Camille Pissarro: A Painter Who Changed the Way We See

I was thinking recently about the differences between an “artist” and a “artisan.” An artisan is good at what he or she does. They’re gifted and often brilliant. But an “artist” changes the conversation. They force us to see or do something in a different way, forever altering our view of the world. A few years ago, Kathleen and I were in Milwaukee visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum. (Great museum by the way). They were doing an exhibit based on the work of impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. By the way, the term “impressionist” was actually coined by someone who was trying to dismiss the movement. It was a critical term the painters eventually took ownership of and used to redefine the movement. Perhaps there’s a word here about criticism, and taking ownership of your critic’s barbs and channeling them into a positive direction.

But that’s another post.

As we studied his paintings, I understood the line (as is the complaint with much of modern art), that anyone could have painted what Pissarro painted. But the critical difference is not what he painted, as much as when he painted it. Pissarro, along with other impressionist painters was a pioneer. When everyone else was creating conventional work, these painters shook things up and changed the conversation. They forced viewers to look at the world in a dramatically different way, and as a result, it changed the course of art.

Pissarro himself said, “It is a grave error to believe that all mediums of art are not closely tied to their time.”  

What does that say about you? Are you creating the same type of work everyone else is doing? On the other hand, how can your work cause the world to look, act, or think differently? How can you change the conversation in the culture? Pissarro didn’t start out rich, famous, or influential, but he and a group of other outsiders challenged the conventional view of the world, and we’re better off for it.

As Apple said for so long: “Think Different.” Stop doing conventional work. Get past the daily grind, deadlines, and budgets, and start asking bigger questions. Stop giving your audiences what you think they want, and give them something they’ll never forget.

What’s one thing you could do today that would help take your creative work to the next level?

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