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Why Realism? (by Frederick Ross for the ARC)

This article was published in 2014, on the Art Renewal Center website, and although is long, I think it's quite an interesting discussion in this topic of Modern Art vs. Classical Art. Ultimately, I don't believe that the two forms can not co-exist, but often I get I find myself engaged in this argumentation, since we are still investigation, as a society, what to do with those differences, which form to applaud, and which to ridicule. Although, in recent year, the rise of entertainment art had given new power for the "classical methods", for the abilities of the artists to portray things realistically, what with all the animated films, games, virtual realities in general. Let's keep on watching and see how this is gonna go =] Here is the link to the original Enjoy!

Rafael Guerra - Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum, Duo

Frederick Ross

Thinking about this theme, I've concluded that nothing could be more appropriate than to ask and answer this question: Why Realism? There are, finally, today many organizations that believe in the value and importance of realism, both classical and contemporary. But why Realism? Why, after a century of denigration, repression and near annihilation, when the accepted beliefs taught in nearly every high school, college and university for the last hundred years, has been that realism is unoriginal? After all, all realists do is just copy from nature. Realism they say is unsophisticated. Most people can tell what is going on in realistic painting or sculpture. It's so easy to understand. It's uncreative and only creating forms and ideas not found in nature show real originality. So the question of the day, for society and for realist artists, the question for the month, year, and really for the rest of their lives, is: Why Realism?

My answer is direct, simple and should be self-evident: The visual fine arts of drawing, painting and sculpture are best understood first, last, and always, as a language - a visual language. It was developed and preserved first and foremost as a means of communication very much like spoken and written languages. And, like language, it is successful if communication takes place and it is unsuccessful if it does not. This answer simultaneously defines the term "Fine Art." So fine art is a way that human beings can communicate.

And how can one truly communicate except by a language that is understood by those who are listening? And if communication is the goal then our language must have a vocabulary and a grammar which is shared by the teller and listener alike. If you think about it, the earliest forms of written languages used simple drawings of real objects to represent those objects. That means the origins of written language overlap in a nearly identical way, the origins of fine art. Without a common language there is no communication and no understanding, and that holds true as well for fine art. It also must communicate in a similar way to spoken and written languages which have the uniquely human purpose of describing the world in which we live, and how we feel about every aspect of life and living. As a language, art is like all of the hundreds of spoken and written languages, that are capable of expressing the enormous limitless scope of human thoughts, ideas, beliefs, values and specially our feelings, passions, dreams, and fantasies; all the varied and infinite stories of humanity.

The vocabulary of fine art consists of realistic images which we see everywhere throughout our lives, and the grammar are the rules and skills needed to successfully and believably render the images. These are some of the rules of grammar which holds together the real objects or vocabulary of the visual language of fine art: finding contours; modeling; manipulating paint to create shadows and highlights with the use of glazing and scumbling that enhance the forms through layers of pigment; use of selective focus; perspective; foreshortening; compositional balance; balancing warm and cool color; lost and found shapes and lines.

Please consider this additional self-evident truth: Even things which are not real, such as our dreams and fantasies as well as all stories of fiction, which are not real, are expressed in our conscious and subconscious minds by using real images. Consider that only real images are used in our fantasies and dreams - none of which look like Modern Art. Therefore, abstract painting does not reflect the subcounscious mind. Dreams and fantasies do that and artwork can also do that, but only using real images and assembling them in ways that feel like fantasies or dreams.

So, there we have it - the core concept that explains what fine art is. It is a visual language, which is capable of expressing the endless range of thought and ideas which can also be expressed in great literature and poetry. However, unlike the hundreds of spoken and written languages, the vocabulary of traditional realism in fine art has something which makes it unique, in one important way: the language of traditional realism cuts across all those other languages and can be understood by all people everywhere on earth regardless of what language it is they speak or write in. Thus, Realism is a universal language that enables communication with all people and to people of all times, past, present, and future. Modern and abstract art is not a language. It’s the opposite of language for it represents the absence of language. And the absence of language means the loss of communication. It takes away from mankind perhaps our most important characteristic, that whichmakes us human: the ability to communicate in great depth, detail and sophistication. And in the case of the fine arts, modernism banished the only universal language that exists – Realism, with the techniques and skills required to achieve it. A knowledge which had grown and developed and was carefully documented and preserved as it was passed down for centuries from masters to students.

If the truth be known, abstract art is not really even abstract. The process of using “abstraction” that is called to Modern art is a misappropriation of the word “abstract”, which means nearly the opposite. It is, in fact, language that uses a process of abstraction to create symbols that mean something else. Only human beings can use abstract ideas and none of them look like Jackson Pollack or Williaim De Kooning. Let me explain it like this: The word “paper” means what I’m holding in my hands. The written word “p a p e r” is a further abstraction of the spoken word “paper”. If I make a painting in which a man is shown reading from a piece of paper, I’ve used the vocabulary of traditional realism and created a different kind of abstraction, which is instantly recognized by an English speaking person as a paper, a French as a “papier”, to a Hungarian as “Papir”, or a Latvian as “papira”.

Once we understand that fine art is a visual language, and that the process of creating it is a true abstraction, then rejecting it on the basis of being descriptive or telling a story is patenly absurd. But modernist educators teach students that realism is nothing more than storytelling, which they ridicule. It would be equivalent to rejecting anthing written if it told a story, or described a feeling, idea, belief or thought, or even if the words meant anything at all.

Modern art has taught us that it’s a lie to create an illusion of 3 dimensions in a work of art. The painting is really a flat surface and Cezanne is credited with discovering this truth, bringing us closer to truth by collapsing the landscape. Mattisse collapsed our homes and families and Pollack and DeKooning put them all in a blender and flung or dribbled or slapped on the paint in a cacophony of disorganized shapes and color. This, we were told, demonstrated an incredible truth: that the canvas is flat. Well, we have news for them: any 3 year old who is taken to a museum knows that the canvases are flat. And then these artists, having proved the cavas is flat, proceeded to spend the rest of their careers proving it over and over again. But, what is remarkable in saying, showing or knowing that? Demonstrating this obvious fact is accomplished better by just saying it. But that’s no more brilliant than saying the sky is blue, that fire is hot, or that water is wet. The equivalent of this absurdity in written languages would be to say that all writing is untruthfull because all that is really there on the page are different shapes of straight or curved or squiggly lines. And since that is closer to the truth than placing meaning in those lines, than using them to make