Lessons from the Impressionists


Clockwise from top left: Mary Cassatt’s Young Mother Sewing, Vincent Van Gogh’s Oleanders, Claude Monet’s Poppy Field in Argenteuil, Pierre-August Renoir’s Banks of the Seine

On a dreary day, when the temperature barely reached double-digits and the crystal white blanket became dirty slush, I found myself at the Indianapolis Art Museum. I basked in the warmth of Impressionist paintings bursting with sunny colors. How I wished I could hang one in my home until spring, but I settled for some gift shop postcards and a few life lessons from the Impressionists.

  1. Appreciate ordinary moments. Most Impressionists were born into the bourgeoisie class, and this was the world they painted. Their subjects portrayed candid glimpses of everyday people at work and play ~  a mother bathing a child, friends having lunch, a simple bowl of fruit, a walk in the garden. Their work is a reminder to appreciate the significance and beauty in everyday life.
  2. Color your world. “Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life,” said Vincent Van Gogh. The Impressionists valued pure, brilliant, and saturated pigments. They developed a method of painting that celebrated light, movement, and vibrant color. Especially in the bleak midwinter, color can brighten our days.
  3. Let nature inspire. The Impressionist movement began with a few Parisian artists who went to the countryside to capture the transient effects of sunlight. The idea of painting en plein air was a dramatic departure from painting in studios. “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration,” said Claude Monet.
  4. Loosen up a little. Impressionism was spontaneous and informal in style and subject. The artists broke away from serious historic, mythological, and biblical themes. Instead, they freely painted contemporary subjects with visible, colorful brush strokes that weren’t carefully blended or shaded. The result was a joyful impression of real life.
  5. Be open new ideas. The Impressionists, who preferred to be called Independents, faced harsh opposition and stinging criticism from the established art community. They were considered radicals who broke every rule of the French Academy of Fine Arts. Rejected by the Salon de Paris, the annual state-sponsored art show, the artists held their own show in 1874. As it turned out, they were on to something the art world would eventually embrace.  
  6. Make it pretty. Perhaps what draws me most to Impressionism is an underlying philosophy that expresses what Lessons in Loveliness is all about. Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.”

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” ~ Camile Pissarro

Think On These Things ~ Alicia


A version of this post was written as a column for Current, a Hamilton County, Indiana newspaper @youarecurrent.com.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: