The impressionist painters expressly disavowed any interest in philosophy, yet their new approach to art had far-reaching philosophical implications. For the view of matter that the Impressionists assumed differed profoundly from the view that had previously prevailed among artists. This view helped to unify the artistic works created in the new style.
The ancient Greeks had conceived of the world in concrete terms, even endowing abstract qualities with bodies. This Greek view of matter persisted, so far as painting was concerned, into the nineteenth century. The Impressionists, on the other hand, viewed light, not matter, as the ultimate visual reality. The philosopher Taine expressed the Impressionist view of things when he said, “The chief ‘person’ in a picture is the light in which everything is bathed.”
In Impressionist painting, solid bodies became mere reflectors of light, and distinctions between one object and another became arbitrary conventions; for by light all things were welded together. The treatment of both color and outline was transformed as well. Color, formerly considered a property inherent in an object, was seen to be merely the result of vibrations of light on the object’s colorless surface. And outline, whose function had formerly been to indicate the limits of objects, now marked instead merely the boundary between units of pattern, which often merged into one another.
The Impressionist world was composed not of separate objects but of many surfaces on which light struck and was reflected with varying intensity to the eye through the atmosphere, which modified it. It was this process that produced the mosaic of colors that formed an Impressionist canvas. “Light becomes the sole subject of the picture,” writes Mauclair. “The interest of the object upon which it plays is secondary. Painting thus conceived becomes a purely optic art.”
From this profoundly revolutionary form of art, then, all ideas—religious, moral, psychological—were excluded, and so were all emotions except certain aesthetic ones. The people, places, and things depicted in an Impressionist picture do not tell story or convey any special meaning; they are, instead, merely parts of pattern of light drawn from nature and captured on canvas by the artist.
1. According to the passage, the Impressionists believed that the atmosphere
(A) reflects light with varying intensity
(B) creates the illusion of color in colorless surfaces
(C) modifies the shapes of objects
(D) is the result of vibrations of light
(E) affects the way we perceived color
2. The author’s use of the term “mosaic of colors” (line 32) suggests that Impressionist paintings were characterized by
(A) discontinuous dabs of unmixed pigment
(B) broad, sweeping brush strokes
(C) clearly defined forms and objects
(D) subjects devoid of emotive or literary qualities
(E) the glowing reds, greens, and midnight blues of stained glass
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