Cezanne

Creativity by Jeannine Cook

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Everyone uses the word. Everyone feels that intuitively, they know what "creativity" means. Everyone also knows that it is a highly desirable quality to possess. Yet the definition of creativity is not so easy. The Oxford English Dictionary succinctly puts it as "The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness." Wikipedia gets broader in concepts: "' the production of novel, useful products' (Mumford, 2003, p. 110). Creativity can also be defined 'as the process of producing something that is both original and worthwhile' or 'characterized by originality and expressiveness and imaginative'." The article goes on to add that there are countless other versions of definitions.

Of course, in the art arena, creativity is deemed indispensable if the artist is in any way to be successful. Yet, as we all know, there are so many versions of artistic expression that most are considered creative only by a few viewers. Only the truly exceptional are heralded by most people, and until very recently, the culture of each country also played a part in the degree of appreciation of the work created.

What set me off thinking about the concept of creativity was a wonderful expression I read in a marvellous new book, "The Churchill Factor" by Boris Johnson (Mayor of London Boris Johnson). Discussing Winston Churchill's amazing abilities, particularly in the World War II period, Johnson says, "he (Churchill) also had the zigzag streak of lightning in the brain that makes for creativity."

It is so often just that aspect, the "zigzag streak of lightning in the brain", that allows for unorthodox approaches, solutions that come out of left field, images configured in a wholly novel way, vivid writing that none else has achieved.

In art, for instance, every generation has had truly creative people who have broken out of the mould and done things differently. The Renaissance was full of artists - think, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Durer, Titian - developing linear perspective, depicting landscape in naturalistic fashion, executing portraits of people in realistic fashion, modelling with light and shade. Later generations perfected oil painting, shifted the focus of Western art to Mannerism - such as Tintoretto or El Greco.  Then the Baroque artists flourished, like Caraveggio, Rubens or Rembrandt, and on the artists marched. Look at some samples of the different ways artists worked down the centuries.

Virgin of the Rocks, 1483-1486, Leonardo_da_Vinci_- (Image courtesy of the Louvre)

Virgin of the Rocks, 1483-1486, Leonardo_da_Vinci_- (Image courtesy of the Louvre)

Bacchus and Ariadne, Titian, 1520-23, (Image courtesy of The National Gallery, London)

Bacchus and Ariadne, Titian, 1520-23, (Image courtesy of The National Gallery, London)

St. Martin and the Beggar, 1597-99, oil on canvas, El Greco, (Image courtesy of the Widener Collection, National Gallery, Washington)

St. Martin and the Beggar, 1597-99, oil on canvas, El Greco, (Image courtesy of the Widener Collection, National Gallery, Washington)

Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?) ('Le Chapeau de Paille') probably 1622-5, Peter Paul Rubens, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London)

Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?) ('Le Chapeau de Paille') probably 1622-5, Peter Paul Rubens, (Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London)

By the 19th century, art needed some more innovatively creative artists and the Impressionists came to the fore, with Manet, Monet, Renoir and Pissarro leading the way. Creativity certainly flourished with Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cezanne, as they laid the groundwork for 20th century artists to find entirely new paths to follow in creating art in tune with their tumultuous century.

Tahitian Woman with a Flower, Paul Gauguin, 1891 (Image courtesy of NY Carlsberg Glyptotek)

Tahitian Woman with a Flower, Paul Gauguin, 1891 (Image courtesy of NY Carlsberg Glyptotek)

Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine (c. 1887), Paul Cezanne, (Image courtesy of Courtauld Institute of Art)

Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine (c. 1887), Paul Cezanne, (Image courtesy of Courtauld Institute of Art)

Perhaps another aspect of creativity as it zigzags through the human brain is that it very often has, as a springboard, the social and cultural context of the time. To me, creativity is partly a spontaneous phenomenon arising in some wonderfully imaginative human mind, but it is also like a seed that has been planted in soil fertile and well watered enough for the seed to germinate, grow and flourish so that others see and appreciate it.

Only when Churchill was at the helm during World War II could his multifaceted creativity flower so successfully as he led his country out of peril and to victory in 1945. In the artistic world, the Leonardo da Vincis, Titians or El Grecos needed the powerful patrons of the land and Church to enable to give successful expression to their creative skills.

Later artists have had a harder time finding patrons and supporters to allow them to create and to live decently, a situation known to most artists at one point or another. And does creativity flourish as fully and successfully when the artist is worrying about the next meal or the next rent payment? In every field, from art to architecture to engineering or technology, the same considerations pertain - how to ensure the optimum conditions so that human creativity can flourish. In truth, our collective future depends in large part on that zigzag flash of creativity in the human brain.

After the Invention of Photography by Jeannine Cook

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Down the ages, man has historically turned to the surrounding world to create a virtual reality in art, through the complex interplay of what the eyes perceive, how the colours have impact and what emotions are invoked. In other words, artists have used the world around them as the major source of their artistic inspiration and subject matter.

After the invention of photography in the decades before 1850, the basis for art making changed. As Henri Matisse observed, "The invention of photography released painting from any need to copy nature,"  which enabled the artist "to present emotion as directly as possible and by the simplest means." 

La Danse (I),  Henri Matisse, 1909.  Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

La Danse (I), Henri Matisse, 1909.  Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Indeed, after the mid-19th century, artists' experiments grew more and more divorced from nature in many instances. Monet, for instance, still based his work on nature but it was often a very different vision and interpretation of nature, which meant, of course, that he was regarded as a main innovator in the new school of Impressionism.

Impression, soleil levant,  1872, C. Monet. Image courtesy of the Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris

Impression, soleil levant, 1872, C. Monet. Image courtesy of the Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris

Water Lilies,  1920, C. Monet.  Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London

Water Lilies, 1920, C. Monet.  Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London

As the years passed and artists grew less and less interested in the old, academic way of depicting the world around them, experiments multiplied.  Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, then Picasso, amongst others, led the way to an art that put more emphasis on colour, emotion and thus a psychological impact.  Cezanne compressed, distorted, changed perspective, volumes, relationships, colour relationships and played such games with "reality" than he was viewing in his surrounding world that we are still indebted to him in terms of interpretation of subject matter.  He stared and stared at his subject matter, but then he in essence produced metaphors about the nature he was looking at; he was "a total sensualist.  His art is all about sensations", said Philip Conisbee, curator at The National Gallery, who put together an exhibition of Cezanne's work in 2006.

Le Pont Des Trois-sautets , watercolor and pencil,   Paul Cézanne, c. 1906, Cincinnati Art Museum

Le Pont Des Trois-sautets, watercolor and pencil, Paul Cézanne, c. 1906, Cincinnati Art Museum

Beyond Cezanne, of course, the art world turns to Cubism, abstraction and any number of other forms of presenting emotion directly andurgently, leaving behind any remote reference to a virtual reality of the world. Photography's invention as a "liberation from reality" indeed, for a time, ensured that artists used a very different language to convey aspects of their world.  Georges Braque was one such artist.

Violin and Candlestick,  Georges Braque, Paris, spring 1920, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

Violin and Candlestick, Georges Braque, Paris, spring 1920, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

After Piet Mondrian's early experiments with Cubism, his path led to works that have become iconic.

Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, 1937-42,  Piet Mondrian, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London

Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London

As the 20th century advanced, artists strayed further and further away from their surrounding reality, totally divorced from it by photography's invention - whether the artists were conscious of this fact or not.  But then, of course, the pendulum began to swing back the other way as perhaps, artists began to run out of ways to express themselves that were truly new and different abstractions.  So photography comes back into play, manipulated and used in new and sophisticated ways to depict realities.  Richard Estes, Chuck Close,  Audrey Flack and many others, especially in the United States, have worked in amazing ways that also built on Edward Hopper's reclusive reality that had been a more lonely stream of 20th century art in America..

Night Hawks, Edward Hopper,  1942, oil on canvas (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Night Hawks, Edward Hopper,  1942, oil on canvas (Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Richard Estes “Columbus Circle Looking North,” 2009 Oil on canvas, 40 inches by 56 1/4 inches. Linden and Michelle Nelson Tenants by the Entirety © Richard Estes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Richard Estes “Columbus Circle Looking North,” 2009 Oil on canvas, 40 inches by 56 1/4 inches. Linden and Michelle Nelson Tenants by the Entirety © Richard Estes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

And so the circle is closed and artists once more have recognised the potential of photography in making art. Indeed there are many artists who predicate their depiction of the world around them on photographs, even, in some cases, to tracing images onto canvas. Nonetheless, even their interpretations of reality have been influenced by the long deviations in art-making, away from the need to copy reality.  We are all heir to what has gone before us.

Beauty and Nature by Jeannine Cook

I constantly measure my personal luck to have grown up surrounded by dramatically wild and beautiful scenes in East Africa, far away from any city. Later life has led me back to wonderful coastal spaces in Georgia and many beautiful natural areas remaining on Mallorca. So I tend to respond very quickly and with delight to beauty in nature wherever I find it.

I found a wonderful passage in Roger Scruton's book, Beauty, about beauty and nature. With his permission, I am going to quote it, as it bears reading virtually in toto. (I also heartily recommend this book, as it is full of thoughtful observations on beauty and the world around us.)

I quote: "From earliest drawings in the Lascaux caves to the landscapes of Cezanne, the poems of Guido Gezelle and the music of Messiaen, art has searched for meaning in the natural world. The experience of natural beauty is not a sense of 'how nice' or 'how pleasant'. It contains a reassurance that this world is a right and fitting place to be - a home in which our human powers and prospects find confirmation in many ways, such as on some wild moor, sky-filled with scudding clouds, shadows racing across the heather and you hear the curlew's liquid cry from hill top to hill top, the thrill that you feel is an endorsement of the things you observe and of you, the observer. When you pause to study the perfect form of a wild flower or the blended feathers of a bird, you experience an enhanced sense of belonging. A world that makes room for such things makes room for you."

These thoughts resonate with me and confirm my sense of beauty that helps inform my art-making. What happens when an artist only lives in a world of urban concrete?

Artists and Gardens by Jeannine Cook

Now that the weather has cooled a little and rain has revived the garden, it is time to start thinking of planning and planting the garden once more. Inspired by a recent wonderful Coastal Wildscapes symposium on planting native species to restore biodiversity in one's surroundings and gardens, I have been doing a lot of "mental placement" of perennials and shrubs that I purchased.

My garden has been an extension of my art and a source of my art ever since I created the garden over 25 years ago. After we built our house and learned about the aspects of living on ancient sand dunes in a sub-tropical climate, I planned out - on graph paper no less! - what plants to put where. I tried to combine the principles of garden composition and visual pleasures with the practical aspects of a huge amount of shade, sandy soil and a number of old shrubs that had been planted on the site when it was an oyster cannery. Oh - and speaking of which, I learned that planting in soil that is probably 90% oyster shells can be challenging!

Needless to say, over the years, the garden has evolved and matured, with the plants very much choosing where and how they wish to grow. For the most part, I have let nature dictate, for the results have in some ways been more harmonious than if I had adhered more to the carefully manicured look of my British gardening heritage. As a source of art, I tend to concentrate on single flowers or plants, rather than landscapes of the garden itself. Watercolours - I find - are not the easiest medium by which to convey masses of foliage and flowers. Drawings are more interesting to do.

Perhaps the most important element of the garden for my art is the actual peaceful environment it affords - a backdrop to my daily life and thus to my art-making. The constant visual stimulation and interest combine with my emotional attachment to this garden I created single-handedly. It is also the foreground frame to the marshes and saltwater creeks beyond. Together, these spaces offer tranquillity and the orderliness (most of the time!) of nature, the antidote to our ever-increasingly urbanised society.

Artists have long had deep attachments to gardens. Think of the wonderful details of flowers and animals on the frescoes in Egyptian tombs. Remember the jewel-like flowers and insects adorning monastic manuscripts from the 8th century onwards, like this 1470s Hastings Book of Hours. Artists over the centuries have travelled from medieval depictions of gardens as paradise to careful scientific examinations in modern times. Rubens was well aware of gardens as erotic playgrounds.

470s Hastings  Book of Hours

470s Hastings Book of Hours

But it was the 19th century artists who not only drew on gardens for inspiration in their art, but also themselves created their own very artistic gardens. Monet (whose 1900 painting The Garden in Flower is illustrated) is the most famous of these gardeners, with Giverny. (He had earlier been inspired and delighted when he visited glowing Mediterranean gardens, especially at Bordigher.)

The Garden in Flower, Giverny,  1900, oil on canvas, Claude Monet

The Garden in Flower, Giverny, 1900, oil on canvas, Claude Monet

Cézanne also painted and tended his Southern French garden, while Van Gogn celebrated gardens and what grew in them from his days in Holland onwards. Many of his drawings in the south of France, particularly those done during his period at St Rémy, are quite remarkable. So too are his paintings, such as this one, done in 1889,

Irises,  Vincent van Gogh,   1889, oil on canvas, (Image courtesy of the Getty Center)

Irises, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, oil on canvas, (Image courtesy of the Getty Center)

Almond Blossom,  Vincent van Gogh, 1890, oil on canvas.(Image courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum)

Almond Blossom, Vincent van Gogh, 1890, oil on canvas.(Image courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum)

As the resurgence of plein air art continues, many of the artists are also celebrating gardens in their art. It is important, for as the world continues to lose natural habitats at an ever-increasing rate, we artists can play an important role in showing how beautiful, intricate and serene-making gardens and nature can be.

The Eye of the Art Collector by Jeannine Cook

Thanks - once again! - to ArtDaily.org's listings, I happened on an up-coming Sotheby's sale of old Master Drawings from a private collection. I spent a fascinated hour on their site, going through the E-Catalogue of the drawings, some eighty of them, the ideal occupation for a dark, rainy day.

It is always extremely interesting to view a collection of art formed by one person, particularly a person who has a trained eye and knowledge of the media involved. I quote from the news release about this collector (who apparently spent about 25 years assembling this collection). "In his very personal forward to the sale catalogue, the collector who assembled this remarkable group of drawings wrote that he embarked on collecting “with the bold aim of looking over the artist’s shoulder”. There can be no question that he succeeded in this aim. The light that these extremely varied studies shed on the artistic creative process is both intense and wide ranging: we see every moment in the artist’s thought process revealed and illuminated."

There is a remarkable energy and life evident in the drawings this collector assembled. The artists are clearly in the throes of excitement and creativity. Famous names or not, it does not matter. The hallmarks of these drawings are immediacy, directness, sureness of touch and stroke. The collector does indeed describe well what he sought - and found - when he selected these works. Different media, different subject matter, some clearly well thought-out and planned, others on the spur of the moment, catching images almost on the fly... Some as aide-mémoires, others as exploration. In short, the collection came across to me as a most interesting selection of artists' emotions, desires, endeavours, aims... running a gamut of approaches and techniques. Little interesting items too, such as remarks about an exquisite study of a seated woman by Jean-Antoine Watteau. "It was executed in a combination of media that Watteau used only occasionally, but to striking effect: the majority of the figure is built up with a network of silvery strokes of graphite (a very rare medium in Old Master Drawings), (my emphasis) while the accents in the face and hands are in a more typical red chalk, an extremely effective juxtaposition that creates a lively yet utterly elegant figure."

When you go back and try to find out about the use of graphite before the early 18th century, it is indeed hard, as a neophyte, to find allusions to many graphite drawings. Pure graphite, first mined in Borrowdale, England, in the 1500s, seems initially to have been used for under drawing in the 16th century. It was more forgiving than metalpoint, especially silverpoint, the draughtsman's favoured medium during Renaissance times in spite of silverpoint's linear qualities and permanence of mark. Graphite does not seem to have been used much for drawing until well into the 17th century. Artists tended to favour chalks, red and black, as well as charcoal for studies and finished drawings alike. (Interestingly, the Venetian artists continued to favour black chalk, whilst the perhaps more flamboyant Florentine and Roman artists preferred the harder red chalk with which they could show off their skills!) Graphite became widespread only in the 18th century, with the increasing difficulty of obtaining good-quality natural chalks and the simultaneous production of a fine range of graphite pencils after the invention of a graphite pencil in Nuremberg in 1662.

Graphite drawings then become far more widespread: John Constable, Jongkind and later John Singer Sargent, for example, all used graphite in their work, particularly when working plein air.

Self-Portrait, 1806, John Constable, (Image courtesy of the Tate, London)

Self-Portrait, 1806, John Constable, (Image courtesy of the Tate, London)

Ingres was famed for his use of hard graphite pencils when drawing his wonderful detailed portraits of people.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867).  Study for "Raphael and the Fornarina  "  (detail), ca. 1814. Graphite on white wove paper, 10 x 7 3/4 in. (25.4 x 19.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867). Study for "Raphael and the Fornarina" (detail), ca. 1814. Graphite on white wove paper, 10 x 7 3/4 in. (25.4 x 19.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

By the turn of the 19th century, Cezanne and so many others commonly used pencils, as have we all done since in the art world - often to great effect.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) , Hortense Fiquet (Madame Cézanne) Sewing,  ,c. 1880, Graphite Samuel Courtauld Trust: Princes Gate Bequest, 1978

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Hortense Fiquet (Madame Cézanne) Sewing, ,c. 1880, Graphite
Samuel Courtauld Trust: Princes Gate Bequest, 1978

But back to the Sotheby E-Catalogue of the drawings that occasioned my little foray into the rarity of Old Master graphite drawings... (and by the way, the definition of Old Masters in Western art is work executed before 1800...), it is well worth going through this collection of images of drawings. It allows one to remember how interesting it can be when one sees an art collection formed by one person with the courage of his or her own convictions and erudition.

Playing by Jeannine Cook

I listened with fascination this morning on National Public Radio to a programme, Play, Spirit and Character, on Krista Tippett's show, Speaking of Faith, which talked of playing and its importance in life. Stuart Brown was being interviewed. His wisdom and insights on how animals and humans need to play, in infancy, childhood and adulthood, were fascinating. It is well worth seeking out the interview on the Web.

As Stuart Brown talked about playing, I realised how important playing has always been as I tried to create art. Every time that I want to experiment, to push out boundaries, to improve as an artist, I have always regarded the experience as play. I had not measured, apparently, the vital role play has in daily life, let alone in art. Licence to do something different, unusual, amusing, distracting, lively - these are all versions one can find in the Oxford English Dictionary as definitions, amongst many, of play. Freedom too is a definition. In other words, play is an integral part of one's creativity as an artist: without it, one is liable to be stultified, stuck and dull. Oh!

Think of Manet, Monet, Cezanne, the Fauves, Matisee or Picasso, amongst so many artists - they all show a sense of play in their work, and those works usually herald changes and break-throughs in their development. To say nothing of the spirit of play that one sees among many of the most successful artists of the 20th century, many of whom definitely do not or did not take themselves or the world around them too seriously. It was good to have it reaffirmed in the radio programme today that one needs to play, every day, in all the realms of one's life, but especially in art.

Fishing Boats, Collioure, 1905 , by Andre Derain

Fishing Boats, Collioure, 1905 , by Andre Derain

Perfumes, sound and light by Jeannine Cook

I have just spent time in my other home in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. There, it is a green and beautiful spring after bountiful rains this year, and the island is celebrating with exuberant growth on mountain slopes and down stony valleys.

I had some time to paint and draw, and once again, my sense of place was expanded and extended. I know that wherever one is working outdoors as an artist, you become conscious of all your surroundings. It seemed to be especially the case this spring in Spain: the perfume of orange blossom, lemon blossom, jasmine and roses floated everywhere on the air.

Citrus sinensis   Osbeck painting by  Mary E. Eaton  from a 1917 issue of   National Geographic

Citrus sinensis Osbeck painting by Mary E. Eaton from a 1917 issue of National Geographic

As the sun warmed, each morning, and the sky became brilliant, the perfumes intensified and became intoxicating. The light grew more brilliant - oh, that Mediterranean light! And as I sat quietly, totally enraptured with all this light and drunk on these exquisite perfumes, I was serenaded by blackbirds singing their wondrous melodies, or tiny serins buzzing excitedly high in the trees above.

I was soothed and inspired. As the light changed and the flowers I was depicting opened, moved and faded, I was enveloped in this world in which I was sitting. I felt a bond and a sense of kinship with all the wonderful artists who have worked in the Mediterranean region down the ages - Italian masters like Botticelli or Guercino, Corot, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne or Raoul Dufy in France, even Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, just to name one Spanish artist who celebrated so superbly the brilliant light of Spain (go to this site if you speak Spanish or this one for English). They all responded to the same light, perfumes and sounds. From the flowers painted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs to the frescoes on walls of opulent homes in Pompeii, artists have always gloried in the beauties of flowers growing in the Mediterranean world. I felt it was a great privilege to be immersed in this world of brilliant light, intoxicating perfume and liquid bird song, as I celebrated Mallorca's spring flowers in silverpoint and watercolour.

Landscapes and a Sense of Place by Jeannine Cook

I have been preparing for a solo exhibition I shall be having at the Southeast Georgia Health System in coastal Georgia in June, and chose the title of the show to be A Sense of Place. As I selected art to exhibit, it made me think again about how landscapes feed into an artist's sense of belonging somewhere.

Clearly, the better you know a place, the more you can enter into its inner workings. So you are better able to capture what that landscape means to you. The viewer can thus participate in and share more deeply in your experience. By grappling with the landscape as you get to know it, you allow yourself, and ultimately the viewer, to move beyond the merely representational. Your experience and knowledge become a passport for the viewer to understand and more deeply appreciate that place. Distilling one's own sense of place is an ever-ongoing activity because each landscape, natural or man made is continuously changing, developing, evolving. In many ways, this is good, because it means that an artist can return again and again to the same subject matter and learn more, thus portraying it differently each time in the art created.

Soaring over Creighton, watervolour, Jeannine Cook artist

Soaring over Creighton, watervolour, Jeannine Cook artist

Cezanne is a wonderful example of an artist who returned again and again to the same places to paint landscapes (think of his beloved Mont Sainte Victoire or the Jas deBouffan estate). He analysed a landscape, learned about the way the light moved and shaped things, organised his perceptions of form and colour. The resultant painting, in watercolour or oils, thus presents the viewer with, of course, the fundamental forms of the landscape, but beneath that veil of appearances, Cezanne captures the inner essence of that place, its soul. That is why his landscapes become so memorable, so powerful, so passionate and, at the same time, often, so intellectual and radical in their break with his contemporaries' approaches to art.

Mont Sainte Victoire, oil on canvas, 1904, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum)

Mont Sainte Victoire, oil on canvas, 1904, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum)

The longer I live in coastal Georgia, the more subtle and beautiful the landscapes seem to me. It thus becomes an endless challenge to understand and simplify their essence, so that I might share their unique beauty and importance with others.

The energy of art by Jeannine Cook

During a visit to South Carolina to see the recently-opened exhibition from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales, Turner to Cezanne, at the Columbia Museum of Art, I was struck afresh at the energy and magic created by art.

Not only was the exhibit a delight, with small canvases of great interest and often great beauty, but the whole experience of seeing the show was fascinating. The exhibition galleries were thronged with excited, but well behaved school children being taken around by docents. Their energy and fresh reactions to the art were a delight to be a part of as one looked at the art more slowly than they were able to. In amongst the school groups were numerous adults, clearly enjoying and appreciating the exhibition too. Why did I find this so striking ? Well, apparently this is the the most important show the Columbia Museum of Art and its supporters have brought to the city, and despite the current economy, the response from the public has been massive. In the first week already, the museum has seen huge numbers of visitors, both local and from elsewhere.

To me, the public excitement generated by this exhibition reminds one again how art brings people together and strengthens communities. By the time my husband and I had emerged from the museum, we had talked to countless people and even exchanged addresses with new friends. Each painting in the exhibition, from France mainly, but also from England, Wales, Belgium and Holland, quietly or dramatically "spoke" of different landscapes and places, different people and their mores, diverse optics on life in general - all a wonderfully subtle and beguiling way of learning of other lands, their history and culture. Each artist, whether it was Turner, Monet, Van Gogh, Manet, Pissarro, Whistler, Renoir or Cezanne, passionately told of their experiences and convictions, beauties and visions.

Jospeh Mallord William Turner Margate Jetty, National Museum of Wales

Jospeh Mallord William Turner Margate Jetty, National Museum of Wales

People were smiling, obviously interested and learning, marvelling at different aspects of the art. In other words, the visit to the exhibition moved visitors, made them feel better and made their day special.

What a perfect prescription - go to see an art exhibition to make one feel energetic, inspired and even joyous!

Clouds by Constable, trees by Cezanne, comments by Jeannine Cook by Jeannine Cook

March 1st, and the clouds sailing by remind me of Constable’s wonderful cloud studies. It is amazing how acutely he observed those cloud formations, especially when you think of the English climate, where winds so often move the clouds across the sky so speedily. No wonder meteorologists have used Constable’s cloud art to learn more of the 19th century climate in England! Here in coastal Georgia, cloud formations are perhaps less fleeting on many days, but today, with cold fronts moving in, the crisp clear light is like that of more northern climates.

“A Cloud Study," by the 19th-century painter John Constable. Credit Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

“A Cloud Study," by the 19th-century painter John Constable. Credit Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

John Constable. Cloud Study. 1822 (Image courtesy of the Tate)

John Constable. Cloud Study. 1822 (Image courtesy of the Tate)

Beneath the sailing clouds, the bare winter trees dip and bend, making me think of Cezanne’s austere trees. Every artist is indeed influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by what Cezanne did – witness the current hugely important exhibition, Cezanne and Beyond, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions). The trees that Cezanne distilled to their essence are an example of what Liubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924) talked about: “Cezanne no longer depicted the impression of the object, but only its essence.”

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Almond Trees in Provence (1900),

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Almond Trees in Provence (1900),

When I draw trees in silverpoint or paint them in watercolors, I try to find what makes their strength and rhythms so distinctive, and yet so universal. Live oaks or red cedars, for instance, are emblematic of coastal Georgia, as they endure heat and wind, sandy soils and scant natural nourishment. Their survival could teach us all a great deal about living in grace, even in adversity.