The Radical Turn Of Impressionism English Literature Essay

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Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you." Claude Monet made this suggestion to the artists of his time in respect to a newly sparked movement that would affect artist, authors, and musicians for years to come. The Impressionist art movement originated in France during the last quarter of the 19th century as a reaction against traditional art and its strict rules. Impressionist literature attempts to move from the ties of Realist literature and introduce concepts such as the use of language to illustrate the complex and subjective impressions based on understanding. In music, the style is not designed to describe something in particular, rather to create a mood or atmosphere.

            In 185, Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Napoleon III, had himself proclaimed ruler of the Second Empire. For political as well as esthetic reasons, he decided to modernize Paris. He wanted Paris to be the center of European culture, adapting industrial developments to improve the lifestyle of the general population. New housing would abolish slums, and wide boulevards would replace the old, narrow, medieval streets. Modern structures, such as drainage and sewer systems, clean water supplies, bridges, lamp lighting along the streets, outdoor fountains, and public parks would engage the citizens of Paris in renewed public pride. Napoleon believed that these restorations would discourage revolutionary activity and prevent uprisings, like those of Europe. With this in mind, a sense of radical change sparked the turn of the century as well as influences across the globe.

            In the previous hundred years, Paris had been center stage for political and social movements that had affected all of Europe. French society was being permanently altered by new ideas. Tradition was no longer the only standard for morals. Reason and utility formed a new basis for designing the affairs of government, and individual were asserting personal rights against powers of the state. Impressionists were surrounded by chaos, such as the Revolution of 1848 and the Commune of 1873. This momentum made it even easier on the Impressionists to break traditional styles.

            In an atmosphere of changes as the emperor rebuilt Paris and waged war, the Academie dominated the French art scene. Art at the time was considered a conservative project whose innovations fell within in the dictator borders. The Academie, therefore, set the standards for French painting, which included the techniques artists used. They valued conservative colors and refined images to reflect reality when closely examined.

            On of the cherished followers was Claude Monet. Monet's work, more than any other nineteenth century artist embodied the technical principles impressionism. He was "above all a painter of landscape who studied light and color with great intensity" (Adams, 824). In contrast the tradition of art, Monet did much of his paintings outdoors, in the presence on natural landscape, rather than in a studio to capture the precise moment. As a result, he and his fellow painters were often called the "open air" painters.

            Impressionist artists were not only affected by dictators, and current episodes, but also by new inventions. In the late 1800s, photography became widely used and famous for capturing a certain moment in time. When impressionism began, there was interest among artists in ordinary subject matter. Photography, a new method of capturing images, also became available. Photography was gaining popularity and cameras became more portable. As photographs became more candid, it inspired impressionist to capture the moment, not only in the brief lights of landscape, but in the day to day lives of people. Photography helped introduce impressionists to odd snapshot angles, and original compositions.

            "The key to seeing the world's souls, and in the process of wakening one's own is to get of the confusion by which we think that fact is real and imagination an illusion. It is the other way around" (Patterson). Freeman Patterson makes this assertion though her belief of objective reality. The photographer examines a scene, situation or object and strives to capture the moment exactly as it is perceived, so that a viewer can feel the splite second as if they were trult there. This is exactly what all types of art forms of impressionism make every effort to accomplish.

Another influence the people of France was the uprisings of Japanese art. Despite Europe and America's extensive colonization during the nineteenth century, Japan avoided Western intrusion until Matthew Perry and American naval forces demanded trading and political privileges from Japan. From the increased amount of contact, civilization became familiar with Japanese culture. Japonisme as introduced to describe Japanese beauty. Demand for the nontraditional Parisian ways contributed to the rebellious art form. They cherished any structure that was new, fresh and eccentric and Japonisme provided that for the Impressionists.

During the time period, there was only one way for artists to become successful and that was to have their paintings seen in a salon. The Salon approved conservative paintings that illustrated and taught moral lessons using historical, religious, or mythological subjects. When the Impressionists submitted paintings to the Salon, their work was usually rejected because its nontraditional forms. The Salon Jury encouraged, exhibited, and rewarded more conservative and familiar to the time period. To them, the word of Impressionists, with its loose brushwork and daring color, seemed shocking, unfinished insulting, and not suitable for the Salon. In 1874, a group of artists got together and created their own exhibitions as an alternative to the Salon. Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renior, and Alfred Sisley were all a part of this group. The exhibit itself was not a success, but it the first step to an independent group show of Impressionist art.

To of Monet's most famous paintings were the Terrace at Sainte-Adresse and Waterlily Pond. Both of the paintings directly observe nature, and both are the result of his habit of paintings outdoors with nature itself as his model. The Impressionist technique of broken color breaks up color into light and dark and creates the illusion that the water is moving even in late Impressionism there is never a complete absence of recognizable content, the comparison of these two pictures "indicates progressive disillusionment of painted edges [and] unprecedented dominance" (Adams, 825). As a result, instead of accepting a canvas as a convincing representation of reality, the viewer is forced to take into account the technique and medium in experiencing the picture. Moet not only recommended but also used color, form, and light as an object. This is something no artist from past times attempted to created in their mind.

With Impressionism, came a new way of selling art. Instead of a large government sponsored shows that the displayed thousands of paintings in a cavernous space, private art dealers spent their own money and brought paintings from the artists directly. As the people worked together and encouraged their own way of advertisement something new and apparent emerged. The Impressionists were very diverse. Their backgrounds, beliefs and even painting styles varied greatly from one to the other, but what they shared at the beginning of the movement was a desire to create a fresh way of looking at things and a new kind of painting that reflected a modern way of life.

The common theme of rebellion, revolt, and revolution can be seen in impressionistic art form. Not only did the impressionist movement affect the paintings, but also in the literary arts. New ideology is a submissive force behind the radical impressionist movement. Some authors may have even been said to be ahead of their time and not respected for their talent until years after their book's publication. The term is also used to describe literature characterized by the by the selection of few details to convey the sense of impressions left by a scene or an incident. The impressionistic writer's style was named for "its great precision in the use of language to illustrate the transitory, vague, complex, and subjective impressions based on experiences" (Talwar). When looking at writers such as Joseph Conrad and Kate Chopin the characteristics become evident.

Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness is said to mark the beginning of Modernism-- the overall branch in which impressionism is categorized. Modernist literature attempts from the ties of Realist literature and introduces the concepts such as disjointed times and ambiguous endings. In Joseph Conrand's novel, Heart of Darkness characteristics of this movement are present as he sails the reader throgh hypocrisy of imperialism and irrationality of evil. Although the novel has hints of Romanticism, such as heroism and its preference for the symbolic over the realistic, Heart of Darkness is marked as the transition from and birth of Modernism.

Conrads narrator, Marlow narrates his story describing what he observedand experienced from his point of view as he repents for all white men's sins during the atrocities of imperialism. Impressionism stresses on the importance of experience of experience and the feeling of that instant from a certain point of view. The narrator is disgusted at the cruelty of the Company he navigates with and is astonished by what he witnesses. Marlow enlightens the reader through the technique of stream consciousness. He himself relieves his experiences as he describes "the dream sensation, the commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewildernment in a tremor of struggling revolt..." (Conrad, 29). A sense of reality comes over Marlow and the flow of experience is overwhelming.

Another modernist approach Conrad takes is the break of sequential, developmental, presentation of reality toward a presentation of a layered, discontinuous experience. Conrad commences the story with men cruising on a yawl. One of the men, Marlow, begins to tell a story within a novel. This use of frame emphasizes the mood on the novel and allows Marlow to reveal his findings about the true world he lives in. He often breaks into great description of an object, such as the map of Africa, and take a fracture in the story line. This break to go into the description of an object again captures the instant and attempts to freeze time to illustrate a seemingly insignificant entity, such as a globe.

Impressionists tend to use in order to capture the essence of human thought and the feeling of an instant is the technique of delayed decoding. Conrad also took advantage of the tool. At the beginning of the novel, Marlow sees only black shapes in the gloom and sits between the trees, but he does understand what they are doing there. Marlow does not describe the scene as if he understood what was happening, but he conveys his suggestion and impressions as soon as he receives them, through indefinite contours and images, create a sort of halo and haze around the scene. The author may not clearly state what this object of feeling precisely is, but the reader slowly perceives it. Delayed decoding creates a sense of curiousity, suspense, and causes the reader to ponder to the subject of new perspective.

Kate Chopin has also had a collection of novels that follow this contemporary movement. In 1899, she published one of her best literary works-- The Awakening. The novel is a story about a woman, Edna Pontellier, finding herself physchologically, morally, and sexually. In a critique by Russ Sprinkle, he claims that Kate Chopin "does not take into consideration the reader's guillibilty of her words or the negative effect it can have on youths" (Sprinkle). Chopin's approval of Edna's rebellious, unwholesome behavior reflects incidences, such as the character's suicide to signify her freedom rather than punishment.

In other words, Chopin's novel, along with Impressionistic ideology was ahead of its time by many years. It was not until the liberal and progressive social culture of the late 1960s that it works in its favor. However, Chopin was not admired for her work until it was published. It took many years of social revolution to break the traditional customs of typical "mother-woman" and come to the awakening of an admiring literary piece.

Impressionistic poets sought to portray the "effects and sensory impressions of life and its events, rather than the objective characters" (Staff). The movement was well-known for its use of prose, especially with what is called stream of consciousness writing. This method allows reader to hear the speaker's thoughts directly, rather than through dialogue or narration. In poetry, the characteristics of impressionis, were similar in that poets used simple language and sometimes the poems were dramatic narratives that allowed the reader to understand how the speaker viewed life and reality. Robert Frost could definitely be categorized under an impressionistic poet. In his poem, The Road Not Taken, the readers gets a first hand perspective of that persona's thoughts about important descisions in his life. The technique of stream of consciousness becomes apparent in the following lines:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth; (Frost)

Frost presents the reader with an important and difficult crossroads at which his persona stands. The roads are symbolic for the two choices with the what the speaker is forced upon. The Road Not Taken is an example of modernistic poetry and not the inner realities, like Realism, because of its view on life and reality of externalities.

When looking at the Impressionistic movement, the essence of renewal, rejuvenation, and rebirth is exhibited. It took many rebellious artists, authors, government officials, poets, and photographers to revolt against the norm into an era they called their own. The complete thematic idea of capturing the moment and breaking away from traditional perspective is the definition of impressionism. The emergence of impressionism not only affected the areas of art of art in these different forms, but also the way of thinking, ways of acting, and certainly ways of life. The brave souls that attacked the conventional Victorian Era set a turning point for the 20th century. As far as this movement goes, it is still living, breathing, colorful, free way of life.

Work Cited

Adams, Lauril S. Art Across Time. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2002. 805-829.

"Heart of Darkness- Narrative Technique." Provincia. 9 May 2010


Hordynsky, Sciatoslav. "Impressionism." Encyclopedia of Ukraine. 5 May 2010


"Impressionism." Encyclopedia Britannica. 12 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1954.

Kleiner, Fred S., Christian J. Mamiya, and Richard G. Tansey. Gardener's Art Through the Ages. 11th ed. Thomson Wadsworth, 2001. 905-915.

Patterson, Freeman. "Photo Impressionism." Freeman Patterson. 2006. 9 May 2010


Sprinkle, Russ. "Kate Chopin's the Awakening: a Critical Reception." 1998. Bowling Green U.

5 May 2010 <>.