Art Appreciation: Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne, The Large Bathers, 1906

This painting by Paul Cézanne was brought to my attention by the book I’m currently reading, the delightful Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:

“Occasionally people stop to ‘feast their eyes’ when a particularly gorgeous sight happens to appear in front of them, but they do not cultivate systematically the potential of their vision. Visual skills, however, can provide constant access to enjoyable experiences. Meander, the classical poet well expressed the pleasure we can derive from just watching nature: “The sun that lights us all, the stars, the sea, the train of clouds, the spark of fire—if you live a hundred years or only a few, you can never see anything higher than them.” The visual arts are some of the best training grounds for developing these skills. Here are some descriptions by people versed in the arts about the sensation of really being able to see. The first recalls an almost Zen-like encounter with a favorite painting, and empathizes the sudden epiphany of order that seems to arise from seeing a work that embodies visual harmony: ‘There is that wonderful Cézanne ‘Bathers’ in the Philadelphia Museum…which…gives you in one glance that great sense of a scheme, not necessarily rational, but that things come together…[That] is the way in which the work of art allows you to have a sudden appreciation of, an understanding of the world. That may mean your place in it, that may mean what bathers on the side of a river on a summer day are all about…that may mean the ability to suddenly let go of ourselves and understand our connection to the world…'”

And here is commentary from Kahn Academy:

“‘What comes to you after looking at it calmly, after you’ve really digested every nuance and every little thread, is the total impact. When you encounter a very great work of art, you just know it and it thrills you in all your senses, not just visually, but sensually and intellectually.'”

It’s unfortunate that no matter how high quality the resolution, no digital representation could match standing in front of the real thing. We’re very lucky that just about every major metropolitan area has an art museum open to the public. For instance, Dallas has a free one that is very nice. Take some time out to go to an art museum near you.

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