Claude Monet upended public opinion of what good art was well over a century ago. Monet had a different vision of the world. The world wasn’t just a real place to be captured by the artist’s brush. Monet’s courageous point of view saw the world as sacred, dynamic, connected, and full of light. To this day, Monet’s paintings move us because they capture much more than what the world is, they capture what the world means, and all of the beautiful possibility in it. We know Monet today as a great artist. But, his life was marked by incredible struggle. He faced periods of constant poverty, the crushing loss of his beloved wife, and at one point he attempted suicide. Later in his career, his eyesight began to fail. Yet, it was all of those painful experiences, and even his failing vision that shaped his point of view and enabled him to leave behind a legacy of artistic beauty.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Lisel Mueller’s captures this in an excerpt from her poem:
MONET REFUSES THE OPERATION
Doctor, you say there are no halos
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are of the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun
and now you want to restore my
youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
illusions of three dimensional space,
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of object that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint at the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gasses. Doctor,
if you could only see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
Monet completed some of his finest work while his vision was failing. His point of view, informed by a life of profound struggle and an altered perspective due to his failing eyesight enabled him to produce art that captured France’s sorrow during World War I and helped bring healing to those who lived through it. In his collection of paintings of weeping willows produced between 1916-1919 he captured the heart of a mourning France and gave the nation’s tears a place to flow.
None of life’s experiences are wasted: the joy, the pain, the laughter, or the tears. All of these shape a person’s unique point of view. It takes courage to invite others to see the world through your eyes. But, by stepping out with confidence in your own vision you can be a person who brings hope, beauty, and wisdom into the lives of the people around you.