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  1. #1
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    Representational Artists

    Hi folks, I was at first thinking about putting this in the lounge but I don't wish to be trolled. I am a little distraught right now. At discovering that being a representational artist is actually frowned upon. I've been seen through critiques of class work to have people reply with statements like "It's too representational" or "It's too beautiful". I'm a little confused as to why those are valid statements to be made about anything. I mean my goal in every artwork is beauty. And I prefer working in the realm of reality (ofcourse with the occasional twist, and defiance of some physical laws).

    Its been very alarming for me that the skills of drawing and painting here at my school are very much lacking. Very few people here are beyond the level of basic drawing, and painting. Sculpture, especially representational is severely lacking. Even animation and book illustration are lacking people with ability to create a compelling composition or a character that shows weight and motion in a convincing way. I decided to use a project of mine to test this little theory out, and basically did it in the 30 minutes before class. With some ink and a bamboo brush I made what would be a sketch at best of a scene using absolutely no reference. And I got a glistening critique with comments like "I like how you chose not to show everything in detail, and the gestural quality." "Its very raw and really shows emotion."

    Of course I also had a completely BS explanation as to what I was going for. But I only had to give that after the comments everyone had given.
    I'm just beginning to feel that visual arts is now more about literature and isms than it is about imagery and visual literacy.

    This doesn't mean I don't like any abstract work at all, just that I feel hard-done-by. That the guy who paints a square gets absolutely raving critiques when I get stuff about my work being too clear or whatever other strange things people have said.


    Thoughts? Opinions? Also PLEASE please if you can reference some artists, because while I love Bougereau and Sargent, and Alma-Tadema and Repin. I always like to see new work. Because these are the people I want to learn from.

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    Get out of that damned school, it's doing nothing for you.


    Tristan Elwell
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    Very much agreed with Elwell, your Dad.

    But make no mistake; there is good abstract art out there.

    Thinking connects desire with creation.
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    I have to agree with Elwell, what kind of school is this? "It's too representational? It's TOO BEAUTIFUL? What kind of psuedo-intellectual bullshit is that? A school should challenge it's students, it should demand greatness and push people to hone their skills. What your describing sounds more like artistic ass-patting for the over-privileged and untalented.

    I've put up work for critique on this page, and some really talented artists have helped me. And by helped, I mean they've torn me a new asshole. But the quality of my work has increased because of it. Because people demanded more of me.

    Seems like you've got more talent than your school can handle. I recommend you go find someone who will kick your ass.

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    Yeah....don't know what to tellyou. You won't learn anything there about representational art if they don't value it. Don't be distraught over it though - and representational art is very much NOT frowned on. Well, actually plenty of people do frown on ity but so? Most illustration work is very representational, as is concept work. I don't think Cameron hired a single non-representational installation performance artist when he made Avatar. I doubt if he even interviewed very many (that's right, sarcasm...smell it?).

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Most illustration work is very representational, as is concept work. I don't think Cameron hired a single non-representational installation performance artist when he made Avatar. I doubt if he even interviewed very many (that's right, sarcasm...smell it?).
    Is that strictly true? I'm not so sure... Of course there is a huge part of 'illustration' that is representational, but much, if not the majority is more abstract, or rather 'stylised', particularly in the world of children's books, where a huge number of illustrators work, and also in editorial illustration. I know a number of illustrators privately and I'd say the balance between representational and more abstract approaches is about 60/40 in favour of a more stylised approach, although most of them are adaptable. Of course this is a UK perspective. Concept art as illustration, depends upon the project, and if movies like Avatar are your goal, then they will require concessional realism or representation, but they are few and far between. However, developing good skills in representational art means your abstract/stylised abilities will be better grounded and convincing, so I agree with Elwell; the school is doing little for you by the sounds of it.

    Last edited by Aly Fell; April 14th, 2011 at 07:32 AM. Reason: punctuation
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aly Fell View Post
    Is that strictly true? I'm not so sure... Of course there is a huge part of 'illustration' that is representational, but much, if not the majority is more abstract, or rather 'stylised', particularly in the world of children's books, where a huge number of illustrators work, and also in editorial illustration. I know a number of illustrators privately and I'd say the balance between representational and more abstract approaches is about 60/40 in favour of a more stylised approach, although most of them are adaptable. Of course this is a UK perspective. Concept art as illustration, depends upon the project, and if movies like Avatar are your goal, then they will require concessional realism or representation, but they are few and far between. However, developing good skills in representational art means your abstract/stylised abilities will be better grounded and convincing, so I agree with Elwell; the school is doing little for you by the sounds of it.
    I think you're confusing or substituting the term "representational" and "realistic". Representational can include a wide range of styles from Steve Hanks to Patrick Nagel (and broader of course). In that sense most illustration is representational, at least the work I notice. I see very little non-representaitonal illustratiton in most markets.

    I disagree that movies like Avatar are rare - imaginitive sfx films dominate the box office and I'm sure they're working on Avatar 2. I was just using it as an example of an entire industry where representational art (the ability to communicate effectively through visual media) is highly valued. It is only the tip of the iceberg though.

    Edit: Ooops! Note to self: make sure you really ARE at the end of the thread and Elwell hasn't beat me to the punch!

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    "It's too beautiful"

    There's your problem.

    Art can't be "too beautiful" any more than a math or physics
    problem can be solved "too elegantly"..

    Any more than an engine can be "too efficient" or a sword can be "too sharp".

    Someone in your school needs a slap.

    Last edited by Flake; May 18th, 2011 at 09:37 PM.
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    It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great.
    - Tom Hanks from "A League of their Own"

    Good artists never forget that fact, lazy hacks buying their own hype live in fear of it.

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    This sounds like the school from Hell. They should just call it a non-representational institution and get it over with so folk like you don't get stuck.

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    Thanks for the responses. Its definitely been a struggle for me primarily because there hasn't been any structure for the most part. Only 4 or 5 of my classes have involved weekly assignments and exercises meant to build some sort of ability or proficiency with a designated medium. The rest have been. Ok. Do this. You don't know how? teach yourself. It seems the school is looking for super witty gallery artists, who push boundaries. Whatever that means. The problem for me is I wasn't really aware of this up until recently and I'm just now finishing my junior year, so dropping out now would be a pretty big waste. I will just use next year's senior project-type course to build up my portfolio and take advantage of the resources here.

    Like I said before I honestly have no problem with some abstract art, especially when the artist doesn't claim some long winded explanation as to the importance of their work.

    I was watching an interesting talk earlier. And the man giving the talk Scott Burdick mentioned that it seems a little strange that you have to read or hear some explanation as to the deeper value or message before you can appreciate a painting, where as with music, if it sounds great, it sounds great, and thats all you really need.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ThabisoMhlaba View Post
    Thanks for the responses. Its definitely been a struggle for me primarily because there hasn't been any structure for the most part. Only 4 or 5 of my classes have involved weekly assignments and exercises meant to build some sort of ability or proficiency with a designated medium. The rest have been. Ok. Do this. You don't know how? teach yourself. It seems the school is looking for super witty gallery artists, who push boundaries. Whatever that means. The problem for me is I wasn't really aware of this up until recently and I'm just now finishing my junior year, so dropping out now would be a pretty big waste. I will just use next year's senior project-type course to build up my portfolio and take advantage of the resources here.
    Or, or you could say "screw 'em" and do your representational art and tell 'em you're doing it ironically. Hey; that's probably the pretentiousness they're looking for

    Like I said before I honestly have no problem with some abstract art, especially when the artist doesn't claim some long winded explanation as to the importance of their work.
    Again 'abstract' doesn't mean 'no design'; Mondrian was an excellent draftsman. Cubism is all about design.

    It's not really the 3D/Representational paradigm that your school seems to be fighting against; it's the idea that drawing/design can be learned, in general.

    Gauguin mostly worked in 2D; but educated artists know he could draw and design and did in his 2D pieces.

    I was watching an interesting talk earlier. And the man giving the talk Scott Burdick mentioned that it seems a little strange that you have to read or hear some explanation as to the deeper value or message before you can appreciate a painting, where as with music, if it sounds great, it sounds great, and thats all you really need.
    Exactly. A lot of post-modern (that's the word your looking for) 'art' has to be explained, which IMO means it isn't art. It's just something someone made. Generally the artist him/herself doesn't even know what it "means"... there was no artistic intent. There's no message. That's why it kind of irks me when people suggest that certain animals can make art by stomping all over a canvas, or flinging paint with their paws.

    That's how I feel about these post-modernist 'artists'; they're monkeys with a paintbrush and no clue.

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    I am in your shoes. My classmates cannot draw. The school I attend is a school of CUNY city college of technology, which is a city level technology oriented college. I went there because they have a bachelors in communication design, which focuses on Illustration or 2D animation. I am there also because I can't afford the private school art colleges and I cannot find a job yet. I also get a considerable amount of financial aid because I come from a poor immigrant family. I can also get work study and work at the school. Other than that, they don't teach you how to do too much traditional art, but does most things on the computer. They also focus more on generic quantities of art rather than quality, when they should be focusing on quality as well. I would rather spend 3 weeks on one good project than 3 weeks on 2 mediocre projects. The teachers also dumb down the subjects because of inexperienced students. The school also have intense required academic courses from English to sciences, and I am unlucky enough to be a student of a particular jerk who claims to teach English composition, when all he does is tell you to read.

    Last edited by Vay; April 14th, 2011 at 01:06 AM.
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    Honestly, we all love to hate on the abstract movement here at CA-- we can fill threads and threads with how much we despise the pretentious preening and pseudo intellectual bullshit that is produced by today's "real" artists.. however, based on the comments I've read here over the last couple years, it seems to me that most art programs cater to the abstract artist over the representational one. It's unfortunate but true.

    Having said that though, I guess you need to ask yourself whether or not you're getting something out of this experience at all-- and if you're not, this forum is a great resource to find new avenues to teach yourself what you need to know.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sanya View Post
    Honestly, we all love to hate on the abstract movement here at CA-- we can fill threads and threads with how much we despise the pretentious preening and pseudo intellectual bullshit that is produced by today's "real" artists.. however, based on the comments I've read here over the last couple years, it seems to me that most art programs cater to the abstract artist over the representational one. It's unfortunate but true.

    Having said that though, I guess you need to ask yourself whether or not you're getting something out of this experience at all-- and if you're not, this forum is a great resource to find new avenues to teach yourself what you need to know.
    I can vouch that my school is a bit more on the abstract side than the representational side. I walk into the student gallery and I essentially see no representational art.

    I like abstract art sometimes, like it looks like it would be a great way to learn color theory.....but there needs to be a good amount of room for representational at these places too.

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    Reminds me of this:



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    Hi.
    I was about where you are at UM when I realized I should've stayed in LSA, where I started in theater, but changed my major to literature, history, or soc/anthro, anyhing to get a good foundation in what our species has thought and done throughout its existence to inform my art, and just did courses out of the art school as electives, as any UM student can, and without observing the sequence, because bad as the program is for representational interests, there are still some individual instructors who are both good teachers and sympathetic to the particular interests of any committed, hard-working student. Or anyway, there were when I was there through the 80's.

    Consider taking some drawing and painting at WCC--Washtenaw Community College--for more of what you're looking for. It's a pity Jon Lockard recently retired from teaching there. You would've really enjoyed his portrait-figure painting class, I bet. But there are still a couple of other good teachers. I'll have to check and PM you, because there are a couple of other teachers out there--also UM art school alumnae--whom you aboslutely must avoid!

    I understand also that Marinaro's wife teaches illustration and realist oil painting at EMU.

    Incidentally, I prefer the terms "representational" and "non-representational", because, as one of my favorite UM instructors once pointed out to me "all art is 'abstract." It's important to realize that.

    Got to Artrenewal.org and look up "living masters", also see scottburdick.com

    Last edited by Cory Hinman; April 14th, 2011 at 07:59 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Hinman View Post
    Incidentally, I prefer the terms "representational" and "non-representational", because, as one of my favorite UM instructors once pointed out to me "all art is 'abstract." It's important to realize that.
    Glad other people are out there peddling this idea.

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    Ugh. Flashbacks. I had been a painting major for fifteen minutes when a grad student walked over to me and said "you're not painting, you're sculpting on canvas. Make that arm green, that leg orange..."

    I ignored him, but it didn't get much better from there. I got the impression most art schools were like that (late Seventies). The most deadly insult you could hand anyone's work was "pretty."

    I was once on the receiving end of a critique so savagely nasty, I marched straight out of class to the office and changed my major (sketchbook).
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    I'd say all illustration, by it's very definition, is representational. It can be very, very, very abstracted (which is not the opposite of representational), but still, apples are recognizably apples, chairs are chairs, and kittens are kittens. Eric Carle and Gary Baseman are still representational artists.

    None of which particularly helps Thab with his initial request, which was for examples of contemporary representational art. The reason why his school is so pathetic is that this is an argument that's been pretty much irrelevant, even in the fine art world, for over forty years. The wholesale rejection of representation was a tiny historical blip, a tenet of the High Modernism that peaked in the middle of the last century. Go to the gallery district of any major international art center today and you'll see a mix of representational and non-representational work. (Admittedly, most of the representational work will be horrid, but it's there.) We live in a post-Modern age, and anything can be made acceptable if couched in enough Theory.

    So, if you need to bolster yourself among your peers and professors, you don't even have to refer to illustration or retrograde "classical realism" (which probably wouldn't help anyway). There are plenty of contemporary "name" fine artists working representationally (with varying degrees of realism). Among them:

    John Currin (some works most definitely NSFW)
    Representational Artists

    Gerhard Richter (works in many different styles/idioms)
    Representational Artists

    Eric Fischl
    Representational Artists

    Chuck Close
    Representational Artists

    Jerome Witkin
    Representational Artists

    Jenny Saville
    Representational Artists

    Lucian Freud
    Representational Artists

    And here's Currin talking about the enduring appeal of the figure:


    Last edited by Elwell; April 14th, 2011 at 07:56 AM.

    Tristan Elwell
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    I'd say all illustration, by it's very definition, is representational. It can be very, very, very abstracted (which is not the opposite of representational), but still, apples are recognizably apples, chairs are chairs, and kittens are kittens. Eric Carle and Gary Baseman are still representational artists.
    Gary Baseman is superb, although I'm more drawn toward his chum Tim Biskup, who can be extremely abstract.

    Fair point Elwell, although it would be good for people to post examples of representational illustration that doesn't conform to a 'realist' approach when these kind of discussions happen.

    Edit: Thinking about it, what is the point of the term 'representational' then? If illustration is ALL 'representational' on some level where does the distinction lie? Using terms like 'abstract' become redundant...

    Representational Artists

    Representational Artists

    Representational Artists

    Representational Artists

    Representational Artists

    Last edited by Aly Fell; April 14th, 2011 at 09:46 AM.
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    Tristan Elwell
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    Elwell: Thanks for all the references! I'll be sure to do some studies and read up on them when I retire to my art-cave.

    Cory: I'm now realizing I should've fought my parents harder when it came to college decisions. I had been accepted at SVA and Pratt, but they wanted me to go somewhere that I could have a possible fall back (LSA). But no use crying over spilled milk, just get a towel and clean it up.

    As to the discussion of representational vs abstract. I'm not really qualified to say too much other than. I prefer work that is understood just by the very sight of it. Whether or not it has a deeper message isn't all too important for me, though if there is one I'd like to understand it just by examining the work.

    What I've come to see in most of the work that students produce here, whether its sculptural, time-based or 2D is that its usually some sort of big pun. I am always expecting to hear, after the work is presented, "Get It?". Once its done there're a number of "OOOooohhh"s
    "Now I get it, I definitely see what you're saying now, these sticks, are meant to be invasive species. And you arranged them a random geometric, architectural style arrangement to include the role of man in the natural world"

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    Quote Originally Posted by ThabisoMhlaba View Post
    I am always expecting to hear, after the work is presented, "Get It?". Once its done there're a number of "OOOooohhh"s
    "Now I get it, I definitely see what you're saying now, these sticks, are meant to be invasive species. And you arranged them a random geometric, architectural style arrangement to include the role of man in the natural world"
    No doubt - excellent insight! But don't dare utter the question, "No, I don't really get it?" Unless, you know, you want to hear the entire treatise/manifesto. Which can be fun to do if you have the time, to follow up with, "All that? Really? I just thought you couldn't paint so you used sticks."

    Next critique just ask that..."Well why didn't you just draw/paint that?"

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    Alright Jeff, please explain to me what non-representational illustration is, if all illustration is, as Elwell says, to some degree, representational. My point is to distinguish what the confusion actually is. The OP talks about 'squares' getting more attention than 'representational' work. His examples of representational work are Alma Tadema, Bouguereau, Sargent and Repin, all to an extent realists (although that is a moot point). If there is confusion, I did not initiate it.

    As for Avatar, I take your point it is an example, but I have been doing concept for games and TV for quite a while now... and in that time my realism to stylised is about 50/50, and that's being generous. It's the idea that the use of the word 'most' is misleading in the industry, and provides a false idea of what is expected. Very few people have the option to work on things like Avatar, and all movies need concept including projects that don't involve huge amounts of special effects or 'imaginative realism', as we're supposed to call it now. The character concepts for Sucker Punch for example, are highly stylised. Of course Cameron wouldn't employ an installation performance artist, but (A) an installation performance artist is unlikely to apply, and (B) he is highly unlikely to employ someone like Sargent either. The installation artist is probably screwing Charles Saatchi for a lot more money that Cameron would be paying anyway!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Hinman View Post
    I prefer the terms "representational" and "non-representational", because, as one of my favorite UM instructors once pointed out to me "all art is 'abstract." It's important to realize that
    Again, I think it's wrong to characterize the argument as a "representational" vs "non-representational" argument. I don't think that's the battle ground, at all.

    There is good, well designed abstract art... and there is what some people are calling "abstract art" that is no such thing. It's just the garbage that the untrained post-modern art illiterates are calling "art".

    The battleground is not representational vs. non-representational; it's good design vs. no design.

    'abstract' does not mean 'no design'.

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    Sorry, in the academic circles being discussed here, the distinction is representational vs. non representational.
    I was considering getting my painting MFA at EMU. A friend of mine who teaches art history there advised me against it, as none of the art instructors would view my representatonal work as fine art. they might concede a high level of craft, but that's it.

    I agree what matters in all art is design, which is an abstract consideration.

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    Representational means it looks like the things it is meant to represent. It doesn't deal with style pre se. Edvard Munch's the Scream is representational because you can tell it is a man screaming.
    Jackson Pollock is abstract.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aly Fell View Post
    Alright Jeff, please explain to me what non-representational illustration is, if all illustration is, as Elwell says, to some degree, representational. My point is to distinguish what the confusion actually is. The OP talks about 'squares' getting more attention than 'representational' work. His examples of representational work are Alma Tadema, Bouguereau, Sargent and Repin, all to an extent realists (although that is a moot point). If there is confusion, I did not initiate it.
    Sorry I didn't mean to cause any confusion. I didn't mean to limit representational work to "realistic" work. Those examples were more along the line of artist that I admire, but feel are a bit far removed since they are all well before my time. I just wanted some more contemporary artists that I could look to since I wasn't aware of too many.

    I don't know if you've seen Art School Confidential, but there's a scene in which John Malkovich's character (an instructor at a fictional art school). Talks about how he was one of the first to work with triangles.
    Representational Artists
    That's the kind of thing I am talking about.

    Last edited by ThabisoMhlaba; April 14th, 2011 at 04:04 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aly Fell View Post
    Alright Jeff, please explain to me what non-representational illustration is, if all illustration is, as Elwell says, to some degree, representational. My point is to distinguish what the confusion actually is. The OP talks about 'squares' getting more attention than 'representational' work. His examples of representational work are Alma Tadema, Bouguereau, Sargent and Repin, all to an extent realists (although that is a moot point). If there is confusion, I did not initiate it.
    Not sure either on the confusion, I wasn't really trying to correct anyone's replies, just add my own two cents (like I said, unaware that Elwell already made the point). So yes, I completely agree with Elwell that by definition, the word illustration itself describes representational art.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aly Fell View Post
    As for Avatar, I take your point it is an example, but I have been doing concept for games and TV for quite a while now... and in that time my realism to stylised is about 50/50, and that's being generous. It's the idea that the use of the word 'most' is misleading in the industry, and provides a false idea of what is expected. Very few people have the option to work on things like Avatar, and all movies need concept including projects that don't involve huge amounts of special effects or 'imaginative realism', as we're supposed to call it now. The character concepts for Sucker Punch for example, are highly stylised.
    That is why I said Avatar, et al. are just the tip of the iceberg - pretty much all design/illustration work created for entertainment is again, representational. Yeah, I used the term "most illustration" just in case I wasn't aware of some non-representational illustration work. Highly stylised though is still representational. "Realism" is in fact only a style for that matter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aly Fell View Post
    Of course Cameron wouldn't employ an installation performance artist, but (A) an installation performance artist is unlikely to apply, and (B) he is highly unlikely to employ someone like Sargent either. The installation artist is probably screwing Charles Saatchi for a lot more money that Cameron would be paying anyway!
    Yeah, just me making a joke and a dig at "performance art". But point well taken that he wouldn't utilize the talents of a Sargent either. And sadly, you're "probably" right!

    So...some examples next post...

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