Impressionism is the term first used to describe visual art in the late 19th-century that emphasized the conveyance of an overall impression of a particular scene, usually outdoors, using primary colors and short brushstrokes to represent the appearance of reflected light. The desired result of impressionism was to capture the artist’s perception of the subject rather than the subject itself. Artists of this movement desired to portray images as though someone might see something if they just caught a glimpse of it.
Impressionist paintings contain very bright, bold colors, and tend to have very little detail. The founders of this movement were Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They were soon followed by such noteable artists as Camille Pissarro, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Frederic Bazille, Edouard Manet, and Mary Cassatt.
Although the Impressionist movement was begun by painters, musicians were quick to follow suit. Music composers began avoiding the traditional harmony of thirds, and used more discordant chords and diverse arrangements to convey personal impressions and moods. This allowed the musicians to suggest moods and places through vague rhythms and vibrant, shifting harmonies. This style of music was first introduced by Claude Debussy, whose compositions attempt to create visual images by suggesting light and color schemes through variations in pitch, tone, and rhythm. Many composers quickly followed in Debussy’s footsteps, most notably French composer Maurice Ravel, who was greatly influenced by American jazz and frequently borrowed ideas from the Far East, Greece, and Spain, in order to “paint” rich sounds into his music.
Writers and poets also embraced Impressionism, and began to use imagism and symbolism to convey their impressions, rather than the objective characteristics of certain events and objects. The impressionist style of fiction writing often centers around the mental life of the characters by observing his impressions or sensations instead of interpreting experience. Impressionistic poetry often implies a response to an event or subject rather than describing the actual feelings evoked. This allows the reader to form his or her own ideas as to what the writer is trying to convey, as opposed to the writer telling outright how they see and feel about a subject.
Impressionism paved the way for a broader, more expansive way of looking at art in general. Artists were encouraged to express their own visions in their work, and were free to experiment with traditional forms in order to create their own unique work. As a result, both artists and their audiences have evolved over the years, becoming as eclectic and innovative as the world around them.