Saturday, March 1, 2014

One day, it came to pass...

...that I began to appreciate paintings by the Impressionists. 

About 30 years ago. Half my life ago. I'm sure that others, from a more cultured background, came to those paintings at a much earlier age. I don't think I even knew those paintings existed until I was around 30 years old. Why did it take so long? It's all hazy.

I'm still asking myself the question: "What's the deal with Monet?"

I don't mean: "What can be said about the formal characteristics and rendered effects of his works?" I'm not interested in dry academic commentary on technique and theory of light. 

I'm interested in thinking about Monet's artistic unconscious.  

Impression Sunrise

I think all great artists -- painters, composers, poets -- are fantasists. Their works are much less about documentary compulsions taking place in the real world (landscape, structure, diary) than they are about unconscious retrievals of substance from the far side. That's why great works have an unusual effect on us. Unconscious mood has come to presence in palpable shapes, and we are confronted with objects -- painting, sonata, poem -- that are infused with an otherworldly aspect.

I think Monet did more than accomplish a flecky capturing of natural transience. I think his fracturing of light and mardi grasing of shadow also transported into this world a metaphysical substance from somewhere beyond the waking mind.   

Under the Poplars, Sunlight Effect

With Monet, fantasy -- the extraordinary -- comes to spiritual presence and combines its fibers with those of the ordinary -- the French scene. Like the painter, the composer is also a fracturing artist. The composer disintegrates time, re-imagines it as melody, harmony, and rhythm. Recasts time into new light and shadow, allowing an otherness to leak through. Like the painter and the composer, the poet is also a fracturing artist. The poet opens up language, re-energizes it into metaphor and cadential gesture. Recasts language into new light and shadow, allowing an otherness to leak through.

Perhaps at night, that fantastical unconscious substance latent on the far side of dreams filters into our dreams, creates that disquieting and wondrous background aura to our dreams. Then in the moody trances of great artists (Monet for this blog post), that fantastical unconscious substance makes its farther way into the created works.

The Artist's House at Argenteuil 

Isn't there an aura of the ideal, of the farfetched, of the fantastic in a Monet canvas? What's deeply ironic about all this is that fantasy just might be the psychosis of the actual Real. The actual Real can't possibly be but is. Might not the impossible-actual be a suitable region for artistic appropriation? 

Whatever the unconscious is, I think it's safe to say that it's connected to, rooted in all the subtle dimensions of being. Our DNA is most likely a mute semiotics, a chemical raconteur of the infinite weird. Monet, I suggest, painted in such a way that the psychosis of the actual peers out at us between painted flecks.

Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge

A great work of art is a palimpsest of the fantastic occurring upon the actual.

Now, don't get me started on Van Gogh, the Post-Impressionist. He did more than unconsciously dream fantastic substance from the far side into this side. He wrenched it from there and exploded it into here, revealed it in all its shocked, hysterical, naked coloration. 


  1. There was a gigantic book in my childhood home, that was never returned to the library. The title reads, "Impressionism" and it was full of high-quality color plates. So it was that these paintings befriended me at a young age, without me needing to try.

    I have been to museums where French art of the 18th century lurks--bodacious, rococo nymphettes in powdered wigs and obese cupids--how hideous! It gladdens me that the Impressionists were able to break through this somehow.

    I am glad you wrote this--it goes a direction similar to my thoughts on that article I posted earlier. The author of the article seemed to want to prove a pet theory--that everything is "digital." I didn't like that conclusion, although some of the other things he said were downright brilliant.

    The clash between analog and digital should not be brought into a discussion on art--it's like talking about politics at Sunday dinner. :)

    Monet and the fracturing of light--now this brings a smile. Passing the wine along to you--à votre santé--

    1. I still haven't read that article yet. What you say about his theme -- digital versus analog -- strikes me as lacking soul. Too science-y, lacking aesthetic imagination. But I could be wrong about that.

  2. PS On Van Gogh!--Yes!!

    I have just had a thought-feeling, regarding your writing. My thought-feeling concerns a taste for genuine bread.

    Anyone who has lived in Europe--or even Russia--knows how important bread is to the culture. In Soviet times, bread was the most highly subsidized commodity, so that farmers even came into town and bought bread as cattle feed--when there was nothing else available!

    But this bread--is not just bread, never. Fresh from the ovens, it was delicious, and highly satisfying. With a bowl of borsch--it was an entire meal.

    The large white batons in the Moscow bakeries were magic--if nothing else was available--a strongly-brewed cup of tea and a slice of bread were sufficient. I have made my own bread at home, but the bread from the Moscow bulochnaya--was different, special. Bread created some of my best memories of Russia.

    Borodinsky bread: a dense rye, flavored with malt syrup and coriander. This bread is so delicious and versatile, you could use it to make kvas, or wash your hair.

    The Soviets knew this secret: keep good bread in the stores, you will soften the hearts of the people. In China, Mao began to allow the I-Ching to be used in the villages, because he realized the people would use less rice if they were able to consult their oracles.

    When I read your posts, I become immersed in them. It is as if I can taste the bread! And because you know--somehow--how good "bread" should taste, you are able to convey this to others.

    1. I appreciate your interesting, evocative, and kind words.