Sculpture Community -

Sculpture Community - (
-   Sculpture focus topics (
-   -   Abstract Art vs Realism (

Scout 07-23-2006 08:39 AM

Abstract Art vs Realism
It seems to me as if most art work has gone to abstract. I come from the watercolor world and it too is going abstract. Has it always been that way? I personally can't make my brain think that way. I mean as far as doing abstract myself. I tried it in WC and it really screwed with my head. Some of you do both. How can you flip back and forth.

I'm not saying I don't like abstract, I do very much. I can feel others work and appreciate it but I can't do it.

Blake...your personality and professionalism make your work look all the better!

I'd like to know what everyone thinks about this. Trivial maybe but interesting to me! Scout

HappySculpting 07-23-2006 02:01 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism

My mind works toward extreme realism but you know what, I have the most fun and feel the most free when I do abstract. So I think it's a good exercise on learning to let go and see what can happen with the clay when you let it just happen and then look at it and find the interesting textures. All of it is nothing contrived but just happened.

Then I can go back and do a refined realistic piece and hopefully it will be more raw and allow some of the tooling to show and give it life and spontaniety too. This is all something I'm currently trying to work on.


JasonGillespie 07-23-2006 08:42 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism

It seems to me as if most art work has gone to abstract. I come from the watercolor world and it too is going abstract. Has it always been that way?
It only seems as if all artwork has gone to abstraction. (Though it has leaned that direction heavily in the last century) Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. There are many, many artists still practicing non-abstracted work. One reason for this 'seeming' that way is there has been a switch in focus in our institutions of higher learning towards teaching non-objective as the primary means of expression, but objective/traditional subjects are very much a force in this country. If you google 'landscape artists', 'portraitists', or 'figurative artists' you'll see exactly what I mean.

Too, it is true that many galleries and museums have opted for one over the other during much of the latter half of the 20th century, but that isn't really the current paradigm any longer. In fact in recent years there has been a resurgence of traditional/contemporary/objective art in many galleries in NY that used to shun such work. Some of it is what is termed the 'new figurative art'..which seems to have a synthesis of modernism and traditionalism as its goal.

During one of my recent trips to the Chelsea area, galleries showed a fairly close ratio between objective and non-objective artists. The buzz at school is that there isn't a better time to be a figurative/traditional artist in New least not in quite a while.

An interesting article about one aspect of this trend...on an international scale.... can be read at:
Jan Esmann is one of a growing number of 'new figurative artists' in European countries, like Odd Nerdum, , that seem to see figuration/objective art on a very large timeline and are harkening back to, for them, worthwhile techniques from the past. I wouldn't say they are my cup of tea exactly, but I understand where they are coming from and see the trends they represent. You can also look up Eric Fischl, Will Cotton, Robert Taplin, Judy Fox, and Peter Drake. These are all artists who are very objective and have had great success in the current fine art market in NY and elsewhere. There are many more, (This doesn't begin to take into account regional artists and geographically specific art trends like Southwestern art, etc...) but you get the idea...abstraction isn't the monster you think it is.

I prefer objective figuration myself, but enjoy a really well done piece of abstracted work immensely. (Sometimes I think that is harder to come across than good traditional subjects) I do at times sketch abstracted shapes and develop my compositions in an almost abstracted fashion(after all it is all design oriented or should be) is a very soothing way of working..streamlined and I think that were I to decide to, I might enjoy working in that manner.

Cantab 07-24-2006 03:30 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
3 Attachment(s)
Driven to abstraction, me.
The thing about realism is: given a chance, it will drive you to abstraction anyway. Have a look at two pictures, a painting by Paul Nash and a landscape that inspired him. Both landscapes. Both abstractions. Also: one by his brother, John. Now, the tree stump in the middle: an abstract sculpture, surely, amidst the realism.

Blake 07-24-2006 03:30 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
Thank you for your kind words.
Perhaps non-objective work requires further consideration on your part, there is nothing a wonderful as a good teacher and I think that there is value here.
I was originally taught abstract art, as that was the trend in North America at the time I was studying. I had to go to Europe to learn figurative sculpture and it was hard to find someone to teach me. I think that this non-objective way of working was very good training and would suggest that you look at Sculptorsam for just one example of first class abstract work on this site, (there are many others as well). The abstract helped me with composition, balance, line, form as well as negative space, weight and volume, movement, and colour to name a few of the essential elements in art, so it was a great base upon which to build. I was going against the trend when I started but only because I love the figure, not because I thought myself a trend setter or anything. Flipping back and forth as Jason and Happysculpting seems to be able to do, is just not possible for me, the last abstract piece I tried I failed badly at and I have not gone there since, but perhaps I too should return to face this challenge, if only as an exercise, both of us could be pleasantly surprised.
Cantab has an excellent point, often the composition of a work benefits from abstract planning and design.


Cantab 07-24-2006 03:58 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
I wonder which is primary: realism or abstraction? Realism as we know it is relatively modern, isn’t it? Born in the Netherlands and Renaissance Italy? When I think of abstraction, I think of Picasso’s rediscovery of African sculpture, and of the incredible love of abstract patterning in tribal art (e.g. Hopi and Zuni indians in America). Tribal cultures appear to have found a use for highly exaggerated natural forms (in depicting the human figure/Gods/spirits) and something significant in abstract patterns. I suspect, as with Picasso, if our sources are abstract and non-realistic, our art will also be so. It may also relate to what we are setting out to do – if you want to create a SENSE of nature, as with Barbara Hepworth, without reference to a specific object in nature, then abstraction is the logical route to take.

Merlion 07-24-2006 04:19 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
For me, I go for realism. I do mainly figurative sculpture, sometimes animals, but both based on living realism. Sometimes I throw in something abstract or symbolic to supplement the main part of the sculpture.

As to why I go for this, there may be reasons if I sit down to analyse it. But this does not matter, does it? I mainly follow my heart in creating my sculptures. It has to be this way to enjoy my work. And so far my heart goes in the direction of realism.

I said 'so far' as I do not rule out one day my heart may move broader to include more abstract artworks. Have fun.

cooljamesx1 08-18-2006 07:52 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
Let's break down the walls.

What is real or abstract?

When you go to draw or represent something real, you choose a subject that is beautiful. Something that transcends feeling and emotion. Realism art has value because it is beautiful, not just because it is realistic. A truly talented realism artist must not only be able to be accurate but must also understand what it is about their subject that is beautiful.

Take caricatures of politicians for example. The artists that draw caricatures are never what we would call "realistic", but when you see the drawing, you know exactly who it is. These artists can understand what defines a person's appearance. They know how you recognize someone, and they exaggerate those features.

In the same way, good realistic art comes from an artist that understands the beauty. Take cpr dummies for instance. I have seen some cpr dummies that have extremely realistic faces and torsos. But we wouldn't call them art.

With this in mind, the line between realism and abstract art seems to fade. Say, for example, you see a rock or a tree with a shape that seems powerful or graceful. If you go back to the studio and recreate that feeling you got from the object by utilizing its shape, but your product doesn't really look like the object, is that abstract or realism? You may not have represented the leaves of the tree or the cracks in the rock, but if your product can capture the feeling of the original through shape or proportion, what does it matter?

Art is not about technical difficulty, it's about inspiration. It's about capturing a feeling. The fact is that some things, like human hands and faces, and entire bodies, for that matter are very expressive in the eyes of humans, and they may take excruciating detail in order to put feeling into. But the focus here is not on the detail; It is the feeling created by the detail.

It is hard to tell why abstract shapes show feeling, but it is my belief that abstract forms convey emotion by reminding us of something. There was an abstract piece I recently saw that was very narrow at the base and flared outward at the top and had a slightly spiraled shape as it went up. The piece did not look like anything, but for me, it reminded me or a dancer and it captured the grace and smooth movement that you think of when you think of dancers.

Try not to get caught up in labels. Go for feeling, not accuracy.

SPRINGFIELD 08-18-2006 09:38 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
This is a realy sore point for me so I won't say to much. I would feel a lot better if an abstract artist started out doing realistic art first. I rember once going to the Pasedna art museum and there were all sorts of so called abstract paintings. One large painting was nothing but three large streight lines taking up the whole canvas and there were people looking at it for what seemed like hours. I just had to ask them what the heck are you looking at they had no answer. At least the artist knew how to use a ruler.

SPRINGFIELD 08-18-2006 10:00 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
It is the order in the universe that makes the disorder interesting.

arcdawg 08-18-2006 10:42 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
It takes more of a creative mind to interpet abstract art as compared to realism. Anyone can paint, sculpt, build something lifelike and make the point of what the peice is suposed to be............yet it (I believe) takes a lot more talent and creatitivy to draw the viewer and make them figure out what the piece is ment to be............

SPRINGFIELD 08-18-2006 11:00 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
It is the artist who should be creative and not the viewer trying to read into a piece of art something which isn't there.

SPRINGFIELD 08-18-2006 11:36 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
I don't want anywone to missunderstand me. I like a lot of abstract art and I have seen soom pices on this Sculpture Comunity that I realy like a lot. In fact all of my sculptures have been abstract thought that was not my intention.

JasonGillespie 08-19-2006 02:57 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
5 Attachment(s)

I wonder which is primary: realism or abstraction?
An interesting question.
When we look back to the earliest cave paintings and stone carvings we see an abstraction of reality. The Minoan's, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, etc...all used some form of abstracted thought in their interpretations of themselves. Over the millenia mankind has artistically interpreted the world perceived with varying ratios of abstraction and realism. It may be safer to say that it isn't one or the other that is man's destiny. Instead we are both....abstract and realistic....just as we are good and bad, creative and destructive. Our attempts at excising one or the other from our makeup maybe paramount to removing a part of ourselves.

These ancient works are examples, I think, of man searching for a 'realistic' portrayal of himself and his life experience, but they bear the mark of a creative abstraction that comes from the soul and not the world around. It is a marriage of two parts that makes the whole.

Merlion 08-19-2006 04:56 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism

Originally Posted by JasonGillespie
When we look back to the earliest cave paintings and stone carvings we see an abstraction of reality.

In other contexts 'an abstraction of reality' can mean something else. Perhaps what you mean is that these are artistic interpretations of human figures and animal figures. And they have been good enough, they served the purpose, as long as other people can understand what they are supposed to depict - man, woman, animal, etc.

It is of course the ancient Greeks who were the first people to go for realism in figurative sculptures.

Abstract art went on to include our artistic interpretations of other things we see, say rocks, trees, etc. Going further, it is broadened to include art with no connections with any real tangible things.

Scout 08-19-2006 05:13 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
Well, you guys really got into this. I have to agree that mixing the two is fascinating. I've been letting myself start out abstract and coaxing out what appears. It's like hearing some distant music and putting words to it. I have a hard time making a plan and sticking to it. It just has to evolve. Do you guys have a strict plan when you start a piece? I guess it's different with subtraction. Thanks for all your interest in this R vs A. Maybe the very word "verses" is what causes the action in our pieces. Scout

Thatch 08-25-2006 09:43 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
Non representational art is not abstract. Any representational art is an abtraction of the objest it represents. An object in it's own right, if it is well crafted, should be able to convey an emotional context even if it is not an abstact representaion of a recognisable form.
To use an example.; Guernica by Picasso is definatly abstract art, while a painting by Franz Kline, who was labelled an Abstract Expressionist actually painted objects that were not abstractions.
I know some of you might think this is picking nits, and in a way it is, but if you start thinking about "Object In It's Own Right" when you view abtract art and think "Abstract" when you view representational art and realize that the labels are incorrect, it might be easier to grasp the emotional context of a form that has no historical context for you.
Music is emotional, creates endorphins, gives me goose bumps. Great art, and that in my book includes roller coasters, stage, film, food, wine, architecture, automobiles, landscapes, painting and sculpture (sorry if I missed one of yours) must elicit a response or it is not great. Putting it into a box with a label is an intellectual exersize that is done after the fact, but it does give one a lot to talk about.


Scout 08-26-2006 05:44 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
Well, I like to look at abstract art. I've been painting some abstracts, but when I put my hands in clay, they want to shape human forms. I have no interest in animals or buildings or much of anything else. I have tried abstracting the figure and haven't had much success. Now, writing to match abstract pieces is something I love to do. I get some wonderful feelings when I write about someone elses abstracts. You have all given me plenty of material to write about. Scout

JasonGillespie 08-26-2006 07:40 AM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism

In other contexts 'an abstraction of reality' can mean something else. Perhaps what you mean is that these are artistic interpretations of human figures and animal figures. And they have been good enough, they served the purpose, as long as other people can understand what they are supposed to depict - man, woman, animal, etc.


No, that isn't what I am saying, though what you say is true. I am trying to look beneath the surface of what you describe to the dynamic of man interacting creatively/artistically with his environment. Also I want to point out how two seemingly antagonistic concepts, (realism and abstraction), are really bound up together...each integral to the other for their meaning.

Man's artistic interpretations have always held a certain abstraction of form.... even when done within the context of 'realism'. (as my images were meant to show.) This assumes that any artistic deviation from the observable world can be considered an abstracted concept applied. The degree to which this is true varys from one period to another. The idea then is that 'realism' and 'abstraction' have always existed and been used together in differing quantities by mankind in the creation of art. In saying this, I am not adhering to a traditional 'this is abstract and this is realistic' way of viewing if art must be either one or the other. Rather than divide art into the usual digestable morsels, I am trying to look at all art as one seamless organism. (at least for the purpose of this thread) It is an alternate way of looking at the abstract/realism debate.

To my way of thinking, we are constantly abstracting our reality in one way or another and it is an inate aspect of our being human. In a broader sense, realism is what is and abstraction is what we add to it when we is a combining of the raw material of the 'real world' and our own inner 'abstract' ideas about that world. That some artwork is made up of more of the pure 'abstraction of thought' is obvious, but it also allows for 'realistic' works such as the Sistine Chapel to then be considered as somewhat abstracted too.

robertpulley 08-26-2006 01:35 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
What I feared would be a thread with people championing their chosen approach to art has become pretty fascinating. I particularly appreciated the ideas of non-objective art and what people call abstraction as being object making and that the best of the new objects possess the ability to convey a certain emotional power. I also agree that at the root of all good realistic art is abstraction. I don't think it is the degree of realism in a bronze sculpture of a soldier or ballerina that makes it move the viewer, but the subtle juxtaposition of mass, line, texture and movement that abstractly carries much of the impact. On the other hand, the meaning, as exemplified by what is recognized, seems to help focus the content in the desired direction.

I guess my work might be called abstract expressionist. A bit of figurative reference, but a lot of other references to aspects of nature as well, plus some heavy abstraction. I sometimes regret that with no clear meaning implied in my work by reference to a recognizeable reality only rarely do viewers voice an understanding of what I consider the content of my sculptures. I've dabbled in attempts at realism, but for whatever reason (I wouldn't discount laziness) its just not been for me. I'm not a champion for either cause. I've seen examples of non-objective art and realistic art that have moved me and examples of both that have left me cold and unmoved.
May we all continue to dig as deep as we can.

mountshang 08-28-2006 12:56 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
I'm not sure why the pottery traditions are usually left out of such discussions -- as they seem, to me, to continue to offer the best examples of non-representational sculpture.

By comparison -- the abstract traditions (of usually larger pieces) begun in the twentieth century have been, to my eye, almost a total bust -- with abstract qualities of form and space that are inevitably inferior to good pottery -- as well as good figure sculpture.

G. Murdoch 08-28-2006 01:22 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
While visiting Vancouver in January, I took in the Picasso exhibit. Picasso provides an excellent case study for realism vs. abstract. The man was skilled enough to draw / paint pretty much anything he desired to a photorealistic degree by the age of 19-20. When he started pursuing abstractions, his established skill enabled him to depart from strict rendering of his subject to more of an internal / genius vision of the world.

I believe what hampers my enjoyment of many absract works is that, unlike Picasso, most artist pursuing abstractions on normal vision have not established that they have the skill to render what they see.

The only way to prove that one is rendering thier private special vision with any accuracy, is to have proven skill rendering common objects.


JasonGillespie 08-28-2006 04:09 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
G. Murdoch,

I would respectful disagree with your comment that...

The only way to prove that one is rendering thier private special vision with any accuracy, is to have proven skill rendering common objects.
Abstract art does not require that one know how to render the observable world. It may improve the overall experience and outcome, but abstraction is really about design and there are many in this world who are extremely talented at that aspect of art while being less than proficient in traditional drawing skills.

Abstraction is closer, in my mind, to music than the traditional way of creating art. The elements and principles of art are like musical notes that can be combined, put side by side, and overlapped to produce many different effects. Those working in a 'realistic' vein use these 'notes' as well, but the abstract artist can use them without any inteference from an outside reference.

In a sense, at least to my mind, this 'purer' use of the building blocks of art that are at work in abstraction is like composing a piece of music. The shapes, forms, lines, values, colors, etc...create the meaning that is lacking from not having an identifiable subject. This does not require the ability to render realistically. It does require a keen sense of design and a knowledge of how these elements fit and work together. Picasso's having the skill and training in realism merely added another element to the abstract work he did.

The pitfall with abstraction can be that it is easier to say your work is a 'good' abstract work without having to explain why. To this you can then add the general ignorance of many who view such works...this mixture most often results in lending value and credence to otherwise unsound abstract work. It is a slippery slope that can give little purchase to those unaware of how to tell the difference.
At the root of the problem is the fact that abstraction has become as institutionalized an idea as realism and anybody can wake up one morning and say...'I'm an abstract artist' without anyone batting an eye or checking to see if the statement is true. (It is much harder to say this in the traditional arts where the criteria is easy to see.) And a good number of these abstract artists are horrible designers with almost no real knowledge of how to use the elements and principles that underly their work......and it pretty much shows. This, not the lack of realistic rendering, is in my opinion what creates problems in enjoying much of the abstract work out there.

A good overview article on the origins of abstraction (the movement) by Hilton Kramer can be read here . It delves into the 'backstory' of what was at the roots of abstraction and provides sound reasons why it can't really be judged by traditional standards and expectations.

Scout 08-28-2006 06:32 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
Maybe it's easier to stay in the creative side of the brain when you aren't yanked out by "outside reference". Abstract artists don't have to filter through the analytical side of the brain to keep it right. Since there is no you say Jason...who's to say it wasn't intentional. Where as an arm too long is a big fat red flag! (did I only just condense what you were trying to say Jason?) Scout

fritchie 08-28-2006 09:13 PM

Re: Abstract Art vs Realism
Without quoting specific statements, I think I come down somewhere near Jason on this question. (Feel free to correct me if you disagree, Jason.) That is, I don’t think a given piece of sculpture or painting, pottery, or probably any art form, can be classified as purely realistic or abstract. There is only a degree of one or the other on an infinitely variable scale.

Outside of a few very talented contemporary or recent Western sculptors, the Classical Greeks came as close as any group to pure Realism, as we can see from the marbles and occasional bronzes we have today. Studies show they actually painted their marbles in relatively naturalistic colors, and I think also their bronzes. But comparison of these figures with living humans shows that essentially all are idealized or abstracted to one degree or other. Even Michelangelo’s David, probably the epitome of “realism” in figuration, color aside, is abstracted to a high degree. That is, it shows the sculptor’s concept of an ideal figure and, though many real persons might be found at any time who resemble David, each will deviate in obvious ways when compared.

Relevant to this point is the story of the principal Parthenon sculptor (Phidias, I believe), who invited anyone interested to watch over a period of months while he carefully copied a well-known athlete in clay or stone, but secretly used the same man in private to do a more free-form piece. When both were finished, he put them side by side, and essentially everyone agreed that the free-form piece was better.

The real conflict, it seems to me, arises from the inability of the average person to identify quality in sculpture, and in our age that means more poor “abstract” than “realistic” sculpture is produced and installed for the public. For the converse of this state, see the recent post by Mountshang of sculpture from Communist East Germany before the reunification of East and West. These pieces are completely or predominately realistic, and most are poorly done.

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:30 AM.

Sculpture Community,
International Sculpture Center,
vBulletin, Copyright ©2000 - 2020, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Russ RuBert