An independent day school for grades 6-12

Understanding History Through Impressionism

It is not unusual to find Kent Holubar's history students in the art room. Most of his classes incorporate a hands-on art lesson as a way to understand different themes in history. Honors European History students were taught Impressionist painting techniques by art teacher Todd Lanam in the studio, particularly how the Impressionists "tried to paint the distinction...

...between an object's 'local color' (uninfluenced by environment) versus an object's 'perceptual color' (as it is seen in the context of a certain environment)."  

The activity underscored how unconventional Impressionism was in its own era, both in the techniques employed through brush work and color as well as in subject matter. According to Kent, "While we've become familiar--and perhaps overly comfortable--with Impressionism, it was the artistic avant-garde of the late 19th century and denounced as radical and ridiculous." A famous critique described it as "filth."  

The demonstration links to the overall theme of the development of the middle class in Europe, which is part of a unit built around Peter Gay's book, Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture, 1815-1914. In particular, students are considering "the 'essential question' of the extent to which the middle classes were early adopters of 'The New' as opposed to upper classes which favored respectability and convention." As Kent notes, the middle class embraced Impressionism and patronized its artists whom the wealthy establishment eschewed.

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Crystal Springs Uplands School


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Middle School
10 Davis Drive
Belmont, CA 94002
(650) 342-4175 x1000
Upper School
400 Uplands Drive
Hillsborough, CA 94010
(650) 342-4175