10 Things To Learn From The Impressionists (Illustrated)

GEORGES SEURAT - "Une baignade à Asnières (Bathers at Asnieres)", 1883-84

Today, the paintings of the impressionists are recognised worldwide for their value. Some pieces by Renoir, Monet and Degas are worth more than one hundred million dollars. But the impressionists have not always been as valued, appreciated and famous as they are today. On the contrary, their rise to the top was hard, messy and required ambition and endurance. There is a lot one can learn from them.

PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR - "Moulin de la Galette", 1876

PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR – “Moulin de la Galette”, 1876


  1. Have faith in your vision

The view the impressionists brought was modern, revolutionary and deemed by many as crazy. But they stick to it as they had faith in it; they had faith in what they’ve seen and what they wanted.

Just the same, we all have views on who we want to be, what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it. Our views may encounter critics, may seem completely stupid to some, brilliant to others or simply irrelevant. It is down to each and every one of us who have a vision, artistic or not to believe in it and work to apply it. It’s also down to us to understand that not everybody will see the way we see and this is fantastic.

CLAUDE MONET – "Impression, sunrise",  1873

CLAUDE MONET – “Impression, sunrise”, 1873


  1. Own who you are

The term “impressionism” comes from an art critic who tried to mock one of Monet’s paintings, together with Monet himself and all those with similar style of painting. The art critic refered to the painting as an “impression”, something unfinished, a mere sketch. And the term stuck with those adopting a similar style.

Although it began as an insult, impressionism is now known as a term describing one of the most important and influential art movements in history. Because those who were given this title owned it, were comfortable with it and made from an insult, an incredible compliment. We can all take example.

EDOUARD MANET - "Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (Luncheon on the grass)", 1862-63

EDOUARD MANET – “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the grass)”, 1862-63


  1. Fight for what you want 

What the impressionists wanted was to be appreciated for who they were and for what they created. They wanted recognition and remuneration for their work. They did not receive any of these for a long time as the Academy of Beautiful Arts was the one deciding what was worthy of being called art and what was worthy of being sold. The impressionists paintings did not qualify for either. Works of Monet, Manet and Degas have been rejected by the Academy of Beautiful Arts repeteadly. It was thus very difficult for the impressionist painters to sell their paintings. Or indeed to get the appreciation they deserved.

But they continued painting in their own way, trusting their vision and themselves, fighting to get what they wanted. Regardless of what your dream is and what you want to fight for, do it. And do it with passion.

VINCENT VAN GOGH - "Self-portrait with bandaged ear", 1889

VINCENT VAN GOGH – “Self-portrait with bandaged ear”, 1889


  1. Failure is part of life

The first exhibition that impressionists organised was a disaster. A small number of visitors came and many of them laughed at and mocked the paintings rather than appreciate them and express interest in buying them.

With every rejection from the Academy of Beautiful Arts the impressionist painters could have succumbed to failure. But they did not. Because they understood that failure and rejection are part of life. I think it’s comforting to know that artists of genius have been rejected, discredited and that they have experienced failure because it makes us all see, that regardless of your talent and your hard work, failure is normal and it simply happens. However, the true mark of a great person is what happens after failure.

Hopefully for us, there is a failure in life that we can avoid, the greatest failure of all, failing to try to achieve something.

GUSTAVE CAILLEBOTTE - "Les raboteurs (The floor scrapers)", 1876

GUSTAVE CAILLEBOTTE – “Les raboteurs (The floor scrapers)”, 1876


  1. So is hard, consistent work

Once again, here are some good news for all of us. Even those with incredible talent and vision have to work hard and consistently. Of course, in this instance, “hard” is a very sensitive term as what is hard for some is easy for others and what is done with passion and with love is never (that) hard.

One of the reasons the impressionists were so revolutionary is because they painted outside, not in studios. As beautiful and artistic as that may seem, it was hard work. They had to paint in the sun, in the heat and they had to paint very fast so as the light would not change. Perhaps unexpectedly, painting proved to be a very physically demanding work. But with the goal in mind, it was worth all the work.

HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC - "At the Moulin Rouge", 1890

HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC – “At the Moulin Rouge”, 1890


  1. Take motivation from your goals

Although the act of painting proved many times to be demanding, the goal was alive and clear in their minds, they could see the painting in their mind and all they had to do was to make their body re-create it on the canvas. Which they always did, regardless of how hard it was.  As hard as it sometimes gets to pursue a goal, if that goal is clear and alive in our minds, inspiration and motivation will come to us.

PAUL SIGNAC - "Le Palais des Papes, Avignon (The Papal Palace, Avignon)", c.1900

PAUL SIGNAC – “Le Palais des Papes, Avignon (The Papal Palace, Avignon)”, c.1900


  1. Appreciate the smallest things 

Another defining characteristic of the movement is that the impressionists have seen beauty where others refused to find it. In simple landscapes, in parties near the river Seine, in a moving train or a sunrise. The Academy of Beautiful Arts was many times revolted by the triviality of the subjects from the impressionists paintings.

As the impressionists have seen beauty and absorbed it so to create beauty in turn, all of can do the same. Beauty inspires beauty.

JOAQUÍN SOROLLA - "La hora del baño (The Bathing hour)", 1904

JOAQUÍN SOROLLA – “La hora del baño (The Bathing hour)”, 1904


  1. Beauty is a fluid, forever changing concept 

Speaking of beauty, the impressionists were fascinated by light as they discovered how some things turned from stunning to dull as the light changed. This is a very good proof of how fluid and sensitive beauty is. Light is just one of the many, many factors that influences it.

WINSLOW HOMER - "A Summer Night", 1890

WINSLOW HOMER – “A Summer Night”, 1890


  1. Embrace the change 

As the light changed, beauty changed too, and the impressionists found new perspectives. The same reasoning applies to us all. Change brings a new perspective, a new way of seeing life and everything within it, some things may appear darker, others brighter, but in the end, it’s all a matter of perspective, we choose what we want to focus on.

FRÉDERIC BAZILLE - "The artist's studio - Bazille's Studio" (9 rue de la Condamine), 1870

FRÉDERIC BAZILLE – “The artist’s studio – Bazille’s Studio” (9 rue de la Condamine), 1870


  1. There is a lot to learn from art and artists

And most of the lessons are not about how to create art, but about life.

Alec is a full time writer, dreamer and art lover. He took to writing at age 14 and his latest novel is called A hospital for souls.

Read all from this author. 

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