In a recent post, I shared two of J. M. W. Turner’s vague impressionistic paintings. He was definitely a predecessor to the impressionist movement which later developed in France and which led to similar movements in music, literature, poetry, and dance.
Lately I’ve done quite a bit of browsing, reading about various artists, and learning more about the history of impressionism. In doing so, I’ve viewed many different impressionist paintings. While I tend to think of impressionist art as involving blurred lines and indistinct elements, it’s really so much more than that. It’s not easy to categorize what impressionism is because so many different artists approached the movement with different perspectives and different styles.
For my own knowledge and understanding, I needed a definition to hold on to, something somewhat sturdy — which can be hard to find with impressionist art, to be sure.
Here’s one good definition, I think:
Characteristics of an Impressionist painting include distinctive brush strokes, vivid colors, ordinary subject matter, candid poses and compositions and most importantly, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities and unusual visual angles.
The term impressionism comes from the fact that critics saw these new works as little more than hastily-done painted sketches — or quick impressions of a scene. They were looked upon as incomplete, and many viewers were aghast that artists would display unfinished paintings and put them up for sale.
Many impressionist paintings, however, do appear — to my untrained eye, at least — to be quite finished, and quite representational. One such painting is Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte.
To me, this painting appears very precise and extremely detailed — both ideas I don’t usually associate with impressionism. Yet by artistic standards, it does meet the criteria, focusing on an ordinary scene, showing the play of light, and giving an impression of a rainy day in Paris.
My thoughts of impressionism are usually closer to paintings such as Sunrise by Claude Monet, my personal favorite of the French impressionists.
There seems to be a vast difference in these two impressionist paintings, and this is where I question myself and my own developing style of painting. Can a painting be both realistic and impressionistic? In looking at Caillebotte’s work — and that of other impressionist artists — the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
I’m definitely struggling to find myself, or at least, to define myself, and maybe that’s wherein the problem lies. Is art truly meant to be defined, classified, categorized, or organized with neat little labels attached?
I tend to see art on a continuum that begins with hyper-realism — which I don’t like — and extends to abstract art — which I don’t understand. It passes through points of realism, representational art, and impressionism. Of course, there’s far more to art than even these broad categories, but for simplicity’s sake, this is how I identify artists and their works.
Although art can often be difficult to understand, I do know what I like, and I have an idea of where I want to be on that wide-ranging spectrum. I want to be somewhere between representational art and impressionism. I want to embrace much of the impressionist concept of brushstrokes, colors, and light, yet I don’t want to move too far from representation in my paintings. As I said yesterday, I want to paint trees that are recognizable as trees.
Perhaps what I’m liking best as I study impressionism and its history is the idea that there’s room for many different styles, that impressions can be expressed in many different ways. Again, it’s giving me a greater sense of freedom, a feeling that I can find a place for myself in impressionist art. I don’t have to emulate specific artists or attempt to copy elements of anyone else’s style. I can be free to be who I am.
To me, that individuality is a key in impressionism.
Of course, the more I learn about impressionist art, the more I realize how very little I actually know. I want to read more now about the artists of the impressionist movement, I want to visit galleries and see more of their works, and in my own art, I want to play with lights and colors and brushstrokes. In time I hope to make my landscape paintings fully my own and discover my true place as an artist.