Column: Lessons from the Impressionists


(Submitted photo)

Commentary by Alicia Woodward

On a dreary winter day, when the temperature barely reached double-digits and the crystal blanket of snow had lost a bit of its magic, I found myself at the Indianapolis Art Museum at Newfields. I basked in the warmth of Impressionist paintings bursting with bright colors and titles including “Early Morning Sunshine” and “A Summer Day.” How I wished I could hang one in my home until spring, but I settled for some gift shop postcards and a few life lessons from the Impressionists.

• Be open to new ideas. The Impressionists, who preferred to be called Independents, faced harsh opposition and stinging criticism from the established art community. They were considered radicals who broke every rule of the French Academy of Fine Arts. Rejected by the annual state-sponsored art show, the artists held their own show in 1874. As it turned out, they were on to something the art world would eventually embrace.   

• Appreciate ordinary moments. Most Impressionists were born into the middle class, so this was the world they painted. Their subjects portrayed candid glimpses of everyday people at work and play: a mother bathing a child, friends having lunch, a simple bowl of fruit, a walk in the garden. Their work is a reminder of the significance and beauty in mundane, fleeting moments.

• Color your world. “Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life,” said Vincent Van Gogh. The Impressionists valued pure, brilliant and saturated pigments. They developed a method of painting that celebrated light, movement and vibrant color. Especially in the bleak midwinter, color can brighten our days.

• Let nature inspire. The Impressionist movement began with a few Parisian artists who went to the countryside to capture the transient effects of sunlight. The idea of painting “en plein air” was a dramatic departure from painting in studios. “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration,” said Claude Monet.

• Loosen up a little. Impressionism was spontaneous and informal in style and subject. The artists broke away from serious historic, mythological and biblical themes. Instead, they freely painted contemporary subjects with visible, colorful brush strokes that weren’t carefully blended or shaded. The result was a joyful impression of real life.

• Make it pretty. Perhaps what draws me most to Impressionism is an underlying philosophy that can be applied to life in general. Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.”

Alicia Woodward lives in Carmel and is co-author of “Lessons in Loveliness” and a lifestyle blog at, Facebook and Instagram. Email her at

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