During my junior year of college, I took a seminar on Impressionist art led by a visiting Monet scholar who was intensely passionate, offering insight into every brush stroke.
Impressionists were true observers, he said, the type of artists who could look in a puddle after it rained and find beauty in the mud and the worm that crawled to dry land.
Impressionists were all about the details.
Consider the fruit in Cezanne’s famous still life paintings. If you look closely, you’ll see the tension. Thick, feathered brushstrokes create a cradle for the apples, without which they would roll to the floor.
@@We can come unnerved at any moment, always hanging somewhere between hope and fear, or love and sorrow.@@
Now I can’t look at a Cezanne without thinking of that tension, and the sheer emotion imbued in something as ordinary as fruit on a table.
When I was visiting Chicago many years later, I walked to the Art Institute where one of the country’s largest impressionist exhibits is housed.
It’s nice to marvel when we can, isn't it?
Just standing or sitting for a few minutes, letting the sculpture or the painting fill your body, can be restorative. Unfortunately, it’s not something we have the opportunity to do often enough.
How Impressionists Changed Art
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time in history when only a few subjects were considered worthy of art: history, portrait, and religion. Then the impressionists came along. In the 1870s and 1880s, impressionists threw off convention and began painting scenes of middle-class Parisians eating in café’s or sitting by the river. Dancers waited in the wings at the ballet, workers lounged in a hay field, and prostitutes drank Absinthe alone at a table.
This was the stuff of life, the everyday, the truth.
The writing assignment to try when you're in a creative rut
In a writing seminar the same year as my Impressionist class, we met in the local art museum instead of the classroom.
Once a week, we walked through the galleries with a single assignment: find something that moves you and write about it.
Instead of looking at a painting in a book or online, we stood in front of it and really connected with the work.
It’s a wonderful writing exercise because it forces you out of your own head (and maybe your comfort zone), and can ease you out of a writing rut.
6 Steps to Turn a Museum Visit Into a Writing Prompt
1. Block off one or two hours and pick a local art museum to visit
2. Pack a pen and a notebook
3. Walk through the galleries without any expectations, and to get a sense of what’s available. It’s similar to browsing the stalls at the farmers’ market before you buy. If you’re uninspired, move on to the next piece. If you’re intrigued, make a note to circle back.
4. Once you’ve done a loop, revisit the pieces you were curious about.
5. Spend the first few minutes sitting or standing in front of it. Take it in, let your thoughts swirl, but don’t write anything yet. It’s almost like a meditation to stay focused on the present moment and the images right in front of you.
6. When you’re ready, pull out your pen and start writing. Maybe you’ll start a poem using the title of the painting. Maybe the subjects will inspire a short story. Maybe you’ll write a long journal entry about how the art has impacted you. And maybe you simply want to remember what it was like to allow someone else’s creativity to penetrate your heart for a moment.
Sometimes I think creativity is more about our openness to the process than our desire to create.
I believe this because creativity is everywhere. In puddles, paintings, outside the window of a cross-country plane ride, in the sunrise of our morning commute, or chopped onions glistening in a hot pan, surrendering to the oil. The beauty will go on. It will always be near us.
What matters is whether or not we acknowledge it, capture it, and translate it in a way that brings that beauty into our own lives and the lives of those around us.