At five, I started piano. I plunked out the keys of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and begged my mother for a real teacher. One key at a time, she taught me the names and sounds of the notes, the rhythms they could make, and how hard to press them. My skinny fingers seemed so small on the keys and I could never reach an octave. That was seemingly the pinnacle of my existence at the time: to reach an octave. I stretched my fingers for hours, watching as my skin between my forefinger and thumb webbed out further and further. I only dreamed of reaching an octave. My fingers only really reached over five notes.
I started on the black keys; I wasn’t allowed near the beautiful, fat, white keys. I felt I needed to play these keys, these clean, untouched keys, but I complied with the will of my teacher and stayed on the skinny blacks. I still remember the song I played on those blacks: Floating in the wa—ter, tender and sere—ne, such a touch of co—lor, in a sea of green. Water lilies quickly became my favorite place to play. It made me feel calm, and I kept playing it even when I graduated to the white keys. I can still play it today.
The first time I saw Monet’s “Water Lily Pond,” was in my third grade art class. I stared at the all-green painting while Mrs. Forbes explained to us the technique. The whole painting was constructed of tiny paint streaks—that if we got close enough to the painting, we would be able to see every tiny brush stroke. She said that he, Monet, didn’t use outlines. I wasn’t sure if I really understood what that meant, but it seemed hard. I loved the painting. I had already been obsessed with water lilies since I played my song on the piano, and loved their pink petals and their strange way of growing on top of the water. I pictured little frogs jumping on them, like in the cartoons. Mrs. Forbes explained to us that today was the day that we got to try our hand at impressionism, and that we were to copy Monet’s painting.
I spent that whole class hour and the next painting my tiny streaks. Of course, streaks can only be so tiny when you’re eight and you’re only working with a 8.5x11 paper and a relatively large paintbrush, but I was mesmerized by the different blues and greens. I still have the painting today, and, strangely enough, it isn’t quite as good as I saw it when I painted it. It looks nothing like Monet’s painting, and frankly, I didn’t remember what Monet’s painting actually looked like for years. I only pictured the deep teal of my third-grade painting, pink flowers, and little streaks. It made me feel something that stuck with me, my mind fixated on beauty from small things. This obsession never left me.
All I know is that beauty has always been something captivating to me, something that made me feel and love like nothing else. Each little ridge on the mountainside, the colors in a post-communist village, or even the little lines on my hands have always amazed me. I’m not trying to stand cheesy—I’m sitting here writing this and thinking that this is probably a bad idea for an essay. Usually I write about things that I’m sad about, writing in a frenzy of anxiety and depression. Whenever I try to write about beautiful things, my words never seem to match that beauty. I’m not trying to say that words aren’t beautiful; I get equally as emotional when I read poetry that somehow pieces words together in the most enticing way. But when we got this assignment to write about art, I didn’t know how I would do it. I just can’t explain how I feel when I see art. My mind is art, my thoughts are streaks, filling my life with color and with beauty. Things like words and music paint pictures in my mind, and are always correlated with art. When I hear Debussy I see Monet, and when I read things like George Orwell I can’t stop from seeing cubists who used perfect shapes to create imperfect situations. I can’t write about it and I don’t know why. Monet plays with my emotions, moving me into a deep sea of sadness or calm. It’s never excitement with Monet, but it’s appreciation and a kind of awe that I can’t describe. He can paint thirty minutes of sunlight onto one canvas and it’s overwhelming.
When our professor pulled Monet’s paintings up for us in class, my chest tightened and my stomach flew up into my throat. My eyes couldn’t open enough to take it all in, and he went through the slides too quickly. Every painting appealed to my senses in a different way. He never showed “Water Lily Pond.” I waited impatiently for the bridge to finally appear on the screen, to see that image that had stayed in my mind for so long, but he never did. Confused, I wondered why he wouldn’t show the painting that I assumed was the most popular from Monet. I fell in love with so many others—the London fog series, “Impression Sunrise,” and eventually, with Monet himself. Walking out of class, I googled the water lily painting. It was nothing like I imagined it.