“The Ugly: men go in for it because they do not see enough of what is beautiful.” Ingres
Realism is once again fashionable. Held in low esteem for much of the 20th century, it is again acceptable to render the world around us in a recognizable manner. However, fashion finds its identity in the changing currents of culture. As culture shifts, so does the artistic expression which characterizes the spirit of the age. The pursuit of visual fidelity can be as frivolous as a fad or as sincere as a calling. For almost four decades I have sought to paint imagery that is indeed realistic but with an aesthetic purpose owing nothing to the currently acceptable moment in fashion. My mentor and teacher, Richard Lack wrote,
“Indeed, any 20th century painting which suggests a recognizable object, however crudely of childishly rendered, qualifies as realism. Obviously the word realism, when applied to painting has become so broad in its sweep and general in its application that it is no longer meaningful.”
This is why I have attempted to produce work according to an aesthetic standard that has as its foundation the great art of the past and as its purpose, the complex pursuit of beauty in all its forms. In 1996 I participated in an exhibition in Hastings, NY entitled; Beauty: A Rebirth of Relevance.” The purpose for this exhibit was to demonstrate that beauty, in all it artistic applications, is motivation enough for the production of art. And what are its artistic applications?
Beauty in art is far more than a “pretty picture.” Throughout history, artists have looked to external stimuli for artistic expression. Whether focused on landscape or religious themes; whether employing highly realistic or impressionist treatments, artists have looked to God’s creation as the subject for those pictorial elements. The result of such pursuits, if combined with artistic competence, is generally considered to be beautiful, if not beautiful in subject matter then beautiful in workmanship. The efforts of a well trained artist who is practicing his or her craft to represent the created world, even if depicting deplorable events, result in imagery that contains beauty in some form.
One good example would be the disturbing and powerful painting, Summary Execution Under the Moorish Kings of Granada, painted in 1870 by Henri Renault. The viewer is presented with the spectacle of the decapitated corpse of a very recently beheaded prisoner, and the executioner wiping blood off of his huge sword, seemingly right in the viewer’s face—hardly a beautiful image! Yet the excellence and beauty of the artistic elements of the painting; the design, color, draftsmanship and the overall achievement of the artist’s intent with technical brilliance make this brutal and unattractive image beautiful in workmanship if not in conception.
Therefore, a summary of the beauty I pursue in art could be described as follows: Beauty of design—the orderly direction of the viewers’ eyes while maintaining a dominant focus; beauty of workmanship—technical proficiency in handling the artists’ materials; integrity— which insists that a work of art must be complete to be fully beautiful; clarity—which requires that what is seen is comprehended and communicated without confusion or difficulty. If all of these are present, how may we express the elemental search for beauty in art?
What are the elements of a masterpiece? Neither excellent drawing, paint handling, value spotting, balance, composition, light nor color by themselves make a painting masterful. It is the combination of ALL these elements of the painters craft allied with the innate artistic sensibilities of the artist which may allow one to produce truly masterful work. Therein is found the incredible difficulty of the painter's craft.
My paintings are easily placed in three general categories through which I attempt my search for these ever elusive ideals. They are:
Figure, including historical, mythological, religious, genre and portraiture
Still life which allows investigation of light and its effect on different forms and textures
Landscape which in my case predominantly includes scenes from Minnesota, New Mexico, and closer to home, Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo, Texas
Granted, these are lofty goals and they involve a lifetime of study which, for me, continues.