Dismissing Impressionism

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Dismissing Impressionism

October 27, 2007

   A GoodArt post by Fred Ross:

I do not dismiss Impressionism.

Impressionism is a valid technique for making works of art. But it is only one of a number of possible techniques.

Depending on the subject matter and what the artist wants to communicate, it may be suitable as an alternative to academic art.

However, I’ve for a long time believed that the best Impressionism is blended with important aspects of academic realism.

John William Waterhouse is a great example of this, in which powerful human themes are expressed using strong compositions, refined drawing and modeling but with overall impressionist paint handling.

John Singer Sargent is another fine example.

The artists you name all have some qualities that are worthwhile, especially in their best work, but generally we feel they are over valued and in large part because of the story told about how they were not permitted to show in the Paris Salons.

We know now that story is largely a myth, as Impressionist paintings were permitted in every Salon from 1873 forward.

And if not many were in the first years it was due to so few artists using that technique until later towards the end of the century.

The elevation of those specific artists has actually been far more political than most people (including most art historians) realize.

That is most readily demonstrated by the fact that Leon Augustin L'hermitte, was asked to join Renoir, Monet and Degas and be one of the leaders of their group.

However L'hermitte was already very popular and more successful than any of them at that time.

He declined!

If you review the published letter of Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, you’ll see that Van Gogh considered L'hermitte perhaps the greatest living artist, far better than himself. But since he did not choose to join their Impressionist band, Lhermitte was mostly lost from the Modernist view of art history….even though he’s clearly the greatest of them all in his deft masterly use of Impressionist technique in capturing some of the most exquisite lighting effects ever achieved with their alla prima method.

The Modernist story vilifies all the academics, but it’s completely false, as not only were most of the artists of this period not acting in a biased way against the Impressionists, it’s also intellectually dishonest to denigrate any artists work based on whether or not they supported the tenets of any one group.

In fact, there was an explosion of new techniques and subject matter during the late 19th Century, the likes of which had never before been seen in all of art history, and there are scores of truly great artists some of whom are finally being rediscovered after a century of near oblivion.

The Impressionists were one of many groups, and in our view not the greatest at all.

Rather than trying to repeat what I’ve said before in a number of places, please read the most popular essay on ARC today, now used in countless classrooms as required reading for thousands of students each year.

Suffice it to say that most of all, the rejection of Storytelling, has been one of the most destructive elements of Modern art, as it has always been through stories that we find and express our shared humanity, and it is through stories about life that the greatest art has been has been created, whether in paintings, sculpture, literature, theater, dance or poetry. Without stories none of the greatest masterpieces throughout history would ever have been able to exist.