What’s in a Name?

The Contemporary Florentine Realism exhibition received some criticism for the title. Some of the participating painters objected to the term ‘realism’ and on the Rational Painting forums the title sparked a thread questioning the need to use the word ‘contemporary’. Granted I did not spend a great deal of time thinking of the name. I just needed to come up with an all-inclusive title to describe what we do in the least offensive manner to all parties. Sometimes talking with other realists reminds me of what some wise man once said: ‘there is no greater cause for ferocious argument than a subtle difference between two abstract ideas’ (along those lines anyways, I can’t find the quote).

Most art movements were given their appellations long after the fact but in today’s soundbite-driven world, we should probably have a catchy name. Its interesting to think that some art movement names were originally insults, such as Baroque, Macchiaoli or Fauvism. Odd Nerdrum has been going for this approach by adopting ‘Kitsch’ to describe his painting, you can read his ideas on the subject on his website.

When I was studying, Classical Realism was the blanket denomination for traditional painting. It always seemed too ivory-tower to me, however, as many of my favorite artists are painting very modern subjects albeit with traditional methods and much of the plein air work I admire has nothing really ‘classical’ about it.

‘Slow Art Florence’ was an early choice for the show’s title, especially as the Slow Food movement it pilfers the name from is very popular here. Greg Hedberg has already used ‘Slow Painting’ for his show at the Oglethorpe University Museum in 2006 (Aristos had an interesting critique of the name here). Though it’s a good idea, a quick google search for ‘Slow Art’ turns up a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with this show, and I paint pretty fast anyways.

Two of the best ideas for a title were from the Rational Painting forums. The first was Graydon Parish‘s ‘Post-Contemporary’ art, since the word has already been corrupted to mean a style and not a time. The other was Mark Diederichsen‘s ‘Reconstructionism’, a play on Derrida’s Deconstructionism which has influenced so much of Postmodernism. Unfortunately, once again, a quick browse through google turns up exhibitions of Post-Contemporary art (which appear to just be more of the same), and Reconstructionism is already a hard-core Christian movement advocating a return to Mosaic law.

Back to the drawing board. If anyone has suggestions, post them in the comments please.

Update: For the time being I’m using ‘Post-contemporary’ for the show title on the door, I find it too amusing to pass on.


  1. Don’t know why those painters and sculptors object to the term ‘realism’. I am sure they should not be afraid that someone will confuse their works with that of Courbet and his followers. Other than that what’s the big deal…? Perhaps they prefer term like – “representationalism done by people who attended contemporary Academy whose teaching methods are based on traditional, time-tested principles of making 2D and 3D art”?

  2. I’m not fond of terms that seem to incrementalize time, like Modernist>Post-Modernist>Contemporary>Post-Contemporary. The past ultimately has to give up its hold on the present and sink into the (albeit still relevant) comfort of history. 200 years hence it will sound slightly absurd to still refer to the “Post-Contemporary art of the early 21st Century.” Post-Contemporary also smacks of Francis Fukuyama end of history millinarianism, a problematic and regressive trope. On the other hand, I have long resented the Post-Lackian “Classical Realist” denomination, since it trivializes and obscures what was (and still should be) a profound aesthetic and philosophical argument. Classicism is not Realism, it is Idealism. “Contemporary Realism” may not best describe the work that is in this show, it’s hard to tell from the limited and small posted images. I’d be interested in hearing the arguments against the title from the participants that objected.

  3. Exactly William (and Valentino, to answer your question), the problem with ‘realism’ is that many painters use life-like painting to express ideas, and they felt that ‘realism’ had a negative connotation, as they were striving for something ‘more’ than visual reality. Recognizable images to some are a means to an end, and they find realism problematic as it can become an end in itself.

    ‘Post-contemporary’ I find entertaining precisely because it pokes fun at the incrementalization of time.

  4. ‘Post-contemporary’ is a good one as you say. I think the whole thing is rather silly.
    What’s in a name? The idea that realism has a negative connotation is giving into the post-modern ideal and it’s reaction to it. That’s an interesting idea, that even though one is painting using a realistic approach if it is something more than that it’s not really in this realm.

    I have read somewhere that Andrew Wyeth objected to his work being called realism, he has some intersting things to say on the subject. Then again he was a one off as they say.

  5. Alexey Steele, http://www.alexeysteele.com, calls it “High Art”, but like Classical Realism it leans toward the lofty and in the realm of The Machine paintings for the Salon. My work tends to be too humble for this.
    I’ve never been too concerned with this title debate. I don’t have a problem labling my work as traditional realism. Semantics is what it is.

  6. I take term “realism” (in this and similar contexts) as a broadest common denominator in an effort to come up with a briefest possible description of someone’s artwork. Granted, no one-word label can properly describe a work of art, of course, and every such term is inevitably more than inaccurate, arbitrary and misleading.
    Artists should know that, but sometimes such terms are necessary. Word Realism (or “representational art”) is the broadest possible denominator, as opposed to non-representational (non-objective) art or abstraction. That’s how I look at this semantic problem.
    Wyeth’s work can, in this sense (*), be called realism, just like Babylonian bas-reliefs, Fayum portraits, Giotto’s, Piranesi, Tamara Lempicka, Bernie Fuchs or Diarmuid Kelley.

    (*) – and that sense is in play in 90% of cases, we all know that (and those artists as well)

  7. This is funny. Ok, guys..

    It depends what you want. Begin with the idea, as always. We may not know what we want many times, but we sure as hell know what we don’t want.

    “21st-century realism” places it too firmly within a time period. You are trying to identify yourselves too much methinks.
    “Representationalism” is very common. There are many forms of “representationalism”.
    “Post-contemporary”..how can anything be post-“now”?
    “Post-Academism”…post-“after I completed school” work?
    “Realism”…after the advent of photography, “realism” has other connotations. (vis a vis, Chuck Close)

    (Close stated he hated the term also, as he was more interested in artificiality)

    Are you wishing to be a group? Obviously so…are we creating a clubhouse name then? A gang name? Strength in numbers then!?

    Are you trying to change things? Make a statement with your name/title? Change the system? Promote your ideas of what “fine art” is or should be?

    In that case, I feel you are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

    Consider reiterating existing terms, for example, simply “Fine Art” (used in some sense), promoting the term from within, allowing your work to change/remind/modify what *fine art* is to the general public…

    Strong work is strong work. we are not the Beatles. your strength is within your individuality, yourselves, not as a group.

    An individual wants a picture by Marc D’alessio or Ben Fenske, not “The Florentine Contemporary Realism Group”.

    Yet you mentioned Odd Nerdrum. He’s not a group. I support camaraderie and have even hoped for it from time to time (does it even exist?), but he peeled the onion, and spent some seasons in hell to get there.

    The words of the poem are important, but the idea, the creation, is more important. Modern/contemporary art as example. Painting is a visual diary, it is not an endless series of studies….(although studies are incredibly important, yes)

    Should you line up all of your advanced students and have them paint a scene, they will all look very similar. VERY similar. Let’s be honest.

    Do you know one can see complete individuality of the individual within photographs should the same situation occur by “genuine” photographers? Photography is far more difficult for these reasons.

    Many, many people take poor photographs, but it really takes someone special to take a good one.

    That is because to become a Henri Cartier Bresson, for example, one must possess far more than the technical. And that my friend is a whole other thing.

    That’s how Pinocchio becomes a real boy.
    I encourage you to study it and modern art. I really do.

    You’ll end up where you started, but as the man said, “the journey makes all the difference.”

    But, if you wish to be part of a group:

    Look at the past. You need a group name that represents a philosophy, which you do, such as the “Ashcan School” “Macchiaioli” “Fauves” etc.

    Here are some aids:

    Don’t try and write your history.

    You have a name, “The Florence Academy” ..there is your name.

    That is what it is, in every way.

    Perhaps Cecil would have a problem with that name, but you all seem to be going the way of the Euro in the end anyway…

    It represents everything you are about already. no? You apparently want to be identified as from Florence anyway.

    If I didn’t care I would not say anything. Perhaps I should not have..

    PS: Although we have never met, congratulations on all of your success.

    They say as we understand a bit about the writer or filmmaker from their novels or films, although we have never met them….just as we can understand a little about God by studying and viewing the world..

    One can also know a man from his internet blog!

    You guys are very talented and have painted some *perfect* pictures and deserve all the success in the world.

    PPS: Even in time lapse of 15sec, within a crowd of people one can see Maureen’s hair

    **This message will self destruct in 5 seconds**

  8. Paul makes a good point! But Yes, We are the Beatles! Lennon once said they were the
    voice of the people.
    And WE are!
    When an Artist approches the “Canvas” mirecals happen. That’s why they approch it!?
    Lables sometimes become stereo types, be careful, but keep it real!

  9. >When an Artist approches the “Canvas” mirecals happen.

    Not necessary, not always and not with all paint aplliers.
    But I tend to agree with the first part of the sentence. Unfortunately, there are many painters around, but only a few artists.

  10. But historically “Realism” was used to express profound ideas, political, philosophical, aesthetic and emotional. Even “realism” with a small “r” can’t help but articulate concepts about perception and representation, in the same way that an Abstract Expressionist painting can’t refrain from being referential (in that it references the concept of anti-referentialist abstraction.)

    I think that as painters we have too long set ourselves as “realists” against all of those other “ists”, and found common cause with artists that we are not truly philosophically or politically allied with. But perhaps it is time for some meaningful differentiation. A little friction always helps to refine ideas.

  11. Post contemporary is funny because it’s an oxymoron, but it’s also quite profound in so much as ‘realist’ or ‘traditionally trained’ painters find themselves a minority, and somewhat despised, group in the contemporary art world. They will cease to be actually ‘post’ contemporary when the art world wakes up to the Chaucerian frauds that plague contemporary galleries. In the meantime ‘post contemporary’ has a certain panache.
    p.s. I recently read some of the correspondence between the members of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, it seems they couldn’t all agree on why they came up with the name and what they stood for, so much so that Millais (I think) convened a meeting to discuss it! Anyway, who will be the first to sign their paintings with PCB?

  12. ‘New Paintings from Life’… if you want your fellow artists to pop in, ”PAINT AS LIFE’ or ‘EYES/BRAIN/BLENDER/CANVAS’ if you’re after a Saatchi type bloke.

    As for a label…? Experientialist Painting?

  13. First I would like to share a thought from Per Bauhn, a proffessor in practical philosophy that participated in a seminar up here in Gothenburg, Sweden last year. The seminar was organized by FAA/Sweden and centered on the tradition and beauty as terms but also their state in modern society. Anyway, during the concluding panel discussion prof Bauhn stated that the risk a group takes when focusing too much on “who are we and how we do things” is that the reception tends to be too much on a principal level [end of his statement]. If there is one thing that unites all of us who are painting in classical/realistic/traditional way – it seems to be a will to move focus from the principal conceptual discussions to a place where the piece, the artwork, the canvas receives all the attention. So in that sense it is rather counter productive spend a lot of energy on defining us, or some of us, as a group.

    On another note, since you are mentioning Nerdrum, I think that there is also a contradiction in the branding process that they use. I sat they, because he is an individual but Kitsch is a group thing. There is a Kitsch biennale, an official kitsch website, a group of painters that call themselves kitsch painters. A group.

    The problem is in their combination of purposes behind the branding. On the one hand they have a label to which they have attached values of their own, and that hopefully will increase profit (this is the normal use of branding). Branding is however by definition a short termed approach. Relatively anyway, relative to the long term change that they also states that they want to achieve.

    I am all for creating and taking part of communities. Painting is a social thing. You are on your own, but without colleauges your progress will suffer. I am not so sure that the trend of self labeling will do any good, apart from the obvious short termed economical good it will do to the self labelers, that´s all.

  14. @Andreas: I remember you well. Always helpful, insightful, and sincere.

    Some drink and dial, I drink and type. In fact, I do both. It’s a problem.
    I believe that was Hemingway’s first rule..and I’m not Hemingway..

    As I recall, a friend within his studio turned me on to your blog/show at the time. Upon hearing additional gossip circulated (I left in 2003?)perhaps I was slightly sarcastic/angered. Gossip is rarely truth. Informed BF created a blog, brought me here once again. Internet…its relevance matched only by its irrelevance.

    It is only ever my intention to motivate and inspire, never, ever, to judge, disparage, or ridicule.
    It is only my intention that everyone reach their full potential. Period.

    Please accept my apology. I own what I say and do.
    Sarcasm can be confused with wit and zeal however.

    Should BF have created his “blog” as a result of this, then I partially retract my apology as it served well.
    I too had found little reason for these, yet as Andreas mentions, one suffers alone. Interaction is important for a variety of reasons.

    The ultimate question posed in the end, what kind of art would you make if you did not know what art looked like?
    I will probably spend the remainder of my life trying to understand what “Art” is…if anyone is “Pinocchio” trying to be a real boy, it is me.

    BF can make me look like a fool any day. Hope he continues to do so.
    Still fighting, still dreaming…only another “walking the walk” can fully appreciate what difficulties are embraced and heroes many of you are. Most do not possess a fraction of the strength or courage.

    Well done once again. Enjoy your time.
    Excuse me once again for the clap-trap.

    PS: I adore Maureen and her hair…sigh….
    PPS: Any other comment within this site will not be mine. No gossip, I’m done. Prefer my world where 2+2=5

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