Thursday, May 10, 2018

An unexpected lesson on validation

As I mentioned here, I spent the last two days in New York. It was a quick trip, and one I knew I would mostly spend alone while my husband was tied up in meetings, but I knew I wouldn't regret going (no matter how much that mom guilt tried to convince me otherwise). I have a love for the city that doesn't grow old.

This is the first time in a couple years I've been overnight without my children. At first it was strange not to have a little one around, but I quickly settled into the trip -- reading, eating (so many good meals), shopping, and finally, leisurely walking through the MoMA. As I studied the paintings, I found myself thinking about what these artists were feeling; most of them having fallen on hard times, prisoners either by war or of their own minds, and using art as their escape.

But it wasn't until I sat on a bench in the room surrounded by Claude Monet's water lilies that I had such a strong reaction to art.

The water lilies were a series of paintings Monet created late in his life, while burdened with cataracts and health issues. He fought local authorities to plant the imported lilies in his pond, ultimately doing so without their approval.

Art critics believed the water lilies to be that of an amateur impressionist, and these  paintings to be his weakest work. But he continued on, painting 250 in all. For many years after his death the work sat abandoned. It wasn't until they were revealed to the masses that the collection was admired.

As I sat on that bench, I was struck with the emotion behind his brushstrokes, seemingly erratic and uninhibited, but also with such purpose and reverent energy. I teared up as I thought of this old man, staying so true to himself despite never receiving the validation he deserved in his life. If only Monet could see us all now!

As we age, we come to care less about validation and approval, but even then, there's a certain amount of fearlessness that's required. It doesn't matter if you're an artist or writer or businessman or parent. None of us are quite sure how our "art" will be received and whether it will be validated in our lifetime. But we continue to put our work, and ourselves, out there, staying true to our hearts the best way we know how. And maybe there's substance and validity in the knowledge that we all experience the same fears and hopes. Monet has taught us that learning to embrace the vulnerability that accompanies those feelings is the only way to have a life well-lived.

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