The Impressionists began to turn the focus of art away from representation and called attention to how we
perceive form. The artists of next generation used some of the ideas of the Impressionists, but developed
those ideas in new directions. These artists, working between 1880 and 1910 are together known as the
Postimpressionists, but they are a diverse group. Most began as Impressionists, but all of them criticized
some aspect of impressionism—it was not scientific enough, not permanent enough, or not spiritual
enough. Two of these artists, Seurat and Cezanne, were concerned with analyzing and recording what we
see; the other two, Van Gogh and Gauguin, were more interested in painting as a way to express feeling or
create what we can only imagine. These two trends will lead to important developments in early twentieth
century art.
Georges Seurat was particularly interested in the Impressionists’ ideas about color and the way in which
the eye perceives pure color, however, he wanted to use these ideas in a much more rigorously scientific
way. Seurat developed a technique he called divisionism (more popularly known as pointillism) in which
small, evenly sized dots of color are set next to each other. The viewer’s eye and mind blend the colors to
create shadows and intermediary hues. Seurat’s paintings, like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La
Grande Jatte, may depict scenes that should be lively (in this case, people enjoying themselves at a park),
but Seurat’s technique makes them appear still and abstract. Seurat denied any expressiveness in his work;
he considered himself to be a person applying an analytic method to visual experience, much as a scientist
might analyze chemicals or other phenomena.
Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884
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