Why Realism?…..continued……part 3.

Weathered, Charters Towers

Continuing the next section of the speech by Frederick Ross –

“If the truth be known, abstract art is not really even abstract. The process of using “abstraction” that is credited 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 William 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 paper, a French person as “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 patently absurd. But modernist educators teach students that realism is nothing more than storytelling, which they ridicule. It would be equivalent to rejecting anything 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 canvas 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 untruthful 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 words and the words to form ideas…that’s a lie too. Therefore, to bring the analogy full circle…the best book would be one that demonstrates this “truth” with page after page of meaningless shapes and squiggles…thus showing us the modernist’s profound definition of truth. How many books and poems would be purchased and read in which all that were there were meaningless shapes on every page?

What, then, is fine art and fine literature, fine music, poetry, or theatre? In every case human beings use materials supplied by nature (the clay and colours and the movements and sounds of life) and creatively combines or moulds them into something else which is capable of communication and meaning. Throughout history, people have found one way after another of communicating their thoughts, ideas, beliefs, values and the entire range of their shared experiences of living. When it comes to the visual arts, modernists like to say “why waste your time doing realism? It’s all been done already” That would be exactly like saying “Why waste your time writing anything? It’s all already been written. There is nothing left to say”.

Realism has been denigrated repeatedly for being no more than illustration, as if illustration was a dirty word. Would anyone say that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is just illustration? After all, it does illustrate the bible. In truth Illustration is just another word for storytelling. Would we reject written language because it tells a story? Of course not. But we all recognize that there are good stories and bad stories, some well written or poorly written……..verbose or eloquent.

So too are there bad works of art, mediocre works of art, good and great works of art and the rare masterpieces. We may not all agree all the time, but most people can see intuitively the value in a Vermeer, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Alm-Tadema or Bouguereau. And if people were not brain washed, they would pretty much be able to see the actual truth about a canvas with disorganized globs of paint on it: that it is something which takes virtually no skill to make and lacks any genuine means of communication.”

(to be continued……………….)