What is Real or Not Real in Art

Yesterday the annual Moss Street “Paint In” took place here in Victoria. Some 115 artists, professional and amateurs participated in this colourful event. The turnout was in the tens of thousands. Yours truly did not participate. The art of Pointillism tests people’s patience too much for such a venue. The idea is the artists create a new work. Interesting to note the majority were landscape, portrait and still-life genres. A few symbolist works, mostly by First Nations, and very few non-objective or abstract paintings.
This might be a good moment to ask, what is real or not real in Art. With objective paintings, the results may seem real, or realistic, because we recognize immediately flowers, people, fruit, seascapes, sky, clouds and whatnot. This gives comfort, it is familiar. And, we can judge how well the artist draws. Still, it is not ‘real’, thus it is abstract.
Years ago in the ‘60s, back in Toronto, I was a pioneer in the concept of professional artists visiting schools. Sometimes I’d do a demonstration or mix primary colours to show the kids how to create many different colours just from red, yellow and blue. Other times I’d give a slide show on various artists or movements. 

One day I featured the modern French masters and included one of Paul Cezanne’s splendid still lifes with oranges, much like the one you see here, painted around 1899.
One youngster suddenly piped up from the back of the classroom, “Yes! Them oranges look OK, but can you get orange juice out of them?” All the kids laughed, but the teacher and principal were not amused.
But I loved it. To have the endorsement from a young boy that indeed, I was on the right track to have left behind realistic and conventional art. And so it is. No matter how beautiful or real flowers look on paper or canvas, can we smell their fragrance? No matter how tempting the cool lake appears in a summer landscape, can we take a refreshing dip? It is all illusion.

Moving on to the Old Masters. What’s interesting is they all rendered paintings of Adam and Eve with navels. For example, this magnificent work you see here by Peter Paul Rubens. First off, these were models posing for the artists (not the "real" Adam and Eve), and second, Adam and Eve could not have had navels, at least according to Genesis. I wonder, why was it all the Popes and patrons who commissioned these works, never said anything. And through the centuries the critics or academics did not comment on this incongruity. See what we mean, "What is real or not real, in Art?"