How Would You Define the Modern Representational Canon?by Matthew Innis |
In the previous post, we looked at how a single person’s collection of seven artists, through a series of happenstances, came to define the Impressionist canon. The artworks in that particular collection were the first images the public learned to associate with the movement, and over the past century, the reinforcement of those images as the core of Impressionism have made those paintings a treasured and invaluable part of world culture. Even as we move forward and scholarship slowly expands the Impressionist canon, it is unlikely that those original seven painters and their works will ever be eclipsed by others within the same art faction.
For those artists working representationally today, it is difficult to guess who will be viewed as the exemplars of the field a century from now. In truth, it is difficult to even predict if what is being done today will be viewed as a movement at all since many believe that there is nothing distinctly different between contemporary representationalism and what was being done by artists in the late 19th century. It is all just the same journey, unfortunately detoured during the 20th century, but now back on its proper path.
This is perhaps why the representational art of today has not yet developed a name. Some attempts have been made, but none has been recognized, let alone adopted by a large portion of artists. The “contemporary representationalism” label I bandy about is more a descriptor than a movement name; Alexey Steele’s “Novorealism” never quite rolled off the tongue in the right way; “Slow Art” seemed to imply something that was backward; and “Neo-traditional” unable or unwilling to keep up with modernity. “Classical Realism,” despite being an intentional oxymoron, was probably the most widely accepted term, but even that seemed to fall short, as it did not seem to be all-inlusive of the art being made. And the biggest problem with all of these names is that the need for a movement and title has been forced upon us by the Modern Art industry of dealers and galleries and museums and investors – otherwise we would probably just be content to simply call it “art” and retreat to our studios to make more of it.
For the moment though, let’s pretend that the renaissance in representational art had a name (adopted or assigned), and that major institutions had decided to express their approval by adding works from the movement to their permanent collections. The public came out to see the representational works, liked them, and pictures of those works entered into general art books and, perhaps more importantly in the 21st century, search engines became more likely to return such pictures with any online art queries. If you were in a position like that of Gustave Caillebotte (whose collection formed the Impressionist canon), and your choice of artists among the contemporary representationalists would define the movement for all time, who would you pick?
I have tried this mental exercise myself, and I find it very difficult. Some artists just seem like obvious choices, for example, Jacob Collins, who, because of his artwork, his teaching, and his activism on behalf of “Slow Art,” has really become an icon within contemporary representationalism. Others who deserve recognition, however, don’t always seem appropriate for this list, like Richard Schmid, whom I love and without whom we would not have many of today’s artists who work in the “grand manner” (Schmid’s term). Schmid somehow feels like the Manet to this group, a predecessor who made it all possible, but was himself too early to be part of the movement. I couldn’t limit myself to just seven, so I tried ten, but every time I neared the last few slots, the number of talented people I had excluded weighed down upon me. Likely, I will have to leave such a problem to someone else.
How about you? Perhaps you could submit your own list. Even if not a full ten, then maybe just that single person who jumps out at you as emblematic of contemporary representationalism. Just add your choice(s) in the comments below, and if we get enough responses, we can tally them up and see where there is consensus. Remember, there are no wrong answers, nor is there any justification needed for those you choose.