While many people know from experience how doing art and craft themselves can boost wellbeing and absorb their minds, there still seems far less interest in the impact enjoying other people’s art can have. Lots of peple who enjoy being creative might never think to look at a famous painting, or if they do, might never consider that it too might lift their spirits or be calming or positive.
All art will have different impacts. I’ve been thinking about the art of one of France’s most famous painters, Claude Monet, and what impact it might have on wellbeing. As one of the leaders of the French Impressionists, Monet helped transform and liberate art, making it more experimental, colourful and everyday.
So many of Monet’s paintings exude light, colour and life. He painted outdoors a lot of the time (itself an innovative way of working) and experimented with brushwork and use of colour. Look at some of these paintings (just search for them online) – The Terrace At Sainte-Adresse, Woman With A Parasol (Madame Monet and her son), Regatta in Argenteuil, and Monet’s Garden At Vetheuil. Light sparkles on the water, clouds scud across the sky, flowers and grasses add shades of colour. Just looking at these paintings lifts the spirits.
Time spent with paintings like these can be calming and restful, because they transport you to a rural or waterside idyll. Mostly the sun shines, the sky is blue, plants grow and thrive. And as you might guess from an Impressionist, what Monet paints truly are impressions, panoramas, glimpses of a moment. He recreates nature on canvas, but there’s little specific detail, more an impression of the wider scene. For us, these scenes can become time out. Maybe you’re in a city, or it’s raining, or you’re anxious or depressed. Looking at Monet’s paintings won’t solve any of this, but they can become a space a way, a haven for a few moments or for a while.
Monet’s own life was no idyll. For years he struggled to make ends meet as his painting earned him little money. His first wife died aged just 33, leaving Monet with two young sons. Later in life he endured further bereavements and his sight declined so that he struggled to paint. Maybe art helped him through. It clearly gave him purpose and direction, as he committed endless hours to painting and experimenting.
Maybe the most absorbing of Monet’s paintings to enjoy are his series paintings. In these he painted one motif time and time again, each at a different time of day or in different weather conditions. There was a haystack series, a series of views of Rouen Cathedral, and of course his famous water lilies. These can be very calming – “immerse” yourself in these pictures to experience the still water, the reflections, the subtle shades of colour. Water and lilies take up entire canvases, with no horizon. Some people call them dream-like and mesmeric. And I think another way Monet’s series paintings could help wellbeing is by inspiring us to look more closely at nature, at light and shade, at one view or plant and how it changes – don’t just glance and walk on by.
Is there a Monet painting which boosts your mood? How do you think looking at other people’s paintings compares to being creative yourself in helping wellbeing? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002