In the mid 1800’s, a group of painters used to gather every evening at a café in the neighborhood of Batignolles, France; their ring leader was Edouard Manet. He was an engaging young man in his early thirties. He was passionate about his work and very strong willed. This little group was in the process of inventing modern art with the movement known as impressionism. This group supported one another through very difficult times as their style of art was shunned by the established art forums of the day. Today, their paintings hang in every major art gallery in the world.
If your art work didn’t hang in the “Salon”, you had virtually no chance of getting recognized. This recognition would make or break the painter; some of whom after rejection would commit suicide as they didn’t think they could make an offering to the world. Such was the power of the Salon.
Even though the Salon was the most important art show in the world; to gain entry or acceptance the impressionists would have to conform their style to the generally accepted art of the day. Was it worth it to depart from what they esteemed to be their inspired vision—-their personal view of how they might make their mark? As told in the recent book from Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath, “Did they want to become a Little Fish in the Big Pond of the Salon or a Big Fish in the Little Pond of their own choosing?”
This little group of artists decided to open their own exhibition. In the spring of 1874, the artists set up their displays where all visitors could enjoy their work at eye level (Not hung two stories up where no one could see it as was the case at the Salon). While scorned by some of the traditionalists, the artists found a home for their work—a place they felt welcome. Their challenge was to ‘advance without worrying about opinion’. Soon, the world began to sit up and take notice. Thirty-five hundred people attended the show.
As an art collector with an untrained eye, I was really taken aback by this true story. I buy art that I love—art that moves me–, regardless of its “style”, and hang it on the walls of our home. (Sometimes my family agrees with my taste). Regardless, the idea of launching out to make our mark in the world and decide we don’t have to fit into the status quo or follow a journey not of our own making is exhilarating to me.
The Big Fish in a Little Pond formula might not fit in a world that has already made its own rules about what is acceptable or not. This formula will however allow one to dream without prejudice and from such awakenings are wonderful life paintings made. We see it all around us; and yet, we often pull back our dreams and put them in a box because they don’t “match up” with the world of what is accepted at the time.
I’m not saying we don’t often need to conform, or that we ought to abandon the best principles or foundational thoughts that guide moral and upright behavior. What I am saying is, THINK BIG, DREAM BIG, and don’t let anyone trample on your inspired vision of who you are or how you will make your mark!
The few painters, who found a way to put their art to flight, were indeed impressionists. In our own way, we can be the same.