Monday, April 4, 2016

A-Z Challenge: C is for Cassatt

Cassatt - self portrait 
I have always loved Paris (ever since second grade when I first started taking French), but I have not always enjoyed the Impressionists. In fact, I had little appreciation for fine art until six years ago. 

I say that to say this... I do not feign to be an expert in the field.

So why the focus on Impressionism and the artists of Montmartre? Perhaps a little backstory is in order.


Six years ago I decided to write a novel. I was teaching a creative writing class where students had to write a 12-chapter novel in nine months, and I didn't want to ask them to do something I was not willing to try myself.

No matter how much brainstorming, pulling of hair or gnashing of teeth, I could not think of a viable idea. I was about to give up.

Then one day a fleeting image passed through my mind: while looking at a museum painting, a young girl closes her eyes to imagine herself in the scene, and when she opens her eyes she is in Paris at the Garnier Opera house dancing with the Degas ballerinas.

This one notion of an idea led to four years of research, one rough draft, and now a major revision. Yes, I am a little obsessed with the time period.

The Child's Bath
Mary Cassatt became a focus for a variety of reasons.

First of all, she was an American artist living in France. I liked the idea that my American protagonist could have someone she could turn to as a mentor who also spoke English.

Secondly, Cassatt and Degas were very good friends. I'm not sure there was any kind of romantic feelings between the two, but they both were serious artists who considered painting their life partner.

Thirdly, Cassatt was a woman slightly ahead of her time. She knew her mind, she knew her passion, and she was not afraid to compete in a male-dominated world. When she told her father she planned to travel to Paris to pursue an art career, he responded that he would almost rather his daughter were dead. Eventually he came around to understand her talent and respect her decision.

Girl in Blue Chair
While Cassatt never married nor had children of her own, she is known for capturing the close, affectionate maternal bond in her paintings: a young child sitting on his mother's lap - or snuggled with a warm towel after a bath.

She also enjoyed painting pictures of her own family members, particularly her nieces, nephews, and especially her older sister, Lydia.

I particularly enjoy this painting of the girl sprawled on the overstuffed chair, hot and tired from perhaps playing outside with the little dog. In fact, this is the painting that inspires my latest draft of a Middle Grade novel.


24 comments:

  1. I was not familiar with Cassatt, so thanks for sharing her here :) I like that you assigned that assignment for your students, but then decided to do it too; that helped put you into their shoes so to speak to be able to accomplish the work :)

    betty

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    1. I thought it was a pretty ambitious assignment - so I didn't feel right asking them to do what I wasn't willing to do either. They were great kids and all wrote amazing novels.

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  2. I do love Mary Cassatt's work. Very reflective post, thanks.

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    1. Thank you :) I am learning to truly appreciate her perspective on life and how that reflects in her artwork.

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  3. Great pictures to choose for inspiration. Or did the pictures choose you?

    Claudia
    www.claowuepotpourri.wordpress.com

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  4. I'm looking forward to reading your novel one day!
    Writer In Transit

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    1. You just made my day, Michelle! Thank you for the encouragement :)

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  5. I remember having a book of impressionist painters when I was a young girl and always being fascinated by Cassatt's paintings. They always struck me as so utterly lovely.

    Cheers - Ellen | http://thecynicalsailor.blogspot.com/2016/04/c-is-for-catamaran-nancy-drew.html

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    1. I wish I had an artist book when I was younger - I'd like to think I would appreciate it more today.

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  6. Hey, your novel journey sounds a lot like my own ;-)
    So, hav eyou come to appreciate impressionism while researching it, as it happend to me with jazz?

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

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    1. ABSOLUTELY!!! I can't get enough and want to do more research on Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet.... well, you get the idea ;)

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  7. When I visited France in the 70s, I spent most of my time at the Louvre and other museums. While sitting in the middle of Monet's circle of water lilies at the Musée de l'Orangerie, I fell in love with Impressionism for life.

    I enjoyed reading how your idea for a book blossomed, and the progression of your research.

    Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
    C is for Chili Wisconsin-style and Characters who take Control

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    1. I recently took a group of students to tour London, Paris, and Rome. Several of the students sat in that same spot in the l'Orangerie and just drank in all the serenity of his work. I was privileged to be a part of that experience with them.

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  8. What a great idea for a story! I am seriously intrigued :-) I love the Impressionist painters, it's my favorite genre.A-to-Z-er Jetgirl visiting via Forty, c'est Fantastique

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    1. You made my day - i'm glad the story idea intrigues you. I just hope I can do it justice :)

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  9. How exciting to be diving so deep into such a wonderful world. Best of luck with the novel. It sounds wonderful!

    @WeekendsInMaine
    Weekends in Maine

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    1. Even if the novel never sees the light of day, it has a truly been a wonderful experience to learn about that time and place in history.

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  10. thank you for that burst of wonderful art history! i've been immersed in culture and i enjoyed it! beautiful paintings and inriguing artist story

    happy c day!
    The Really Real Housewives

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    1. Thanks so much, Tara! When life is hectic, I enjoy taking a few minutes to view the art of the impressionists... somehow it slows my heart rate, my breathing, and settles me.

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  11. I always liked the impressionists, not too familiar with Cassatt, but I like how you chose her and related to your novel.

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    1. Honestly, I wasn't familiar with her until I started writing this story :)

      Thanks for stopping by...

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  12. Hi Molly,

    I'm in love! with your website and posts. I'm following for inspiration and to learn as well.

    I'm new to blogging and writing daily (in this capacity)--very new. I'd love if you get a chance to stop by my website, any input, commentary or critique would be immensely appreciated.

    Best,
    Bathsheva
    http://bathshevagladstone.com/

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    1. Thanks so much, Bathsheva! I look forward to connecting with you throughout this challenge.

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