Thursday, July 19, 2018

vagabond summer

Where are you right now? Where were you? Where are you going next?

The answer, right, now, is the Monet room (243) of the Art Institute of Chicago. I have just come from the preceding room of 240, which contains the celebrated Seurat. After I leave this room, I am going to walk into the adjoining room of 244 where an image of Van Gogh's haphazard bedroom hangs, calling to mind the Heidegger essay I am reading about art.

I did not plan to visit this room, but sometimes we are called to places by surprise. My eyes relax as they soak in images of haystacks, the familiar views of Waterloo Bridge, and (of course) ubiquitous water lilies. Monet is a man who makes me feel at home. There is something kindred and admirable, a quality worthy of emulation, in a person who spends an unexpected two months on the coast of Brittany, enraptured by the rock formations of the north Atlantic coast. Someone who can be lost in what he sees, and follows the call of beauty to meditate and to be still. Monet's eyes are fresh enough to see the world as something miraculous and new each day, to see that Waterloo Bridge is a different place each hour, in a million flavors of light.

Within all these meditations are woven the memories of kisses on my neck, of poring over the same stretches of skin and patches of body, of hearing the same rhythm of language, the quiet dance of mundane questions and answers which build daily courtesies, of tracing the contours of a heart over and over again each day. With each day, I find something new in a vision that can only be fresh when familiar. That is the vision that my pupils reflect back to the waterlily paintings they soak in.

The world is a flower, your attention is the sunshine, thus the world can only blossom with that sweet catalyst. To see the world anew demands dedication to watch it swim in its reflection on the water lily-soaked water. To allow yourself to be drawn into the watery vision of the upside down world floating among the water lilies is to allow yourself to be drawn out of your own trajectory, and follow something new.

I wonder what sort of monastic attention Monet possessed, what ascetic skill of sight he cultivated, that he could return again and again, with unwavering faithfulness, to the Rouen Cathedral, and paint the façade once more each morning.

I wonder what sort of dispossessed ego beat within his heart that he could chuck his plans and stay in Normandy. Wander in the rocks of fishing village for as long as the visions were biting. The calm wisdom of listening to not abandon the vision that was beautiful, but stay with it as long as it pleased, to wait upon the will of light beams and nature's color palatte.

This is a peripatetic stability I admire, a wandering intimacy with the world.

Stranding in the middle of Midway airport, buying a one-way ticket, riding a bus from Milwaukee to Minnesota, figuring a way from Lincoln Park to Milwaukee, I appreciate this man even more, who spends two months examining rock formations on the coast, who can change his plans for the sake of nothing more than beauty.

Perhaps Monet is nothing unique. Perhaps there are many artists who can do this and have done this.

As I sit here, in room 243 of the Art Institute of Chicago, I am surrounded not just by the lovely fruits of his patient vision, but by road signs pointing the way forward. They offer little direction other than to wait: find what is good and beautiful, and hand yourself over to that.

After watching a father with dreadlocks and a hibiscus-printed shirt point out to his daughter the finer details of one of Monet's street scene, I stand up from my bench and walk into room 244.

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