Master of Creative Arts (Research)
School of Arts, English and Media
Howe, Robert, A search for meaning: continuing the existentialist tradition in painting, Master of Creative Arts (Research) thesis, School of Arts, English and Media, University of Wollongong, 2013. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3930
The challenge of realist painting today is in finding directions that seem fresh and relevant to the modern audience. It must compete, on one hand, with avant-garde art and on the other, with photographic imagery and a long tradition of realism in past painting in order to do this.
The art world today is far more receptive, however, to pictorial representation when compared to a period when realist artists were confronted more directly by the challenge of persuading viewers that their work was visually compelling and pertinent to modern experience. This is the period after World War II when abstract expressionism emerged and American modernist art rose to become a world leading entity, a period that coincided with the increasing popularity of existentialist philosophy across a wide range of disciplines including visual arts.
Research for this thesis was initiated when I became interested in exploring the concept of authenticity. This coincided with an increasing preoccupation with aspects of the human condition in the subject matter of my painting. Themes such as contemplation, angst, despair and questions about the nature of reality began to emerge. The subject matter was invoking elements of the classic ‘existential struggle’.
Accordingly, this thesis investigates authenticity as existentialist writers conceive of that term. It goes on to critique how American realist artists (specifically painters working in and around New York in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, the socalled ‘painterly realists’) approached aspects of authenticity such as the nature of the real. A responsive body of work that explores existential doubt in a contemporary context supports this thesis.