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Impressionism is Not a Dirty Word

A contemporary Impressionist dispels some myths about Impressionism.

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Impressionism is Not a Dirty Word

'Signora Bianchi', oil on canvas, 31x47inches

Painting by Jerry Fresia

I’m sure you have had the experience where people ask you what style your work most similar to. This is a question that makes me cringe. The concept ‘derivative’ comes to mind. But it is worse than that. I’m an Impressionist. There. I said it!

It is a shame really that a group of painters so vigorous and alive – not only in their work but in their fearless attack on academia (contrast this with today’s fearless embrace of academia by today’s rising stars) – should be thought of as makers of eye candy and postcards. So permit me to resurrect what I find instructive and essential about -- shall we say – ‘classic’ Impressionism.

Impressionists Do Not Paint from Photographs.
Let’s drop bad habits and the lazy attitude. Painting is not about making a picture or making a tree look like a tree. It is about learning to see. Therefore, if you wish to paint as an Impressionist to even a minimal degree, paint from life for a decade at least before doing anything else.

Impressionism is Not About Making Pretty Pictures.
Granted, the French Impressionists painted the middle-class life around them as well as the 19th century landscape in which they lived – which by today’s standards appears a bit sentimental. Unfortunately, many of us have come to believe that that is what Impressionism is about: accessible, friendly paintings that recapture a long lost comfort zone. What it really is about is painting the light and acquiring a fascination with color and line and tone.

If the French Impressionists were alive today, they would surely be painting the contemporary elements of life that would fascinate them – perhaps neon signs, parked cars, dumpsters and urban chaos. The point here is that Impressionists painted with their eyes, not their heads. Let’s drop the ‘idea’ as something separate from what we see. Let’s taste with our eyes. Let us listen to what our eyes see so that we can see more deeply.

Impressionism is Not About Making Little Dabs of Paint All Over the Canvas.
The point of dabs or broken color is to make the paint become light. Broken-color isn’t an end in itself; it is a technique to convey the thrill of careful study and right emotion. Brush strokes ought to be varied and reflect a range of emotion. We need to learn how to caress with our brush, and attack.

Impressionism is Not About Production.
It is nice to see the slow steady development of such painters as Monet. His later works differ markedly from his earlier pieces. What we are interested in is growth and we do not grow when we are about production or when we think we need to reach some point called ‘finished’. There is no such thing as ‘finish’. When we have no more that we wish to say, the painting ought to look like it needs to continue. It is alive.

Impressionism is Not Just a Method.
Yes, it provides a structure. But in the end, every method or structure may limit our growth – if we get that far. Impressionism is more of a point of view, a love of the sensual experience. It helps us to master the notes so we can play the music. And once we play the music, it means that we have tossed all the rules out the window. Few of us will every get that far. Few of us will ever get to the point of expressing who we really are. That’s the challenge. Impressionism opens the door to all the expressionist painting that follows.

Okay. That’s enough. I’m an Impressionist hoping someday to find myself in a way that is sincere and honest. As long as I’m enjoying what I do and don’t care about results, I’ll be doing fine. Oh, that’s another point to remember. Forget about results. Begin everything and finish nothing.

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