With a group of middle-schoolers, I am doing a big overview art history module. These kids are so eager and ready. We are exploring themes and examples as to WHY art has been done through time. We talked about beauty last time and I asked them to tell me what that was. Quick answers came until they had to think more. It was so interesting to watch them struggle and then engage with this important question. We looked quickly at the Greeks, and then the early 19thc. American Hudson River School, an abstract piece and then focused on what Monet did with stacks of hay. We then tried to practice with random color in four set values. In one half hour they knocked out some pretty exciting stuff! I told them about the time, when not much older than they are now, I saw so many of these haystack studies, done at various lightings in Monet’s days, all displayed together on a wall in Chicago’s Art Institute. How could such beauty be rendered from piles of wasted grass? The vision of that day in Chicago was transforming for me. It wasn’t about the hay!
I recently came across this quote from Peter Kreeft who describes this wonder well: “Glory is greater than we can contain, comprehend or control. It ravishes us right out of our skins, out of ourselves, into an ek-stasy, a standing-outside-the-self, an out-of-body experience; and we tremble in fear and delight. It is not in us, we are in it, like being ‘in love’: ‘it’s bigger than both of us’. “ (I would add: it’s bigger than all of us) Kreeft continues, “Thus it does not enter into us, we enter into it. “ For Monet, the hay was a prop, a device he used for what he really was studying to say.