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.
THE TABLES TURNED
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