artwork Rants and Rambles

Realism rant (bc I can)

I gotta give y’all a heads up. I am a college student that’s getting an visual arts bachelor’s degree. This is an OPINION, not a research article/journal. If I can find “proof,” great. Otherwise, you can just enjoy the writing if it means anything to you.

So, I stumbled upon this argument online.

I can’t say I disagree with most of the points, as I feel neutral about it. But one thing that stuck out to me was the part about having to study realism to have good art?

Tell me y’all, what’s your idea of realism? You probably won’t be wrong, but I’m sure we all will have different opinions on it.

So, what is realism?

Well, realism is when a picture represents reality. It’s simple.

That leads to when a picture is realistic. Commonly when one thinks of realism, they see hyper realism, photo realism, Baroque art, renaissance art, Leonardo da Vinci! Yes, those are realistic, but those aren’t necessarily the same type. In a contemporary art class, I learned the word mimesis—the deliberate copying of the real world. It was a very interesting concept to me because it was never my intention to copy anyone’s art completely. Mimesis, in the book/article we read in class was used to describe copying a picture exactly. The author claims that it is impossible to copy nature exactly and what we are really doing is denotation—which is the literal representation—but that doesn’t mean that we are replicating reality, but in fact, representing it. (This is taken from Reality Remade by Nelson Goodman)

I’ll use a common denotation.


15 replies on “Realism rant (bc I can)”

You sound so much like both my teenagers—and that’s a compliment. It’s something I highly admire about your generation. You are sick of being told “this is the way we do it” and you want to question everything. For those of us, I’m in my 40s, who simply did as we are told…it’s baffling and simply amazing to see. I love that you are challenging the reason behind learning this and I wonder if your professor gave you a compelling reason or simply came back to “because it’s how it’s done.” How things are done isn’t working, and I love that you are willing to say so.

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I used to be like that but it made me tired. There are things I can’t fix or change, but if there’s something I can change, I will talk and bring it up.

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Thank you. May you gain the courage to fight for your comfort. Same to your kids. 💕 It’s hard and exhausting to be an advocate of yourself.

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I feel like art is extremely difficult to teach because it’s so subjective. There is no right or wrong. And when people that do teach art try to make it seem like they’re right and anything different is wrong it makes it much more difficult for students to properly create their own art. And find their own style.

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I agree. After you leave the realm of logic and reasoning (an invention) the world is much more confusing and chaotic so people cling onto logic and reasoning and get rid or ignore things that don’t work.

Art in the Western Perspective is about money and power before it even goes to expression. That’s why so many art schools, after abstraction became popular with the wealthy, switched their curriculum to fit what works instead of anything else.

Making the most money gives you high regards and proves to some that you’re super *talented* (not skilled though, just talented) and worthy of worship. Everyone follows suit and they sell their products and dreams to younger people as schools of ____, it makes it difficult.

I came to learn about art and see art, but getting judged for something I like is difficult for me to come back to.

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That’s true. Art has become more about money and less about real expression and talent. It’s sad but not just with art but all creative content you can see this shift.

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I know! People even monetize their hobbies which is always bad because hobbies are supposed to be fun and take the mind off stress.😭 We live in the best of times and the worst. (Don’t remember the book that I quoted)

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The dilemma you present is reminding me very strongly of a book I have started reading (but am not very far into) called _Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping_. In this book, Matthew Salesses challenges the reasoning behind why “canon” is “canon” and the effects of having a culturally-specific view of craft (that is, disadvantaging those who approach the craft from minority viewpoints). As you can tell from the title, it’s focused around Fiction writing…

I have some other thoughts, but have to bounce right now — I’ll be back later…

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I might just give that a look! It reminds me of IQ tests and how they’re culturally sensitive and have thoughts that work in line with particular classes and race. It was a very interesting read because you see so many people bragging about how smart they are, but their test might just show that they know patterns and how the society works I guess. Intelligence is great, but authority is more practical and people care for it a lot more. They don’t question authority and experts that might hurt them like they should.

Thank you for the book suggestion!

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You’re welcome!

I think there is something just relatively hidden when people talk about learning realism before doing anything else. There are at least two angles to this…I’ll mention the more useful one, first. (Now that I re-read this, I realize that I’ve forgotten the second one. I’ll see if I can recall it later…)

It doesn’t necessarily require any creative effort, to observe. Everything with the capability of vision, can observe. “Drawing what you see,” isn’t necessarily an exercise in creativity, it’s an exercise in building fine motor skills and in framing a composition. (Constraints of the latter still do irk me [“how does this fit into a rectangle?”], but that’s another post…)

What creativity goes into mimicking reality — how to translate what you see to what’s on the page, canvas, etc. — is secondary to getting your hands to move the way they’re told to move. Plus, the way to get the tools to do what you want them to do; and to mix the color you want to mix. It’s this precision that comes in handy later.

In my opinion, there’s no real reason that objective reality absolutely has to be the reference point where it comes to skill-building: but in a class, a still-life or a model may be the only reference that everyone has in common. You *can* build these skills outside of, “drawing what you see,” but no one will be able to grade it, because they can’t see what’s in your head, to know how faithful you were to it, or not.

Pedagogy is weird. After so many years in the system, I’ve realized that…in many respects, education has been gamified…but it’s kind of similar to how much else in our society is gamified (getting a job, keeping a job, managing finances, going to war, building a family, being law-abiding, etc). I’m not entirely sure why it’s like this. The thing is, it can be hard to opt out of these things without negative repercussions…but that gets into systems of social control and constructs of power and constraint, which is essentially, Sociology.

In teaching — and I am only here drawing from my own classes in Research Methodology and Instructional Design — there has to be some kind of yardstick that the teacher can use to see if she’s actually teaching anyone anything, or not. If she can’t prove she’s teaching anyone anything, she may lose her job.

More often than not, that yardstick boils down to grades, although I have participated in at least one alternate system (Credit/No Credit plus a personalized review at the end of the quarter).

To have something to grade, a teacher may try and level the playing field as much as they can…to see how students perform in trying to reach a given goal. Whether the students want to reach that goal or not, or whether the students understand why the teacher placed the goal where it is or not, is not necessarily on their mind. What is on their mind is whether you did what they asked. (I have had a teacher who encouraged creativity more than conformity: at the time, she was head of the Art Department.)

There are better teachers who actually care about students’ motivations and understanding of why they’re being asked to do what they are being asked to do. In fact, a student who approaches a teacher with these concerns may well mark themselves as an excellent (and conscientious) student, to an excellent teacher. But finding these teachers…it depends on the composition of the Departments you’re participating in for your major.

In my Undergraduate days, I found out that my Creative Writing department was awe-inspiring and forward-thinking, and my English department (my major was split between the two) was extremely conservative, to the point of insult for a minority student that didn’t want to assimilate into what they wanted me to become. This was amazing to me, as the University was in the middle of a city known for its diversity, and I joined that University because I wanted that diversity. I thrived on that diversity. I had left my previous University precisely because of feelings of alienation.

In contrast, to have a teacher call me “Godless” when I questioned her continual references to her own religion as though it applied to everyone, or to have to deal with a teacher who said no one was ever racist before the term “racism” was invented — those things were shocks to my system. Then there was the teacher who tried to act like she was woke and I wasn’t, when I questioned the implicit bias in her video selections.

The point for you is not to let these people stop you from getting an education. It’s *your* education. Don’t let crackpots deter you from it. And don’t let them make you hate it.

But if you can, in the future, avoid the instructors who make you hate what you’re doing, and who aren’t open to answering your questions. If you can’t avoid them, talk to them about your concerns outside of class — this will likely make them less defensive. If, after that, you’re still having trouble with them…there are other options.

I wouldn’t jump to them, but I did want to let you know that Art School has been hard for nearly everyone I know who has talked about it (and these were mostly the Art instructors).

Okay, this is getting to be a post, within itself. 🙂 Have a good sleep, if you haven’t, already. 🙂

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Wow. You make a lot of great points and I’m currently dealing with a similar issue with my professors. Majority of the professors in the program there are White. One is a female professor and the others are male professors. They have two main professors that are Black of both genders I mentioned. I am at an HBCU so it makes it fascinating. It’s difficult for the teachers to understand what some people are saying because they’re receiving brain fog from the words and many of them are over the age of 45. They all call themselves liberals, but one of them only is technically because she’s a woman.

I’ve been to PWIs all my life so I know all white people don’t act like this, it’s the liars that wanna feel special and aren’t actually liberal, they just stick out when they don’t want to. They always talk about normalcy, it’s stressful.

But, yes, I feel like you could write a very sophisticated article about what you said because it’s facts. Especially the part of drawing what you see and developing fine motor skills.


I’m very confident that you will have no problems meeting the requirements of the academy’s version of realism artwork.

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It’s just really hard for me to do stuff I don’t feel like doing. Something’s are easier for me mentally to do, but I just don’t like certain things so I don’t do it.😬 I’m a mess.


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