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Representational versus Abstract artists - who has more talent?

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Representational versus Abstract artists - who has more talent?

Barbara Graham

Ooh, this one is a doozy.

The debate that has been raging ever since The Impressionist Movement - if the work you make doesn't look like something it's meant to be representing - is it any good? Time and time again, I'm faced with "A 5-year-old could do that" (do people realise how unoriginal they are being?) - which we can take to mean - "I don't see the skill, therefore you have no worth as an artist"

I remember an 18-year-old on my Fine Art Foundation called Finbar Ward, made the most incredible portraits in pencil. Every freckle and eyelash was painstakingly rendered. They were stunning. The art tutor laughed and said, "Every year we get one - a human photocopier"

After that Finbar started ripping up canvases, filling pots with pigment and making experimental deconstructed paintings that were based on nothing anyone had seen before. He got a place at Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University, and is now an internationally recognised artist showing sculptural, conceptual work. (see photo)

At college, it was understood that the IDEAS always came first. Learning to paint and draw realistically is a skill, but once you can do it, where do you go from there? And why not simply take a photograph? The value of concepts is that no-one else can have the ideas that you can have, and that is your power.

Still people question an artist’s skills when they move away from observational work. What it repeatedly comes down to is that representational art is easier to judge - does it look like the thing or not? It is much harder to judge whether conceptual art is good or bad because we don't fully comprehend the language the artist is using. There is no benchmark. Can we allow ourselves to see that as its beauty? If we do that, then anything becomes possible.

Perhaps we need to dispense with judging whether is something is good or bad altogether? Art’s importance is not whether "like" it or not, or whether you'd "hang it on your wall". It’s about how it makes you feel. How do you want to feel? Do let me know in the comments.

One of my life studies while at art college

One of my life studies while at art college

Recent work

Recent work