Weekly Question No. 15 - On Realism

A few weeks back we discussed whether Western art took a wrong turn with abstraction. Whether it did or not, abstraction certainly did not kill realism. But what qualifies as Realism? Is there a dividing line between realism and abstraction?   The three paintings below by Ingres, Monet and Pollock give an idea of the range. Are any of these completely realistic or completely abstract?



Ingres





Monet




Pollock

Comments

  • edited March 5
    My criteria, half-joke, half real, is, will you feel it's upside down if you turn it upside down (or sideways)? If you can't tell, maybe it's not worth your attention. It served me quite well all the time. Although I don't detest abstract in general. With my approach, works of, say, Matisse or similar, qualify as realism but I'd prefer good abstraction to Matisse.
  • Oh god, please don't post any Pollocks here..
    Boudicca
  • @tassieguy
    Is that Pollack supposed to represent trees?  It uses abstraction but is it non-representational?
  • If you imagine the Pollock is dead pine trees in a wildfire, then perhaps there is a small degree of representation (but not what I would call realism).  However, I seriously doubt he had trees and bushfires in mind when throwing those pigments around!

    I do like the idea of turning them upside down!

    Seriously, though, I think there is a difference in the defining "abstract" and "abstraction", and there are degrees within each category.   There are also the different areas within "realism"  such as photo realism, hyperrealism etc...

    Really, I suppose it only matters if writing a book or paper; running an exhibition or producing a sales catalogue etc.....    As far as the artist and the buyer/viewer are concerned, do categories really matter?
    Abstraction
  • edited March 6
    I like @outremer's test for abstraction.

    @CBG, @toujours is correct. When Pollock painted it it didn't represent anything. He had the canvas on the floor and dripped paint all over it with a stick and then finally dribbled the long blue blobs over the top of everything. I think you could turn this one upside down and it wouldn't matter. It caused a huge controversy here when the National Gallery of Australia bought it for some ridiculous sum.

    I agree with you, @toujours. There are degrees of abstraction. To me, the Monet sits midway between traditional realism and complete abstraction.

    Thanks everyone for the responses.  :)
  • I'm just an East Texas country girl and abstract paintings, quite frankly, leave me cold. Impressionism can be very beautiful and I enjoy looking at them, but realistic paintings are what I am most interested in. Yes, I think there is a definite difference between them, but what that would be will depend on the person looking at them.  My perception will be different from anyone else.
    allforChristtassieguy
  • edited March 6
    Thanks, @oilpainter1950:)
    I agree that we all see things differently. I guess that's the thing with complete abstraction - much depends on the viewer. Impressionism is much more accessible to most people.  With traditional realism it's probably easier to arrive at a consensus about whether a painting is good or not. But with complete abstraction a la Pollock it will depend totally on the individual viewer. I'm like you - most abstraction leaves me cold.
  • I treat abstraction as I would a piece of wallpaper or material.  The odd bit may be pretty enough in that the position of the hues involved may be pleasing.    That is as far as it goes for me, and I am unlikely to have them hanging on my walls at home.
    Having said that, I sometimes do a variation between abstraction and realism.   I have no idea what you would call it.    If @tassieguy does not mind I could post some photos to see where others think they may fit in?  I have never shared pics of these works to anyone before, They were paintings I did in my first year of working with paint (I began painting with oils after one unsuccessful try with acrylics) and was experimenting. 
    allforChrist
  • No problem, @toujours. It will be interesting.  :)

  • Sorry this took so long.    My Abstract idea was hard to achieve in Reality!
    Having taken the paintings  outside in the sun to photograph, a storm approached blocking the sun, then as I downloaded them from the camera, the computer went on strike......

    The Puff Adder was a skin I tanned myself (Chrome alum) long ago in South Africa.   I wanted a way of displaying it and painted a board to hang it on.   That led to a partial snake so as to identify what it was!  I was playing around with framing ideas at the time and tried a frame on the inside, not the outside.

    The next was a broken horse collar hame (the traces attach to this and hence are the link between the horse and cart).   I wanted to reference what the original item had been used for, hence the hackney cab, coach and the carriage.

    The lion was an accident.   I was painting african colours on a board with the idea of attaching some porcupine quills to it.    The lion head began to appear, so I ran with it; then added the cheetah and the torso of the giraffe.  I had planned on putting an inner frame on it as well as the outside one.   Stupidly, I let the framer talk me out of it and now I cant find matching frame to do it myself.   He did not want to screw through into the painting, even though I said he could.   No imagination!!

    Oops, I seem to be missing one....It will not download, so I will try again in a bit.




    Not sure what everyone will think of them.   They are not Realism, yet not full abstract either.
  • They're really interesting, @toujours and more meaningful to me than a lot of the completely abstract stuff I've seen. I think my favorite is the horse collar. The third with the lion looks the most abstract at first glance but then you see the lion and other animals and it turns towards realism. 
  • Thanks, @tassieguy.  I have become so used to living with these, it is good to hear what other people think.

    This next one (difficult to download, even when the file size is shrunk) was another of me playing around with frames.    I attached the horse shoe to the picture after gluing one painting over another.   Then I wanted the frame, but it would not fit, so I had it sliced at an angle which matched the angle I had glued the small painting on.  I also experimented with scratching into paint on this one.    It is quirky, but I am fond of this one.   I am sorry it is not  a better photo, there is a board along the top of the photo which I could not cut out properly when cropping the photo,  Because the frame is offset, I could not crop the surrounding white stone behind either.




  • Ah, that's my new favorite. I like the frame in this one whereas the frame in the snake one didn't do it for me. This one is more unusual than abstract. I'd call this one realism. Quirky, but I really like it.  :)
  • tassieguy said:
    Ah, that's my new favorite. I like the frame in this one whereas the frame in the snake one didn't do it for me. This one is more unusual than abstract. I'd call this one realism. Quirky, but I really like it.  :)
    Thanks for that.   I still have the 4th corner of the frame.   Perhaps I should do a smaller, corresponding piece one day....?

    Yes, the Realism/Abstract issue has a lot of facets.  
  • @toujours I do think your paintings capture a genuine essence of abstract - because they convey a recognisable evocative essence. They are not simply graphic design that requires a title to explain it. When the painting, nice to look at or not, doesn't communicate without the title I am often puzzled as to which came first:
    - The title and meaning - and then all that application of paint was a skilled attempt to convey that feeling, thought, concept, essence or idea?
    - Or the artist splashed paint around in a nice manner - then looked at it and came up with a creative title and story?
  • Interesting one. Of the three paintings posted I’d argue they are all abstract, that is if you equate ‘abstraction’ with ‘simplification’. Ingres is of course the least abstracted, and blue poles may or may not have had any realistic basis. 

    Hyper-realism is interesting. To me it’s almost anti-abstract, in the sense that the otherworldliness of some hyper-realism seems due to containing even more information than reality, not less. 

    I confess I am a big fan of blue poles. It’s based here in the NGA in Canberra and I know it intimately. It’s a huge beast with a lot of presence, and the depth that is achieved with the layering of the yellows/oranges with the ‘marching’ blues poles is quite mesmerizing. What's it all about? I dunno, but as a captivating image it works for me. 

    somewhat relatedly I just went and saw the Jeffrey Smart exhibition, which is on here at the moment. He somehow managed to combine ‘realism’ with ‘abstraction’ all at the same time. Masterful. Here’s a couple of paintings if you’re not familiar with his work. I’ll be going back for a second viewing. 




  • Thanks, @Roxy. I love Jeffery Smart's work. I have a big glossy book full of reproductions of his work and I've seen them in the big galleries in Melbourne and Canberra. I like his sort of abstraction. I've seen blue poles in the flesh, too, and it certainly has more impact than when you see a small photo of it like I've posted above.  :)
  • tassieguy said:
    Thanks, @Roxy. I love Jeffery Smart's work. I have a big glossy book full of reproductions of his work and I've seen them in the big galleries in Melbourne and Canberra. I like his sort of abstraction. I've seen blue poles in the flesh, too, and it certainly has more impact than when you see a small photo of it like I've posted above.  :)
    I love this quote of his I found in the catalogue “I can find anything beautiful … always it’s the light.’
    tassieguy
  • edited March 8
    Here's another of Jeffery Smart's that combines abstraction and realism. I think this is one of his best. Is this one in the show, @Roxy?



    Yarragon Siding
  • @tassieguy

    In art what distinguishes between “abstract” versus “non-representationalism”.  What does “abstract” or “abstraction” mean?  I’m a newbie.

  • edited March 8
    Hi, @CBG, as far as I can tell, both "abstract" and "non-representational" have been used to refer to the same thing - to paintings that do not purport to represent anything in the visual world.

     However, the term "abstraction" is also used in realism to refer to brushwork in areas of detail that does not represent strictly what is in the subject or reference but rather gives an impression of what is there. As Monet does. Mark does this a lot. For example I think in his video where he paints a big dog with curly hair. He calls this technique "maintaining the abstraction".  It's necessary unless one wants to use a one-haired brush and attempt to paint every hair or blade of grass in a subject.  In the above by Jeffery Smart the abstraction is different again - it is in the extreme simplification of form and elimination of any detail that does not add to or comport with the composition. 

    I'm no expert on this but that's how I read the situation. Others my have better explanations.  :)  
  • CBGCBG -
    edited March 8
    @tassieguy

    Where exactly is the extreme simplification?  I see moderate detail everywhere…
    it does “feel” surreal to me… but that is an entirely different subject.
  • edited March 8
    @CBG, everything in that composition is where it is on purpose and not exactly where it would have been in reality. And much is left out that would have been there. That is a form of "abstraction".  The term comes from the verb "abstract' which means to draw from or take from.

    I like this from Wiki:

    "Conceptual abstractions may be formed by filtering the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, selecting only those aspects which are relevant for a particular subjectively valued purpose. For example, abstracting a leather soccer ball to the more general idea of a ball selects only the information on general ball attributes and behavior, excluding, but not eliminating, the other phenomenal and cognitive characteristics of that particular ball. In a type–token distinction, a type (e.g., a 'ball') is more abstract than its tokens (e.g., 'that leather soccer ball')."


    Painters do this sort of thing all the time. 

    Smart also made much use of the Golden Ratio and Dynamic Symmetry in his compositions.
  • Personally, terms can be so loosely interpreted that one sometimes wonders if there is any distinction at all?  I agree a bit with @CBG on the above being more realistic and not being abstract.    There is a big difference between simplification and abstract in my understanding.  To me, this is similar to the simplification so well portrayed by those wonderful poster artists of the 1920's and 1930's.  It may be abstracted somewhat from reality; but in no way is it abstract art.

    @tassieguy wrote ...
    "...everything in that composition is where it is on purpose and not exactly where it would have been in reality. And much is left out that would have been there..."

     If you define abstract by meaning the composition is altered to suit the artist, then that would encompass any painter who has ever lived.
    I have yet to see a painting that encompasses every single thing in place where the artist observed it to be in reality.     That is the whole idea of artistic license. 
  • edited March 8
    Yes , that's all true, @toujours. There are different sorts of abstraction in art. Abstraction doesn't apply solely to works that you can turn upside down.   :)
  • edited March 8
    The explanation in that link is useful, @dencal. The writer uses the terms "representational", "abstract" and "non-representational" but concedes that "abstract" and "non-representational" can be, and often are, used interchangeably to refer to works like Pollocks, for example.  :)

    The reason I used the three works by Ingres, Monet and Pollock was to illustrate that abstraction is not an either or phenomenon but occurs along a spectrum. Virtually all realist art uses some level or sort of abstraction and even in entirely non-representational work it is possible to find elements that might be seen in the world of visual reality.  It's not black and white and that's why the realism/abstraction dichotomy is (I hope) an interesting topic for discussion.   :)
    dencal
  • dencal said:
    CBG

    Here is a good explanation of these confusing terms.

    https://courses.lumenlearning.com/sac-artappreciation/chapter/oer-1-4/

    Denis
    ".....Delaunay’s work is a primary example of early nonrepresentational art, bearing no trace of any reference to anything recognizable from the real world. In nonrepresentational art, for instance, one is unlikely to find references to naturalistic entities...."

    I would have said the work in question was very representational of a dart board.    Perhaps a better example could have been found for the theory ...?! (jokingly written)

  • toujours said:


    I would have said the work in question was very representational of a dart board.    Perhaps a better example could have been found for the theory ...?! (jokingly written)
     That's what I meant when I wrote that "even in entirely non-representational work it is possible to find elements that might be seen in the world of visual reality".
  • tassieguy said:
    Here's another of Jeffery Smart's that combines abstraction and realism. I think this is one of his best. Is this one in the show, @Roxy?

    Yarragon Siding
    Nope that one’s not in the show. There is another one with barrels though. 
      
    tassieguy
  • edited March 8
    Ah, yes, the barrels. Love it. To me, the abstraction in this one is very apparent. He's drawn on visual reality, taken what he needs, left the rest, and made what he's taken into something that did not actually exist in visual reality. In that sense it is abstraction. And it's partly what gives his work a slightly surreal feel. His use of the GR (not slavishly) also helps give his work a sort of balanced stillness, a frozen moment look. 

    Thanks for posting it, @Roxy.  Just for fun, run it through your little app. :)
  • Thanks for posting it, @Roxy.  Just for fun, run it through your little app. :)
    @tassieguy, below are some notes from the gallery that describes Smart's exposure to the golden mean and dynamic symmetry. Whilst he didn't follow it slavishly with the barrels, there does seem to be some alignment with simple diagonals. Perhaps the biggest clue though is that the canvas is a golden rectangle :smile:





  • CBGCBG -
    edited March 8
    How does one judge a work of “imaginative realism” as “abstract” or not?

    I’m struggling to find a coherent conceptual foundation for the term “abstract”.

    An artist could compose something incredibly simple, or very contrived, but if each wall, shadow, barrel etc were rendered with perfect visual realism, i.e. so it looked how it would actually and realistically appear in the scene, then we’d still be dealing with Realism no?

    If not, then the concept “abstract” to my mind becomes arbitrary and subjective as opposed to a useful concept. IMHO

    Now if the artist purposefully changed the lighting or the colors or the shadows to form abstract passages, or forms i.e. relying on distortions of what would otherwise be mere realism, then I could agree abstraction is being introduced.  

    Mere assemblages of the utterly “real” to connote abstract forms I would argue, to my eye, still qualifies as realism. e.g
    an arrangement of coffee beans or marbles perfectly realistically rendered, but forming some symbol or perhaps an image of its own.
  • edited March 8
    CBG said:


    ... if the artist purposefully changed the lighting or the colors or the shadows to form abstract passages, or forms i.e. relying on distortions of what would otherwise be mere realism, then I could agree abstraction is being introduced.  


    That's what he's done, @CBG. If he had taken a photo of the scene that prompted this painting (he may have done) it would have been quite different to this painting. The barrels would be differently stacked, there colours would not be where they are in the painting and probably less intense, The lighting would not be like it is either - it looks like a dust storm rather than cloud -but it works in this painting.

    I agree that the scene depicted looks realistic, perhaps even hyper-realistic in parts but, nonetheless, he has made use of abstraction. It is representational as opposed to nonrepresentational (see above link by @dencal ), but there is still a good deal of abstraction. To "abstract" simply means "to take from". He has taken certain elements he saw in reality and done something with them that does not reflect what was there. 

    Perhaps the concepts "representational", "abstract" and "non-representational" make more sense the way the are explained in the article @dencal linked to.  The important point is that there is no clear dividing line between realism and abstraction.
  • edited March 8
    @CBG, the painting below by Ingres is representational with very little abstraction.





    This one by Picasso is representational with a great deal of abstraction.



    This one by Pollock is (arguably) non-representational/entirely abstract.


    CBG
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