Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Experiential Realism" as a modern Art Movement

I have been looking for an art term or title that describes what I am trying to do. The best that I have been able to come up with is, "Experiential Realism". The term already exists in philosophy as developed by George Lakoff, of the University of California at Berkeley.

In philosophical terms, Experiential Realism accepts the existence of the real world and that its nature determines much of how it is understood. But the philosophy also reasons that our understanding of the world develops from the nature of our own bodies and our upbringing. For example, (if I understand this correctly) if people from two different cultures looked at a tree, they would both be able to accept its reality, but at the same time - influenced by different cultural attitudes and personal experiences - they would also perceive it somewhat differently.

In art terms, Realism was a late 19th century art movement which was concerned with the accurate and apparently objective description of the ordinary, observable world. The Realists attempted to depict the lives and appearance of ordinary people. Social Realism developed from this, in the early 20th century, as a movement particularly concerned with depiction of the poor and thus it criticised the social environment that caused the poverty and misery. Essentially, whatever their value as works of art, Social Realism was a form of propaganda endeavouring to change social attitudes. The original Realists were also propagating a view, although a rather simpler one, that the lives of ordinary people were just as suitable a subject for major works of art as the lives of the rich and powerful.

Both were reactions to prevailing viewpoints, as is my own. My point is that the realistic depiction of every day life and places is still worthy of depiction in serious works of art. It is not simply the domain of the hobbyist and the part-time painter. And has certainly not been made defunct by the advent of photography! However, I think that such painting has to rise above mere mechanical recording, which is why I prefer the term, "Experiential Realism", as referring to my type of art. My depictions are influenced by my experience of the scene and this is determined by both my physical and mental characteristics.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Slieve Croob sunset, Co. Down, N. Ireland

“Slieve Croob at sunset, from the Saintfield Road, Ballynahinch."
Oils on canvas, 20” x 30”.

It has been awhile since my last post, but I have been thinking a lot about what I am trying to do with my painting. In one sense, my aim is completely straightforward, I am trying to record what I see as "realistically" as I can. But the realism is the one of my perception and experience of the scene, not as a camera would record it. The above example illustrates the point. I decided to create this painting after seeing the sunset from this spot whilst driving between Bangor and Ballynahinch. I took photographs to assist - but these could not actually record the play of light the way I was seeing it. If I photographed the sky, the ground was under-exposed, and even if I allowed for this so as to photograph the land, the contrast was still too great between parts which were illuminated by the setting sun and the areas of shadow. However, I could see details within the shadow, the highlit areas and the sky as I scanned the scene. Hence my experience of the scene was as a whole.

I started the painting by, as is my custom, sketching in the composition from observation - but under normal lighting conditions. Some of the filling in was then done with the assistance of photographs - but modified by my memories of the scene. When a similar sunset occurred, I returned to the site to attempt to check details from observation - but I found that the way the light fell on the canvas was so extreme that it largely made this impossible. In the end, I simply used the experience to refresh my memory of the colours and shading and then completed the painting in the studio.

In fact, I am very pleased with the result. I believe that it portrays the "truth" of my experience of the sunset in a way that is impossible for photography to do.