"This is a subject I'm actually thinking about a great deal these days, particularly in light of the extreme political polarization we've seen take root in the US in recent years," comments artist Steve Linberg, "Once you have 'conservative' stuck to you as an artist, then no further evaluation is needed, or desired. And that's a way to give people less attention than they deserve, and to oversimplify, and that's always regrettable (at best), or even dangerous (at worst)."
In terms of values-- political and personal--skilled representation strikes me as being a way of working that can say whatever it wants to say. Artist Betty Shelton puts it this way: "To be a realist, in this day and age, makes many of us independent thinkers, and not compelled to follow what is 'popular.' I personally don't think that being a realist equates with being conservative, or liberal."
That said, Buchloh's essay is more than 30 years old, and a rising generation of what Donald Kuspit called "New Old Masters" are making works that are, in their intentions, distinctly anti-authoritarian. In political terms, there is a great deal of realism that is anything but "conservative."
The social issues that are at the heart of today's liberal politics -- including women's rights, LGBT issues, racial equality and secular identity -- are animating a wide swath of representational paintings. Many are not overtly political, but instead they focus on human dynamics and situations with an emphasis on the power of empathy. Rather than focusing on life's hardships, like the Social Realism of the early 20th century, today's Progressive Realists are interest in human identity in the context of social and political constructs. To put it another way, realists have taken on many of the view and projects that have pre-occupied Postmodernists, but do so using time-honored methods and media.
I'm including a selection of paintings below that illustrate some of the trends and values that I see emerging in this vein. Each image includes a quote from the artist meant to clarify and illuminate his or her personal concerns.
After several weeks of back and forth, it was eventually decided that they would show it, but it had to be in a private gallery not visible from the street. This was the final compromise that the chair of the show would accept, after all of the other members had turned in favor of it. It seemed to me that the chair's objection centered around an inability to separate nudity from sexuality, at least for the male figure: male nudes are inherently sexual (if not outright obscene), while female nudes may be purely decorative, particularly for male viewers.
I created this piece as a response to this controversy. I wanted to indicate that while there can be overlap between nudity and sexuality, there can be non-sexual nudity, and non-nude sexuality. As part of this statement, I wanted to invert the traditional paradigm of discretely covering the male nude while exposing the female, to further emphasize the point." - Steve Linberg
The Omen (Group Upon a Height) is an image that could be pulled from any day of the last 3 or 4 years in our world. This scene could easily be of Beirut, Haifa, Kabul, or Baghdad. The figures - once again melded into their land, once again bearing witness - rise above their city to take in the view. The plume they see is smaller, more localized than some seen in other paintings of this series, but it is no less potent. It signals destruction in their world, in their lives, in their emotions, their beliefs, and their ideas." - Matt Ballou