Understanding Art: Impressionism is a wonderfully entertaining and informative documentary series. Written, directed, and starring Waldemar Januszczak, a renowned art critic, this series is bound to show you a new light on the impressionism movement. It is in-depth in ways I have not experienced in other documentaries on this subject. He looks at not only the artists involved in the movement but also everything else that had an effect on the movement; the Paris art education/community, the families and friends of the artists, the ever changing Paris and its people, the developing art technology and tools. As he states in the beginning, he takes Impressionism out of the commercial and brings it back to the people and makes it gritty and revolutionary; which is was and still is.
As a informational documentary, Understanding Art: Impressionism is in-depth and written in a way that everyone can understand the information given. It is obvious that Januszczak knows the information he is presenting, considering he wrote the series, as well as understands what is the most important information to give. We not only learn about the lives of the artists but also what made the movement possible. For instance the creation of the paint tube or the pig’s hair brush; both of which help to create Impressionism. The paint tube allowed the painters to spend more time painting and less time preparing the paint and the pig’s hair brush allowed them to create all those beautiful paint lines. Without these two things, or the many other factors of the times, Impressionism may have never happened.
As entertainment, Understanding Art: Impressionism is fun and quirky. The opening sequence features the title song, played by the band while recreating live versions of some of Impressionism’s most famous paintings. From the start you have a smile on your face. There are interesting live recreations of the paintings, trips to locations in the paintings as well as the artists’ lives, as well as quirky yet informative ‘mini lessons’ by Januszczak. Throughout the entire program, Januszczak finds ways to make the information entertaining.
Along with the entertainment and information, Januszczak speaks often as an art critic. You do not feel as if he is pushing his view of an art piece at you, instead you feel like he is reflecting an opinion that is backed by education and a full understanding of what makes art real. At one point he calls a piece of art grotesque. He never says that he piece is not painted well, because it obviously is but is instead talking about the meaning and politics surrounding the painting being reflected in the art. While nicely painted, the piece in question is huge, classical, and frankly two-dimensional in its soul. This is interesting considering it is painted by a man who ran an art school where most of the Impressionists studied. That is another reason that the piece can be seen as grotesque. How can someone foster the Impressionism movement and paint the classical ‘accepted’ art of the time. It is obvious that his critical skills not only look at the piece of art but what it represents as well, no wonder he was honored as the Critic of the Year by the Press Association of the United Kingdom and Ireland twice.
Understanding Art: Impressionism is a three disc set which includes four episodes: “The Gang of Four”, “The Great Outdoors”, “Painting to the People”, and “The Final Flourish”. The set also includes a biography of Waldemar Januszczak, a twenty page viewer’s guide, and discussion questions at athenalearning.com. The Veiwer’s Guide includes articles about the politics of Impressionism, women Impressionsts, Paris’ hotspots, the social network, Impressionists’ tools, and an illustration of Impressionist techniques.
Also included as bonus features is a full-length documentary: Manet; The Man Who Invented Modern Art and a three part series, Vincent: The Full Story. These two features are just as good as the main programming. Both series feature Januszczak as the presenter, as well as a writer. Edouard Manet and Vincent Van Gogh are given a new lives. You will walk away with a fuller understanding of these two painters not only as artists but as people. Januszczak is very aware that the ‘normal’ events in an artists life tends to find its way into their art, so he not only looks at their lives as artists but also as men.
It should be noted that during a few of the programming sequences there are live nudes along with the nudes shown in the paintings.