Sunday, January 18, 2009

Monet: What do we admire in paintings?

Meadow at Giverny

Claude Monet,
French, 1840–1926

92.1 x 81.6 cm
(36 1/4 x 32 1/8 in.)

Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts,
Boston, MA, USA

We admire paintings for many reasons, I think. We can love a painting for what it depicts: think of all the people who have portraits of their pets. We can love a painting because it transports us to somewhere else, to another small world encompassed in its borders. We can love a painting, or at least admire it, for the technical skill it shows - we are impressed by people who are skillful at their craft, even if we don't happen to love their particular craft ourselves. (I remember being inordinately impressed as a child at the manual dexterity of the woman who did gift wrapping in the famous Filene's Basement. )

This painting works for me in many ways. First, the subject is personally appealing, since I absolutely love views across fields. As for a painting taking us in to another world, that is exactly what this painting does for me. It's not a precise, detailed depiction of place that creates the magic, otherwise every photograph would have the same power, and we all know how photos taken on vacation inexplicably become barely interesting little pastiches of color once we are back home. It is the artist who allows us to make this journey and I feel as if I see this scene through Monet's eyes. But more importantly, I sense that he loved seeing this view. I find, myself, that I almost always fall in love with whatever I paint. In this painting, Monet is able to convey that love of the subject, this fascination with what he sees before him - his impression of what he sees. Yes, the label Impressionism, even though originally given in scorn by a critic, aptly describes this painting style. Monet was a genius at this, he is able to open these worlds to us. How does he do it? Ah, that other component that we humans tend to admire - skill.

Ellie Clemens

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