Monet’s Garden: Still Breathing

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Some thoughts on Monet’s Garden now that the exhibition is over.

I visited Monet’s Garden for the second time last Thursday morning. This time I went alone and there were so many more people. The quite din of cultured conversation hummed throughout the gallery as people entered the paintings around me. There was no space for the kind of silent conversation with Monet that had fancied I was privy to the first time I visited.

Viewing some paintings for a second time, I got the distinct feeling that they had changed, that what I had seen the first time had morphed into something not quite the same. Perhaps, Melbourne had breathed something into them this winter.

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Looking again at Cathedral Rouen, I found myself unable to enter the painting in the same way as it had taken me in the first time. The first time I had seen or imagine life, a lady waiting for her friend, ghosts ascending through the setting windows, a group of children loitering past as Monet painted. I have never visited the cathedral, but I felt for sure I was visiting it somewhere in my imagination. This time around though, I could not find that same imaginary moment or place. Perhaps the busy noise of the gallery rendered me unable to find that quiet door I had stumbled upon the first time. Still, I fancy that saw things that I had not seen the first time I visited. I found Monet’s circular waterlily frame rather uninspiring the first time I visited, but this time the vignette drew me in. Perhaps it is my lack of sleep, and the mood which I was in, that contributed to my being drawn in by the dream-like qualities of the piece.

“Every day I discover
more and more
beautiful things.
It’s enough to drive one mad.
I have such a desire
to do everything,
my head is bursting with it.”
– Claude Monet

Walking through the exhibition, I began to feel acutely the urgency with which Monet painted. It made me consider the trade off one must make in art – the trade off between capturing as many fleeting moments as possible at the expense of precision, or working to ‘perfect’ one moment and losing some of that fleeting impression to the oddities of memory. I wonder about my own writing and my niggling need to draft, re-read and re-read again before posting – to the extent that too much time has passed from the moment of reference I wrote from, rendering my final draft obtuse and irrelevant. The thing is since more and more people have started reading my blog and connected with the more personal aspects of my ordinary life, I’ve felt an unconscious pressure to make my writing relevant to the real world, to real life events. This post on Monet is no different. I feel the need to make explicit my inspirations and creative process but I’m starting to reconsider if it really is the best way for me to write.

While working at the Melbourne Writers Festival last weekend, I sat in on an panel discussing Sylvia Plath’s classic novel, The Bell Jar. Listening to the panel, I realised part of what I enjoy most about Plath’s writing is that, although it may have been inspired in part by her real life experiences, she did not write in the boisterous, self-consoling, overly assured language of modern social media. The panel pointed out the need to recognise Plath as more than her tragic death but as an extremely talented writer in her own right and avoid reading her novel as simply a tragic autobiographic story. Jacqueline Rose spoke of the success of Plath’s writing in “going somewhere incredibly dark and coming back with something we cannot necessarily access ourselves”, and the tension between what can openly be named and what can only be experienced through poetic questions. As presumptuous as it sounds, I want to write for the sake of asking poetic and intellectual questions, not to simply share the mundane details of my own existence.

I write for myself as a hobby, and more and more I am coming to the conclusion that my thoughts, reflections and ideas quietly demand polishing, detachment and an abstract form to be fully realised. I am not a charismatic T.M.I blogger with endless stories of adventurous embarrassment, questionable recklessness and YOLO mistakes. If the ideas I write invite just one or two people in to think a little deeper, search a little harder for meaning in the abstract then I think that is enough for me. My life has never been defined in terms of truth or explicit reality – what truth is there to be found in my hazy childhood memories of my parents divorce? I think I will leave the relentless openness and over sharing – apparently characteristic of Gen Y – to someone whose dirty laundry is more exciting than my merino knits waiting to be hand-washed.

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