The combination of a babysitter and the wife's day off from work on July 3rd provided a perfect chance to visit the Philadelphia Art Museum to see the "Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting" exhibition. The artwork naturally held center stage but the driving force of the exhibition had not contributed a brush stroke to the exhibition. The Impressionists were outcasts of the art world. The famous French art salons ignored and rejected their work in favor of the mainstream work that had been popular for years. Paul Durand-Ruel, a French art dealer, saw the beauty in the vivid colors and unrefined brush strokes which became the signature of the style. He quickly stacked his entire business on the fate of these artist rebels. At every opportunity, Durand-Ruel scooped up the works of Monet, Renoir, Degas, Manet, and Pissarro and created a market for the art. He stubbornly organized exhibitions showcasing his ever expanding collection often to disdainful reviews and no sales. To illustrate the style of each artist, Durand-Ruel organized the first solo artist exhibitions. Monet displayed over a hundred paintings in that first solo exhibit and sold none of them. However, the show received a few positive reviews among the vast majority of normal negatives ones. This signaled the shifting opinion on the Impressionists. The cracks in the wall of negativity began to crumble. The rest is history as the saying goes. For more of the story, you can check out an article from the Guardian.
As hard as I tried to stay in the moment and just enjoy the magnificent art, I began to compare my situation with those of the Impressionist prior to the arrival of Paul Durand-Ruel. I feel I am the young (not age but experience) upstart rebelling against the current trend and style in photography right now. I create very messy Impressionistic photographs. I shot on film with cheap or home made cameras. I am also in the stage in my career where I am creating interesting work but still struggling to establish myself as an artist and my career. History brushes away those common struggles from the narrative so it rather encourage to know that even painters who changed the art landscape struggled to sell even a single piece. This knowledge does nothing to alleviate my own struggle but its comforting to know that you are not alone.
I walked out of the exhibit wondering if I needed a Paul Durand-Ruel or whether the internet/social media allows me to be my own Durand-Ruel. I think this is the question plaguing many artists. Do you keep focusing on the work and hope an influential figure in the art world chooses your work? Or do you redirect energy and resources away from the art and establish your own business/market? The former requires patience and luck while the later requires hard work and persistence. If you followed my journey, you hopefully can tell that I pick the hard work route. At least, I walking in the footsteps of some of the greats.