When did art get so serious? When did the popular art world turn against pretty pictures and aim its collective sneer at accurate representation?
I’m not here to judge; I’m no art critic. Really, who am I to call nonsense on million-dollar paint splatters. What do I know? Maybe I just can’t see Andy Warhol’s “Invisible Sculpture” (an empty plinth upon which he once stepped). Clearly Agnes Martin’s square painting of blue and white horizontal bands is more significant than the beach umbrella it calls to my mind. After all, an art cognoscente paid $1.48 million to hang it on his wall.
Four years ago, in August 2008, we corralled a few artistic types for a roundtable discussion at the then-new Sylvia White Gallery. The conversation meandered, but Sylvia always came back to the concept of the “educated eye,” meaning simply that the more we see art, the more we’re exposed to it, the better equipped we become to evaluate it.
A good analogy is wine tasting. I drink wine more frequently than I visit art galleries and my palate has steadily improved over the years. Berry flavors? I can taste those. Oaky? Smoky? Yes, got those too. But some of these master sommeliers’ descriptions are, dare I say, hard for me to swallow. A pricey bottle of red tastes like “animal fur”? Really, now. And what about the reviewer who calls a wine “full-bodied and massively endowed,” with a “sexy nose,” and claims “the finish crescendos into a salty tide.” I have to think he was channeling other desires. But again, what do I know? I probably just need to drink more wine.
In our interview with John Nava (p. 17) we discuss the place of realism as it applies to art in the 21st century. Thankfully, there’s nothing too abstruse about the conversation. Nava keeps it about as grounded as an art discussion can be; in fact, he draws a connecting line between latter-day representational painters and ancient man, sketching his prey on cave walls with a charcoal-tipped spear.
“What does it mean to continue on with this ancient process today?” Nava asks.
Hmm… I’m just a casual doodler, no visual artist. But it seems to me that with its elemental nature, realism provides a necessary counterbalance to the muddy esotericism of avant-garde art. It is, in a sense, just as extreme. Yin and yang. But whereas the value of progressive, cutting-edge art hinges largely on words and perception, realism is based on what the eye sees—and even an uneducated eye can appreciate the beauty of that.