I spent a piece of my day in the National Gallery in Washington DC. Their collection of French Impressionists is amazing. Room after room of canvas and oil visions that take over my thoughts.
French Impressionists are my holy sacrament. Monet. Or Degas. Or even the really nutty bastards like Picasso and Van Gogh… Standing in front of their work is as close to transcendent as this middle class white boy gets.
I can wander through the Flemish painters, the great Renaissance Masters, the Realists, the greatest of European Portraitists… And feel impressed with their technical skills, their finesse, their prowess with oil and pigment… They spent a lot of time making rich people look better than they really did. But they don’t move me.
The Impressionists move me.
Sometimes I’m just speechless. To look into the past through the window they’ve created. I can feel the street they’re standing on, looking across a river at a city long gone. I see what they see, filtered through the lens of their experiences and storytelling skills. I can look at a simple, elegant line they left on the canvas and see that it’s utter perfection and wonder where that line came from. That simple flowing line that suggested a man’s jacket, or a cheek or gesture. I can’t begin to know how they chose that color, or left that line, or used those few simple dabs to suggest so much.
I think they move me so much because they don’t beat me over the head. They give me a suggestion of a feeling and let me fill in the rest. Some of the huge canvases of their contemporaries were amazing things to behold, but not a detail is missing. I don’t have to do anything. I just scan the acre of canvas and every blade of grass is there for me.
I’m not involved.
The Impressionists give me just enough to jump in with them. They invite me into a scene and let me finish it out, or just enjoy what is and what isn’t there.
These great museums of the world remind me that my kind isn’t all evil and power and angst. There are people out there, and there always have been, that are capable of giving us all something beyond our little lives.
Thanks guys. Thanks Monet, Manet, Cezanne and the rest. Thanks Picasso and Van Gogh and Pissaro and Gauguin. I owe you one. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.