Contemplation and artistic realism

In the context of the contemplative life and art there is something I’ve wondered about. I’ve wondered if artistic realism does a better job of drawing a viewer in, creating pause. In the past I’ve chalked up differences in viewer attention span to personality, and I believe there’s still something to be said for that. For instance, as I write this I’m drinking from a mug my wife gave me for Christmas. The mug is decorated, and the decoration appeals to me. It makes me stop and think about how it was made, the materials it was made from and what the embellishment means. If anything.

It’s not what you’d call realism.

However, Roberta Green Ahmanson, in an article titled Art Through Thick and Thin, argues for realism in relationship to contemplation.

    But the realism is not in service of the self; it is in the service of bringing the viewer closer to the divine . . .

    But such gore is not the only theme here. Contemplation demands realism as well, whether it’s Pedro de Mena’s “Virgin of Sorrows,” tearful over her son’s death, or his ecstatic Francis of Assisi . . .

    But the artists on display in “The Sacred Made Real” bring the sacred into our world. The grief-stricken Magdalen contemplating the Cross, the Christ of the “Ecce Homo,” and the “Virgin of Sorrows” were not alone — for the display was crowded, and the visitors were in no hurry.

Am I simply more interested in the decorated and abstract mug than most people would be because clay is my craft? Were the visitors to the “Pop Life” exhibit, which Ahmason contrasts to “The Sacred Made Real” in her article, less likely to linger on the artworks simply because each show attracted a different demographic to begin with? Or is there something to the idea that realism is more likely to draw a viewer in and keep their attention than abstractions or non-representational pieces?


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Contemplation and artistic realism

  1. sojournwanderer says:

    At some risk of saying too little:

    Realism can give one pause. CAN. But so can the abstract, the less-readily-identified. CAN. Perhaps what they have in common is that they still the mind. The former by readily answering questions, the latter by confounding those questions.

    The article you reference is also addressing pop art and sacred art. Here’s the crux: Success was self-transformation, not self-acceptance. Pop art doesn’t provide contemplative territory, for me: my experience tends to be the same as that mentioned in the article: Most, once they got past the warning sign that there were images you might not want your small children to see, looked quickly and went on to the next room. Unless, for some reason, I’m inspecting the object, as object, to see more closely how it was made, or something.

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