S&R Honors: Claude Monet
Claude Monet was born with the gift of seeing things new and without any necessary devotion to denotation. Yet in later life, he saw almost nothing. What filtered through the cataracts – was he painting what was, or what seemed to be?
Art is how we talk to the gods.
I’ve been thinking a bit about Monet of late for personal reasons. And each day, I think, I marvel even more.
Later in his life, as most people know, Monet was beset by cataracts. It’s not a happy thing to contemplate being almost totally blind, but imagine if your profession is painter. How can you create art if you can’t see?
Obviously Impressionism was never about representational precision. The whole movement was about insisting on art as emotive, not denotative. Its joy arises from stirring emotional and spiritual waters in ways that defy tidy explanations. This was revolutionary. Although as we look at art since Monet it’s easy to forget that before Monet and his fellow Impressionists, painting was as much about the archival function as it was expression: reportage and documentation.
Back when I was a failed poet, I felt more influence from the likes of Monet than I did all but four or five writers. My work was aggressively anti-narrative. Begin with a story, I said, then rip out the journalism. What remains is a poem. The results, I fear, were sometimes seen as intentionally obscure. That wasn’t my intent, of course. My goal was to produce poetry of pure spirit, poetry that completely bypassed the intellect. These days my ars photographica is the same as was my ars poetica. Monet was a poet himself – sans the failure.
Monet’s Impressionist vision wasn’t a function of his cataracts – he’d been painting a long time before he lost his sight. As I mull this over … might blindness not be both the vector and totem of emotive art? Vision is our primary sense for perceiving the world. If “seeing is believing,” sight is the sense one sees as the necessary consort of “objectivity.”
Clarity of perception and the ball and chain of objectivity – those are death to art. “I am not interested in shooting new things,” said photographer Ernst Haas. “I am interested to see things new.” Claude Monet was born with the gift of seeing things new and without any necessary devotion to denotation. Yet in later life, he saw almost nothing. What filtered through the cataracts – was he painting what was, or what seemed to be?
Claude Monet was perhaps the greatest of the Impressionists (he’s my favorite, to be sure), and it’s hard to think of any single movement that so permanently altered how we see, how we can, see the world. Today Scholars & Rogues is proud to honor Monet for his refusal to be lied to by his own eyes.