Some time in nineteenth-century France, it is nothing short of brilliant how a bunch of talented painters changed the entire exhibition and art space!
In those times, there was a big art fair, a grand institution really, and it was called the Salon. Well, you can liken it to Harvard University with its strict criteria and on who makes the grade. It had the reputation and prestige and almost every artist wanted to be showcased there.
This presented a bit of a problem for a group we’ve come to know as The Impressionists today. The Salon rejected far more than it accepted; if your work was hung there, it increased the worth of your work significantly and offered a bit of validation, too.
And for the rest of the other artists, they had to deal with the opinion that they weren’t good enough according to standards set by the Salon.
The fair dictated that art works be impeccable. That meant there needn’t be any visible brush strokes, and to pander to the decision makers, the artists had to produce politically correct paintings. “The kinds of paintings that won medals were huge, meticulously painted canvasses showing scenes from French history or mythology, with horses and armies or beautiful women, with titles like Soldier’s Departure, Young Woman Weeping over a Letter, and Abandoned Innocence,” Malcolm Gladwell quotes art historian, Sue Roe.
“The Impressionists had an entirely different idea about what constituted art,” Gladwell proceeds in his book, David & Goliath. Underdogs, Misfits and The Art of Battling Giants. “They painted everyday life. Their brushstrokes were visible. Their figures were indistinct. To the Salon jury and the crowds thronging the Palais, their work looked amateurish, even shocking.”
Anyway, the Salon was an issue for The Impressionists because along with many other artists, their art works were frequently rejected. This had so much strain that a certain creator committed suicide — deeming himself a failure. “The members of the jury have rejected me. Therefore I have no talent. I must die,” Jules Holtzappfel wrote in a note he left, after he shot himself in the head in 1866.
Édouard Manet; Edgar Degas; Paul Cézanne; Claude Monet; Pierre Auguste-Renoir and Camille Pissaro; the gang decided to stage their independent show. They figured that was a way better option than being a small fish in a big pond; they had set out to become big fish in a pond of their own choosing.
And in the year of 1874, April 5, they held their own exhibition that lasted a month. Of course, they faced harsh criticism — they were veering off the worn out and accepted artistic path.
Today, their work hangs in the finest galleries the world over and costs millions to acquire.
Whatever the traditional art world thought about them, they continued to painstakingly carve their niche.
All the more important, in order to succeed, their biggest challenge was to advance without worrying about opinion.
In your own work, try to do the same. Try to care only about your advancement.