Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Monet and Abstraction

Seeing the Real Thing, i.e.Monet's paintings in the Orangerie  and the ones in the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris, I became strongly aware of just how very abstract his work is.  Monet lived from 1840-1926 and while his work was very popular when he lived and he had many commissions, after he died it was largely ignored by the avant garde of the art world. It's hard to believe today that his famous water lily paintings attracted so little attention - when we see them reproduced everywhere! It wasn't until the 1950s when painters began to be interested in abstraction, both in France and the USA, that Monet was "rediscovered".

 Andre Masson, a Surrealist painter, who experimented with inducing altered states of consciousness (by various means) and then producing what he called "automatic" drawings, was one of the first to write about Monet.  It's interesting to think about the effect of altering consciousness on art work - I don't think you have to be drunk, starving or sleep deprived (!) - thank goodness! - but being able to get into the creative zone where the critical mind is not commenting and dictating is really helpful.  Of course you do then have to assess and adjust carefully AFTER you've produced your "automatic drawings' - or perhaps "semi-automatic!"  A little bit of control is a good thing, too much can stifle your ability to come up with something fresh.

Anyway (presumably when reasonably sober and nourished), Masson wrote that he felt that the Orangerie (the building in Paris that houses water lily paintings that completely surround you (a concept later used by Rothko and several others)) was the "Sistine Chapel of Impressionism." When you see the paintings, the depth is almost feel like you're sinking into the pond itself...and yet when you get close this is all achieved with very loose brushwork.  It was not done "automatically" though - Monet made a lot of sketches of the ideas he used before he started painting.  There were also a great many preparatory paintings many of which can be seen in the Marmottan museum.

Along came the abstract expressionists and they were incredibly inspired by the dissolved light in Monet's painting and also the vigorous brushwork.  Joan Mitchell is a favorite of mine and  I could definitely see a huge likeness between close ups of Monet's paintings and her work.  And of course, all the others: Pollack, Krasner, Riopelle, Tobey and so on. Clement Greenberg, the highly influential art critic, supported the idea that Monet was the chief precursor of abstract painting in America, despite the fact that "he himself could not consciously accept or recognize "abstractness" - the qualities of the medium alone".

Greenberg described Monet's monumental water lilies as a new type of painting, one that is "all over, decentralized, and polyphonic, relying on a surface knit together of identical or closely similar elements which repeat themselves without marked variation from one edge of the picture to the other."

I see many parallels between the arts and I think that an understanding of one helps in the appreciation of another.  I love the idea that Monet's work parallels that of the polyphony so popular in the Baroque period in music.  So, now for a nice cuppa tea while I ponder how to bring polyphony into my quilts.....

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth


Chris said...

Love the Monet water lilies at the Orangerie. We went there twice when visiting Paris last summer. It was our favorite museum. I never thought of them as abstract paintings before. You have given me something to think about.

carla said...

HI!!!! Yes you gave me some things to think about too!!!! Very thought provocative!!!! Thank You

Romana said...

Very nice words...(I saw some oil paintings from J. M. W. Turner in The National Gallery in London last month and I was similar excited too!) Impressionists and their forerunners are great inspirations for art quilts.