Note: Originally, this article was published in December of 2014, but I decided to republish it in order to change the order of the topics published here, to make it easier to read them, in a more fluid order.
I try, with these articles, to talk about art, in general, its concepts and meanings, as well as its importance to society. But among all that exists in the art world, among all existing styles and techniques, I chose to follow a certain current, the Traditionalist Art and the realistic style. Since I intend to write more about this in other topics, I will try to be brief on this point and try, for academic reasons and interest, explain what kind of art is this.
But among many "styles ", where do I fit in?
Well, simply and directly, I work with visual arts. But things are more complicated than that. As a painter I can say that I work with illustrative art. And that means that I produce something to be looked at, to be enjoyed, as an image. It’s a very specific form of interaction. So I designate myself as a naturalist and realist painter. And that means that I try to create an image that represents something tangible, and that may convey emotions. I do not know much about abstract art, installations, etc., and I do not try to create something abstract that tries to express emotions by force, perhaps even shocking somehow the audience by doing that.
Now an important question must be asked: Realism or realistic art?*
Realism is an artistic and literary movement that emerged in the last decades of the nineteenth century in France, as a reaction to Romanticism. Between 1850 and 1880 this cultural movement had spread to Europe and other continents. It was a new esthetic trend, which came about along side the industrialization of societies. The European man, having learned how to use scientific knowledge and his skills to interpret and dominate nature, convinced himself that he needed to be realistic, even on his artistic creations. The members of this movement repudiated the artificiality of Neoclassicism and Romanticism (and the concept of idealization), because they felt the need to portray the lives, problems and customs of the middle and lower classes, without artistic conventions inspired by models from the past. The movement also manifested itself in sculpture, and especially in architecture.
In the arts, Realism, as an artistic movement, can be defined as an attempt to represent the chosen subject without artificiality, and avoiding conventions and exoticism, and implausible or supernatural elements. In painting, the artist seeks to represent reality with the same objectivity that a scientist studies a natural phenomenon. In other words, the painter seeks to represent the world in a documentary way, rejecting idealization and focusing on the daily life. The artist does not try to "improve" artistically nature because beauty is seen in reality as it is. According to the Realist movement, the beauty is, above all, the ability of the artist to represent nature realistically, having the represented object a charismatic value or not.
But what about Naturalism?
Naturalism (not to be confused with naturism or naturalistic philosophy) is a literary school known for being the radicalization of Realism, relying on the faithful observation of reality and experience, showing that the individuality is determined by environment and heredity. It concerns the study of nature and the interpretation of the laws of physics and science. The school has outlined what can be declared as the first steps of the evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin’s thoughts. Naturalism is, as opposed to supernatural or spiritual, the idea or belief that only natural laws and forces operate in the world; in extension, the idea or belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world. The supporters of naturalism - Naturalists - claim that natural laws are rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe and that each stage of the evolution of the universe is a product of these laws. Naturalism, as a way of conceiving the universe, is one of the pillars of modern science, being also target of philosophical considerations.
Thus, Naturalism is a philosophical movement that values the natural world and in the world of arts, acts giving force to Realism, and these two concepts are directly linked.
However, and here is the answer to the question*, Realism as an artistic movement of the nineteenth century, which was characterized by the opposition to the idealism of classical, romantic and academic Schools, should not be confused with realistic techniques used on works of art, i.e., with the care of the artist to reproduce the images (visual arts) as he sees in reality. Realistic techniques for painting and sculpting have been around since at least the classic age, and were and still are used by many Schools (like the Surrealist, for example)
This means that there is a clear definition between Realism, the art movement, and realistic art - art made with certain techniques that represent the object in a realistic manner -, although both can be connected and influence each other. In other words, Realism and Realistic Art are different things, and a surrealist painting, although belonging to the Surrealism movement, can be made with realistic techniques, and it is, so to speak, a realistic painting.
Realism - Artistic Movement
Naturalism - Philosophical idea that supports the Realism on the arts.
Realistic art and/or Naturalistic art - Art represented with reality, which doesn’t mean that the represented object can not be false, or idealized.
A good example of this distinction is the American illustrator James Gurney, creator of Dinotopia book series. Gurney is able to create incredibly realistic and naturalistic illustrations of an imaginary world created by himself, in which humans and dinosaurs live together in harmony. The subject/object is false, it does not exist, but his works are realistic works of art, made with naturalism.
Personally, I am a fan of idealism. I believe that in a world so full of disasters and brutalities, the idealization, the fantasy and dreaming in the art can be a wonderful escape and an essential source of inspiration, strength and will to change, to produce, to evolve. So I try to represent my inspirations, my dreams and ideals in my works (somewhat like Romanticism), but in naturalistic and realistic manners, by valuing knowledge and techniques employed in the execution of such works.
But regardless of the technique used, the viewer observing a work of art should look at it and feel some emotion, learn something from it. Even if one knows nothing about the style of the work itself – Impressionism, Realism, Naturalism, Cubism, etc. -, the simple admiration will still be more important to the artist. And even if the viewer is not able to identify, through a look at the work, the battles fought by the artist during its construction, the appreciation of the skills and expertise of the artist will always be appreciated. The skill of the artist is a gift, and thus, should be valued.
Although the search for the perfect and accurate expression of nature in the arts has existed since ancient times, from the nineteenth century there has been a growing interest in realistic manifestation in art, especially in our present time, when the euphoria about the modern and surreal starts giving space to the admiration for the artistic achievements of the past. It is visible that there is now an ever-increasing quest for beauty ideas from the past, and art that can be enjoyed for more than mere seconds, that touches the heart and makes us think. That not just offers us a short lasting feeling of shock or originality. There is a revaluation of realist art and of the techniques used by the great masters, a recognition that the skills demonstrated by these individuals is something to be revered and preserved as heritage for the humanity. A clear example of this is the proliferation of traditional Fine Art Academies that we see emerging across the globe, such as the Florence Academy of Art, Grand Central Academy, Alpine Fellowship, etc.
Maybe it’s time to have hope for the Realist Art, knowing that it will survive the trial of time and it will be part of the daily life of future generations. In the end, the skill of the artist is a gift and it should be valued.