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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