Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monet's garden

I've another column in the Sydney Morning Herald's 'Life and Style' today, 'What we can learn from Monet's garden'.

While Monet's impressions of Giverny were unique, his relationship with his garden was a common one. A sample:
Monet’s garden was not a spot to kick back or barbecue, but an impressionist’s workshop: a constantly varied scene of vivid colour, variable shapes and the suggestive moods of season and weather. "Nature won't be summoned to order," he wrote to a friend in 1912, "and won't be kept waiting." It was given shape and rhythm with planting, digging, pruning, but nothing stopped the tricks of cloud, wind and sun; the vicissitudes of leaf and bud. 
This is another vital feature of gardens today, from ‘English’ turf and oaks, to raked stones and moss, to paths of kangaroo paw: each is a stimulating combination of order and disorder, familiarity and shock, security and discomfort. The mind often thrives, not with mechanical routine or baffling caprice, but with the sweet spot between. After hours in air-conditioning sameness, clicking and staring at screens, the garden can enrich and enhance the mind. It is also a straightforward pleasure: new aesthetic harmonies and proportions lacking in corporate cubicles. 
Every garden is also, literally and figuratively, what we make of nature. This is why so many scholars, novelists, poets and artists, in history and today, are drawn to gardens: they combine these profound ideas in unique ways. They ask: what we are, and how we are tied to this beautiful but baffling world? Monet’s ‘Nymphéas’ was one answer among many. 
The point is not that everyone must plant or paint water-lilies. The point is that Monet's tortured love of Giverny was a more intense version of a very common urge: to confront the world's astonishing transience and intricacy, and to give it some human grace. Every garden is an invitation to artful wonder.
(Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

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