Tag Archives: Munch

Why We Need Monet’s Garden…A-Z Challenge.

When I made my list of 26 artists at the outset of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, I simply chose my very favourite artists and their works, while then going on something of a quest to top up the missing letters.  While I’d fully intended to have the entire series ready to go by April 1st, perhaps you could say that I became the April Fool trying to write a letter each day and taking on all that entails. Indeed, merging into and almost becoming a different artist every day, especially when each one of them seemingly endured so much suffering, has been intense. Yet, back at the start when I first set out of this very spontaneous journey, it never crossed my mind that spending a month with a bunch of highly charged artists, mostly Expressionists, might get a bit draining and that I might actually need a break…a change of pace.

monet_portrait_photo_orangerie

That is why we’ve detoured to Monet’s exquisite garden at Giverney today. We’re going to float along in the muted sunshine and soak up all the peace and tranquillity of his beautiful water lilies. After all, as my old friend Keats expressed in Ode to Melancholy:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud;

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,

Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,

 Or on the wealth of globed peonies;

-John Keats, excerpt Ode to Melancholy.

You could say this whole process of writing to dead artists, has been intense to say the least. Indeed, getting inside someone else’s skin, isn’t something for the half-hearted. Those who sheepishly only dip the tip of their toe in the water. Rather, it calls for nothing less than full immersion, where nothing else can get in or out, and you’re absorbing your “hero” body and soul by osmosis. This process is nothing short of intense, as you all but alter your physical makeup to become them.

Yet, you also need to get out. Return to your regular self.

In the process of writing these letters to 26 different artists through the month of April, I’m switching skins and mindsets every day, and somehow also absorbing a mountain of biographical detail to boot. Yet, somehow I’m pulling it off.

At the same time, I’m intensely conscious that I’m playing with fire. That I can’t put myself through this psychological mincer every day, and know I’ll still be together at the end of the month. That I won’t have defragmented to the point of no return. Or, floated off into the clouds like a red helium balloon with nothing tying it down to the ground.

As creative as this might appear, it’s not healthy.

My feet need to be firmly planted on the ground, whenever my mind goes wandering. More than that, my feet need to be planted in rich, fertile soil not only to nourish my creativity, but also my physical well-being. That as much as I might think I live in my head, this control centre is attached to, and nourished by, the body down below.

So, as much as I’ve wanted to stay immersed in this incredibly stimulating creative vortex, towards the end of last week I started thinking I needed some kind of Intermission in between all the intensity of Munch’s The Scream, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Picasso’s Blue Period and also what lies ahead. Somewhere along the way there, my thoughts naturally wandered off to Monet’s Garden and I suddenly saw his paintings in a fresh light. That they weren’t so insipid after all, and were actually peaceful and relaxing…a place of healing.  I don’t know what triggered my wanderings through Monet’s Garden. book

However, on Thursday morning these meanderings suddenly crystallized, when I “stumbled across” Vivian Russell gorgeous coffee table book: Monet’s Garden: Through The Seasons At Giverny in the second hand book trolley at the hospital. Of course, it was meant to be. That, before I went any further, I needed to visit Monet’s Garden and rest.

 

Perhaps, I should’ve considered the need for shades of light and dark during this series at the outset. However, this entire journey’s been completely unplanned and spontaneous. Aside from that list of names, I haven’t had any kind of itinerary. Rather, I’m constantly adjusting my compass as fresh details come to light which could well unravel my mental portrait of the artist completely, and I’m forced to start over. Paint over the canvas. Punch in the clay.

That’s what happens when you truly become immersed in a character. You become acutely aware of their every little nuance, twist and turn. Well, at least as much as the Internet will tell me, which isn’t a complete picture, even with the artists who’ve turned themselves inside out in multiple interviews. There’s always the Seventh Veil. That no go zone.

Before I go to Monet’s Garden, however, I guess I’d better spill out why I didn’t write to him earlier, and why I chose to write to Edvard Munch instead. I have loved and lived The Scream all my life, even before I even knew it was there. It represents that anguished cry of the soul and the isolated individual who, misunderstood and abandoned by the world, is calling out to the wind. I venture to assume that everyone has experienced that anguish at some point in their life, even if it isn’t every day or very often. The Scream puts a real face to those feelings, and even offers a release….an exit from my house of horrors.

On the other hand, Monet’s water lilies were very tranquil, pretty and atmospheric, but where’s the angst? While I wouldn’t describe Monet’s works as Chocolate box art, perhaps they’ve just become too familiar, and I couldn’t appreciate their divine qualities until now.

Indeed, if you put The Scream and the Water Lillies side by side, you’d easily draw the conclusion that Monet had an easy life while Munch experienced such deep suffering and anguish that his grief had no end.

I, of all people, should’ve known better. That despite all the sufferings of my medical problems, I’m mostly smiling and trying to carpe diem seize the day with both hands squeezing the juice out of life. I’m not moping around complaining. Moreover, you have to know me pretty well or, be professionally trained to see how I am affected. Meanwhile, to most of the world, not insubstantial obstacles get filed under the carpet as seeming “invisibilities”. I’m fine. In fact, even I admit that I usually look like I’m doing better than most.

Death of his wife Camille

Monet endured great suffering and bouts of severe depression which went with it. In 1857, Monet suffered greatly when his mother died when he was seventeen. His father being a wealthy businessman, Monet took more after his mother who was a trained singer and might well have defended her son’s desire to become a professional artist. Losing this person who potentially understood him on the cusp of becoming a man, could well have compounded his loss.  Shortly after her death, Monet went to live with his aunt, who understood him better than his father I guess. Around 1866, Monet met his future wife, Camille Doncieux, who also modelled for him. The couple experienced great hardship around the birth of their first son, Jean, in 1867. Monet was in dire financial straits, and his father was unwilling to help them. Monet became so despondent over the situation that, in 1868, he attempted suicide by trying to drown himself in the Seine River. Monet’s personal life was marked by hardship around this time. Around 1878, Camille became ill during her second pregnancy (their second son, Michel, was born in 1878), and she continued to deteriorate. Monet painted a portrait of her on her death bed. Before her passing, the Monets went to live with Ernest and Alice Hoschede and their six children. Camille died 5 September 1879. After Camille’s death, Monet painted a grim set of paintings known as the Ice Drift series. He grew closer to Alice, and the two eventually became romantically involved. Ernest spent much of his time in Paris, and he and Alice never divorced. Monet and Alice moved with their respective children in 1883 to Giverny. After Ernest’s death, Monet and Alice married in 1892. In 1911, Alice died, plunging Monet into a deep depression. Monet became depressed after the death of his beloved Alice. In 1912, he developed cataracts in his right eye and was terrified of going blind. This wasn’t an entirely crazy thought, because no doubt he knew French “Impressionist” Edgar Degas who was completely blind by this stage. Monet was out of step with the avant-garde. The Impressionists were in some ways being supplanted by the Cubist movement, led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Then, to compound his sorrows, in February 1914, his son Jean died at the age of forty-six.

He wrote to one friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” Despite his feelings of despair, he continued working on his paintings until his final days.

So, when it comes to Monet’s water lillies, their stillness masks Monet’s  battle with depression which manifested on and off throughout his life. Yet, perhaps you could say that through gardening, he didn’t let it possess him completely. That he was fighting back and the storm was retreating beneath the pond.

Indeed, I’m starting to think a bit of gardening might do me a bit of good.

What do you think? Have gardening helped you overcome difficult moods or depression and anxiety?

Unfortunately, as time’s gone by, I’ve evolved into more of a plant killer than a gardener, and if you recall the plot of Finding Nemo, I’m like that little girl who kills all her fish. Indeed, all the plants at our local nursery, are probably shaking in their pots hoping I’ll choose someone else.

I’m going to pop back shortly to write more about Monet’s huge Water Lilly commission by the French Government.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Further Reading

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/claude-monet-20160920-grk00i.html

http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en/article/claude-monets-water-lilies

 

 

A-Z Weekly Round up…Letters to Dead Artists.

Welcome to Sunday, which is a day of rest in A-Z realms. Well, that is, if you’re not like me and somehow managed to mix N up with M and I ended up posting a letter to Sidney Nolan two days early, and to Edvard Munch, a day late. I think this is an alarm bell telling me I’ve taken on too much again this year and that I should heed some of the examples of my artists and not push myself too far. After all, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Munch shot off a finger, and I’m sure these two are just the tip of an expansive iceberg of troubled artists.
Thank fully, I have nothing to worry about. I’m a writer, not an artist.

Here’s a link to last week’s letters:

H- Hans Heysen

I- Isabel Bishop

J- Jackson Pollock

K- Wassily Kandinsky

L: Norman Lindsay

M- Edvard Munch

By the way, in case you missed any of the first week’s letters, here they are:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

Are you taking part in the A-Z Challenge this year? If so, please leave a link in the comments below and good luck. I think we’ve just passed half way, but I had prepared much of these before the challenge started, so I’m really needing to pump up the volume of research and writing, when it feels like I’ve blown up quite a few brain cells in the first two weeks. My kids also start two weeks of school holidays tomorrow. While they’re now 14 and 12 and more independent, I know I won’t be able to lock myself away for the next two weeks. I wouldn’t want to either. So, instead, I’ll be splitting the atom (or should I say myself) for the next two weeks.

I think I’m hearing something about fools step in where angels fear to thread…Rome wasn’t built in a day…and yet we have to try it, have a go, don’t we!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

M – Edvard Munch- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

My profuse apologies to Michelangelo, Monet, Matisse and Miro, who I’ve had to overlook. Today, I’ll be writing to Norwegian expressionist, Edvard Munch accompanied by sensational violinist, Lindsay Stirling’s thrilling violin rendition of The Phantom of the Opera. 

However, Edvard Munch’s The Scream has resonated with me for so long and in such an intimate way, that I could only write to him. For he was there holding me close, when I was stuck inside my constricting  inner labyrinth.

To be honest, these storms began as a child, increased during the swirling vortex of pubescence, but blew their banks in my 20s when the pressure inside my head, reached a final climax. Not due to mental illness. Rather, I had undiagnosed hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) and the storm was trying to get out.

Strangely, while I was consumed by this churning vortex of anguish, despair, heartbreak, or pure panic, I found myself curiously carried out of the abyss by the figure in Munch’s The Scream. In hindsight, it was a bit like somebody carrying the crucified body of Christ off the cross and washing my wounds and bringing me back to life. Isn’t it ironic, that a painting which is so graphic in its anguish, can also be soothing.

EXHI001000

I was about 12 years old when I was first introduced to Munch’s The Scream in art class at school. Its impact was immediate. I loved it. This was many years before I knew that this state of extreme stress and panic, was something called anxiety. Or, that I could, at least to some degree, choose how I responded to the things which happened to and around me. That the glass could either be half-full, or half empty. I could focus on what I have and what is working. Or, I could fixate on what was missing or wasn’t working, and fall into an abyss of anxiety, depression and despair. Of course, that’s a simplified way of looking at things.

However, that way of looking at things, later probably saved my life. When I found out I had 60% lung capacity, I could’ve sat in a chair and have everything done for me because I was sick. However, I thought about how singers and brass musicians have increased lung capacity. That gave me the idea that if I worked on the 60%, I did have instead of fixating on the 40% that was missing, , I might just have enough. So, how you respond to a situation can ultimately make a huge difference to you, as all those small steps and little decisions add up.

Anxiety

Edvard Munch: Anxiety.

Like virtually all the artists I have written to thus far, Edvard Munch had his battles, and it is no secret he lived with mental health challenges, most likely bipolar disorder. You immediate see these two extremes of mood when you put The Scream and his mural The Sun side by side:

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychosis is based on his own diary descriptions of visual and auditory hallucinations, a multiply documented instance of his travelling throughout Europe manifesting manic disrupted behavior that culminated in his shooting two joints off the ring finger of his left hand, and his psychiatric hospitalization in 1908 for an intensification of auditory hallucinations, depression, and suicidal urges. He also suffered from bouts of alcoholism. However, when you read about his extensive experience of familial death and grief, it also makes me wonder how much they contributed to his heightened state.

Edvard Munch was born on December 12, 1863, in Löten, Norway, the second of five children. In 1864, Munch moved with his family to the city of Oslo, where his mother died in 1868 of tuberculosis, when Munch was only five years old.

“I find it difficult to imagine an afterlife, such as Christians, or at any rate many religious people, conceive it, believing that the conversations with relatives and friends interrupted here on earth will be continued in the hereafter”

Edvard Munch

This marked the beginning of a series of family tragedies, which would’ve given Munch a very intimate experience of deep, prolonged suffering. His sister, Sophie, also died of tuberculosis, in 1877 at the age of 15; another of his sisters spent most of her life institutionalized for mental illness; and his only brother died of pneumonia at age 30. Munch’s father, a Christian fundamentalist, interpreted these tragedies as acts of divine punishment. This powerful matrix of chance, tragic events and their fatalistic interpretation left a lifelong impression on the young artist, and contributed decisively to his eventual preoccupation with themes of anxiety, emotional suffering, and human vulnerability[1].

Moreover, it would be interesting to look at parallels between Munch and author Roald Dahl, who was also Norwegian and experienced similar family losses and developed a dark, almost sinister current through his writing.

The Scream

which scream is best

“Painting picture by picture, I followed the impressions my eye took in at heightened moments. I painted only memories, adding nothing, no details that I did not see. Hence the simplicity of the paintings, their emptiness.”

Edvard Munch

Essentially The Scream is autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through the air while on a walk, after his two companions, seen in the background, had left him. Munch recorded his initial conception in 1891: “I was walking along the road with two of my friends. Then, the sun set. The sky suddenly turned into blood, and I felt something akin to a touch of melancholy. I stood still, leaned against the railing, dead tired. Above the blue black fjord and city hung clouds of dripping, rippling blood. My  friends went on and again I stood, frightened with an open wound in my breast. A great scream pierced through nature.[2]” (Heller RH: Edvard Munch: The Scream. New York, Viking Press, 1972, p. 109) [3]

There are actually five versions of The Scream. The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, holds one of two painted versions The Munch Museum holds the other painted version (1910) and a pastel version from 1893. The fourth version (pastel, 1895) was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction in 1912. Also in 1895, Munch created a lithograph stone of the image, which is my personal preference. It’s so graphic.

In 1978, the Munch scholar Robert Rosenblum suggested that the strange, sexless being in the foreground, was inspired by a Peruvian mummy, which Munch might’ve have seen at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This mummy, which was buried in a fetal position with its hands alongside its face, had struck the imagination of Munch’s friend Paul Gauguin. Indeed, it stood as a model for figures in more than twenty of Gauguin’s paintings, among those the central figure in his painting, Human misery (Grape harvest at Arles) and for the old woman at the left in his painting, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?.

Letter to Edvard Munch

Dear Edvard,

There’s so much I could ask you, but beyond all else, I wanted to thank you for painting The Scream and giving it to the world as a way for all of us experiencing anguish and suffering, can potentially find release.

Did you find release from your personal inner labyrinth when you passed?

Or, were your own words prophetic:

“To die is as if one’s eyes had been put out and one cannot see anything any more. Perhaps it is like being shut in a cellar. One is abandoned by all. They have slammed the door and are gone. One does not see anything and notices only the damp smell of putrefaction.”

I’d love to hear from you and could you please send me a painting of where you are now.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter from Edvard Munch

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Gauguin is feeling rather left out now that I’ve received a letter as well as Van Gogh. Do you think maybe you could send him a letter anyway, even though it breaks the rules of this challenge? You’re such a compassionate soul and I’m sure you could bend the rules a little and just send him a few lines. I’d be mighty grateful. Even in heaven, he can get a bit moody and he and Vincent had another falling it when he tried to read his letter.

Anyway, you Australians are a positive, upbeat bunch. All that sunshine must do wonders for your outlook. I’ve met one of your former Prime Ministers up here…a Malcolm Fraser. He challenged all my gloomy thinking and said: Life wasn’t meant to be easy, but it can be delightful.”

I’ve attached a print of a mural I did called “The Sun”. That’s a pretty close approximation of what it’s like here. Oh yes! Much to my surprise, I am able to have loads coffee and chats with my loved ones up here. It’s really very social.

Yours,

Edvard Munch.

sun

Edvard Munch, The Sun

References & Further Reading

[1] http://www.theartstory.org/artist-munch-edvard.htm

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-explorations/201503/creativity-and-mental-illness-ii-the-scream

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-explorations/201503/creativity-and-mental-illness-ii-the-scream

The Scream

Today, I’m trying a bit of reverse psychology. Instead of regurgitating a motivational textbook to myself, I’m going for the scream…an endless scream from somewhere deep inside my heart, deep inside my soul. A scream something like a cross between Tarzan swinging through the jungle and natural childbirth. We’re talking intense! A real scream!

As much as you would expect such a scream to be spontaneous, it actually takes a bit of forethought and planning. After all, you just can’t stand on some street corner screaming your lungs out and not expect to find yourself in some kind of lock-up facility.

That’s not the kind of time out that I’ve been looking for.

I suppose I could always go bush and find a good cliff face and let my scream waft across some deserted gully.

However, I’ve taken the easy way out. I’ve ordered a copy of Munch’s: The Scream to put on the wall near my desk. That way, when I feel like screaming, I can look at the picture and somehow release those emotions in silence.

I know The Scream might seem a bit “dark” or “intense”, however, I have a lot of “uppers” around the house. Things designed to cheer me up and get me through the day…a cyclamen plant on the kitchen table. There’s the kids’ rainbow drawings and of course, my teacups. As much as it’s great to be positive, I don’t believe you just have to hide all your negative thoughts under the bed. They need an outlet as well. I wouldn’t recommend filling your place up with negative energy but having something concrete that represents your inner pain doesn’t seem like such a bad idea although I’m obviously not professional. I just need to represent both sides of the coin. I have good days and bad days just like anybody else and I want to express and deal with that instead of choking up. That’s not being negative.  Perhaps, in a funny kind of way, it ends up being neutral.

I have a very positive, upbeat attitude most of the time but there’s nothing wrong with getting cranky about our negative circumstances. I know people hate whingers but you can’t just keep pouring all those negative emotions down your throat like a toxic cocktail. After all, where does it all go? How will it get out? Believe me, it does come out and perhaps instead of closing the door and having a good private scream, you’ll go off your head at someone you love who just happened to spill the milk on the tablecloth or left their toy in the walkway, wouldn’t get dressed or put their shoes on.

You can only take so much!

If you are a ticking clock, one day you will either explode or implode. I know I have imploded and all that energy went into my body…kaput! Too much! My body couldn’t take it.

I expected too much of myself.

Why do we insist on being super heroes? Putting on our capes and leaping off tall buildings and getting upset when shock horror we finally realise we can’t actually fly?

Somehow we need to stop running around being all happy happy joy joy all the time. Be honest about how we really feel… especially to ourselves. We don’t need to broadcast our business to the world but we can bring someone else inside our grief, our disappointments and frustrations.  They’ll cope. Helping other people actually helps people feel better. They usually love to do it.

Yesterday, I caught the train down to Sydney. I was struggling but I had my walking stick with me and people understood and gave me a hand.  They didn’t know my story. They were just happy to help in their own small way. I felt a bit like Paddington Bear and half expected to find a half-eaten jar of marmalade in my bag but that was okay. It was lovely to enjoy a touch of human kindness!

I know it takes a lot for me to reach out and ask for help and I only do it when I really, really have to but…

  1.  I’m not a super hero. I don’t have to be.
  2. I am human and that’s okay.
  3.  I don’t need to go through this alone.
  4. People love me.
  5. They are happy to help.
  6. I just need to let them.
  7. I can also help myself.

This all sounds great. Only one obstacle remains…me! I have to let myself go.

Postscript

Writing this post has actually been quite cathartic. I’m currently on 50 mg of prednisone , which is enough to turn a meditation guru into some sort of crazed axe murderer.

It certainly does nothing to build your sense of inner peace and tranquility.

I’m also angry because my auto-immune disease has flared thanks to a bad case of the flu. All the warning lights are starting to flash and there’s talk of hospital admission. On top of all of that is life…getting the kids to put their shoes on, the dance concerts, physie competitions. Life doesn’t stop because you’re struggling. Life and you go on.

But it’s only human to want to stop, scream and explode sometimes. That’s okay.

I’d like to share what ultimately happened to my inner scream. It is a bit quirky and even I think it’s “out there”.

I had been thinking about Munch’s The Scream all day and looking at it on my computer. I was also thinking about where you could actually go to have a good scream. Let it out without being locked up. Through this process, I actually visualised myself standing at Echo Point  at Katoomba and watching myself screaming all the way across the Jameson Valley. (I’d have to do that after dark because the place is jam-packed with tourist buses all day and these moments do need to be private!!)

Then the most amazing thing happened and I wasn’t consciously trying to turn these negative emotions into a positive. I was just angry. However, while I’m watching myself standing on the edge of the cliff, suddenly a black crow flies out of my mouth and soars across the Jameson Valley and disappears.

We had seen a lot of black crows down at Perisher recently. It was quite a macabre and liberating experience. Crows are the weirdest looking birds and if I had to choose my inner bird it would be something like a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, a Rainbow Lorikeet or even a Galah. How bizarre! How bizarre! How bizarre!

How can you possibly stay mad when you see this crazy image?

The last word goes to Homer Simpson. When I looked up The Scream on eBay, I found this version with Homer Simpson in it. That definitely turned my anger on its head. I had to laugh.

Any comments? I would love to get some discussion going on my blog!!

xx Rowena