Let Nature Be Your Teacher

Last weekend, I went to the Seattle Art Museum’s touring exhibit on impressionism, which has been in town for several months now, but of course, I waited until the last minute to see it, meaning it was crazy crowded with other procrastinators like me.

Monet, always the star attraction at these exhibits, stole the show with a story about a stunt he pulled at the Louvre.  When the Impressionists were in their fledgling days, seeking approbation from the Paris art community, most of the painters were applying to copy the classics hanging in the Louvre, and Monet, ever the rebel, eventually followed suit.  But when he got to the Louvre, instead of setting up his easel in front of a classical masterpiece, he stood in front of a window and painted what he saw outside.  Touché.

Monet was an advocate of the plein air (open air) movement in painting, where painters took their easels outside and painted what they saw from life and their senses.  His bold action in the Louvre, among the prominent painters of his day, demonstrated his commitment to innovation and to learning from nature as a masterful teacher.

Sixty years earlier, William Wordsworth advocated that students of all types set down their books to learn from nature.


UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless–
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Don’t worry, I’m not throwing out my books.  But sometimes I can start feeling the pressure of all the books that I haven’t read or find myself spending more time in the library than is good for me.  Especially now that the weather is turning, and it’s easier to escape to the indoors, I need a reminder that God’s classroom is a big and varied place.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;  the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).

*pictured art from the Kunsthaus Museum in Zurich, Switzerland


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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love Wordsworth and Impressionist Art!

    Father Robert

    AL: Thanks for dropping by my blog and saying hi. I was glad that I got the opportunity to combine a few few of my favorite things in my post. I subject my students to this poem on a regular basis, and they don’t complain too much. =) Blessings

  2. Nothing can replace the beauty and soul-soaking peace of a quiet walk in the misty woods…or, if you have no woods (I don’t), any place out in nature…such as along the beach in the early morning…or failing that, out in the garden watching the sunrise!

    AL: Oh, I love how you say that “soul-soaking peace.” Makes me want to go swim in the ocean right now.

  3. I taught philosophy & theology in Jerusalem for several years. But a theology of beauty was always a grand expession, on really both transcendence and immanence! Blessings too for you and students all!

    Fr. Robert

    AL: What a wonderful place to teach theology!

  4. How interesting that the Museum of Fine art here in SLC is just finishing a show of the impressionist too. We went last night, and so enjoyed seeing the pieces-Monet to Picasso.

    I’ve seen some of the pieces in exhibitions in other cities. It’s like running into an old friend!

    AL: I think we’re on the same wavelength Jill. I know what you mean about seeing paintings in more than one location. But there’s so many of those water lilies around, I can’t remember if I’ve seen a particular one before or not (Monet had a teensy obsession with them..that and haystacks). I hope this Seattle one gets to your area. It was great.

  5. So, we both like Monet, huh?
    Though my favorite painter is Dali. He is an odd bird, but something about his paintings captivate me.

    I went kayaking this past Saturday for 1.5 hours. And while I was listening to the steady splash of my paddle and kayak moving through the water, I thought to myself, “I love this. I could be on the water every day and still love it.”

    This morning, for my job, I had to take a short ride on a boat for a tour. I thought to myself, “I love this. The smells, the sounds, the breeze, the birds, the water.”

    I love to read too. But, there is something very unique about being there and experiencing the world first hand. I think it enhances what we read. We have a frame of reference. It adds to the imagination. It captures new memories and informs our minds the next time we read a poem or a book. We have new pictures to add to old ones; so, then we can reread a book and have a new experience.

    AL: I just don’t get Dali, all those melting things, clocks and the like. Maybe being on drugs would help me appreciate it more (not saying that you’re on them or anything =) ). I like it. Nature as a means of illustrating our reading.

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