About 150 people from all ends of the art world and several foreign countries came to Ventura, Calif., in October for a four-day conference organized by the Art Department to tackle the biggest questions facing serious visual artists on today’s scene.
This ambitious affair, dubbed TRAC 2012 for The Representational Art Conference, zeroed in on 21st-century uses of the hard-won skills of master painters and sculptors. Associate professor Michael Pearce, department chair and conference co-organizer with Michael Lynn Adams ’72, argues that “contemporary traditional art” receives far less attention than it deserves both from galleries and the academy.
In an address kicking off the gathering, New Republic art critic Jed Perl dropped ice water on the idea that modernism or abstraction has been the enemy of representation in art. Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and Miró emerged yet again as heroes, while “Warholism” came in for criticism as a “one-two punch kind of art, that hit you with an idea and that was about it.”
Perl showed a broad appreciation for representational artists, but reserved choice terms of abuse for those who, while they may be able to imitate human forms and faces, have no traffic with tradition.
“Representation’s great claim on the arts is not in the way that it connects an artist to reality, so much as in the way that it connects an artist to traditions that engage with reality…” Perl said. “Reality itself can’t be your lifeboat.”
Near the back of the room, Kimberly Frassett, the owner of Masterpiece Classical Academy in Huntington Beach, Calif., sought to capture Perl’s speaking presence – his head inclined at the high podium – in a pencil sketch which she surrounded with her notes.
“People are often thinking I’m not paying attention, especially if I’m drawing,” she said afterward. “I can’t really focus unless my hands are doing something.”