October 13, 2007

Paris Posts #3: Cleansing the Palate

Reopened after a long period of renovation is the home to many of Monet's Water Lillies paintings, Musee de L'Orangerie.

The paintings are displayed in resplendent form, enveloping the walls of elongated oval chambers supported with filtered natural light from above. They are simply spectacular and when you enter each of the two galleries containing them you feel as if you have stepped directed into a filed of flowers.

Before entering the galleries and seeing the paintings, however, all visitors pass through a stark white alcove. At the time you think nothing of it, seeing the space merely as the final obstacle to what you have come to see. In hindsight though that blank canvas serves a critical function for enhancing your appreciation of Monet's work: the white walls cleanse our visual palate and make the first appearance of the lillies even more profound and visually spectacular.

You don't have the same visual break between galleries one and two. For me, that part of the visit feels like flowers upon more flowers. Leaving the first gallery your visual palate is still consumed by what you have just seen, so another gallery of Monet's work is less impactful and in some ways just clutters the images you have just appreciated.

Cleansing the palate is an important, but often-overlooked, function in many aspects of life. At a wine tasting, you'll eat or drink something before wines to clear the taste buds. Musicians often talk about the importance of the silence between the notes. Individually we appreciate times for quiet reflection as a needed rejuvenation period from the noisy demands of our daily life.

It would be useful I think for us to design palate-cleansing times more intentionally into our workspaces, our activity routines, and most definitely our meetings and conferences. "clearing the deck" so to speak enhances our ability to see, hear, taste, savor, and appreciate with renewed enthusiasm. Too much stimuli overwhelms the senses and renders us empty or overwhelmed.

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