Seeing the World As an Artist

Around this time of year, I always seem to find myself in desperate need of a trip to the art museum. I long to bask in the warmth of my favorite Impressionist paintings bursting with the sunny colors of nature. I was recently at the Indianapolis Museum of Art admiring paintings cheerfully named Afternoon Tea, Poppies, and Early Morning Sunshine. How I wished I could hang one in our home, but I settled for a few gift shop postcards and some valuable lessons from the Impressionists.

Let nature inspire. No one was more inspired by nature than the Impressionists. The movement began with a few Parisian artists who went to the countryside to capture the transient effects of sunlight. The idea of painting en plein air, or outdoors, was a dramatic departure from painting in studios. Claude Monet said, “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration.”

Appreciate ordinary moments. Impressionists painted candid glimpses of everyday people at work and play ~ a bowl of fruit, friends having lunch, a walk in the garden. Their work is a reminder to appreciate the significance and beauty in everyday rituals and pastimes.

Color your world. “Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life,” said Vincent Van Gogh. The Impressionists valued pure, brilliant, and saturated pigments. They developed a method of painting that celebrated light, movement, and vibrant color. Especially in the winter, color can brighten our days.

Loosen up a little. Impressionism was spontaneous and informal in style and subject. The artists broke away from serious historical and mythological themes. Instead, they freely painted contemporary subjects with visible, colorful brush strokes that weren’t carefully blended or shaded. The result was a joyful impression of real life.

Be open to new ideas. The Impressionists, who preferred to be called Independents, faced harsh opposition and criticism from the established art community. They were considered radicals who broke every rule of the French Academy of Fine Arts. Rejected by the Salon de Paris, the annual state-sponsored art show, the artists held their own show in 1874. As it turned out, they were on to something the art world would eventually embrace.

Make it pretty. Perhaps what draws me most to Impressionism is an underlying philosophy about creating a beautiful life. Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.”

As I go through my week, I hope to incorporate these Impressionists’ ideas into my daily round. If gloomy weather or gray thoughts cloud my thinking, the postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies displayed on my piano will remind me to view the world as an artist celebrating the joy of nature. §

Hurry Never – the joy of slowing down

My hands were full of fall treasures after my morning walk ~ a heart-shaped leaf, a perfect acorn, and a few stems of pretty white wildflowers. I worked through my chores accompanied by soft jazz, stopping frequently to watch hummingbirds dance around our feeder.

I drove to town slowly enough to spy three deer and a chubby groundhog enjoying the afternoon. At the grocery store, I made way for shoppers frantically pushing their carts and invited a mother with a cranky toddler to go ahead of me in line.

I haven’t always moved through my day so leisurely or with such delightful awareness. Even after my children were grown and I was no longer teaching, I still found myself rushing. I walked, drove, talked, moved, and acted as if there was a sense of urgency, when there was none.

I had a hurry habit, a habit that isn’t merely a symptom of our fast-paced, modern world. It seems the want to rush has been a problem long before our time.

These words were written in the 1600s by Saint Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” 

In a similar message, My Symphony, a poem written by William Henry Channing in the late 1800s, reminds us, “Hurry never.” Now that I’m older, I’m discovering breaking the hurry habit can improve life in at least these five ways ~

1. More Beauty ~ The more we slow down, the more we notice nature’s beauty; the more we notice nature’s beauty, the more we slow down. No matter where we live, nature is waiting to help us pause in awe and wonder.

2. More Good-Feels ~ When I catch myself rushing, I can feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Right now, take a deep breath and relax your body from head to toe. Doesn’t that feel better?

3. More Pleasant Interactions ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down makes us better able to be more compassionate, patient, and aware of others.

4. More Productivity ~ It may seem counter-intuitive, but hurrying doesn’t always help us get more done. In fact, rushing often results in mistakes, accidents, and bad decisions.

5. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. When we slow down, we can glide through our day with more grace and composure ~ like a swan.