6 Myths about Art Most People Share


Art tends to be surrounded by awe and respect. Museums resemble cathedrals in the way people move around the halls speaking in hushed tones and looking humbly at the works on display. Art or Hight Art – as it’s sometimes called – should be regarded in a more natural and intimate way by the viewers. The lack of great museums in the region makes the contact with art a particularly formal  experience for us Latin Americans. But things are changing as more and more people go abroad, frequent museums, and substitute pleasure and fun for the old sense of respect infused in them when they stood in front of a famous painting or sculpture not many years ago. The myths we are outlining below concern more that kind of art you find in museums and galleries: the visual art produced by the great masters.

1. Art is usually spontaneous and organic. The legend says the talent lies dormant in the artist until it’s suddenly awaken by the muses. In fact, the development of artistic skills is a long and hard path, involving a lot of academic learning, Of course, there are more or less intuitive artists, and mentors may sometimes replace art schools. Formal learning, however, is integral to the process and only practice makes perfect.

2. The best art has idealized versions of  mythology, history or biblical themes as its subject matter. This tradition started being disputed around the time the pre-Impressionists, such as Manet with his mundane and realistic nudes, and the social art of Courbet. Their fight against tradition and academicism was taken to a whole new level by the Impressionists, especially by Monet, who understood art as the apprehension of fleeting moments in time such as the effects of light bouncing off trees, water and plain people in everyday situations. That was what mattered and deserved registering.Colors became bright and more vibrant.

Argenteuil, c. 1872-1875, by Monet.

Argenteuil, c. 1872-1875, by Monet.

3.  The best art is realistic. Fauvism, Cubism and Modern Art in general showed that there was not much point in replicating what film and photography had  started doing so well as of the XIX century. Art couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with them. So art needed to change. It should remain an expression of what is human, including reality, but as seen through the eyes, emotions, neuroses, and obsessions of the artistic self. Art was a personal way to express the artist’s inner world. Unlike previous painters,  the sense of perspective developed since the Renaissance and the concepts of beauty and balance taken as tenets by the artistic community underwent an earthquake which  shattered those ideals to pieces. This is still going on.

Young Girl Reading a Book on the Beach, by Picasso.

Young Girl Reading a Book on the Beach, by Picasso.

4. Art dealers and critics are the experts and they know it all about good and bad taste. We all know how the Impressionist group struggled to have their works exhibited in the tradition-dominated Salón in XIX century Paris. There are no absolutes in art and if you read Tom Wolf’s iconoclastic The Painted Word – which I strongly recommend – you will laugh widely and be infused by  a sense of liberation as he dissects and analyses ironically the American art of the XX century. There is also a hilarious chapter in  his latest book, Back to Blood,   which mocks merciless the Modern Art World of contemporary Miami, with its dealers, experts, artists and stupid billionaire clients. A must-read.

The Connoisseur: Rockwell's sarcastic take on Modern Art used as the cover for Tom Wolfe's THE PAINTED WORD.

The Connoisseur: Rockwell’s sarcastic take on Modern Art used as the cover for Tom Wolfe’s THE PAINTED WORD.

5. You have an innate predisposition to love, hate or be totally indifferent to art. Not so simple. Just like marmite – for those who have had a chance, like me, to live in he UK for a while and see this initially disgusting jam-like spread sitting on the breakfast table every morning,  or even Japanese food,  whose ever-present ripe odor coming out of restaurants may put you off getting in at first – art is an acquired taste. You don’t have to like it right away, but you may grow to love it by exposure. There is no need to enjoy every famous artist either.  Be selective. Art grows in people. And I strongly defend that by offering  history of art as a subject in the secondary and high school – not very common in most schools in South America –  or by parents exposing their kids to art books at home or visiting museums, young people’s taste will get more refined and we will see a growth in art appreciation over time.

6. Art is for older people. The younger you are the more appealing iconoclastic  and unconventional art will look to you, especially if you have a rebel streak (who doesn’t?) in you. Therefore your initial interest for the drama and violence in Caravaggio,  as you grow more mature,  may be replaced by calmer Monets or a more contained Velàzquez later on in life.  Their beauty and absence of direct conflict can be refreshing as you grow more mature. I still love Janis Joplin, The Stones, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious. Sometimes it was not even the quality of their music but their life style, perfomances and stage persona – some of them very short-lived, by the way – which captivated me. However,  as I grew more mature,  classical music started to show its charms and take over my musical taste.

We will be talking more about art in the next post. Watch this space.

If you are a language teacher and interested in art you may want to check out our new series of ebooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, available for download from the Kindle Store. We focus on vocabulary learning, speaking and writing skills in the series. Check it out by clicking here: : http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with Art, the series.

Teaching English with Art, the series.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

A Brief History of Claude Monet


The quintessential Impressionist, Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 but grew up on a beach town in Normandy, Le Havre. His father was a grocer and his mother was a singer.

From an early age he was bored with regular school and spent more time drawing sketches on the blue pages on his notebooks than dedicating himself to his lessons. These sketches were caricatures of teachers and famous people, and he was able to sell them easily for a fair price.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

In 1858, Monet met the seascape painter Eugène Boudin, who would have a huge influence on Monet’s style of painting. Monet began to appreciate nature and wish to paint the effects of light and shadows on water, trees, and flowers. He learned that the ideal way of painting was in the “open air”.

He decided to move to Paris and join the Académie Suisse in 1859. The atmosphere of the Académie was very relaxed, the hours were flexible, and the painters were free to develop their own experiments. Later, Monet joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he made friends with the artists Bazille, Renoir and Sisley.

The most important achievement for an artist in those days was to have his paintings accepted and shown at the famous Salón, an official annual exhibition in Paris, sponsored by the government. Despite the fact that Monet had some works accepted there, he soon realized that the kind of painting he was interested in would never be popular in that traditional environment.

The paintings in the Salón were usually idealized works, representing historical or mythological subjects. They were usually perfectly finished with extra coats of paint added to them. Monet, however, had realized very early on that what he enjoyed painting was the real world: landscapes, seascapes and contemporary Paris, applying vibrant colors, representing the way light was reflected on trees, grass, water, flowers and regular people. He was one of the first painters to paint outdoors from the start to the end of a painting. He thought it was essential to capture real light and the way it changed along the day and in different seasons of the year.

In 1874, his group of friends, who also had difficulty having their artworks accepted by the Salón, decided to have an exhibition dedicated to their own works. Of course, it was hard to compete with the Salón, and their exhibition only attracted a fraction of the public who would go to the traditional event, but that was a start, anyway. Their alternative exhibition was repeated every year for the next eight years.

In 1874 exhibition, Monet presented a painting called Impression: Sunrise (see image below). All we saw in it was a solitary boat on the sea in Le Havre with a red sunset reflecting on the water, painted in fast, diffused brushstrokes. An art critic, Louis Leroy, from the magazine Charivari, mocking the title and the style of the picture, wrote that the artists that painted like Monet were mere impressionists. His paintings looked more like sketches rather than finished works of art. Despite the derogatory use of the word, Monet and his friends boldly appropriated the name and started to use it officially to define their revolutionary new style. Impressionism had been born.

Impression, Sunrise, 1876.

Impression, Sunrise, 1876.

Claude Monet had financial problems for most of the first part of his life, but he started to make real money after he turned forty. By then, Impressionism had already become a recognized and important artistic style, admired and sought after by many art dealers.

He married twice. He had two sons by his first wife Camille, and 6 stepchildren from his second wife, Alice. He spent forty years living in a beautiful house with his whole family, painting views from his wonderful garden and artificial pond, carefully put together by himself with the help of 6 gardeners. This house was in Giverny and can still be visited by tourists today.

When he moved to Giverny in 1883, Monet started to paint what is usually known as the series paintings: he would paint the same subject on many canvas at a time, working on each one according to the right time of the day, giving continuation to each of them on the following day. So, as the light changed, he moved to the next painting matching the right time of the day, in a sequence. He started with haystacks, and then moved on to poplar trees, the Rouen Cathedral and, finally, the famous water lilies. He has more than 200 paintings on lilies, including the huge curved panels kept at the Musée de l’Orangerie, near the Louvre.

Blue Water Lilies: 1916-1919

Blue Water Lilies: 1916-1919

It is important to say that, although Monet was the official founder of Impressionism, he had been strongly influenced by the works of Manet and Courbet, who came before him, and, at a later stage, by the works of Turner and Constable, which he was able to get to know when he lived in London with his family, during the Franco-Prussian war. The group of Impressionists consisted of many artists, such as Renoir, Bazille, Sisley, Degas, Cézanne and others, who strengthened the movement with their powerful contributions. Cézanne was the one who took the movement forward, showing the way to the future, heavily influencing iconic artists such as Matisse and Picasso.

A chain smoker, Monet died of lung cancer in 1926, having worked hard on his paintings and his garden to the very end. Claude Monet is one of most famous and loved artists in history, and his paintings sell for millions of dollars today.

If you are interested in Monet, please check out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check out the video on Monet’s eBook below:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.