Is Representational Art Dead?

New Shoots 30x31,

A look at representational art today

My wife and I flew from our hometown of Denver, Colorado to attend the American Impressionist Society National Art show at the Trailside Gallery in Scottsdale. As a representational painter, I was thrilled to be accepted to the show and even more thrilled to attend. I anticipated the wonderful paintings I would view, evaluate, study and enjoy. As we approached the gallery entrance, my excitement was palpable in my chest. But the heart thumping stopped, albeit briefly, when I saw a ‘for lease’ sign on the gallery exterior. Maybe my vivid imagination was too quick to jump to conclusions. I immediately thought, ‘Is this well-known gallery closing its doors? And if so, why? What does this say about the state of figurative and realistic art?’ And then I did dare think it. Blasphemy. ‘Is representational art dead?’

Although I create, buy and collect representational art, I still may not be the best judge of the genre’s status across America. If anything, I would likely overestimate its importance because it happens to be the art that I love the most. I know and follow many artists who create stunning artwork every day. I also believe they have loyal collectors who purchase and enjoy their pieces. This does reassure me. Although I wonder if these are more of the outliers rather than the norm.

A look at the Denver art scene

The Cirque, 30x40,Denver is a great case study to understand the general health of representational art. Several well-known galleries in the area including Saks Gallery and Abend Gallery have been in business for many years and are credible institutions with solid reputations. Their exhibition openings are well-attended and feature art that depicts realistic subject year-round. Knowing this, I feel reassured again that the state of representational art was alive and well. However, there are more than 100 art galleries in the Mile High City, and looking at the bigger picture, it seems that there are fewer galleries that promote representational works than those that promote other genres. For example, the River North Art District (RiNo) almost exclusively promotes non-representational works. Maybe it’s not about the quantity of representational art galleries that indicates whether or not the genre is dying. A deeper look into art history reveals some interesting trends too.

Art preferences ebb and flow

Colorado’s Commodity, 24x36(1)Art history tells us there are times when certain art forms and styles are more popular. In the late 1800’s, traditional artists had to eventually yield to newer impressionists. After this, post-impressionists dominated the art scene. Expressionists gained popularity, and later came the abstract expressionists… and so on. Judging by history, we know there are cycles in the styles of art and what appeals to society. But we also know that even with all the small changes and larger epochal shifts in artistic styles, representational art has never truly gone away. It may have been less popular during certain periods, but there is plenty of good evidence (in the form of very good paintings) that representational art is not dead.

But don’t take my word for it. You need only to go as far as your OPA catalog to see the magic, skill and beauty that is captured by its members. While it may be more difficult to find representational art now, its exclusivity may be the right springboard to launch it to a phase of popularity again. That said, I’m confident that representational art is here to stay.

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  • Tom Watson OPA

    Just finished reading the interesting article on whether representational art is dead or not. Last year 2015, my wife and I drove south and spent a day in Santa Barbara, CA. to visit galleries, etc. We were very disappointed in how few galleries there were, let alone quality representational art galleries. Back in the 1990s, I was accepted into the OPA western regional show at the Waterhouse Gallery in Santa Barbara.. an excellent representational gallery in a great location. At that time, there were numerous traditional art galleries there, featuring a variety of exceptional representational work. Last year, while chatting with the owner of the Waterhouse Gallery, I asked him what happened to all the traditional galleries in town. He explained that the city had become unaccommodating and unfriendly to galleries period. They imposed restrictions and city taxes that drove galleries and other small businesses out. That may be part of why, in areas that once were thriving with representational art galleries, have lost many of their best galleries. Also, it seems like there are fewer representational galleries in Carmel, CA, which was once a thriving center of quality representational galleries. I believe there will always be quality representational painters, ateliers, galleries and patrons, in spite of the trends. Representational art is a solid uncompromising default, that maintains understanding and stability in quality art.

    Tom Watson OPA

  • dgcasey0325

    There is no way representational art is dead. Not even injured or on life support. The modern art crowd will tell you that their art is the way to go and could conceivably point to the New York art scene as an example. But, I found a much better example of how full of crap they are.

    Just do some Google research into the attendance figures for the top museums around the world and you will find that modern art museums have attendance figures that quite a bit less than the classical art museums. Looking at the top ten you would see that the Tate Modern is usually fourth or fifth and the MOMA might crack the top ten once in awhile. Other than that, the rest are of the classical variety.

    Case in point, in a couple of weeks Honey Bunny and I are heading for L.A. for a bit of business on her part, but I have one day where I can visit one museum. I’m going to the Norton Simon in Pasadena. None of the modern art museums in the area are even on my radar.