A Basket of Mangoes

A Basket of Mangoes, Fernando Amorsolo, 1949

Sometimes it takes a beautiful person to remind us how beautiful life really is. This painting is by a Filipino artist, new to me. I wonder what colors he mixes to make that vibrant green in the background.


Renoir, My Father

The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81
The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81

I finished reading the biography of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, written by his son, Jean Renoir. Renoir is French, and I never really adjusted myself to all the French words and cities in the book. It bugs me when I have no idea how to pronounce something. Other than that, I enjoyed the book because it had so much to do with a little boy seeing his father through little boy eyes and not through art historian eyes. Renoir seems not-so-strange. He was ambitious. He had some idiosyncrasies. He looked strange because of his severe rheumatism. But he was a father, protective, anxious for his children, thinking about their well-being. By the end of the book, I was convinced that Jean’s mother, Renoir’s wife Aline, is the real superhero in the family. She devoted her life to keeping Renoir happy. She was his servant. They moved around frequently for his health and also for his art, and it was Mother who bought houses, arranged parties, brought in friends to cheer up Renoir. She worked hard. In the painting, she is the one looking at the dog. Renoir is the one gazing in her direction, sitting backward in his chair. Aline grew to be quite stout, which was apparently an honorable thing in that culture. Renoir stayed thin. He cared more for painting than eating.

At the end of his life, crippled and terrified that he wouldn’t be able to paint, Renoir did what exercises he could do: juggling, twirling a wooden block. He had to give up more and more of these things, but he managed to paint until the end. I liked the descriptions of his very clean palette, the dabs of paint he used in their correct order, his meticulousness. One of the author’s jobs was to help clean the brushes at the end of the day.

I also enjoyed making connections between Renoir and his contemporary artists. It’s fun to read about a meeting between such folks as Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas, and Morisot. Now I want to read more about Paul Cezanne because in this book he seems like such a crusty character!

Why I like art

Sometimes I have to step back and remember why I do things. Why do I blog? Because I like to write. So why do I blog about art? Because I like art. Why do I like art? I don’t know, but I’m willing to think it through. I’ll list a few reasons, not in order of importance, just in the order they come to me.

Reason 1: I studied art in college.

And it was fascinating. I learned about art I didn’t know existed. I changed my opinions about art. Previous to my art history classes I admired Thomas Kinkade as much as I admired Monet. After learning about art all through the ages, I realized there is more to it than what meets the eye. One artist does not equal one painting. I learned to take in the whole process of becoming an artist, how an artist makes use of the ideas of the time period, what sort of community the artist thrives (or suffers) in. A whole new world was opened to me. (Sorry Mr. Kinkade. Your sentimentality doesn’t seem very important to me anymore. I wish you would show some signs of moving forward, working through your problems on canvas, not catering to the public.)

Reason 2: I like to create art.

A wise professor once told me I must always be watching other artists, both past and present. Always let other artists influence my own work.

Reason 3: I like beauty.

Beautiful art fulfills something in me. Calms me, upsets me, changes me… I don’t know. It does something. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” — Pablo Picasso

Reason 4: I like to look into art.

It’s a little more profound than looking at it. Similar to Reason 1, it’s looking into this whole other world. It’s considering the artist’s life, but it is also considering an individual artwork in different ways. I can look at a painting and wonder about the story it tells, or I can admire the quality of the brushstrokes, analyze the color scheme, learn from the artist’s composition and use of space, consider my emotional reaction to the work, drown myself in the art only to find myself surfacing in some other memory, some other story.

That’s enough reasons for now. If you’d like, you could share some of your reasons for liking art.

Matisse: Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table.

Henri Matisse, Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table, 1947
Henri Matisse, Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table, 1947

I’m going to relate my homeschooling attitude to this painting. It might be a stretch, but with me, and with Matisse, it might work. I’m technically new at this homeschooling thing. My oldest child is six and will be doing Year 1 of Ambleside Online beginning this fall. Also, I was not homeschooled myself. However, I knew I would homeschool several years ago, and in preparation I have been saturating myself in the colors of a homeschool lifestyle. I have not been stressing out. Can you imagine Matisse stressed out while painting this picture? I can’t. When I look at this picture I see freedom to play, freedom to be bold, a desire to have one foot in abstraction while not removing the other from realism. I see the attitude I want to have as a homeschool mom. I want that freedom to play both indoors and out. I want to bring the outdoors inside. I want that open door. I want learning to be bold and in-your-face, not dry and cryptic. I want to see patterns all over. I want to hang the faces of historical people on the walls of my children’s brains, as if they were relatives with interesting stories connected to each. I want learning to be multi-sensory, so that dinner or the produce we bring in from the garden, becomes part of our learning lifestyle, not just dinner. Not just tomatoes. I want everything to fit together, wonderfully, crazily, playfully, amazingly. The way God fits everything together. I want to love beauty so much that we want to create it, explore it, describe it, live in it. My son recently told me he did not want to watch such-and-such a movie because it was ugly. I wish I had thought of that. Parts of it are ugly animation, and I am (upon further thought) very encouraged by his wisdom. Already he is learning to discriminate between what is second-rate and what is lovely and worthwhile.

A Sunlit Interior

A Woman and a Child in a Sunlit Interior, Albert Edelfelt, 1889
A Woman and a Child in a Sunlit Interior, Albert Edelfelt, 1889

In my contemplative moods, I like to think about spiritual transparency. This Finnish painting (and other paintings of sunshine lighting the faces of people indoors) reminds me of God’s light warming our hearts through little windows of life. A window could be a time of prayer. It could be an encouraging person we meet. It could be the testimony of nature as we gaze at its beauty. Here in our little house of earth, we never see the blaze of God directly. We see it through things. Sometimes it burns our souls, sometimes it melts a cold mood, and sometimes it warms a lonely heart. God’s light reflects onto us, and as we grow closer to the light, it breaks down our solidity of self, and we become transparent, allowing the light to show through us. As this painting speaks partly of motherhood, I am reminded that I can direct God’s love onto my children by soaking myself in His Word and letting it soak right through me onto them.

A small poem of mine which touches on this issue can be found here. I’m not sure I got it right, but my words did reach for the truth.