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Realism Revival

posted May 21, 2011, 4:28 PM by Daniel Mark Cassity
     It is quite interesting to watch the realism revival that has taken place over the last several years.  Personally, as one who produces realism, I welcome it.  Springing up from all over are pockets and mini-movements pushing representational image making, some to the exclusivity of all else.  There seems to be a backlash toward the notion of internally generated subject matter, some wishing to dismiss it altogether.  And frankly, it does become a bit tedious to watch an individual take up a brush, proceed to "do something" and then stand back at length conjuring up justifications for the act: alas, sometimes there are none (other than some form of catharsis for the perpetrator [and that is not without value, to be sure]).  The simple fact is that while the idea of internally generated painting is very attractive to many - closer to pure creativity, perhaps - few truly generate anything new.  Most of us are not as interesting as we would like to think.  I will be the first to point out, that while I have produced successful abstractions, and will continue to do so in the future, I have as yet added nothing noteworthy to the abstraction discussion; then again, I will also point out that I "am not done yet."
     While I am sympathetic to the love of representational work, I cannot join the enthusiasm to wholly dismiss other approaches to image making.  As one who works both as a realist, and as an abstractionist, I have first hand reaped the benefits of both approaches.  Simply put, there are some ideas that can only be expressed abstractly, and vice versa.  Why paint non-objectively? because that is the only way to communicate or realize a particular concept, or visual idea. because that is the only effective language available, or at least the most fitting. because one wishes to take on the challenge of working with shape, color, etc., at its purest, most basic level. or to simply see what happens. 
     Driving much of the backlash is, no doubt, the degree of garbage masquerading as art.  Subjectivity is the beauty, and curse of the art world.  Subjectivity is what allows for endless debate and discussion over this work or that - what any artist would want - but it also leaves the door open for "loose" interpretations of quality.  Unlike scientific method, the only tool at the art world's disposal is consensus - as pier review is to scientific method - to establish quality.  We must trust that "educated opinions" will, over time, clarify the clutter, and deliver to the top what will be lasting: but that is hardly a perfect system.  Popularity is certainly not the watermark.  There are countless examples of things that connect with popular culture which will have no lasting impact on the art world whatsoever.  We are, of course, on our own to find value in this or that.  Many of us have stood in front of an abstraction, unable to vocalize exactly why we are moved, or struck on some visceral level.  That is because the image itself IS the language, the ONLY language, by which the art is delivered to the viewer.  
     Then there are the countless degrees of overlap between realism, representationalism, and non objective abstraction.   It occurred to me early into my pursuits that there were certain obvious similarities that were unavoidable: most obvious perhaps is that any realist painting becomes abstract if cropped a certain way, rotated a certain way, or zoomed in on (focally) to a certain degree.  I have been in the company of realist painters that express little to no appreciation of abstraction, all the while utilizing abstract mark making - sometimes producing work approaching non-objectivity, and seemingly oblivious to it.  Most artists, I believe, understand and utilize the diverse approaches to image making.
     For those of us enjoying the renewed appreciation of representational art, take full advantage, with gusto.  For those realists who are relishing the backlash against abstraction with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm, don't kid yourself into thinking you are witnessing an extermination, and don't become forgetful to the concept of the pendulum swing.