Impressionism

Le grand noyer à l’Hermitage (1875) by Camille Pissarro

Impressionism surfaced in France roughly between 1870 and 1910 and was characterized by a subjective response of the painter’s actual experience, the use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate actual reflected light. It is intriguing how this artistic approach related to the central question of metaphysics, namely: What is the distinction between reality and illusion? It is interesting to hear impressionists stress the importance of the subjective approach to the creative process or in other words “emotion.” We, of course, would use the word “feeling” to connote the present moment awareness.

Why do the Impressionists draw the largest crowds at museums around the world? We don’t think the answer lies in an intellectual analysis but can be better explained by appeals to the deeper nature of human understanding—by appeals to the heart and our affinity with beauty. “The Impressionists had experimented with color and with the effects of light on color. Their findings had been gained intuitively and through experience, and were not bound by rules or regulations.”

The Harbor at Lorient (1869) by Berthe Morisot at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

So there you have it! Intuition (the experience or feeling of wisdom coming from the heart) overrules the intellect, the “rules and regulations” that the Paris salon had attempted to impose on the rebellious Impressionists who then proceeded to find their own audience and their own markets for their work. It took them some time but they succeeded admirably. And today we all “feel” the joy and beauty of their expressions of light and color. They lived in the present moment and expressed it in a way that connected to humanity at large because we are all searching for that special “feeling.”

Not that all of the Impressionists were of one mind about what it meant to rebel against the Paris salon or the need to resist the “establishment.” “Nevertheless, all these painters had, broadly speaking, something in common. It was the feeling that the life of the city and the village, the café’s and the bois [forest], the salons and bedrooms, the boulevards, the seaside, and the banks of the Seine, could become a vision of Eden—a world of ripeness and bloom, projecting an untroubled sense of wholeness.”  In other words, they sought to express on canvas the yearning for Oneness that we all, consciously or unconsciously, seek and hope to express one day.

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

 

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