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What is Impressionism???

Many people are convinced that "Impressionism" has something to do with soft short vague brush-strokes of light, fluffy pink, blue and purple pastel blobs of paint suggesting "momentary impressions" of persons, places or things -- which translates in art language as portraits, landscapes or still-lifes.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Impressionists didn't name themselves. Some sarcastic newspaper reporter who couldn't paint his way out of a paper bag scornfully dubbed them "Impressionists" and the name stuck.

What were the "Impressionists" really after? What were they trying to accomplish?

The "Impressionists" were all after totally different things. They were each trying to accomplish unique things -- they had very little in common with each other except notorious hangouts, and the abuse of certain destructive substances such as absinthe, Armagnac and Calvados, engaging in general left-bank debauchery, and poverty, often sharing food, drink, tobacco and meagre living and studio space, romanticized today as the "Paris Garret Atelier", with the obligatory gigantic wall-sized window and the view of Paris rooftops.

These were walk-up coldwater flats with no heat, no electric, no water, no bathrooms and no upkeep. Romantic? Sure, if war is romantic, so is poverty.

If there was one thing in particular that was common to all "Impressionists" it was a new way of handling light and dark and showing the flow of light particles/wavicles/waves in the form of "atmospheric effects".

However, not all "Impressionists" agreed on any single issue of art history, painting skills, paint formulations, canvas preparations and sizes, subject matter or anything else that came up in conversation -- after all, they were mostly French.

Every "Impressionist" had his or her own style and approach to painting, drawing, sculpture, music, theater, dance, cuisine, furnishings, lifestyle and working studio function and design.

Some "Impressionists" started out very very rich. Some were hired by the French government to paint murals, much like what happened during the previous Great Depression when artists were hired by the WPA to produce works of art so that the United States would not lose an entire generation of artists and art teachers.

Most of the French Impressionists you've ever heard of were quite rich before they decided to paint.

Other "Impressionists" were very poor; most of them you never heard of, and probably never will. They were good artists, some of them far better than the artists who achieved popularity, but they never had the breaks that artists like Picasso had from the beginning -- his roommate/companion had both money and connections from the very day they arrived in Paris, and Picasso soon found himself very well placed.

Monet was hired by the French government and paid the highest wage ever earned by a professional artist in the hire of any government.

Some so-called "Impressionists" never even thought of themselves as belonging to the "Impressionist" School, just as many "Surrealists", "Da-Da-ists" and "Abstract Expressionists" would be surprised to find themselves counted among the company they were supposed to keep.

Most of them, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin and van Gogh -- none of whom would regard themselves as "Impressionists" -- only ran into each other at the cafes, bistros and tea-rooms around Montmartre, at that time, the cheap part of Paris.

Some artists painted together and a few wealthier artists held "salon" in their studios where poverty-struck artists could gather for heat, food, rest, paint, canvas, and conversation.

Picasso never thought of himself as a "Cubist". He was tagged with the epithet by those who never knew that it was Picasso's friend Braque who invented "Cubism".

Similarly, August Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Mary Cassatt, Aristede Maillol, August Rodin, Sisely and many other so-called "Impressionists" would be shocked and amused to find themselves listed among artists with whom they had nothing whatever in common during their creative careers.

Impressionism actually doesn't exist as an artform, but because it has achieved popular reality, it doesn't really matter. Artists now produce the concensus version of "Impressionist" paintings, which are obedient to the concept of soft, sloppily dabbed pastel globs of paint in alternate light and dark patterns across a canvas dominated by pinks and purples, blues and greens.

The original French Impressionists were "Refusists", those who had been kicked out of or refused admission into the Official French Academy, which decided who was "in" and who was "out" in art.

The "Refusists" had an attitude and expressed it by telling the Official French Art World exactly where it could go -- they opened up their own exhibition hall and were so successful that the art critics and academicians had to admit that they were wrong.

Most of the sciences are like that. It takes a long time to introduce a new idea. Scientists are among the most conservative of all beings ever produced by nature, and art critics are certainly ranked above them in conservatism.

"Impressionism" eventually spawned "Post-Impressionism" which had absolutely nothing whatever to do with "Impressionism" other than it came after "Impressionism", just as "Metaphysics" merely refers to the otherwise unnamed Aristotelian lecture which came after (meta) the lecture on "Physics".

"Impressionism" became very popular after the death of all the actual Impressionists, and migrated to America quite early on -- sometime during the mid-Victorian Era, between 1888 and 1910.

"Woodstock Impressionism" grew out of the need of Depression-Era artists living outside "The City" -- meaning New York -- many of whom were enrolled in the WPA, to eke out a living painting popular conceptual works dubbed "Impressionism" which were sold during the 1930's, 40's and 50's in various venues, mostly department stores, at prices ranging from $1 to about $10, which would work out to about $50-$350 in today's super-inflated economy.

Tiny 4" x 6" and slightly larger 8" x 10" paintings on cheap "student board" or "canvasboard" -- canvas stretched on and glued to heavy cardboard -- by Woodstock artists such as Doris Lee, Paul Wesley Arndt, H. Harvey, Elizabeth Street, Louis Safier and others, were loaded from the corner of a tiny breakfast cafe into a "woodie" station wagon on Sunday morning, and driven down to New York City's Fifth Avenue Gallery, where they were sold to the gallery, which then inexpensively framed and distributed the Woodstock Workshop paintings to various retail outlets, in much the same way the "Ashcan School" of New York found its way into the homes of some astute American collectors of the 1930's and 40's.

Woodstock was originally an art colony founded during the late 1800's by a few well-known artists who found New York City not the ideal environment for landscape painters.

It later became a haven for postwar vacationers and achieved notoriety for the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, the "Summer of Love", featuring Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix, Grace Slick & the Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Arlo Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens, Joan Baez and many other legends of the pop and rock music world.

Currently, the art scene is very much alive and well in Woodstock, NY, and the Woodstock Art Association and other art colony common-ground meeting places and museums are established and flourishing.

Woodstock is a part of the Hudson Valley and many famous "Hudson River School" artists portrayed its beauty and magnificence in hundreds of well-known paintings, found in many art history volumes.