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Impressionism, Realism, and blogging

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2007

I’m intrigued by Marc Hedlund’s differentiation of Impressionist bloggers from Realist bloggers. My interpretation of this difference (which might not be what Marc meant by it) is that Realist blog posts are self-contained, -explanatory, and -evident entities while a post on an Impressionist blog serves to complement the whole, much like the dots making up a Seurat painting aren’t that interesting until you stand back to see the whole thing.

The downside for Impressionist blogs is that their individual posts don’t work that well outside of their intended context. If you run across a single post from an Impressionist blog in your River of News, a remixed Yahoo Pipes RSS feed, in del.icio.us, or an item in a Google search results set, it might not make a whole lot of sense. Impressionist blog posts are less likely to get Dugg or bookmarked in del.icio.us or linked around much at all. Fewer incoming links, big or small, to individual pages means fewer pageviews, which makes it more difficult to run an Impressionist blog as a business that relies on advertising revenue. If you look at most of the big blog sites, they’re all non-Impressionist blogs. All the sites whose posts are featured on the front page of Digg are non-Impressionist…those posts/articles are designed to float self-contained around the web. The blogosphere is dominated by non-Impressionist blogs and the sort of content they produce…which is sad for me because, like Marc, I value Impressionism in a weblog.

Reader comments

Mark LarsonSep 13, 2007 at 11:28AM

Hmm… I think that meshes well with the idea of tagging bloggers as experiential or referential. And it relates to a preference for writing or editing, and for producing or selecting/filtering. I certainly fall in the latter half of those. Who knows, maybe there’s an extrovert/introvert personality thing there, too.

Ben BrophySep 13, 2007 at 11:45AM

I was wondering also where link blogging falls into that. Link blogs are part of structure that elevates realist blog posts to the tops of search results. I blog links these days, and those posts are fairly self contained lie a realist blog post but too tiny to survive with out the thing they link to. Friends who read my blog seem to take it as a sort of impressionist blog - it shows what I’m looking at or thinking about and that’s interesting if you know the blogger.

Runky FunkySep 13, 2007 at 12:27PM

Mark, don’t forget vocation/avocation.

Dainius BlynasSep 13, 2007 at 1:07PM

Now when we are aware of this difference, we can try to overcome it. Say, wrap impressionistic content in more “realist” package: e.g. good tags, titles, summaries, intros.

WhyCuriousSep 13, 2007 at 1:48PM

Well then the ideal might be to mix the two. Big dots with little dots, fusing into a cohesive whole. The best blogs all have souls, be they souls made of small or large.

Chris JohanesenSep 13, 2007 at 1:50PM

I think this concept is an interesting and useful way to think about blogs but I don’t know if Impressionism/Realism is the right dichotomy for this metaphor. (I apologize in advance for being a pedantic art nerd.)

Most people think of “Impressionism” and “Realist” as meaning “slightly-abstracted painting technique” and “more photo-realistic painting technique”, respectively. While technique was definitely a factor in both these movements, they were not the defining characteristics of them.

Realism, as an art movement, had nothing to do with painting in a realistic style. Actually the style was much more rough and abstracted than the Academy painting that was dominant at the time. The “real” in Realism refers to the real life subject matter of the compositions, such as scenes from working people’s lives, as opposed to fantastical or melodramatic subjects.

Impressionism was also somewhat about realism, in that the paintings have a very photographic/snapshot compositional sensibility. Again, the name refers more to subject mater and compositional strategies than actual painterly technique. Yes, Monet is the most famous Impresssist, but Degas was equally influential and his style is vastly different. Also Seurat was technically a Post-Impressionist (as was Van Gogh).

Of course the other caveat is that both these terms were invented by art critics of the time as a way to group artists who were influencing each other and working towards similar goals. The Post-Modern view of art history is not so neat and linear.

Ben YatesSep 13, 2007 at 1:59PM

Dainius Blynas — wrap the content in longer intros and titles? Huge mistake. Brevity is the soul of wit.

jkottkeSep 13, 2007 at 2:18PM

Yeah, the metaphor is definitely imperfect, especially in the way that I twisted it. (Also, wasn’t Seurat a Neo-impressionist?) I wish I could travel back in time and tell my 19-yo self to take an art history class in college.

And back to Ben’s question about link blogging, I think it depends on the blog. With some link blogs, you start to get a bigger picture of something after reading for awhile. With others, it’s just one cool link after another.

David OrgelSep 13, 2007 at 3:26PM

I think most art historians would classify Seurat as a post-Impressionist. More specifically, he was a Pointillist, which refers to the technique you mention.

Generally, I’d agree with what Chris Johanesen says about Impressionism vs. Realism, although I’d take issue with the notion that Impressionism “refers more to subject mater and compositional strategies than actual painterly technique.” My understanding is that Impressionism primarily centers around the effects of light on objects and the rendering of those effects on canvas, so technique is central. Pretty clearly, subject matter has little to do with it; for example, Monet mostly painted landscapes, architecture, and other “plein-air” subjects; Degas painted nudes and characters from the ballet and theater; Berthe Morisot painted portraits and domestic subjects, etc.

God of BiscuitsSep 13, 2007 at 3:29PM

There are two kinds of blogs: those which write about there being only two kinds of blogs, and those who know better. :)

NickSep 13, 2007 at 4:08PM

Would you call most photo blogs impressionist blogs?

Eric FieldsSep 13, 2007 at 9:09PM

Sure, but can you give me an example of an impressionist blog that is trying to be an advertising-backed business? All the ones I’ve seen (and thought about starting myself) are strictly hobbies, or experiments, or, maybe… art.

jkottkeSep 13, 2007 at 11:25PM

kottke.org? It’s at least semi-Impressionist. While not a blog, Ze Frank’s The Show was much better if you kept up with all the episodes…I feel like individual episodes were designed as part of a whole experience rather than to stand alone. “Are the new viewers gone yet?” etc. I Can Has Cheezburger? PostSecret? Boing Boing (at least partially)?

Chris JohanesenSep 13, 2007 at 11:48PM

Maybe a better analogy would be music?

There’s pop music, in which artists release “hits” design to stand alone, appeal to a wide audience, and are usually fairly light on emotional resonance or intellectual content. Albums are usually an afterthought, with filler tracks rounding out the singles.

Then there’s “album music”, where artists work to create albums that are cohesive, have an emotional arc, and are meant to be listened to as a whole. Individual songs, taken alone and out of context, may not make as much sense, and may not immediately ear-catching.

Of course, this isn’t 100% right either. These’s been a few pop artists who could chart hit and hit and also make cohesive albums, and lord knows there’s legions of wretched “album bands.”

….
And to David Orgel: I said the term impressionism “refers more to subject mater and compositional strategies than actual painterly technique.” I didn’t mean that technique didn’t factor in to it, but that there’s no single unifying impressionist style, contrary to popular belief.

The fact that the subject matter often seemed banal is significant. (Also, not all of it was “banal”—the “New Paris” was a common subject in addition to haystacks and dancers.) The way scenes were often composed, in an casual, snapshot-esque, impressionistic manor was one of the more unifying aspects of the movement (and was, in part, a reaction to the new invention of photography).

Anyway… enough off-topicness. Sorry again Jason.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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