Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Birth of Impressionism

No matter what season it is outside, I've learned that after a show, it's time for me and my studio to lie fallow for a bit.

It seems contradictory. Fueled by the adrenaline rush of preparation and the reception, I used to rush back into the studio, but like a cake without the leavening, the work I made fell flat and I learned to say, "Vacation time!"

I'd love two weeks in Paris so I could drink in art and a few cafe au laits, but there's that small matter of my other job and my bank account--so I've been wondering, 

What do you do to refuel? I'd love to hear some of the ways you restore and refuel yourself after an exhibit or teaching a class.

Without the time or the money to visit Paris, I figured the next best thing would be to visit the Birth of Impressionism exhibit, an hour and a half down Interstate 80 in San Francisco.

My sister and I piled into the car with lots of water, and munchies and headed off. It was a beautiful blue sky day and a whopper of an exhibition.

The DeYoung Museum is the only museum in the world to host this show from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibit is arranged so that you can trace the artistic movement from the French Realist style (approved by the official Government Salon) to the original and inventive style we now call Impressionism.

My sister and I walked through galleries painted a deep salmon and hung with paintings by Courbet, Manet (that challenger of tradition!),  Pissaro, Monet, Renoir, not to mention Berthe Morisot and Cezanne.

In the past, I've walked through galleries with the feeling that people who lived and worked before me simply belonged to another human race entirely, but this time was different. There's a piece of growing older that helps me to understand my place in the parade of human history and human art history.

As we left the museum, surfeited by our visual feast, we entered out into the brilliant blue San Francisco day. The sound of a brass band issued from a nearby band shell and we went over to investigate. In front of the shell, a couple waltzed and a young child spun around, twirling to the music. The band in their red uniforms with navy blue epaulettes played on.

It was almost unreal, the clarity and perfection of it all. Had I popped up in the middle of Mary Poppins in the park with Burt?

As I look back, it occurs to me that clarity is the gift that paintings offer us. They give us a very personal and distilled view of their world. If we in turn, give the paintings our own sustained looking, we are gifted with this clarity.

I took it in, my invisible gift and carried it home with me to the small Central Valley town where I live, rich with possibility and almost but not quite, ready to begin again.

If you live near San Francisco, or are planning to visit there, The Birth of Impressionism continues until September 6th, If you're not, what visual feast is going on near you?

Pictured above: From the top: The Swing, Pierre Auguste Renoir, View of the DeYoung, Still Life with Soup Tureen, Paul Cezanne, Entrance to the DeYoung with me and a mysterious stranger.


  1. I usually feel the need for a rest from art making after a show, or a commissioned piece is done. It's often a let down feeling. Right now I am in a lull because of house renovations and my studio is all put away. So I am forced to be in a very pared down creative space. Also am busy getting the house ready for painters, etc. So it's feels strange. I have to keep reminding myself that I will still know how to do it when I get to start again. And then a vacation will be in the way. Funny, so, I am doing my best to enjoy what I am doing and letting it be okay to not do what I was doing! I will soon enough be doing it again. ;-)
    We are going to the exhibit in SF later in the summer. Looking forward to it. Did you mean for the words on your post to go in lines as they are?

  2. Lynn, It's been so long since I've been involved in a remodel but I can imagine how strange and somewhat dislocated you must feel. I like the notion of being pared down however; it provides a creative challenge all its own!

  3. Years ago in Amsterdam I got to see a museum full of van Goghs.

    It was hard to look at them. It was impossible to look at more than one or two at a time. I'd look and be compelled to leave and walk around outside for a while. I could not move through the exhibit picture by picture.

    I don't know if Iwould have that reaction now. I just found so much to see in one painting that my brain was full and I couldn't look at the others until I got a rest.


  4. What a delightful getaway and your description made me feel like I was going along for the ride.
    I too take breaks following a big push to reward is usually a good walk in the cypress woods or at the beach and a special dinner out, with a Margarita.
    ...and naps...naps...gotta have naps ;-)

  5. Laura, I totally understand. I remember my visits in my twenties and thirties to art museums and I had very much the same reaction. It was as if one painting filled me up (as you said). I think it is only time, life, and the fortitude I developed as a mom that allows me to drink in more now. (The other caveat is that once you entered this particular show, you couldn't leave and come back--which I dislike--bc it doesn't allow breathing room.) I bet you might find its changed for you too.

  6. Iona--naps are a sine quan non in my world too!I think after a long haul, having a string of naps, like a string of pearls, washes away fatigue of many kinds.

  7. you definitely did the right thing-- go to a museum or gallery show as a break from the studio-- I find I need these sort of breaks myself-- I go shopping or out to lunch- or work in the gardens.