The sociologist Robert Nisbet(1913-1996) in his Social Change and History(1969) argues that change and revolution have been the norm in western civilization since the Greeks in the 5th century BC. I first read this book in 1974 when I was a tutor in education studies at what is now the university of Tasmania. For a useful summary of Nisbet’s views go to:

Impressionism is, or rather was, a revolutionary 19th-century art movement within this 2500 year period of revolutions. It originated with a group of Paris-based artists. Their independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s, in spite of harsh opposition from the conventional art community in France. Impressionism came to my attention yet again yesterday. I first became aware of this movement in art when I was in my late 20s in 1974. At the time I was teaching the sociology of art at a technical college in Launceston Tasmania.

Yesterday afternoon, on Australia’s vernal equinox, while my wife and step-daughter were out for a walk with my son and his wife and daughter, I left my study somewhat tired by late-afternoon. I had a few crackers, a new type of dip and a drink of apple-juice, then turned on the TV. The British art critic Waldemar Januszczak was presenting the first in a series of four BBC programs on The Impressionists.(1) -Ron Price with thanks to (1) The Impressionists: Painting and Revolution, SBSHD TV, 3:20 to 4:30 p.m., 22 September 2012. This 4 part series was first shown in the summer of 2011 in the U.K.

Seemingly, of a sudden, art took on
an accurate depiction of light in its
changing qualities…as well as just
common, ordinary subject matter,1
inclusion of movement as a crucial
element of human perception and
experience….The development of
Impressionism in the visual arts was
soon followed by analogous styles in
other media such as music & literature.

It was also a precursor of various painting
styles: Neo-Impressionism, Fauvism, and
Cubism, Post-Impressionism, as well as a
part of an internal dynamism before WWI
that was accumulating and which sought a
violent release.2 During the century that saw
the births and deaths of these impressionists
two god-men came and went…A foundation
was laid for the nucleus & pattern of a new
world order, an order whose architecture has
been slowly taking form in & after that WWI
which initiated changes far more profound than
any in humanity’s preceding recorded history.3

1 After the French Emperor Napoleon III saw the rejected works by the Académie des Beaux-Arts which dominated French art in 1863, he decreed that the public be allowed to judge the work themselves. So it was that the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) was organized. Photography inspired Impressionists to represent momentary action, not only in the fleeting lights of a landscape, but in the day-to-day lives of people. The development of Impressionism can be considered partly as a reaction by artists to the challenge presented by photography which seemed to devalue the artist's skill in reproducing reality. The Impressionists were the first to consciously offer a subjective alternative to the photograph.

2 These are the words of Stefan Sweig(1881-1942), an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer who believed that WW1 had nothing to do with ideas or even frontiers. At the height of his literary career, in the 1920s and 1930s, he was one of the most famous writers in the world. His words, these words, are quoted by American historian and author Barbara Tuckman(1912-1989) in The Proud Tower: A Portait of the World before the war: 1890-1914, Papermac, 1980(1966), p.xv.

3 The phrase "New World Order" in the Bahá'í Faith refers to a system of teachings, enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh(1817-1892), the founder of the religion. This Order Bahá'ís believe embodies God's divinely appointed scheme for the unification of mankind in this age. Among the beliefs it includes is the eventual establishment of a world commonwealth based on principles of equity and justice, a commonwealth as vital spiritually as it would be materially.

Ron Price
23 September 2012