Impressionists and Trappists: From Avant-Garde to Cliche

Been watching, reading, and listening lately. Enjoying TV shows, books and music. Been thinking, too.

A few months back started off watching this great BBC Two TV series, “The Impressionists: Painting and Revolution” on BBC Two hosted by Waldemar Januszczak. Yes, those guys (and as Waldemar points out, some ladies too). Two things from the show really stuck with me. One, how the technology of painting, colors and railroads all came together at the right time to make this breakthrough in art possible. And two, how the movement began as this revolutionary (almost heretical) thing, slowly gained mainstream acceptance and then became this sort of hackneyed, over-commercialized cliche. How does this happen?

Rocky 3

Waldemar tracks the first two developments and hints at the third. At the start, there’s a great scene where he tracks down all sort of t-shirts, posters, ties, puzzles–all done in the Impressionist style. Then, he goes way, way back to before the movement began to show how no one was even interested in doing this new, bizarre style of painting. Especially, the Academy. Oh! The Academy. They weren’t friends of the Impressionists and didn’t even consider them real painters. Even wouldn’t let them exhibit their stuff. So, the Impressionists got together and organized their own show. Their friends and the public ate it up. And they were on their way.

This progression is something you can see often in art. You could extrapolate it to all sorts of trends in art, music, literature, etc., etc., Rock and roll music comes to mind. Or modernist literature. But nowadays with culture it’s so easy to transmit ideas globally, and the time frames have compressed: what took decades now only takes years. (Maybe in the future it’ll take months, weeks, days?). I would argue you can see this trend happening right now in music.

Take this thing called trap music. As I said earlier, I started noticing in my road trips through the moonlight swamps and the moss-drapped higways of the South a different sound on local radio. I started tuning in to this new music and realized some of what I liked was called “trap music.” So, I started to look for it here and there. Admittedly, I was pretty late to that party. And I didn’t like all of it (or even most of it), but I did find some stuff I did like. And sure enough, I started hearing all those things the Impressionists dealt with: trap isn’t real music, it’s mumble rap, etc.

But now, I’m hearing different things. About how this new style music has revitalized the genre of hip-hop or how it’s just everywhere now. Well, you know the third wave can’t be too far: over-commercialization and cliche. (Perhaps, we’ve already reached it?) And that all happened it just a few years, not decades.

So how does this relate to literature? I don’t know exactly…Oh! Wait! Let me try: Because you can see the same things in literature. Whether it’s the romanticism of the early 19th century…or realism of the mid-19th century…or modernism of the early 20th century…or the Latin American Boom of the mid-20th century. Literature goes through these same cycles. But the question is: Where do you want to be? I guess some would like to be at the commercial end to reap the rewards (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). But there’s something much more special about being one of the innovators. Isn’t there?

So, if you want to be one of those innovators what to do? Well, here’s some advice. Take it or leave it. If you want to be in on the start of something, you should follow your own inner voice (if you wax poetic, “your Muse”), your instincts, your gut. Don’t listen to the detractors or haters or those who don’t think it’s real writing. Or worthy. Or behind the times. Or too ahead of the times. Start getting your own stuff down. And then find allies. People who believe in what you’re doing and believe in you. And ask to see there stuff. Share, learn and grow. Together.

Now, that won’t guarantee success, but it will guarantee you’re not chasing trends or trying to oblige some amorphous public out there. Instead, if you want to innovate, to change things, look to yourself first. Create according to your dictates, no one else’s. That’s the only way good trends ever get started.

Anyway, something to think about. And go watch that Impressionist documentary. Travel to nearby museum and see some Impressionist art and listen to some trap music. Who knows? You might find something new you like.

Until next time,

Darius

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