Edouard Manet (1832-1883)
“Edouard Manet was early on considered the leader of the avant-garde, although he dissociated himself from formal connection with the painters who became known as the Impressionists.”
The irony found in this essay is that resistance is a major indicator of unconsciousness and yet we are advocating resistance for anyone serious about Self-realization. To resolve this paradox is easy enough and obvious to those experienced with the contrast between paradigms A and B. Our hero in this tale of resistance is the painter Edouard Manet.
Both Manet and Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) have been called the “father of modern art” and for our purposes it doesn’t matter which opinion you might agree with but rather which qualities they had in common that led critics to honor them in that way. For one, they both resisted conformity. They both refused to pander to the dominant tastes and trends of their day but listened instead to the inner muse that would take them in a different direction and make them both revolutionaries pushing back the boundaries of the very definition of art. The art establishment of their day, since they were contemporaries, was the Paris Salon. Both painters angered and shocked the Salon and were ostracized at times by those who saw themselves as the arbiters of what constituted art and what did not.
Let’s take a brief look at which paintings offended the Salon and Parisian society and why. Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) was controversial and rejected by the Salon because of the subject matter (unconventional nudity) and the technique. The technique was to synthesize the nude, a still-life and nature into a whole that the members of the Salon could not understand or accept. In short, the painting was pushing the definition of painting beyond where it had ever been before. Change is always upsetting to the human need for safety, comfort and the familiar. Manet was resisting painting familiar subjects in a familiar way. He was marching to the tune of a different drummer and did not want to settle for living the life of “quiet desperation” to use the phraseology of an earlier non-conformist, Henry David Thoreau.
Olympia (1863), another unacceptable nude, had to be guarded while it was on exhibition by two attendants to make sure the public did not destroy it. Only Manet’s friend Zola defended Christ with Angels (1864) which is a brilliant but perhaps too realistic depiction of the dead Christ. The critics found The Fifer (1866) to be too simplistic. The painting depicting The Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (1867) was too political to be exhibited. Nana (1877) was judged to be too “vulgar.” And so it goes. A resistive, non-conformist pays a price, but he at least remains true to his vision and hopefully reaps a benefit that conventional society cannot bestow.
What does all of this have to do with Self-realization? Self-realization is all about the “shift,” that is, moving from the old to the new worldview. Being able to see the distinction between reality (P-A) and illusion (P-B) requires the same qualities of consciousness that we find in those people who are able to listen to their inner wisdom and respond to that. To do so requires being able to live a simple, quiet life and resisting or dis-identifying with the emotions, attitudes, beliefs and values of the unconscious narrative that defines life for most of humanity.
So resistance is necessary in the world of P-B to keep from being enthralled with or influenced by the ego, the false self, the shadow and the collective unconscious. However, we can measure whether one is being successful at living in the present moment (P-A) by distinguishing between their ability to not resist the life they are given but instead to be in response or acceptance of that life.
In conclusion, we would all do well to be like Manet and resist conforming to the illusion that comprises the ongoing story of humanity and at the same time embrace and respond with compassion to the present moment reality of the more profound and beautiful life that is always available to those of us who can stay awake. Resist, resist up to the point that you can feel and respond to the beauty in a work of art and then let go and bask in the perfection of living in the NOW.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.