… realists share a “lusting after tactility, after strongly modeled form, clear contours, and deep illusionistic space”
This is from Contemporary American Realism since 1960 by Frank H. Goodyear, Jr. (1981):
… Some see it as an obvious extension of modernism; others see it as a reaction to modernism, as an anti-Cézanne imperative. Some see it as a revival, rooted in the traditions of the past, and call it academic; others consider it avant-garde. Some prefer to think of its relationship to the real world as phenomenological, while others diminish the importance of natural phenomena, avowing that contemporary realism’s importance lies in the idea of translation — for instance, in translating photographic information into painting information.
[line break added] Some “stylistics” define contemporary realism in terms of homogeneous paint surface or a shared attitude to the rendering of form and space or to subject matter. Some affirm the value of narration, while others see formal issues as the most important. Some want realism to be inclusive, others, exclusive.
… Is the purpose of the artist to replicate reality? Does replication of its mere appearance constitute a legitimate artistic goal? Or is there a higher reality where appearances give way to more universal truths? Shouldn’t the great artist seek out this higher reality?
Historically, artists and critics have argued that the flaw in realist art has been its lack of selectivity toward nature; in other words, realism has sacrificed a higher reality for a lower one, one exclusively involved in appearances. It has been characterized by its adversaries as being a styleless style, a mirror of reality.
[line break added] Remorseless objectivity and impartiality toward its subject matter, one of realism’s strategies, have resulted, the argument goes, in an art overly craft-oriented, and this technical emphasis does not allow for the creation of paintings that can serve as equivalents to higher moral or psychological truths. Without expression of these higher truths, it is argued, realist paintings offer only the image of the real, and that image is cheapened in contemporary life by its proliferation; it is, in the final analysis, too simple and perhaps even irrelevant in a mechanized world that can reproduce reality so easily.
… So much of twentieth-century art is conditioned by ideas that we have come to take dogma for granted, and a certain amount of readapting is necessary to accept the notion of an art not predicated on ideology.
The most essential point that can be made about contemporary American realism may seem simplistic — there is a “new” realism. To think otherwise is to totally misunderstand the nature of today’s realism.
… When Malcolm Morley remarked in the mid-1960s that he was “looking for a house in which no one was living,” he was not denying his immediate past, but searching for a new way to express it. This situation was not uncommon to many other emerging realists who were looking for a way of getting away from well-traversed ground without breaking completely with their own past.
… At the heart of this philosophy is the belief that art should be about life and not about art.
… Is there a common stylistic ground? Sidney Tillim has said that realists share a “lusting after tactility, after strongly modeled form, clear contours, and deep illusionistic space” … And yet style alone is not a realist determinant; neither is a homogeneous paint surface, nor a shared approach to the rendering of form or the use of line, nor a consistent attitude to subject matter, nor a standard use of space.
… [Linda Nochlin writes] that not since the impressionists “has there been a group so concerned with the problems of vision and their solution in terms of pictorial notation and construction.”
To be continued.