Art Renewal Center and the Wonders of Clasical Realism

Marion Boddy-Evans of the painting blog on has posted a few links to some friendly debate about the truth of classical realism and the evils of contemporary art. She made a post last year about the Art Renewal Center that created some colorful discussion on her comments page.

I wish I liked to debate things more than I do, but conflict just bores me. I’m not sure if it’s because everything I think is right (and I couldn’t be bothered listening to the wrong opinions of others) or because I don’t like to have my opinions proven wrong! :-P

Seriously though, who really cares if classical realism is the truth or if contemporary art is taking us all to hell?! I can appreciate both forms of art, but I get more out expressive painting than I do any other type of art. Yet I have no plans to make the world see the evils of any art that is not expressive.

To read more about it all, see the Art Renewal Center philosophy by Fred Ross over at the Art Renewal Center, there’s an open letter to the Art Renewal Center by John Nutt over here, and if you are really keen to delve into the whole realism/contemporary debate, see Greg Scheckler’s in depth piece (pdf file) called “Questioning Classical Realism: a Critique of Ross’s “The Great 20th Century Art Scam” as Related to the Art Renewal Center”.

I feel like hugging a realist painter after all that!

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I thought the realism argument died about one hundred years ago.

  2. I have visited the site before and really appreciated the art and liked the site. However I do get put off by elitists of *any* genre. Like you I don’t bother too much with debates, partly because I find pontifications tiresome and boring, these types of issues were discussed ad infinitum between art students in college classes (so heard enough for a flipping lifetime), and because I just don’t want to spend time on them.

    Still it is important for some to make a stand and articulate why or why not. And the beat goes on :)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Are you folks talking about realism in general or the more academic version? The Art Renewal Center encourages a refined, perhaps too narrow, point of view, whereas the many fine contemporary realists such as Pearlstein, Katz, Close, Fish etc. illustrate how the realist ethic can be influenced by and consequently relate to the discourse on contemporary art. I find myself capable of finding impressive examples of nearly any style, approach or movement. To act as though “expressive” art (or are we discussing painting exclusively?) can only look one or a couple of ways is rather myopic. On the other hand to take the position that any art that doesn’t adhere to academic rules is inadequate exhibits, as Delacroix (in a rather mean spirited and incorrect description) said of Ingres, “the complete expression of an incomplete intellect”. The argument on either side can be interesting, but ultimately a waste of time, because essentially it revolves around the elusive element of personal taste, which is something Duchamp saw as merely a case of repetition within an epoch. An infinite number of factors go into shaping personal taste and it is something theorists would be wise to avoid because it is completely subjective and cannot be right or wrong. I will add that I held in contempt any number of artists (Gerome, Bouguereau etc.) simply because I was told to. I would call this another form of academicism. Though I have gained an appreciation of these artists over time, I wouldn’t put them on my short list but I would posit that slick, illusionist surfaces express just as much about the capabilities of paint and the person using it as any other style or method. Are paint slingers really in emotional heat for however long it takes to say something and conversely is it really possible that someone using a traditional method is someone bereft of a soul? The mere fact that an interest in traditional atelier methods are indeed on the rise would indicate that it is a phenomenon as much of our time as any other form and must be thought of as part of the mix. As more strands of the grand argument are introduced, it should become obvious that, rather than narrowing the range of possibilities, new ones can surface.

    I’m sure the above will be found to be boring and tiresome as it seems to pontificate; also I never got the memo about the realism argument dying a hundred years ago. Please accept my apology.

  4. no anon, I didn’t find your post tiresome at all, I enjoyed reading your point of view and agree.

    When I say pontificate I am referring to the dictionary definition:
    “To express opinions or judgments in a dogmatic way.”

    Perhaps I should have said dogmatic rather than pontificate.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Jafabrit.

    Carmelo Lisciotto

  6. It’s mostly just classical realism Anon. I doubt there would be much praise for Katz or Close on the Art Renewal website. Those artists seem a little too unholy to qualify as the real deal.

    I think when a group of people take any theory or way of thinking to the extreme, it loses its way.

    It’s like feminism or even environmentalism; When they are taken to the extreme, they become irrelevant in my eyes. Nobody likes an extremist, no matter how worthy their cause is. I’m all for equal rights and I do what I can to support the environment, but people that believe their way is the only way don’t do much for a cause.

    That’s where I think the Art Renewal Center fails; it is too extreme in its thinking.

    Bring realism back and bring the teaching of drawing back, but don’t throw away all the good things that contemporary art has to offer.

  7. Like any time in history, the pendulum of ideas has been pushed to an extreme. Concerning some contemporary art, this is the case. I think there can be a lack of craftsmanship and ideas expressed that are maybe too conceptual for the average person who wants to understand “modern” art. My big complaint isn’t that all art other than classical realism is the problem, it’s the taining in art dept.s that’s the problem and some instructors with a bias don’t teach students how to become good draughtsmen/d’women because they themselves are poor druaghtsmen.
    During the 20′s many art schools and college departments began minimizing the need of drawing and painting in the classical method. Now today for instance you cannot even find an artist’s anatomy class in a state college or a painting dept. that can teach a method other than opaque, wet-into-wet, alla prima painting.
    For the most part I strongly believe for an art student to at least learn to paint and draw realistically (i.e. from the cast, master’s copies, the model of course), otherwise the student is forced to rely on guess work when they want to render realistically, or they are forced to work very loose to cover bad drawing.
    Although reactionary, The Art Renewal Center/ Fred Ross want to push the pendulum of art and it’s education back to a realm of high craftmanship and noble ideas and away from some of the horrid art of the past such as the work ‘Piss Christ’ whos only goal was to offend.
    The time is passing when people of marginal ability paint and they’re told that there is no such thing as bad art. Art lovers who favor classical training think so too.

  8. it seems pretty closed minded to think that all art should be set solely on realism and lack any sense of individuality past that.

  9. I agree that it’s time to return to true craftsmanship. I am a professional artist who paints realism and I hold myself to high standards in my work. I am glad to see the efforts of the Art Renewal Center. I hope the impact is profound.
    John Cogan

  10. Art should wed concept and skill. The criticism of the traditional academic method is that it is all skill and no concept. It is a valid criticism. The criticism of minimalist, conceptual, and other postmodernist art is that it is all concept and no skill. Such is also a valid criticism. The problem has created aschism in current art education: universities favor skill-less artists with idea-based postmodern work and academies teach young artists only atelier-style technical mastery of craft. The great artists like Rembrandt, Velasquez, Vermeer, Carravaggio and Goya COMBINED skill and concept. Fred Ross and his Art Renewal Center provides valuable balance against the hegemony of art universities, “ART21″, the MoMA and other reigining monopolies upon contemporiry art. Of course he is a polarizing figure- but thank God he is there for balance.

  11. What if Art is defined by the absolute instead of the relative? Why we humans tend to impose our visions on others? Why do western artists and scholars impose their definition of art and why do they molest the freedom that art brings to the mind and heart of people?

    I personally enjoy reading a painting of Zao Wou-Ki or Chu Teh-Chun..
    Paintings like The Great Wave by Hokusai is another example of abstraction and realism. This brings me back beyond painting itself. It lands me to the discovery of the Zen Garden, Kare Sansui, The dry garden. I think it is a great example of how mankind can interpret his environment aesthetically, spiritually, and poetically.

    I mention the garden because it is the highest refinement and to me the most eloquent form of art. Nature is a Garden full of surprises, was it a landscape or a rock pattern, was it a horse or a wave. A garden is an evolving canvas, sculpture, and book. In order to understand or have a fair meaning of painting as art, it is constructive to have a higher view point. Such view point is given by the art of Gardens. From that summit, mankind can read things calmly. (I am forced to beg you not to bring the debate to praise the French garden or the English garden and restrict garden history to these two view points).

    The debate around abstract and realism is actually unhealthy because it is seen from within painting itself, or within the western society. There is a bias when one tries to define humanity according to his own past. Art does not belong to the West, art belongs to Humanity. Art Renewal Center is already a violation of Art itself. It would be wise and humble to change the name to: Western Art Renewal Center. It makes a heart bleed when the West usurps Art. (I see things globally, for Earth’s sake, I would also post the same critiques towards the East because Eastern did not write enough about Art.)

    It is then wise to approach art from a wide perspective. The wide perspective allows everyone to avoid unproductive debates and to avoid the trap of defining what is art and what is not. You do what you do, you show it, some like, some don’t, so what! next canvas!

    Bob Dylan said ‘We are in constant state of becoming’.

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