The majority of the world loves Impressionism. People still hold it up on a pedestal as the emotional and color standard after hundreds of years. Each year students are taught basic color theory through the works of artists such as Cezanne and Manet, learning that within this movement modern art was born. I myself can be considered no different. I like the soft smudges and emotive colors, but I think learning more than the surface history of these works soured my view of Impressionism for many years. In order to understand my aesthetic response to Impressionism you need to understand my introduction to the world of squiggly paint.

Claude Monet, Le Parlement, Effet de Brouillard 1904

I was exposed to the works of Claude Monet in the third grade, far before I ever learned the word Impressionism. My third grade teacher explained that her favorite artist painted many beautiful water lilies and everything was full of sunshine in his paintings. She herself was a full-of-sunshine kind of person, perfect for an elementary school teacher. I then proceeded to ask the school librarian about information on Claude Monet. I ended up with quite a few books about Impressionism, and handed one about Monet specifically. I remember staring at Le Parlement, Effet de Brouillard while learning from the librarian what a horrible self indulgent person Monet had been. How he had moved his wife and his mistress (plus her children) into the same house together. Coming from a set and dry religious family this was an unforgivable grievance.

Edgar Degas, Dancers, Pink and Green 1980

At eight years old I had already condemned Monet and every Impressionist as a vapid shallow person who could only paint lovely things in order to hide his/her true intentions. The more I researched the lives of artists the worst my opinion became. The works of Degas did nothing to help my view. Degas was a womanizer, and his proof was the fact that all he seemed to paint were beautiful women. It was not until the fifth grade when I learned of Mary Cassatt, that Impressionism became something worthwhile to me. Her subject matter did not objectify women, nor did it seem to hide her opinion either. At the age of twelve I was able to see many of her works in person, and came to understand the art movement as a whole.

Mary Cassatt, The Bath 1983

Until Impressionism swept through the art world at the end of the 1800s, paintings had been plodding along in the same constraints it had held since paint was created. Portraits, military exploits, morality, and religious icons held their own through each generation of artist. Paint was portrayed as a flat surface, and each artist was taught that to hide the smudges and brushstrokes was an important skill. Impressionism signals the first steps art took towards allowing paint to be paint. Paint could be left bumpy and scrawled across a canvas with a tool. Paint started to become free, and vibrate! Paint was used in such a way that it vibrated, and in every painting there is movement. I find this especially so in the water lilies that made Claude Monet so moving to my third grade teacher.

Claude Monet, Reflections of Clouds on the Water Lily Pond 1920

Because of Impressionism, I can enjoy Rothko's No 2. 1951

I like Impressionism because it helped open the doorway for paint to become itself, rather than a voiceless interpreter. It represents a massive door that someone accidentally knocked into, and fell through. It created such a loud sound that everyone had to see the commotion for themselves. Impressionism is the grandfather of the modern art I love much more, such as the Mark Rothko painting shown. So in a roundabout way, I love Impressionism like everyone else, but I still have a high skepticism for the artists and their lifestyle.

 

 

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