Realism versus abstract

Realism versus abstract An age-old debate rose to the surface in one of my art classes recently, and it revolved around a basic disagreement on the role of realism as opposed to abstract or impressionist style. This discussion had been going on for decades and both sides hold strong opinions, but in the end art is about personal choice. I teach realism but have a healthy respect for other forms of artistic expression. I embrace the technological age and own an iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop computers. In my classes we often hook up the laptop to our flat screen television to view the step-by-step watercolours I have posted on my Flickr page here and we use digital technology as an aid in every step of our projects. Our in-class controversy arose over the use of YouTube instructional videos demonstrating the use of Cling Wrap, waxed paper, bubble pack, salt and a variety of flashy gimmicks that seemed to promise instant results with the minimum of effort. In this age of instant gratification the tedious work of learning the basics is being eroded by such videos in my opinion. Our controversy resulted in a sharply divided class and two valued members dropped out. This was regrettable but probably inevitable. The teaching of realism in any medium involves patience, attention to detail, self-discipline, and a willingness to accept that learning is a cumulative experience. If the student leans towards a much looser style of painting the slowness of realism can prove irksome and demotivating. Neither side is right or wrong. It's a matter of personal choice and both sides have to agree to disagree. As a realist, I would argue that most people expect a work of art to resemble something they know, be it a still life with roses, a portrait, or a landscape. Within these boundaries there is room for personal interpretation, but YouTube gimmicks with Cling Wrap implies a loss of control over a project as the result is largely a matter of chance. Some would argue that is part of the charm of these techniques, and I can't argue against that. It’s a matter of personal choice. I will continue to produce, and teach, realism to students who are willing to learn the lesson of patience and the skills needed to turn out paintings that represent a high degree of realism. I wish other students well and hope they find teachers who can give them what they want.    

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