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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Does realism matter?

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."   
Philip K. Dick

In a recent blog Realism in the Visual Arts I reviewed the history of the Realism Movement and also noted the responses of Facebook friends to the question, "How would you define realism, as it relates to art?" As expected, there were some very insightful answers.
But the question now is, "Does realism or realist art even matter?" Kara Lysandra Ross, Director of Operations for the Art Renewal Center, believes it does.

Claude Monet - "Impression Sunrise" - 1872 
(Impressionism applied contemporary developments in color theory. In an effort to effectively capture atmosphere, painting en plein air characterized the movement. The movement was also noted for its short dashes and dots of enriched color and a reduction of line and detail)

In a recent speech before the International Guild of Realism in which she was the guest judge of their annual show, she stated very clearly and expertly the importance of art in society...and the importance of realist art in particular. She believes most people view art as a luxury, something nice to decorate one's home, but they don't really recognize its true worth. In truth, she says, art lies at the core of human existence, and it has the power to not only communicate but also to shape one's beliefs and as a result, societies. That's why many governments view the arts as something that needs to be controlled.
"Nothing says more about a culture than the art it idolizes. It represents what it values, what it thinks about, and essentially what it deems worth remembering. Art is the representation of a people, encapsulating its essence on every level. By attacking the art of a culture, you attack the culture itself."

Paul Cezanne - Bibemus Quarry - 1895
(Post-Impressionism was a rebellion against what were believed to be the limitations of Impressionism. This movement focused on the emotional, structural, symbolic and spiritual elements they felt were missing from the former movement)

Ernest Ludwig Kirchner - Davos Under Snow - 1923
(Expressionism was defined by vivid, jarring, dynamic, symbolic color, and exaggerated lines. Subjective feelings were emphasized over objective observation. Artists sought a highly emotional effect through exaggerated imagery, resulting in a distorted reality)

The Facebook respondents are in agreement that realism is a truthful, objective representation of the real world. It captures the true effects of light and volume of those things we see, know, experience, relate to, and understand in real life. Therefore, true realism cannot merely be a painting technique that renders superficial detail.

Henri Matisse - The Roofs of Collioure - 1905
(Fauvism emphasized intensely exaggerated color as the artist sought to express his feelings about a subject. Because of this the Fauvists were nicknamed, "Les Fauves" (the wild beasts). The movement was also characterized by extremely simplified drawing)

Frederic Taubes in his book Modern Art - Sweet or Sour, explains the importance of realism this way. "Art is the expression of visual ideas. Art evokes thought that in turn generates emotions. For the artist, abstract thinking that does not find its matrix in the emotional is worthless; to the artist the world of abstract ideas offers no nourishment. Whatever lies outside the pale of his experience is for him of no consequence. Everything that materializes itself in the painter's mind concerns representation, and abstract art is truly a representation of Nothing. As always, disengagement from the optical must end up inexorably in the blind alley of Nothingness."

Marcel Duchamp - Fountain - 1917
(Dadaism was a irrational, nonsensical movement that rejected reason and logic, prized intuition and sought to mock classical and conventional artists and ideas)

Even Picasso agrees, "There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality."...and in my opinion, if you take all meaning out of art it's like taking all sound out of music.

Pablo Picasso - Still Life with Mandolin and Guitar - 1924
(Cubism challenged conventional forms of representation. It ignored the traditions of perspective drawing in an attempt to develop new ways of seeing. It believed the traditions of Western Art were exhausted and looked to other cultures for new ways of expression)

Now, back to Kara Ross' speech. "In an article recently published in the New English Review, titled The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism, Mark Anthony Signorelli writes, 'Nothing is so important to the spiritual and mental flourishing of a people as its art. The stories they tell, the buildings they inhabit, the public spaces in which they gather, the songs they sing, the fashioned images they gaze upon, these things shape their souls more permanently and effectively than anything else. We live in a time when the art all around us accustoms men to, and insinuates into their souls, the most erroneous and degrading ideas imaginable about themselves and their world. A humane society can hardly be expected to grow out of such an adverse cultural environment."

Frank Bramley - A Hopeless Dawn - 1888

In her closing remarks to the International Guild of Realism, Ross reminded artists that they play a most important role in our society. "For those who do believe in a higher power, is not the earth and the universe God's artistic creation? I hope you walk away from this with an extra level of appreciation for the work you do, inspired not to be discouraged when you encounter difficulties. You are shaping our nation and the world into a better place, where once again freedom of thought and real communication can be disseminated through a canvas. With your diligence and effort, a picture is once again worth a thousand words versus needing a thousand word to understand it."

Modern Art - Sweet or Sour - Frederic Taubes - Watson-Guptill Publication
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Blogger MCGuilmet said...

What exactly is "real" about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

January 16, 2013 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger john pototschnik said...

The blog, "Realism in the Visual Arts"
might be of interest to you. Since you've been reading the three-part series on Classical Realism, your question may have been answered. As Daniel Graves points out in an article he wrote...realism is more than technical expertise or reproducing the surface appearance of things. Michael John Angel points out in his interview that "abstract art generally turns away from the world of people and doesn't concern itself with the nature of Humankind, except for how to grab its attention. Representationalism concerns itself very much with the world of people and how people view nature"...and may I add...the world. Hence, Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.

January 16, 2013 at 10:55 PM  

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