The Impressionists

When I was a little girl, my Dad had a full library of art books on the shelf at my disposal. I could see paintings by van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Gauguin, and many more Impressionists. I loved watching my Dad paint and would then go to my room to paint or draw. I learned how to paint not only from my Dad, but the vast array of painters available to me.

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Impressionism has always been my favorite style of art, because it’s more about the mood and feel of a moment, then an exact replica. In David and Goliath, this week’s book of the week, Malcolm Gladwell tells an interesting story about the Impressionists that I had never heard before, or maybe just forgot.

“The Impressionists had an entirely different idea about what constituted art. They painted everyday life. Their brushstrokes were visible. Their figures were indistinct. To the Salon jury the crowd thronging the Palais, their work looked amateurish, even shocking.”¹

Imagine your life’s work being considered amateurish by others who just don’t get it? As an artist and musician I’m not a stranger to the harsh judgements of others and unsolicited critiques. Occasionally there will be good advise shared by others, but many times you never know where that advice is coming from. Sometimes it’s from a place of their own insecurity about what they do. And sometimes, people just don’t get what you’re doing. Malcolm also points out another great point regarding the Impressionist’s struggle with being “accepted” by the Salon, the equivalent of top 40 radio for a musician.

“The story of the Impressionists suggests a second, parallel problem. We strive for the best and attach great importance to getting into the finest institutions we can. But rarely do we stop and consider-as the Impressionists did-whether the most prestigious of institutions is always in our best interest.”²

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Sometimes we can get so stuck in being accepted by those institutions that we loose sight of why we started in the first place. It’s extremely easy to do. Maybe you want to be a writer, and you think the pinnacle of making it is to be published by the New York Times. If you don’t make it do you stop writing? I’m not saying to not go after your dreams, but if it gets in the way of going after what your passion is, “writing” in this example, then it’s not worth it. Sometimes there’s a better way for each and everyone of us. Our job is to be open to it, for instance in the action the Impressionists decided to take.

“The Salon was the Big Pond. But it was very hard to be anything at the Salon but a Little Fish. In 1873, Pissarro and Monet proposed that the Impressionists set up a collective called the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs. There would be no competition, no juries, and no medals. Every artist would be treated as an equal.”³

So what happened when they decided to go rogue and go out on their own? “Thirty-five hundred people attended the show – 175 on the first day alone, which was enough to bring the artists critical attention.”Because they decided to go out on their own and not be confined to what was popular of the day, they were able to do something amazing that no one, not even the Salon saw coming.

“They felt a new creative freedom, and before long, the outside world began to sit up and take notice. In the history of modern art, there has never been a more important or more famous exhibition. If you tried to buy the paintings in that warren of top-floor rooms today, it would cost you more than a billion dollars.”5

The Impressionists created one of the biggest movements in art history. All because they joined forces, believed in what they were doing, and went out on their own. What gift or vision have you been given to give the world? It’s closer to your grasp than what you think.

Sarah Jackson

Vigilant Poster Girl

References: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

  1. Pg 67
  2. Pg 68
  3. Pg 72
  4. Pg 73
  5. Pg 73 -74

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