Góc truyện

I Think You May Have the Wrong Impression

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

Become a Member

“Rowing and Strolling” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (by Rob Shenk)

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about being an art historian is being asked, “Who is your favorite artist?” or “What is your favorite kind of art?” These questions are always difficult for me to answer honestly in less than a few sentences. Perhaps because I am a talker, or because on any given day or even hour, my answer may be different. My frustration heightens with the questioner’s following claim, “Impressionism is my favorite.” Honestly, this statement just pisses me off more than anything else about being an art historian. First, I tend to suspect the familiarity with art of anyone who quite proudly makes this claim about Impressionism. I mean, how can one know the Ghent Altarpiece, the theatricality of Bernini’s sculptures, or the exquisite brushstroke of the Chinese artists, and still claim that Impressionism is a reigning favorite? I tend to think that those who make this claim only know Impressionism … or really only know the word Impressionism. But, instead of coming down hard on those who may simply want to have a discussion about art, it is really Impressionism, or more precisely, Contemporary Impressionism that irks me.

“Wheat Field with Cypress” at the Metropolitan Museum (by Randy OHC)

As a professor of art history, I get a wonderful opportunity to introduce art to those who are at least interested enough to enroll in my class. At the beginning of each semester I tell my students what an art history professor once told me: “If you like nothing, you have no taste, if you like everything, you have no taste.” Students are immediately relieved to know they are free to express their dislike of a work of art. What I do expect though is their respect of all the works and to honestly engage them. This way they can develop a coherent reason why they like or do not like something fully equipped with a knowledge and sincere admiration of the art.

Each of the past 10 years or so I’ve taught, I’ve confessed to my students my dislike of Impressionism. I offer a small explanation, but never wanted to take too much time from the works of Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, Degas, and others. Because of this, I’ve never really taken the time to truly reflect on my dislike for this style of painting. Up to now, I have been able to take cover under my own position at the front of the class, as well as find a safe haven with art critics and writers who tend to agree with me or at least understand. This little art bubble in which I comfortably live was recently popped when I was invited to rant about Impressionism.

“Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette” at the Musée d’Orsay (by Steve & Sara)

The truth is I love beautiful things too and I really do understand the attraction to the pastel colors and the beautiful landscapes and the pictures of pretty people on holiday. And I admit there have been times while in a gallery, I’ve been caught off guard, jaw-dropped in front of a Renoir. After spending time thinking about what I don’t like I found that it is not the work of the 19th century French Impressionists I dislike so much, but the contemporary painters who have adopted this painting style to market as their own.

What some fans of Impressionism may not realize is that the original Impressionists were rebels. These artists were rejected by salon. Rather than adopting a painting style accepted by the salon, many continued to explore the color and light captured in painting amid harsh criticism. These artists were well trained in painting as well as knowledgeable of art’s history. Artists like Manet consciously engaged history with paintings like “Luncheon on the Grass” and “Olympia” presenting new ideas of representation. Rethinking painting’s realism with a focus on the formal elements of light and color on a canvas and engaging past paintings, the French Impressionists present themselves true lovers of art and willing to challenge the eye of the French salon.

“Impressionism” at the Metropolitan Museum (by Randy OHC)

The difference between those artists working in the 19th century and many of their followers working now is simple. Contemporary Impressionists fail to take any risks at all. Instead they safely tap into a market secured by the popularity of Impressionism. Rather than challenging an accepted aesthetic, many are simply marketing what is known … what is safe. I have met a number of Contemporary Impressionists who do not seem to be even slightly familiar with their 19th century founders let alone works from other periods. Their inability to identify a specific French Impressionist or the artist’s work at first astounds me before it disgusts me.

Again, like most, I love beautiful things and I love art. Ironically, this puts me at odds with Contemporary Impressionists. As much as I may believe these painters love art and may even admire Monet, their participation in Impressionist painting workshops, copying the French artists while claiming ownership to a moment of inspiration, and refusing to take risks is a mockery not only of Impressionism, but of art. Their branding of Impressionism along with calendars, mouse pads, and refrigerator magnets cloud the real beauty of Impressionism as a movement. But most important, such marketing renders too many of us an inability to recognize beauty throughout art’s history.

Sign up for our email newsletters!

Become a Member

Bạn đang xem: I Think You May Have the Wrong Impression

The Latest

The Calligraphic Character of Holbein’s Portraits

An exhibition at the Getty unleashes the dynamic character of Holbein’s portraits in ways I’ve never seen before.

Looking to the Future of Art Restitution

For many people and organizations,restitution is simply the beginning of a long fight for cultural heritage and the right to remember.

SVA’s Continuing Education Courses Begin January 24

The school offers over 230 online and on-campus courses in subjects like fine arts, design, animation, art & activism, writing, visual narrative, and more.

A Swiss Museum Will Relinquish Ownership of 29 Works From Gurlitt Trove

The vast collection, which includes pieces by Max Beckmann, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, was originally amassed by a German dealer in Nazi-looted art.

The NFT Handbook: How to Create, Sell and Buy Non-Fungible Tokens

Written by authors and digital entrepreneurs Matt Fortnow and QuHarrison Terry, this new book published by Wiley is a guide to creating, selling, and buying NFTs.

Required Reading

This week, a massive digital version of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” academics on Twitter, transgender and nonbinary methods of art history, the immorality of diet culture, and more.

Call for Applications: SVA MA Curatorial Practice

The New York-based, globally-linked program for professional curatorial training at the School of Visual Arts offers students opportunities both local and global.

A Barbara Kruger Retrospective Mixes Capitalism and its Critique

Kruger never seemed to mind that the very world she critiqued co-opted her style and spit it back into advertising.

How Venetian Glass Seduced American Artists a Century Ago

A lavishly illustrated, fascinating book explores the resurgence of Venetian glass and the ways it influenced American ideas about taste and beauty.


Claude Monet

Edgar Degas



Mary Cassatt

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Kathy Stockman

Kathy Stockman is an art historian, writer, and critic. She studied art history at the University of Kansas and went on to earn her graduate degree at the University of Chicago where she specialized in…

More by Kathy Stockman

Chuyên mục: Góc truyện

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
kệ sắt v lỗ code learn xem truyen xem truyen