Saturday, January 5, 2013

Realism and impressionism

Bread and water. 12"x12". Oil on canvas panel. December 2011
I want to continue the discussion of "realism" with a look at the distinction between "realism" and "impressionism", using this work, newly listed on Daily Paint Works today, as an illustration. I will probably return to this issue later though, with more historically, and art-historically, appropriate illustrations, when I am back from my week-long trip to Chicago and New York. 

It seems to me that "realism", as a word, has an intrinsically positive ring to it: in the semantic networks in our minds, it links itself to reality, truth, honesty; even depth. It doesn't necessarily mean that these positive connotations are fully inherited by the art-historical term, not for everyone and not as it is commonly used now; but they are still there, in the word itself. "Impressionism", on the other hand, was originally coined as a strongly negative term, implying more superficiality, lack of thought and depth, rather than truthfulness of immediate and genuine visual impressions suggested by Claude Monet's use of the word. As it so often happens, it has acquired its positive ring over decades of sustained success with public; but this didn't save the original content and pitch of impressionistic enterprise, which has been reduced to a limited range of technical effects (like split color)  and, occasionally, even to some sort of colorful prettifying of reality, or to an acceptable excuse for the lack of draughtsmanship.     

But it isn't what it was all about, was it? The original impressionist breakthrough in color was inseparable from their drive to paint what was really there, what they saw around them; the real life, not its barren reduction to classical academic ideals. Just as the real people aren't ever Apollos and Aphrodites, the real towns aren't holiday postcards, and real still life "set-ups" aren't filled with silver goblets -- so skies aren't ever pure blue, nor grass ever pure green, nor flesh tones warm and even.       

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