The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a wonderful exhibition through may called Cezanne and Beyond. This exhibition demonstrates that Cezanne was pivotal to modern art and influenced so many artists over the years. Viewing Cezanne’s still life with precarious fruit and tilted sugar pot on a small table with a drawer knob peeking out from under piles of checked cloth next to Jasper Johns work Drawer from 1957 is remarkable. Johns takes one element from that painting and helps us see it differently. Cezanne’s The Pont de Maincy is next to Ellsworth Kelly’s Untitled bronze sculpture which is clearly a homage to Cezanne’s arch of the bridge as reflected in the water. Matisse owned Three Bathers by Cezanne for 37 years and he painted his version of Three Bathers and a Turtle. Picasso described Cezanne as “my one and only master!” and his playful sculpture of Bathers in 1956 fills the center of the room in front of Cezanne’s Bathers. It is powerful to witness Cezanne’s influence and mastery as appreciated by artists over the decades. Cezanne was a heroe to so many in his ability to see things differently and to capture that in oil. George Braque said ” To my way of thinking, there is no master equal to Cezanne.” Max Beckmann called Cezanne his greatest love. Gorky said “Cezanne was the greatest artist…that has lived.”
When I ask clients if they have heroes or heroines they almost always say No. This is a sad absence in our culture. I still remember reading a biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in fifth grade. I have never forgotten how her life inspired me to live mine with greater courage. Later in high school I added Eleanor Roosevelt to my interior list of heroines to borrow from. She was outstanding in her role of presidents wife despite being homely and unloved by her husband. She followed through on the courage of her convictions and made a difference. We can borrow attributes from others and live a richer life, just as Cezanne has inspired artists for generations. Brice Marden said “Cezanne, my hero.” Henri Matisse said he knew “Cezanne had made no mistake.” I was grateful this exhibit helped me appreciate Cezanne as a hero.
Think about the people you know or have read about. Find something about them that helps you to see the world differently. Choose an attribute you want to make more your own. Choose courage from the astronaut Buzz Aldrin and take more risks. Choose the generosity of Mother Theresa and volunteer at the food bank instead of just writing checks. Choose the more rigorous honesty of your AA sponsor and go 24 hours without telling a lie, then 48 hours until you can get to a full week. Choose your favorite Aunt and her vitality for life, buy the edition of the newspaper with the weekend listings and try something new. Heroes can add greater dimension to our ordinary lives.