I confess that I am yet unable to appreciate great paintings in the same way I can already appreciate literature or music. All art requires one to stay with the work for a time, to let it seep in, to better appreciate its subtleties. I find that more difficult with paintings -- primarily, I think, because works of fiction, certainly poetry, and by definition music all are rooted in sound, and perhaps it is the case that while we all see and hear, some of us are affected more easily by the seeing and others of us by the hearing. I must be the latter.
This morning I went to visit the traveling Monet in Normandy exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art. It gathers around 50 of his paintings from public and private collections all over the world, including the famous ones of the water lilies, the haystacks and wheat fields, and the Rouen Cathedral. It was interesting to note the progression from a realist style (more like photography) to his trademark impressionist style (which was reagrded as "bad" art by his critics). The colors are rich, and there's little if any dark themes in his work. No wonder we are drawn to these paintings; so much modern art is rooted in a nihilistic framework, with dark themes of despair and alienation common. Or the works are mere canvasses for propaganda -- meant to shock us into change of mind on some social or political issue. Monet appears to have had none of that. Part of it was no doubt his largely serene and stable lifestyle; another part might be explained by his preoccupation with the beauty of Creation. Looking at all these paintings, it's not difficult to say "beautiful" about them, and it's unlikely that hanging any of these in a public art space would cause an outcry.
I like them all, from the early seascapes to the later gardens -- but those water lilies, and the wisteria, husge canvasses bursting with brights hues? Like countless others, I could look at them a long, long time, and with enough time and enough silence (none of that today!), I may even find the sound of those paintings. I might just hear their music.
[Monet in Normandy will be at the North Museum of Art through January 14, 2007. Admission to the exhibit is ticketed, and reservations are suggested. You can obtain more information here.]