Friday, June 29, 2018

The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon and the Realist Revolution

 In 1952 a group of scientists were studying the behavior of monkeys in the Koshima Island. These monkeys, the species Macaca Fuscata to be specific are known to be quite intelligent. So the report goes on that the scientist provided this monkey colony with food by dropping sweet potatoes on the beach. The monkeys liked the sweet potatoes but just tolerated the sand that stuck to the outside. One day a bright young 18-month-old- monkey figured out that she could wash a potato in the ocean to remove the gritty sand.
She gradually taught this behavior to the other monkeys and by 1958; six years later, all of the young monkeys were washing their potatoes. But only a few of the older monkeys had learned this behavior or showed any intrest.. Then suddenly the older monkeys were also washing their potatoes, essentially the entire tribe was exhibiting this behavior.

But what truly startled the scientist was not that the older monkeys who for years hadn’t caught on to the behavior of the younger monkeys were washing the sweet potatoes, but that entire colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland of Taskasakiyama also started to wash their food in the ocean.
(Keyes1981, 11-16)

As a representational artist working in the 21st Century, most of us have felt we were on a collision course with the Post-Modernist art world. That some where, at some time a real battle would be waged and the artist with the most skills and training would win pulling back the curtain and revealing to the world the truth.

For too many realist artists the easy thing to do is to proclaim modernism of the past century rubbish and scream “Viva La Revolution". The truth is that there are many works of merit by modernists that have a place in our shared artistic history. Unfortunately just as many of these works deal more with fad and fashion than any high art, -fortunately most of these works are ephemeral/temporary,  that no one will have any interest in a Damien Hirts Balloon “thing” after the next hundred years except maybe the institution that paid millions for it.

The real issues facing the realist artist in the next century have little to do with the “izm’s” of art from the past one hundred years but more with the doctrine of the art educational systems. At the graduation ceremony when I received my BFA I recall sitting there looking at the program trying to figure out who all these people where? There were about 30 art studio majors who I recognized, and about another 300 art majors that I had no clue about. They were the art history, art education, art therapy majors, whose careers would be about discussing art.  This was repeated several thousand time across the US alone.

“This is a major issue within the art community that is constantly minimized by schools and faculty.  I went through the links and data, one item I think that is missed is that in University art programs most graduates are Art History and Ed. majors and when that university states they have 30% placement. They are not actually talking about “Visual Artists” they may be art majors but they do not create art.”

--Jerry Saltz

The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet, 1844-1845, oil painting, 17 3/4 x 21 5/8.

My parents were horrified I wanted to study art, they talked me into Commercial Art School so that I would not waste my education. Which I am so glad they did because there I studied illustration and was taught the basics and fundamentals of drawing and painting. Very traditional methods of creating representational art. After finishing there, I went to a University Art program, where it was anything goes, there was literally no direction. You just experimented and tossed it out there for critique. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed that part of my education. I did not get much out of it as far as skills, but it was a great exploration of the different concepts of art. My biggest complaint, was that craftsmanship was considered a terrible thing to pursue and realism, boring and for the uneducated. That the teaching of skill somehow inhibits creativity? So, I conformed to the "everything is art" philosophy and learned all the post-modernist art speak.... for a while. By grad school I was determined to pursue representational art. 

There, I was told by facility that I wanted to be an illustrator, like it was some terrible thing. The thing I heard over and over again in university art school was that “craftsmanship was not art.” They constantly marginalized representational art and my interest in it. I was honestly frustrated. By my professor’s dogma there were only two ways to become an artist, one was to become famous, create something so shocking that the world noticed or teach at the university. I spent most of my academic time in the library reading old art books. I left grad school. 

Any of us who are old enough to have experienced art instruction during the 70’s, 80's or 90’s can tell you that most schools of art and institutions of higher learning purged their curricula of teaching basic fundamentals of drawing and painting and replaced it with a philosophy - lecture based - art theory - concept of art, where personal introspectiveness and self-awareness is more important than teaching fine draftsmanship and painting. That some how having knowledge of how past great art was made would interfere with ones “expressive” development. Art programs at universities and colleges has been about the teaching of “the discussion of art” not the making of art, for them art is not about visual communication but verbal communication of Art Speak.
And yet we rely on these institutions to supply us with the next great visual artist?

Lets be clear, I am not opposed to modern painting, I enjoy many of the works of the postmodernist and spent most of my undergraduate years as a artist pursuing abstract expressionism. Mainly because this was all that was offered to me. The paradox is that modernist with all of their claims of open, progressive thinking have been the most regressive force in modern culture in regards to contemporary art and realism. We have had a hundred years of modern art.

Walead Beshty - FedEx Large Kraft Box Laminated glass, FedEx shipping box, accrued FedEx shipping and tracking labels, silicone, metal, and shipping tape, 24 x 24 x 24 inches

There is a type of critical mass being reach among artists. What it comes down to is that artist are tired of the same old establishment art... based on some linear art theory of evolution, described to them by entrenched, fossilized art history instructors from the status-quo institutions of higher learning. Artists have had enough of “Modern art" being the official and only approved art of institutional America...Say that fast three times.

Realist art had been marginalized long enough.

“Modern will remain the official art of the establishment for the immediate future. But it is a dinosaur, and little proto rodents on the jungle floor, are beginning to eat its eggs.”
                                                                                                                   -- Stapleton Kearns

Like most artist today I get much of my art “fix” online. There are a multitude of artist blogs, online magazines, and art forums I read, browse and contribute to regularly. I truly enjoy seeing an artists process, and most artists do not have any issues with showing you how they make their work or come to their ideas and concepts. In fact through this medium, the web-blog, I think artists who share their process and join into the creative commons have helped secure a footing in the contemporary world of art for representational painting.

One must recognize that with the availability and ease of the digital camera, the painting of photos has become a trend, producing camera-friendly artwork, easily distributed through social media. Such work caters to a photographic aesthetic, slick and highly detailed. But considering that most of this work is exhibited via digital media, being photo-ey seems to be acceptable. These works, to the layman may even look like realism or reality, because they are actually paintings of photographs. And that type of imagery they are accustomed to, through the daily bombardment of visual stimulus via the internet, television, and movies. What is hard to explain to someone who does not paint is that this is photo-realism or hyper realism which relies on mechanical processes to create an image. And requires an entirely different set of skills, that have very little to do with realism let alone painting.

The mastering of skills, having technical expertise in drawing and painting allows and empowers artists to be free to create anything they want. But if we cannot allow process and technique to overshadow the subject matter, for in that the modernist are half right craftsmanship, alone is not art.

The language of art is taught and developed through immersion in the practices of drawing and painting. The mastery of technical skills is important, mainly because in doing so you master visual thinking. Those attached to a digital monitor to paint from are short circuiting their process, after a while even they cannot even see the difference between a photograph and nature. Painting from life, forces you to engage with the subject. And you create an image filtered through your eyes, through the depth and substance of life and your perceptions of the world. It becomes art stamped with our own unique DNA and vision.

It was proposed that when knowledge was limited to a few monkeys, the behavior was passed on by observation and learning. But when a significant number of monkeys had learned this behavior – for the sake of simplicity they called it the 100th monkey – that some critical mass of conscious had been reached.

Let us learn from our mistakes,

"..a movement for representational art must be democratic, reversing the status quo of 21st century elitist post-modernist consumerist art. Challenging artists to achieve ever higher levels of perception, interpretation and craftsmanship.."  
--Alexey Steele

**The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon and the Realist Revolution was first publish in 09/01/2012

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

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Alexy Steele
Slow Painting, a Deliberate Renaissance 

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