Painting the Ordinary

Painting the Ordinary

In the Art Institute of Chicago there is the largest collection of French Impressionist paintings outside France. I spend some time getting to know the Impressionists. Here is one you might remember: (Degas)


  The impressionists record the desire of the passing moment. Many of their pictures represent the subjective in the visual experience. They are a splendid collection of the ordinary -with nothing much going on.

However on closer examination more is revealed. What do you see in this picture? Look at the sadness in the woman’s face – what has happened? Is it the relationship with the man? What is her story? What is going to happen to her? Does the man or other people in the bar either know or care about her feelings?

We need sometimes to look beyond the surface to see what lies beneath and beyond the ordinary. Nurturing attentiveness yields wisdom.

Impressionism is an art movement that originated in Paris in the mid 1800’s and its main artists are Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, Sisley, Cezanne and Manet.  The characteristics of this school of painting include visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on light and its changing qualitiies. Impressionists captured saw the spendour in the ordinary and attempted to capture it.

Look at this picture:


In this colour and ‘impression’  Monet captures the momentary and transient effects of sunlight. Can you feel the intense colour?  There is extraordinary freedom within the work and ease.

Here is another – 


  At the time these paintings attracted great criticism. One art critic complained that this picture looked unfinished!

This particular collection is well presented in the gallery with plenty of space and clear explanations for amateurs like me!  And I was interested to learn that this movement influenced other movements especially European Classical music. So appropriate composers to listen to while being absorbed into this feast of colour would be Debussy, Satie, Ravel and possibly our own Vaughan Williams.

 They are beautifully captured and offer us the opportunity to look and see more and more and more within the ordinary moments of our lives. Happy seeing.

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