“With an apple I will astonish Paris.”
At the end of a long life, Cezanne was still laboring to fulfill his youthful boast. Not long ago, I was lucky enough to see some of the fruits of his labor in a show that spanned his career. Upon entering the exhibit, the first painting displayed was one of his last. With its oddly tilting table, shimmering folds of cloth, and buxomly beautiful apples, the still life pulsed with joy and fresh delight.
A much earlier attempt was mounted nearby. Shifting my gaze from one to the other, the contrast was startling. The earlier painting’s apples seemed static and two dimensional – the earnest effort of an artist just beginning to find his way. Taking in both paintings at once led me to wonder: just how many apples did Cezanne have to paint over his lifetime before he finally came close to capturing the essence, the true “appleness” of an apple?
His enthusiasm must have been boundless: there he is now, prowling the local market, eager-handedly reaching for the perfect rosily ripened orb. How he must have loved his work to paint apple after apple! Where did he find his motivation? When most artists might have abandoned the quest – satisfied with their results or discouraged by them — Cezanne went on pursuing and wooing his astonishing apple. According to one critic, “Cezanne’s artistic search leads him to study the same subject over and over, varying his approach each time.” Crafty Paul put it more bluntly, but better: “Painting is damned difficult — you always think you’ve got it, but you haven’t.”
How many words do we have to write before we say something, anything, that truly captures what we dream of saying? How many pages are we willing to write – and rewrite? Can we astonish ourselves, each other, and all of Paris?