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Realist Art Returns to the Spotlight in New York

The riveting art form you should keep an eye on.

by Rebecca Miller
17 December 2015, 11:10pm

All images taken by Sean Zanni/PMC, courtesy the Florence Academy of Art, Basilio De San Juan, and Max Breslow

In the overwhelmingly large tidal wave of new media art, with digital gallery shows and virtual reality paintings taking center stage, some of the more traditional forms of fine art, it seems, are struggling to stay relevant.

But while the world has its eyes on new media, a group of highly trained, dedicated fine artists are quietly making a comeback. These artists are mentoring and teaching young students the difficult craft of the atelier-style of classical realism—a very beautiful, old style of art—and showcasing their works at fundraisers and events, keeping the art form alive.

One such event was the Florence Academy of Art (FAA)’s first annual Beaux Arts Ball that took place last month at Cipriani in Manhattan. The gathering honored patrons Christopher Forbes, Judith Kudlow, and B. Eric Rhoads, as well as artists Jacob Collins, Daniel Graves, and Stone Roberts of the atelier school. It was a beautiful celebration featuring an art exhibition along the outer walls of the main ballroom, cocktails and live music, live figure drawing, dinner and dancing, an auction, and a whimsical costume parade. The room itself was decorated with plaster cast of antique and renaissance statuary brought in from Italy. Everything and everyone from the burrata and braised short ribs to Degas and his Little Dancer were dressed splendidly. It was by far one of the most lively rooms in which I’ve ever been.

Jordan Sokol and Amaya Gurpide were the winners of the costume contest as Degas and the Little Dancer.

Various speakers and honorees, including Judith Kudlow, founder of the Harlem Studio of Art: NYK Academy, and B. Eric Rhoads, founder of Art Marketing Boot Camp, delivered powerful, heartfelt speeches about the hard work and perseverance required of all the loyal enthusiasts and artists to keep classical realism thriving.

Judith Kudlow

The mission to help revive this form of art is an extremely important one. While realist fine art is obviously less "flavor of the month" than digital art, it undoubtedly evokes more organic emotional responses from some observers. Realist art acts as tangible evidence of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into all paintings done diligently by hand.

The closer you stand to the artwork, the clearer you see the strokes and the painstaking detail the artist employed to create works that look so effortlessly real. All of the sudden, you’re not just looking at a painting, you’re imagining the artist in their studio going over layer upon layer of background, trying to figure out how they managed to paint the condensation on that rose petal so perfectly. You start to fantasize about why they painted an elderly woman from behind carrying a grocery bag—something that seems so ordinary and everyday, and yet was one of the most captivating pieces displayed.

The contemplative and raw effects that classical realist art has on the viewer are extremely difficult to mimic in digital media, where it is implicitly understood that the visuals and audio being experienced today are produced using some degree of technology.

Classical realism is not something one sees trending on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean young people are not interested in it. I sat at a table filled with young, curious art enthusiasts and budding artists. The vibrant energy and young generations represented at the ball made me realize that millennials may love new media, but when dropped into an enchanted world of renaissance-era royalty and impressive landscapes created by one person’s hand, we cannot help but be mesmerized.

Here are more photos from FAA’s event:

B. Eric Rhoads

Julia Lourie as Peggy Guggenheim.

Related:

Dancers, Horses, and Women: Exploring the Fixations of Edgar Degas

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