This morning I slipped into the passenger seat of my friend's car and coasted down the mountain. As we wove around each bend I could almost feel the pines pushing us forward, encouraging us to get away for a while—they knew we needed it. This time our venture included a slightly pretentious cold brew coffee accompanied by a sausage egg biscuit, and a trip to the Hunter Museum of American Art.
As we ate, we tried to digest what it means to be a student again. How do you begin to invest in another year at the institution you love when you currently feel displaced? I have been thrown from the depths of summer onto the shore of disarray. I can't help but feel this is not where I'm supposed to be. We call this “transition.” We're all in it: the unsettling feeling that's both cognitive and absolutely physical. Webster calls this an evolution from one form to another. We must understand that in transition our entire person is altered. We come back to a place where we used to feel known and it's uncomfortable. We have to give ourselves space to reencounter our surroundings. We can't expect it to be what it was before.
With two full stomachs we passed through the silvery, glass doors at the Hunter. We were eager to see our friend Edouard Monet at his current exhibition Monet and American Impressionism. We knew the exhibition was designed to display the influence his work has had on American Impressionism, but before beginning our tour we decided to quickly skim the curator’s comment posted at the entrance. Glossing over the multitude of aesthetic buzzwords I was ready to move on, but then the last sentence intrigued me, “Impressionists of the late nineteenth century emphasized the transiency of everyday reality.”
These words settled in my mind as I walked into the blue exhibition room filled with vibrant landscapes. I meandered through the delightful scenery cherishing slight variations in the artist’s techniques. Then I came across Monet's Champ d’avoine. The painting is covered in a light pink hue that stretches across a rich blue sky and sweeps down to illuminate the lush fields of golden oats and bright red poppies. A peace washed over me as I was arrested by its detail. I experienced visual rest. I felt as if Monet had preserved this corner of creation just for me. Captivated, I imagined myself walking in the brush, looking to my right and wandering towards the deep purple trees. Maybe I would stay awhile and lie down in the cool shade. This was a moment, a moment that Monet saw worthy of filling with detail and richness beyond what my eyes would have seen on their own.
As I scanned the room I realized that the risk Monet took in rendering the world in this way unleashed an irreplaceable gift. As a french impressionist, Monet welcomes natural light to brighten his colors. His textured paintings allow you to feel the movement he perceives in the world. He generously allows us into his imagination. In the late nineteenth century Monet’s work was so contagious that American artists who encountered his show in New York were then compelled to attempt his new style for themselves. I learned that some of these artists went so far as to move to Giverny where Monet was living at the time in an attempt to learn directly from his most recent works. When these American artists came back home their eyes had been reshaped. Monet had helped them look again, and look for more.
It's remarkable to realize that we can be affected by one another's imaginations. This is exactly what happened between Monet and the American Impressionists. His art helped them discover a more intricate beauty that was hidden in the grace of the landscape.
This morning, Monet’s imagination has taught me to hope, by providing a place I could rest in. I experienced a place filled with light that embraced the reality of transition. He knew that the moments he was painting were fleeting. He knew that the light would change and that it would alter the way he saw the landscape, but he believed that these pockets of light, these glimpses were worth it.
As we were drawn back up the mountain afternoon light danced in the leaves; the landscape knew we were ready to be back.
The Exhibition Monet and American Impressionism will be on display at the Hunter Museum of American Art until September 20, 2015.