Those who have been reading Lines and Colors over time may have noticed that despite the deliberate crossing of genres, and the mixture of different aspects of visual art, there is a common thread of art that takes its basic structure from the traditions of representational art,
You may also know that I have often expressed anger at the Modernist art establishment. Not so much at Modernism itself, I have a certain fondness for pre-war European Modernism, and I can simply ignore other Modernist art that I find visually uninteresting, but at the the art establishment, an artistic elite that arose out of post-war American Modernism, and for decades has controlled the museums, galleries, critical press and almost all forms of artistic power in deciding what is of value in contemporary art.
This new art establishment, after the better part of a century in power, still likes to pretend that they are “rebelling” against the restraints of the 19th Century art establishment; and in so doing has waged a deliberate and caustic campaign to denigrate realism and the traditional artistic values that have been the basis for Western representational art for centuries.
I encountered this cultural bias when I was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the 1970’s, and was informed by those in the know that traditional realism was dead as far as the powers that be were concerned; and that museums, high-end galleries and critics would never take you seriously unless you were doing non-representational “conceptual” work based on a theory or an “ism” — and something “new” at that. To pursue traditional realism was to be consigned to the cultural backwaters of a no longer valid branch of art.
Populist forces have pushed back in recent years, and representational art has experienced a resurgence, but the forces that place non-representational theory-based Modernism at the pinnacle of artistic achievement, and relegate traditional artistic values as merely the path to that great achievement, and see them as the choking restraints that Modernism has freed us from in the pursuit of artistic “truth”, still hold sway in the corridors of artistic power and commerce.
Contemporary realist painter Scott Burdick has taken on this situation, looking within its story for a common thread that separates Modernism from traditional art, and set out his thoughts in The Banishment of Beauty, a one hour lecture and slide presentation that he gave at the American Artist magazine’s “Weekend with the Masters” event in Laguna Beach.
While I may disagree with him on certain points, I think Burdick, like Tom Wolfe in his essay, The Painted Word, has pretty much hit on the essential reality of the modern art world.
Burdick has illustrated the presentation with examples of his own work and the work of other contemporary representational painters, as well as examples from great painters from the late 19th Century, contrasting them with examples of 20th Century and contemporary Modernism.
You may also want to visit Burdick’s website and view his own work, which is exceptional. Burdick has long been on my list as the subject of a future post.
Whether you agree with his contention or not, the presentation is worth following, and you might at least find his arguments a jumping off point for thought and discussion.
[Addendum: This post has, as I had hoped, sparked a lively discussion in the comments section. Scott Burdick has been kind enough to write a lengthy comment, answering some criticisms and adding depth to points covered in the video presentation. It’s actually much more relevant and interesting than my original post. See the comments here.]