Saturday, March 08, 2008

My Art - A Personal Manifesto for Experiential Realism

"Quoile River, near Downpatrick"
December 2007-February 2008.
Oils on canvas, 70 cm x 50 cm.

For some time I have been trying to form my own ideas about the “why” of art, the role of art in today's world. Then I realised that this was far too big a question for me, since art covers such a multitude of activities and fulfils an important role in such varied circumstances. In the end, I decided that the question I needed to answer was, “Why my art?” What is it that I am trying to do, what is it that I think of as being important and what do I reject.

In a previous attempt (18th, February, 2007, to be exact) to understand my own art, I considered the way we look at things. We do not see objects and scenes in the rigid way that a camera records them. We move our heads (and we have two eyes, giving us stereo vision, which means that sometimes one eye can see what the other can not), our eyes can appreciate a much greater range of colours and shades than a camera normally records and we look at different parts at different times, mentally blending our observations into the one perception.

Although not intentionally distorting what I am seeing, when painting I quite automatically incorporate this way of viewing into the result. Perspective - whilst appearing to be essentially correct - will be "adapted" so that vertical lines may no longer be precisely vertical, angles may change to make the view more dramatic or to reveal a greater area (as from a different viewing point). One of the rules of human observation is that one "notices" more that which one is interested in, so colours can appear more vivid and objects larger! Everything one is interested in is in focus because one automatically focuses on the part which is being observed. Based on this, I have named the way I work as “Experiential Realism”, meaning that the realism of the painting is tempered and modified by the way that I experience the scene.

The result of this thinking is:

A Personal Manifesto for Experiential Realism

I reject:
  • Art as decoration, as wallpaper.
  • The possession of art as a means of establishing intellectual status.
  • The media as the message.
  • The display of skill as the purpose of art.
  • The idea as art.
  • Other people's conventions of beauty and ugliness.

I embrace:

  • Art as the conveyor of meaning.
  • Art as a stimulus to feeling and emotion.
  • The use of the illusion of depth in painting.
  • Depth of meaning in art.
  • Art as a teller of stories.
  • The beauty that I perceive and experience, without reference to the strictures of others.
  • I embrace the beauty of the ordinary, the every-day activities of people in their everyday surroundings, the beauty of the ordinary street, the ordinary house, the ordinary shop.
  • I embrace the portrayal of landscape as it is, part natural, part man-made.
  • I embrace the portrayal of the world of today as it is, a mixture of old and new.

Thomas Spencer.

Historical Comment:

In art history, 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.

Nb: This Manifesto should not be taken as meaning that I consider other types of art as necessarily unimportant and unable to fulfil important functions – or even that I cannot appreciate them! Just that they are not important to me, within the context of my own work and intentions.

1 comment:

Troy Camplin said...

There is something incredibly lovely about this piece. It's a realist piece, but there is something more to it that shines through.