by Rebecca Cochran
I saw the new Renoir biopic yesterday. It’s a gorgeous, graceful film that tells the story of artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s later years spent in the south of France at Les Collettes, a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer, close to the Mediterranean coast. The film is lusciously filmed, acted and written. Every frame is ripe with symbolism. The soundtrack, replete with the chirping of birds and gentle breezes, fittingly sets the stage for Renoir’s daily ritual of painting en plein air.
By that time is his life, the early 1900s, Renoir was suffering from the effects of rheumatoid arthritis. His hands were swollen, gnarled and barely usable. In order to work each day, he had to have his brushes strapped to his bandaged hands. Barely able to walk, he was confined to a wheelchair. He and his wheelchair had to be carried to the location where he wanted to paint each day. It took four people to make this happen. Since Renoir regularly preferred to paint far out in a field, the woods or a hidden cove near the sea, those morning rituals made for dramatic visuals in the film.
Renoir had a process to creating his art. That process certainly involved nearly a lifetime’s ritual of painting every day — no matter where he lived, no matter the weather and no matter how poor his health. Beyond that, I don’t think he was able to define his process. It was as if he intuitively knew what to do.
There were a couple of moments in the film in which he tried to explain to one of his sons the process of mixing pigments to achieve a desired effect. He encouraged his middle son to “Visit the Louvre” to learn about art and about life. And, Renoir referenced the 16th century Venetian artist, Titian, several times in the film, so we can assume that Titian was a strong influence. But mostly, Renoir seemed to leave a person on his or her own, knowing that each of us is our own best teacher.
This Renoir film made me think about process, specifically the design process. Perhaps process is overrated today. Perhaps we’d all be better off going back to Renoir’s way of just getting out there and doing. Doing every day, day after day, for a lifetime. Rather than spending hours, or even days, attempting to define the process, perhaps we could accomplish more just by doing, learning, doing, learning and doing some more.
Maybe process really is just that simple. Renoir seemed totally comfortable with this no-process process. And, lucky for us, the quality and quantity of his work didn’t suffer one bit.
What do you think?