A summary of Scott Burdick’s presentation entitled “The Banishment of Beauty”

Summary by Howard Friedland OPA, based on “The Banishment of Beauty” by Scott Burdick

Scott Burdick

Scott Burdick

In the second half of the Twentieth Century, the general public has, in great measure, “bought into” the misconception that skill, craft and — yes, even beauty — is to be disregarded when it comes to fine art. This phenomenon is evident in every art form. We can hear it in music, see it in our television programing and witness it in paintings. Most of us just accept and bare it.

Scott Burdick has taken the lead in the effort to wake us up and remind us that execution is at least as important as concept.

Scott and his wife, artist Susan Lyon, are two of America’s leading proponents of representational painting. They travel all around the U.S. and the world painting and photographing the beauty they see around them.

Burdick was kind enough to share with us his talk and slide show on “The Banishment of Beauty” at Oil Painters of America’s 2013 National Convention and Exhibition.


Note: Scott’s talk is too robust to include in full, and it would be an injustice for me to edit this important document, so I have chosen to provide a summary. Click here to view the presentation in it’s entirety.

Here is some of what the attendees saw and heard:


Art – Beauty and Truth – The Banishment of Beauty

by Scott Burdick

We’ve all heard of the great clash between abstract and representational art; how museums have become bastions of the abstract and realism has fallen out of favor. Here we have several paintings hanging right next to each other at the North Carolina Museum of Art that seem to illustrate this monumental conflict perfectly. On the left are three works from 19th Century artists — Robert Blum, Henry Mowbray, and Thomas Dewing — contrasted with four abstract paintings by Joseph Albers from the middle of the twentieth century.

Banishment of Beauty

Dewing’s paintings, especially, are full of emotion, exquisite craftsmanship and firmly tethered to the aesthetic tradition of realism going back in time to the beginning of art itself. Dewing — along with artists such as Sargent, Zorn, Sorrolla, Thayer, Gerome and other familiar greats — epitomized the height of what realism had attained in the 19th century art world.

Joseph Albers, on the other hand, is the epitome of the “modern” twentieth-century artists’ rejection of the representational form and all that can be called traditional in art. He famously said, “Abstraction is real; probably more real than nature.” A student and, later, teacher at Germany’s Bauhaus School, he was one of the leaders in the abstract revolution that was to transform the modern art world.

Albers’ work can be summed up with one word: Squares. I don’t know if any of you have seen the John Malcovich film, “Art School Confidential,” but Joseph Albers reminds me a lot of the artist/teacher Malcovich played, except all his paintings were triangles, instead of squares –- you can see one of his works in the background. One of my favorite lines in the film was when John Malcovich brags to a student that he was, “one of the first to paint triangles, you know.”

So there you have it. Out-of-date realism, versus cutting-edge abstraction. One half-expects the paintings to jump off the walls and start fighting right there in the museum. Squares versus Angles! Certainly, to judge by the vitriol on both sides of this artistic divide, one would expect no less.

Continuing on through the Museum, this all-out battle seems confirmed by one abstract work after another in the 20th Century section of the museum. Most include pretentious and, to my mind at least, ridiculous explanations to go with them. Here’s one example among many.

Titled “Blue Panel” painted in 1980. Quote, “Ellsworth Kelly reduces art to an essential geometric form to create an object that queries the definition of art and art making. His panel paintings are never just simple forms – the geometry is always skewed or irregular – and the shapes are inspired by chance encounters with the everyday world: an open door or window, a shadow cast by a tree, the spaces between things. In Kelly’s hands a painting becomes a sculptural form with volume and substance, and the architectural space around it becomes part of the work. As he explains, “By removing the content from my work, I shifted the visual reality to include the space around it.” His shaped, monochromatic canvases distill painting to pure abstraction, immersing the viewer in a visceral and voluptuous field of color.”

Blue Panel by Ellsworth Kelly

Blue Panel by Ellsworth Kelly

Wow….! Well, I don’t buy it, but one has to admit that he put a lot more effort into crafting the explanation of the painting, than in creating the painting itself. And the proof of his genius is that he’s hanging in a world-class museum, run by experts with impressive degrees in Art History, Art Theory, and far more qualified than me to say what is a masterpiece worthy of spending public funds to acquire and display.

But if that’s all there is to it – either you are an out-of-date realist who just can’t understand the “shifting of visual reality to include the space beyond the bounds of the canvas”, or a modern abstractionist who has progressed beyond realism in the same way the bronze age supplanted the stone age, then there really isn’t much to talk about. How can one really argue that one is better than the other when they are so completely different? Surely all of it just comes down to a matter of opinion and taste. Some people like angels and some squares, simple as that.


To see and read the entire “The Banishment of Beauty article by Scott Burdick please click on the link below.

Click here to watch Scott’s one-hour video, “The Banishment of Beauty.”
It is in 4 parts, but they should automatically play one after the other.

Thank you Scott for an enlightening and encouraging lecture. Hooray for our side!!!

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  • Decker Walker

    Traditional realism took a beating from critics in the 20th century, so push-back is to be expected, but we’d all be better off with less polarization. The Ellsworth Kelley work, Blue Panel, is beautiful, too. How can anyone not be affected by the expanse of intense blue? The distorted rectangle prompts us to see the bottom corner as nearer and the top one as further away. The after images on the surrounding white wall radiate subtle color sensations. These are some of the kinds of beauties that abstraction teaches us to notice and appreciate, beauties that are lost in a busy realist image that typically features dozens of hues and values and intensities in an artful arrangement that conjures up a picture of something we recognize and remember. What a delight to live in a time when we can have both kinds of beauties!

    • Bruce Tinnin

      Well said, Mr. Walker! A little more open mindedness should extend into many aspects of society and this is a prime example.
      The “Impressionists” were rebelling against the stagnant art and judgemental attitudes of the academics. So , it appears this is when the chasm began. Yet, the Impressionists artists are acceptable to the “Modern Realists”.
      Abstract Expressionism is as American as jazz and rock and roll. It was an artistic movement influenced by many artists fleeing the tyranny of Nazi Germany before and during WW2. Think about the anger and suffering they felt. I doubt they wanted to paint pretty flowers.
      I love all forms of art and music. I paint and sculpt both abstractly and realistically, depending on what suits the subject. I’ve studied Caravaggio as well as Rauschenberg. Free the mind…
      “Paint the flying spirit of the bird rather than its feathers.” ~Robert Henri

  • Paul Rost

    I’m sorry but this is just sad. To sum up Josef Albers work as just “squares” is UNBELIEVABLE!.

    • BluebirdNC

      “Sad” is absolutely the correct word. This is just another example of someone who has no appreciation for the arc of art history, and who has made little-to-no effort to understand modernism. All that’s missing is the similarly trite and erroneous declaration of “A six-year-old child could have done that.”

      Any artist, representational or abstract, could learn an enormous amount from Albers’ color studies. Although its significance is obviously missed here, there was a reason Albers reduced things to the simplicity of the square.

      Representational art will always be valid and have its admirers, but what typically is most often selected by teaching museums is artwork that was particularly influential, or that has the potential to be.

      • suttonart.com

        BluebirdNC, I think what you are overlooking is that 6 year olds, in fact can and do make square paintings. Although I think the circle is more popular. There little that is more beautiful than a drop of crude oil spread out and rainbow-ed on water but the point is not what is beautiful to visually experience, the point is, should the person whom drops the crude oil on water be respected as a master craftsman.

  • Betsy Jones Wade

    Thank you,Scott, for your beautiful description of the state of art. As a humble representational painter, it brought me to tears. As a culture, have we forgotten the Divine Master Creator, the source of all that is beautiful ? The evidence gives us the answer. We need only awaken to our true connection. We are so graced to have these moments of supernatural beauty that no one can take away…

  • Tac Tic

    Give it up! There is NO DEFENSE FOR MODERN ART!

    Modern “art” is a gluten, sucking resources and undue attention from every corner of our art world. Great cathedrals built to show tiny installations that match the creator/creators (The Corporation of Greed) tiny skills set.

    While the housing for great works keep being halved to make room for the absurd.

    Art, beautiful craftsmanship…the discipline of picture making is something that defies 4th quarter earnings reports. That is why the wall-street-of-museums need modern art. Another place to rest there lust for profits.

    Blue squares are a dime a dozen, so confuse everyone into thinking they are witnessing greatness. When they wipe the muck thrown into their eyes by the modern “arts” movement, they are going to be pissed! And Im not talking about “in a jar with a crucifix”!

  • Bruce Newman

    I try to keep an open mind but…

    Barnett Newman’s 8.5 x 10 foot painting, all dark blue with a single light vertical line sells for $43.8 million. I mean, come on. I once saw a huge painting in the National Gallery of Canada, perhaps 12 feet high, painted all a uniform deep blue. That’s it. And it appeared that a roller was used. I don’t get the attraction.