The general perception of what was art had changed often and radically in the hundred years before mid twentieth century. Great shifts in the Western art world had led from classical painting to impressionism, post-impressionism, expressionism, cubism, dada and abstract expressionism. Impressionism is the name for the style of a group of nineteenth-century French artists who included, among others, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and Edouard Manet.
The word comes from the title of one of Monet’s paintings – Impression: soileil levant (Impression : rising sun). The emergence of Impressionism in the 1860’s indeed marked the transition between classical art and modern art. Constituting a nexus between the old and the new, Impressionism is paradoxical; it represents the culmination and end-point of illusionistic painting, which since the beginning of the age of perspective in Renaissance Florence had dominated European art and habits of perception; at the same time, it represents the root of modernity in art.
It had already begun to reflect the vagaries of human perception and its relativity to time of day and changes of place; it provided the materials for an anti-illusionistic art, the technical, formal, and to some extent, theoretical underpinnings for advances to come in various modern art movements. The aim of impressionist painters was to capture the visual impression made by an object on the human eye. More than anything else, they were interested in the changing nature of light and the way it affected vision.
Unlike previous artists who chose subjects from history or mythology, Impressionists mostly painted the everyday world around them. They were, in fact, the first artists to consistently work outdoors (Cheney 140). The invention of photography was a major influence on the development of impressionism. Like photographers, the impressionists were interested in optics, light, and color; and they were concerned with capturing the world exactly as it appeared to the eye. “Manet, like his contemporaries, was interested in the idea that our knowledge of the world is rooted in physical sensations” (Locke 4).
The Impressionists considered mere sensation, the initial, original state of visual perception, as worthy of preservation in the completed painting. The focus was on real world experience. Realism of conception was born with Manet, who was in fact a Realist and a forerunner to Impressionism, rather than being an Impressionist himself, although he is commonly regarded as a pioneering Impressionist. Such realism was further developed by the Impressionists and the post-Impressionist Cezanne, and achieved wide acceptance among latter-day painters. Impressionism makes no attempt to plumb the meaning of existence.
It reflects the colorful surface of life, strives to record the beauty of surface appearances as seen in changing lights and seeks to capture the charm of the moment. It is very much of this world, secular, rather than transcendental. At the same time, it is very subjective. While it still bore deep traces of the rationalism and realism of classical art, Impressionism strove to make a significant break with the so-called ‘ocularcentrism’ of works of art in the classical tradition that were constructed and viewed in a more detached and objective manner.
For example, the coordinates of perspective were undermined in favor of atmospherics. Monet, especially, was interested in depicting subtle changes in the atmosphere, both internal and external (Khan, Conte). Subjectivity of perception began to play a more and more important role in the artists’ rendition of the outside world. Monet’s Waterlilies at Giverny On the contrary, objectivity was at the core of classical art. The classical view regarded art as a lifelike copy of reality. In the early Classical period of Greece, Polygnotus from Thasos was regarded as the “inventor of painting.
” He completed huge murals depicting the lives of the Greek heroes. During the later 5th century BC, Apollodorus of Athens developed the use of shadows and perspective. The classical Greeks made art using illusionistic realism. They used perspective, although it was not as systematic as that of the Renaissance. Greek art was concerned with imitating reality and capturing the actual appearance of a thing or person, which was achieved in painting with illusionistic techniques like perspective, highlights, and shadows. Imitation and the creation of optical illusion were the centerpieces of the classical theory of art.
Pliny the Elder related that the great Greek painter Parrhasios painted such a realistic curtain that his rival Zeuxix asked him to life it. Paintings were merely illusionistic windows into the three-dimensional world. The natural world was illustrated from a man’s point of view. Man was the center and the measure. Many Roman painters too, as in Pompei in first century A. D, for example, did not strive for the representation of objects as we know them to be; instead, they wanted to convey in their pictures the illusion of their present at the sites and scenes they depicted.
Late antique art is often regarded to be an art in decline which showed the inability of the artists and artisans of the early Christian centuries to live up to the great models of classical beauty. Late Roman buildings and images are thought to show the marks of barbarization. There was a return to realism of recognition that prevailed in Ancient Greece, as opposed to illusionistic realism of Classical Greece. A three-dimensional representation of a figure, therefore, scarcely exists in medieval art.