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When I first introduce Impressionism to adults as well as students, I
usually start with 19th century Academic Art first. Academic art was THE
art at the time Impressionism came on the scene. I project a slide of an
academic work - I have been using one by Gerome or Bougerau(?). The group
looks at the slide and hopefully notices the smooth finish, the impeccable
technique, the command of all the art elements and principles, but the lack
of genuine feeling or emotion. Actually 19th century Academic art works
look like giant color photographs due to their highly finished condition.
We also touch on the fact that there was no way to show one's art unless it
was accepted in the academically-juried Salon - thus, the art was
perpetuated by the Salon and the public was conditioned to prefer this kind
of art and even to define art by academic standards.
Then I project an Impressionist work, one that looks really unfinished and
rough in texture. By comparing and contrasting the academic work and the
Impressionist one, students can see the big difference. Impressionism, to
an academic artist, looked like a sketch, completed outside and not
reworked to a new canvas with the requisite amount of finish. Also, if you
choose an academic work of art that has an historical or narrative subject,
the Impressionist one will look very contemporary in subject. Impressionist
artists insisted on taking their cues from the contemporary world, and in
this case they were a vangard group for Modernism.
Hopefully the above gives you a few ideas - good luck and enjoy your unit
California Consortium for Visual Arts Education