A new solution to an old problem is never an easy task. The more times we’ve dealt with a problem in the same old way the harder it is to conceive a novel solution because our explanations of the problem have been molded set by past experience: by names.

To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.

–Claude Monet

Names and labels are dangerous things. Claude Monet and his Impressionist friends turned the art world upside down by their re-invention of painterly technique. They did so by breaking the rules and ignoring the labels and names of “art,” and in many ways, of life. Sometimes you just have to forget the names of things and look at the world through new eyes, devoid of expectations, willing to accept possibility, unhindered by convention.

We see the world differently today because of artists like Monet, who taught us how to “see” the same things we’ve been looking at for a long while, but to see them through eyes unhampered by the filters we used to apply. A water lily doesn’t have to look like a water lily looked 20 years ago. We can see new aspects of it. We can see it in different light. In fact, each day, each hour, the light changes so that what we “see” in that instant is different from what we will say later in the day, or on another sunnier or more overcast day.

The stories of Monet going out into the field to paint, carting along a dozen partially painted canvasses to that he could continue painting several different views of the same subject at different times of the day. Each canvas was different even though the scene was the “same.”

And by breaking with the convention of how to apply paint to the canvas we had the opportunity to “see” that scene or indeed any scene in a very different way.

How to do that in everyday life is horribly difficult and simultaneously astonishingly easy. But first we have to be willing to let go of pre-conceptions, past-ideas, habit, tradition, experience. We have to metaphorically forget the name of whatever problem lies in our way.

I don’t know about you but I find that the older I get the easier it is to rely upon experience. Often I simply don’t want to be bothered thinking up a new way of doing something when the old one works perfectly well. I have my exceptions, of course. Travel: I almost never return from a place the same way I went out. But that willingness to be challenged in every aspect of life is tiring; one has to actually think about what they are doing instead of letting habit carry us forward like the current of a river.

I don’t know about you but I really do try to think new thoughts every day. It’s a challenge that varies by the day in difficulty; and pandemic has not made it any easier I accept. Still, I try. And that’s all that any of us can do. We aren’t all Monet’s. There were other artists, contemporaries of Monet, who refused his techniques. Some followed along later and aren’t as well known. Some waited still longer and modified his practices and turned Impressionism into quite something else, newer yet. And in the 1960’s, and in the 2000’s other artists who themselves were trying to “forget the name of the things” have reinvented art and seeing again and again and again. It’s not a job that is done once. It is a continual process. In art, in life, in love…

To See