I am reading a book called The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe. It is a very detailed comprehensive book about the years from when the Impressionists started learning how to paint in Paris, through the years where they found other people with similar interests in new painting styles, up through when a dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, brought the Impressionist art work to New York for an Exhibition in 1886. It took me a while to get into the book because Roe writes about many different artists all at the same time because she goes in chronological order and the artists all converged on Paris around the same time. You learn about their backstory, where they came from, how their families had to support most of them for decades, how some married their models and hid that fact from their middle class parents. I just didn't realize how persistent these artists were. They wanted to break from tradition and not just copy the old masters and be limited to traditional subject matter like portraiture or classical myths. They wanted to paint outdoors, plein-air. They wanted to paint contemporary subjects, every day people doing every day things. The Impressionists painted people bathing, hanging laundry, dancing in a dance hall. They completely departed from the accepted Salon painters style of art by their technique of thick brush strokes you could see on the canvas. Critics thought the paintings were not finished yet. The newly rich thought it was a joke. Why would they put up unfinished looking art of subjects they were trying to get far away from in their previous lives. They wanted high brow art. They wanted to fit in with the traditionally rich and buy traditional art. This caused a dilemma. The Impressionists art was not selling, and that was the case for years. They had to beg and borrow to keep painting. It was almost too sad to read at some times. Oftentimes, Monet ran out of money to buy paints. Pissaro was reduced to walking the streets trying to find buyers as his family went hungry. The irony of Impressionism being the most popular style of art today is not lost on me. Roe has an addendum with current prices these artists' work have recently sold for, millions of dollars.
One thing that really jumped out at me from this book was the breakthrough when they started selling some of their art. A book publisher named George Charpentier happened to see one of Renoir’s paintings in a storefront in 1875. He noticed the painting because of the emotion evoked by the painting. It was a cold day in January but the painting reminded him of happy days in the summer and the subject was relevant and contemporary. Impressionists for several years had a hard time convincing people to buy their art or that it was even worth buying. Renoir’s art evoked an emotion in an open minded young professional that caused a breakthrough. Charpentier found out that the art would be sold at an auction in a few weeks. He went to the auction and bought several paintings by Renoir and even met the artist there. Renoir and Charpentier became lifelong friends and his family supported Renoir with commissions and money when he needed it. The Charpentiers invited Renoir to weekly salons where he met other people who would be interested in buying his art and gave him a level of respectability which not many of the other Impressionists had at that time. The family commissioned a painting of Marguerite Charpentier and her children with their dogs. It became one of Renoir's more traditional paintings as far as subject matter. But he still styled the family in a relaxed way as opposed to the more conservative formal style and used looser brushstrokes. Renoir later submitted it to a Salon and it was accepted. He no longer exhibited with the Impressionists after that moment. It appears the art establishment were slowly accepting some of the artists they labeled as Impressionists.
Luckily for the Impressionists, Charpentier was open to seeing the value of art in the emotion it evokes. He was willing to see that change could be a good thing. Then other people started to slowly champion these Impressionists, as well.
Any change from the current art style is initially met with resistance in some ways. Abstract art like Pollock's and Rothko's is a huge break from traditional realistic art of the time. There was ridicule and lots of talk about the art being done by children. But now, people do not see abstract art as such a radical concept, just more of a personal preference. Music has had similar seismic shifts as well. Philip Glass’s minimal music was a huge departure from other modern musicians as well as Martha Graham in modern dance and Georgia O'Keefe in painting.
All types of art forms develop and change over time.
The only constant is change.
On a personal note, I have been involved with the fabric art and quilting world for 2 decades. In the quilting world, improv style is a big departure from traditional quilting. Improv quilting is when your design and color choices are made in the moment. Think Improv comedy where it is based off a word shouted by the audience. Traditional quilting follows an established pattern. I think the transition to what people call improv quilting has been rather smooth as transitions go. It opens up a new found level of creative freedom which I think many quilters find appealing as it has brought in many enthusiastic quilters into the quilting fold.
My art has evolved over the years. I consider myself an artist who creates abstract art using fabric as my medium. I create art to evoke an emotion in the viewer. I remind the viewer about the beauty and majesty of our natural world as I translate these natural wonders into an abstract landscape full of color and geometric shapes.
All art evokes an emotion. The only constant is change.
Next time you see art, think about the emotions evoked by the art. Let me know what you discover.