Not in an artistic sense — at all.
When I was little, my parents took me to a university bookstore in Pittsburgh. At the shop, there was a poster print of a piece of art hanging on the wall. As the story goes, my little self pointed to the poster and correctly identified it as a work from Monet’s Water Lilies series. While I seemed like a child genius, it was just the one work of art I knew and loved.
As I got older, I’d stop by the Carnegie Museum of Art frequently. While I mostly perused the natural history section, I’d always pop by the art side and check it out. They had one of the longer Water Lillies canvases hung by itself on a wall with a big couch in front. It was the perfect place to sit and wonder.
Some things never change
After my lattice degeneration started taking my eyesight, I developed a ritual of going to the museum before a surgery or a checkup. You know, just in case I went blind. I was like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter, only with images of my favorite exhibits and art. Of course, I always stopped to see Monet’s beautiful work.
The more vision I lost, the more comfort I took in the painting. It didn’t change much for me even though everything else did. There weren’t any sharp lines that suddenly became curvey or tiny details that were wiped away by my muddied vision. It was still Water Lillies.
Once I moved to Japan, I was happy to learn that the Fukuoka Museum of Art was going to have a temporary Monet exhibit. I gathered friends and excitedly waited in the long line as we crawled around from painting to painting. Seeing my favorite artist in my new city made it feel more like home — a taste of Pittsburgh and familiarity.
Some things you never really knew at all
As we progressed through his works, I began noticing things getting…sloppier. But also, I started relating more heavily to these paintings. They were bolder, almost angrier. They made sense to me, and I felt surprised I’d never seen these pieces before, at least not that I remembered.
Then I started reading about Monet’s vision loss on the little plaques accompanying the paintings. At first, I didn’t understand what was going on around me. It’s been a few years since this happened, and I still feel nauseous and tense when I think about making this discovery. I’d never really researched him before; I didn’t know his vision was blurred from cataracts and that the light and colors he was so known for stopped making sense to him because of it.
Did I cry right there in the museum? Yes. It was a mixture of feeling less alone, feeling completely shocked and feeling retroactively sad that he too went through the pain of having your passion suddenly flipped into frustration.
Going back, I now know that my favorite painting was created between 1915 and 1926, which were peak vision issue years for Monet. That means that the amazing piece of art that I’ve loved my entire life was done when the artist was struggling in the same way I am now.
Honestly, it feels like a pretty heavy-handed life lesson on adapting to your new situation and not giving up on what you really care about. If he could create my favorite piece of art ever while grappling with vision loss, then I should try to be more patient with my own vision complications and try harder to find new ways to adjust.
What a ridiculously long and winding setup for that lesson though, right?