"All the time I'm not writing I feel like a criminal." -Fran Lebowitz

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Some thoughts that occurred to me as I took in Claude Monet’s eight “Water Lilies” murals at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France…

  1. The murals are in two long, oval-shaped rooms with stark white walls, already separating them from much of the other artwork in Paris that hangs on walls whose colors are almost artistic themselves. The juxtaposition of the white walls with the colors in the murals is striking. Soon after entering the first room, I muttered, “I’ve got the idea for wallpaper in my next apartment.”
  2. Because there is blue, and there is “Water Lilies” blue. There is purple, and there is “Water Lilies” purple. There are colors, and there are Monet’s colors.
  3. I don't have a picture to post here. Go Google Image it if you like. 
  4. This will make sense later.
  5. It doesn't even make sense for me to post a picture.
  6. This will make sense later.
  7. There are four murals in each room, one on each “side” of the oval, Monet depicting the water lilies in his garden at Giverny from sunrise in the east at one end of the first room to sunset in the west at the opposite end of the second room. The four panels in each room are separated by open entrances/exits. A hidden joy in walking around the rooms was watching people enter each room and seeing their jaws drop and their step slow at what they were seeing for the first time. People would literally brake in the entranceway, amazed, as they saw the murals. Their companions would bump into them from behind. Then they would almost stagger into and around the rooms, or to the center to find an unoccupied space on the benches to take the murals in. That was fun to watch.
  8. I’ve been walking around art museums around the world for the past six months. By the second month, it was no longer amusing to see people sitting on benches amongst some of the greatest works of art in history, with their heads buried in their phone screens. It was no longer irksome to see people standing before masterpieces, texting. You look at people’s faces and sometimes you can see them thinking, “How long should I stand in front of this painting? How long do I need to walk around this place before I can claim I’ve ‘appreciated’ enough art?” Because it had become commonplace. I don’t exclude myself from this indictment. I will walk through rooms without ever coming to a stop. There have been times I HAVE stopped on a museum’s steps and said, “I just can’t visit another museum today,” before walking away. Walking through a museum takes patience, takes curiosity, takes a willingness to ignore your various social networks. It’s not easy. Even if it’s good work, worthwhile work, it can still be work.
  9. There was nobody’s face buried in a phone screen standing or sitting in front of the “Water Lilies”, and everybody’s face held joy and wonder, not boredom or obligation. Everyone’s face said, “What I’m looking at is beautiful. And looking at what I’m looking at is making me feel beautiful inside.” Men, women, children. Everyone's face told me this. That was fun to watch, too.
  10. Last year, I told people I was going on a trip around the world, and I was told to take pictures. “Don’t be a cranky asshole,” I was told, “and take some pictures. You’ll regret it if you don’t.” I was reminded that growing up I’ve always been too lazy or too embarrassed to document my moments, that I’ve always thought it a pose to actively record my memories, and I was implored to put away this foolishness and to take pictures. And so I did. I’ve been taking pictures, I’ve been taking a lot of pictures, I’ve grown fond of taking them, grown interested in making those pictures interesting. And then all of a sudden, I step into two oval-shaped rooms containing what might be the most beautiful thing created by one man that I’ve ever seen in my life, AND I’M NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PICTURES.
  11. (grumble)
  12. I wanted to take pictures of the paintings, I wanted to take pictures of people looking at the paintings, I wanted to take pictures of me standing in front of the paintings, I wanted to take pictures of the rooms. I’ve never wanted to take pictures of something more in my entire life.
  13. But I have a history getting into trouble with museum guards. Years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, after scoffing at a comment my mother made about the size of the hands and feet on Rodin’s sculptures, I LOST MY MIND for a moment and actually PUT MY HAND on a Rodin sculpture’s hand. The guard in the room was not pleased, and even though I was immediately apologetic, I had to endure the speech (I deserved to hear it five times). On Sunday at the Musée d’Orsay I momentarily forgot about the signs symbolizing “No Photos” and snapped a shot of Degas’s ballerinas, and promptly got an earful of angry French from a guard who almost sprinted across the crowded room to threaten me with eviction (I definitely caught “removez-vous!” more than once). So I was already terrified about causing an incident in the Musée de l’Orangerie and had no desire to ruin what might be the highlight of my trip so far (“Solo Division”). But maaannn…did I want to take pictures…
  14. ...Even if it was just to document that I was there, just so I could look at those pictures and remember what it felt like to walk those rooms, just so it could take me back to how it felt to stand there, to look at the murals. Because standing there, looking at them, made me feel good.
  15. I realize how this sounds.
  16. I apologize.
  17. But I don't.
  18. And I couldn't take pictures...
  19. …so I imagined instead that I could sit with someone else in one of these rooms, have our coffee, and talk quietly every morning for the rest of my life…
  20. …and I think the guard knew it. A very sophisticated, very French-looking woman wearing a bob haircut, a tailored guard sport coat, skinny pegged jeans and thick heeled, black patent leather shoes-
  21. -I would’ve had no trouble inviting her to be my coffee companion in the fantasy I was concocting-
  22. -she was quick to pounce on anyone who even made a move to snap a photo. She actually asked me to step back from one of the murals as I tried to examine how the curve of the oval affected it…
  23. So a coffee invitation was probably a non-starter…
  24. …and I wanted to ask her, does she get to “guard” these ovals every day? Has she earned the same beat for every day she works? Do the guards rotate from room to room, so they all get a turn watching the “Water Lilies” or is it her domain alone? And I wanted to ask her, does she ever get bored? She must never get bored. If the guards DO rotate, does she bounce out of bed, excited on the days she gets to sit in the ovals, watching people look at art that truly moves them?
  25. “Anglais?” I asked her. She shook her head, and again motioned for me to back away from the metal guard. So I didn’t get to ask her that.
  26. But I bet it doesn’t get boring.
  27. So I decided, I have to get another loft apartment at some point in my life.
  28. The National proved to be a tremendous band to listen to while slowly walking around the two ovals.
  29. The Musée de l’Orangerie has three levels. The “Water Lilies” is on the ground floor. Below it are two levels (“-1” and “-2”). “-1” is the gift shop. “-2” has works from various Impressionists - including geniuses like Pierre-Auguste Renoir - and other art periods - including geniuses like Pablo Picasso. But the manner in which the museum is set up almost forces you to look at the “Water Lilies” first.
  30. So it struck me that setting up a museum where people are seeing paintings - again, to be clear, paintings by greats such as Renoir and Picasso, for Chrissakes - only AFTER they’ve seen the “Water Lilies” is pretty goddamn unfair to those paintings and those artists…
  31. …because if I’m any indication, a lot of people take in the “Water Lilies” before going downstairs to look at the other works, then at some point mutter to themselves, “Screw this noise, I’m going back upstairs,” and bounding back up the steps two-at-a-time to take in the “Water Lilies” again…
  32. I’ve never done that before, gone BACK to a painting to see it again on the same visit…
  33. …and not before stopping at the gift shop on Level -1 first, buying postcards of the “Water Lilies” and taking them with me to hold in my hand in front of the actual murals, so I could “compare” them. I’m not even sure what the point of THAT was. Suffice to say, I’ve never done that before either.
  34. I’ve never said to myself, “Going to another museum today would be pointless.”
  35. Not because I don’t appreciate museums. I appreciate museums. Now more than ever.
  36. Even when they’re work.
  37. In Paris, they’re not work.
  38. Paris is a city with a museum that holds the Mona Lisa, that contains Venus de Milo. Paris is a city with museums such as the Louvre, the d’Orsay, and fifty others where the museums THEMSELVES are museum pieces.
  39. And I’ve never thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow to see this again before I leave.” (I didn’t do it, overslept and had to go to Le Poste, but still…that thought counts hard for something.)
  40. Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France inspired these thoughts in me.
  41. And when I finally left, I decided that any time anyone says they don’t “like” or they don’t “get” art, I’ll ask them if they ever seen Monet’s “Water Lilies” at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France. If they respond,“Yes,” I will simply walk away from them. Because they’re beyond hope. If they respond, “No,” I’ll smile and suggest that they withhold that judgment until they see those eight murals.
  42. I'm sorry I don't have a picture to post.
  43. But there was no photography allowed.
  44. Besides, I've had enough trouble with museum guards.
  45. And part of me wouldn't want to post it anyway.
  46. If I took a picture, it would be mine.
  47. Google Image them if you like.
  48. But go see them, please.
  49. Because they’re beautiful, and they made me feel beautiful. 
  50. And they will make you feel beautiful, too.