Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Challenge of Realism In Art Today

While reading my newest issue of AMERICAN ARTS - Quarterly, I was struck by the fact the quarterly profiled artists of today and of the past who dealt with artistic realism. From Minoff of today to Sargent's minimalist watercolors, Dürer's gouaches and Max Ginsberg's social commentary.

Triad, 2013 by Edward Minoff
The lead article is about artist Edward Minoff's "Challenging the Ocean" but in reality he is known for much, much more. However, the painting they show, Triad, 2013 is definitely the ocean and brings with it both quietude and tension. It is a remarkable break from previous seascapes, both his and many others.

At first glance it appears to be merely a reflection of rocks at the shore with an unusually quiet shoreline. Upon closer inspection you realize the surface of the water on the upper left is more intense than the areas below. Its unusual and he moves away, one might say at last, from the standard waves breaking on the shore.

Minoff has YouTube videos showing a variety of techniques that are interesting and very informative. He has many life studies and still lives besides his plein air work. It is Triad though that I find amazing. It is something that can be studied and a small detail here or there will finally be noticed. This is realism but with a purpose, a direction that he has not taken before.

The author of the article, Jakes F. Cooper, notes that Minoff joined a plein air group in 2007. Another artist of the group ventured to note that painting from nature conveys a psychological and spiritual intensity, comparable to working from the human figure. There is a universal quality that connects all these artists together - beauty. "Beauty is the victim of much contemporary art from the seminal work of pioneer modernists such as Cézanne, Degas and van Gogh, " notes Cooper. I think that many of us, artists and patrons alike would argue with that. Instead I believe that once color was freed, it opened the door to abstract thought and much of it is, well, ugly.

The Impressionists tried to bring light and life to staid paintings of the Salon. It is interesting to note the various rebels over the centuries are remembered much like Mozart is beloved and Salieri forgotten.

A walk through any museum today follows in the same footsteps. People will rush past the staid landscapes and formal portraits to the lush colors of Impressionism, Expression, even the glittering colors of the Pre-Raphaelites and earlier artists like El Greco, Rembrandt, Titian, Caravaggio. The overall desire though is one of beauty. We want things to be beautiful in a world that is often not beautiful at all. Picasso's Guernica belongs in a museum, not on a wall we stare at everyday. It is a statement and while important not one that we oftentimes want to be reminded of.

When the Getty Museum bought Van Gogh's Irises, we found it stuck in the back of their new multi-media room. They paid $56 million for it yet didn't seem to know what to do with it. Spotting it finally after hunting all over the Malibu museum, I told the person there I had a better place to hang it. "Where," she asked. "Over my fireplace in my living room," I replied. "I would look at it every day!" And you could bet I would too.

While I don't know that beauty has to be realistic, there are abstract paintings I admire, I do know that in the art world, as well as my own technique, artists are moving that direction. The challenge though is to make it both beautiful and arresting, not like what has been done before but in a new direction much like Minoff has done with Triad.

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