Donald Kuspit’s four kinds of realism

Donald Kuspit, considering Steven Assael’s paintings at Forum Gallery, writes about realism at artnet: “It seems to me that there are at least four kinds of realism (no less): (1) na�ve or observational realism, which assumes that the world is what it appears to be, that is, that reality is a matter of appearances, or can be ‘reduced’ to observed appearances; (2) esthetic realism, which emphasizes the surface qualities rather than spatial solidity of objects, sometimes presenting them as all surface — almost all pure color and subtle texture, giving them an exciting immediacy they might not otherwise have if they were seen as mere matter of fact (this is the ambition of Impressionist Realism); (3) existential realism, which deals with what Daniel Bell, in his essay ‘The Return of the Sacred?,’ calls ‘the core questions that confront all human groups in the consciousness of existence; how one meets death, the meaning of tragedy, the nature of obligation, the character of love,’ the ‘recurrent questions which are cultural universals, to be found in all societies where men have become conscious of the finiteness of existence,’ and which invariably inform our sense of reality, however unconsciously; and (4) humanist realism, which means, in Julien Benda�s words in The Betrayal of the Intellectuals (La Trahison des Clercs), ‘a sensibility for the abstract quality of what is human,’ or as Herbert Read puts it in his introduction to Benda�s book, ‘humanism seeks the �constants� that are manifest in the historical past,’ which, as Read says, quoting Goethe, has nothing to do with ‘the illusion of a higher reality.'” Read more.

Steven Assael: Paintings & Drawings,” Forum Gallery, New York, NY. Through May 2.

One Comment

  1. Where does Kuspit place the works of observational, realist painters such as Rackstraw Downes, Stanley Lewis and Andrew Lenaghan? Are these simply “naive”, “insufficiently artful” and “insignificant” artists because their work is based in perception?

    If anything, I would argue that these painters make work that, while using observation as an integral foundation for their respective processes, ultimately transcends a mere “sense of seamless, self-same reality” and actually embodies qualities of all of Kuspit’s “categories”.

    If Kuspit can’t see the humanism or existentialist tension in Downes’s bridges, Lewis’s backyards, or Lenaghan’s domestic interiors, aside form the formal explorations of optics, Cubism, light, etc. then he needs to keep looking and possibly re-evaluate his overly simplified, reductive compartmentalization of realism.

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