I admired these women, these accomplished artists who struggled against the shackles society placed on them. In order to achieve success, many felt the need to work within those restrictions, ignoring a yen to be treated as their male counterparts during the period of impressionism. Some struggled against those bonds, defying societal norms, forging a path for the less assertive and for the female artists to come.
I was eager to see more, to learn more.
I was attending the exhibit Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism at The Denver Art Museum.
I wove my way through the exhibit halls, marveling at the artwork. Some of the artists worked within the confines society placed on them, focusing on ladylike subjects such as motherhood or women’s fashion. But others were defiant, like Rosa Bonheur who visited slaughterhouses to understand the musculoskeletal system of cattle in order to depict them in accurately in her paintings.
Fascinated by the work of these women, I advanced deeper into the exhibit, perusing the paintings. I found myself skirting some of them, even though I wanted to move from one picture to the next, absorbing it all. But why?
Through wisps of an inner fog, I noticed I was avoiding herds of fellow attendees. I flinched away from a woman wearing garishly colored attire, and kept my distance from a particularly boisterous group.
I was suffering from my usual difficulties processing too much sensory input. I realized through the thickening smog in my mind that I needed to make my escape, as soon as possible. But by then it was too late—as often occurs in such situations, my ability make my own choices was waning. Vaguely aware I was heading towards the exit, incapable of proactively heading there, I followed the crowd.
Still able to maintain some semblance of control, I managed to skip paintings that attracted more than two or three viewers. But in my usual reluctance to give in to the bloody brain, I occasionally paused in front of works of art that caught my eye and drew me in.
One painting in particular spoke to me. The colors, neutral, drab even, browns and grays, weren’t the focus of my interest, neither was the skill of the artist. The main reason I felt a connection between us was the subject—the naked trees reflected in a lake lent a serenity to the painting, a much needed break from my surroundings.
Gazing at bodies of water always gave me a respite when I became overwhelmed by my surrounding. Unfortunately, they weren’t always at hand.
I stood behind a couple admirers who were discussing the artist’s technique, allowing peace to sink in. With the quiet in the painting grounding me in a less than ideal situation, keeping the rest of the world at bay, I felt my tense muscles relaxing. As the two art critics moved on, an object that they had blocked appeared—a sharply defined paddler-bearing canoe in the left hand corner of the painting. It was directed inward. In my mind’s eye, I saw it moving forward, towards the center of the lake, of the painting.
The thought of it disrupting the stillness was unbearable.
I turned away. About to continue on my way, I hesitated. Why did I turn away? Why did the canoe and its paddler upset me?
I turned back and contemplated the painting for a long moment.
Though the canoe added to the composition of the painting, it detracted from the sense of serenity. But why?
The haze in my mind cleared briefly, and it clicked. The serenity in the painting guided me out of the chaos, then the ripples caused by paddler in his canoe disturbed the peace, tipping me back over the edge, towards the chaos.
In that moment of clarity, I knew I had to make my escape, immediately, before I was caught once more in the mayhem.
I scurried towards the exit.