramatic results. These people break the rules. They are often ostracized as radicals. However when benefits to society are recognized the resistance of those who profit by old standards are annulled. It is the innovators, entrepreneurs and artists, the creative class that inspires and encourages society to adopt new behaviors and ways of looking at the world. Claude Monet was one of those people. He was part of a small movement that began in Paris during the late 1860s that changed how we view the world. A new philosophy emerged from this movement. Through art Monet expressed his perception of nature. The impression it had on him.
Claude Oscar Monet (1840-1926) moved to Paris in 1859 to study painting. Traditional students of the arts, under guidance of the Royal Academy would go to the Lourve where they would copy old masters. The restless Monet went to the Lourve and stared out the window his interest elsewhere. Monet studied with Charles Gleyre and making the rounds of the community of artists became friends with Camille Pissaro and Pierre-August Renoir. Renoir and Monet began painting landscapes together outdoors (en plein air) in the late 1860s. This was a break in tradition.
For two centuries, since the time of King Louie XIV the Ecole des Beux Arts ( Royal Academy of the Arts) had controlled the art world in France. They taught proper technique, dictated style and determined what would be accepted at the annual juried exhibition, the Salon de Paris. Portraits, mythology, biblical scenes and historical events were the subjects that dominated the era. Still life’s and landscapes were less important. Despite the opinionated Ecole des Beux-Arts there were a few independent thinkers violating the rules.
During the 1870s there was a rebellion against established artistic standards. Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, Manet, Bixley, Bazille, Renoir, Cezanne were all interested in depicting realistic scenes of modern life and they were exploring new techniques. Up to this time most painting was done indoors in a studio. These new artists favored painting en plain air, outdoors where they could capture movement, the effect of sunlight, the here and now. In 1874 without government sanction or jury, 30 artists banded together to create an independent show to exhibit their work. Cezanne and Monet received the harshest of criticism. In a disparaging review Louie Leroy singled out the work of Claude Monet. He said the results seemed to be only a half finished sketch. He satirically referred to Impression, Soleil Levant as just that, merely an incomplete impression. The phrase stuck and the artists gladly accepted it as their own. This new technique and style was Impressionism.
Images of suburban and rural leisure were popular with the Impressionists. Short thin visible brushstrokes were applied. An overall visual effect instead of details was desired. Unusual angles were employed. Impressionism is candid with an appearance of spontaneity. The inclusion of movement was seen as an important element of human perception. Painting en plain air, artists sought to capture the temporary colors and effect of sunlight. The adherents had a philosophy of expressing ones perceptions and impressions influenced by nature and advanced a new way of viewing the world.
The benefits of spending time in nature are well known. For children it is especially helpful for their development. Even those who do not consider themselves outdoor types enjoy time at the seashore, a picnic in the park or strolling along a brookside path. While exploring wild exotic places is exciting, the common close by locations are a source for many small adventures. Nature is always changing. The seasons, the time of day and weather will alter light and color so there is always something new to be discovered. We can revisit common places and come away with new impressions.
In his later years Monet moved to the town of Giverny. His love of the outdoors had not diminished and he spent days and hours planting gardens to beautify the home and property. He took a special pleasure in the lily ponds that were there. It was during these years that Monet worked on series of paintings. He would paint the same scene 10 times, 20 times, a hundred times. The transitory quality of light and color of shadows would provide a different impression every time. He documented his perception of nature, ever changing. Monet the most prolific of the Impressionist painters passed away in 1926.
Those independent radical Impressionists of the late 19th century gave us a new way of looking at the world. We need that again today. There is a disconnect between modern society and the natural world. We have forgotten that the necessities of life are not produced in a factory, they come from the Earth itself. The air we breath is shared by plants and animals alike. Our food requires healthy soil and freshened water. Within the next two decades major portions of the world population will face water shortage if something is not done. All life on Earth is interconnected and all forms of life are sustained by water. Without water there is only death. We need innovators and entrepreneurs to avert a water crisis. Not everyone has the ability to be an artist like Claude Monet but we can all share the task to encourage and inspire society to adopt new behaviors and ways of viewing the world. Please help with ways to reconnect with nature.
All images in the article are courtesy of http://www.claudemonetgallery.org/.Visit their site to spend an enjoyable hour- or two.
A Hui Hou, Dohn