The Impresssionists at First Hand
was published in 1987. It is copyright, © Thames and Hudson. I had seen a reference to the book somewhere on line. When I went looking I found Abebooks
. A second hand, paperback book with unbroken spine at $2US; the entire bill, including shipping from London was around $8.
I'm going to give you two paragraphs, the first and last of the introduction. Then I'll go rambling off on my own based on those ideas.
"One of the problems about history is that it involves the imposition of the past of the ideas of the present. Apparent in every branch of the subject, this tyranny of hindsight is especially evident where art is concerned. To coax into some comprehensible pattern the constantly changing manifestations of painting and sculpture, the mutability of taste, brutal categories have to be forced on recalcitrant phenomena. People, whether artists, critics, or mere spectators have to be denuded of their real personalities with all their various interests, their contradictions of character, their inconsistencies, and their awareness of the recurrent problem of matching action with intent, to be transformed into lay-figures, playing the role assigned to them in the art historian's drama.
"This book is not meant to be a continuous narrative; it is not a history of Impressionism. Rather it is an attempt to re-create the actuality of the lives and attitudes of a group of artists who by being categorized under a stylistic label have lost someting of their human dimension."
Now, these two paragraphs are © Thames and Hudson, 1987. They are published under the fair use for educational purposes doctrine of the copyright law.
So, what do these two paragraphs and this book have to do with artists, today, who happen to work with textiles? One of the ideas - just a one liner in the introduction about la ville lumiere
, as Paris was called in the nineteenth century, put the physical geography of my upbringing, my life, and my travels into sharp focus.
I was raised in the nineteenth century agrarian tradition. One saw fields and animals, thickets and open woods. To take the Broadway Limited into Grand Central Station in New York City was the first glimpse of the broad boulevards and the population density of the cities that had grown out of the industrial age. What I experienced after World War II harkened back nearly one hundred years.
The Impressionists were experiencing this first hand long before I rode the train. Much of the work they did was in response to this massive upheaval in society. Life had not only changed, it looked different.
As you begin to read the reviews of the time, for instance: Renoir's Youth
taken from La Vie Modern,
19 June, 1879, you begin to get glimpses not only of a painting or an artist but of a time, a place, a small grouping within society. It becomes a relationship with the fullness of life rather than looking at one painting in a row.
As an artist, what does this mean? I think, for me, it means not to concern myself with theories and schools of thought. No doubt someone in another time will pass judgment. If I am fortunate, get plenty of work done, get an exhibition, I may find myself facing a scathing review of work I know full well is good.
It is rather comforting to read of the agonies of gallery representation, the petty politics of exhibiting, the cost of living, the thoughts and ideas of one artist for the work of a colleague.
In another way it defines a time and place and situation that is past. It is unlikely that any one of us will find ourselves in close quarters with dozens of our colleagues. The world has changed that much.
I think one of the most valuable assest for learning in this particular book is the critique of one known artist about the works of another. It gives a framework for examining work and thinking about what qualities make it good. It examines theme, method, medium, and how all those things are inexplicably intertwined with life.