The newly-opened exhibition Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is exponentially more than an opportunity to see Impressionist paintings. Rather, it is an opportunity to dive deeper into timeless and ubiquitous questions creatives ask themselves throughout their careers.
As one walks through the gallery, the works on view alongside the labels and the guides share scholarship and themes around the American artists and their time in France, as well as their return to America. In doing so, the show draws out thoughtful – though often unanswered – questions for the viewer. These seem especially relative for 21st century professionals who, like the 19th and 20th century artists on view, push boundaries within the creative industry.
While not an exhaustive list by any means, the following seven questions arise for the viewer to consider:
How do I identify as an innovator, especially in a time defined by innovation?
How do I transition successfully between mediums? Styles? Places of practice?
What path of study best prepares me for a fulfilling career?
What is the boundary between traditional and modern? How do I navigate that in both scholarship and practice?
How can learning from those who have come before me support my own creativity?
What does it mean to contribute meaningfully to an ever-changing world?
What does society want/need to see from me? What do I want/need to see from society?
The well-organized, beautifully-curated, and thoughtful exhibition is on view until July 31 and features more than 100 paintings (including 12 from the collection of the VMFA) by the celebrated Whistler, Cassatt, Sargent, Hassam, Beaux, and many others.
Contributed by Margaret Hancock.