Joey’s RPM lesson with Matthew on Realism and European Realist Painters
Not yet telling Joey that Realism, and Realist painters, often favor depicting life as in realistic/accurate, but usually quite harsh terms, I asked Joey if he could create three paintings, what would they be of? What would be the subject matter?
J: MY PAINTING WOULD HAVE TO MIMIC THE MOST FANTASTIC SNOWBOARD SESSION EVER. THE NEXT SUBJECT MY PAINTING WOULD BE ON WOULD HAVE TO BE ON THE TOP NOT STOPPING FOR A SECOND TO LOOK DOWN, OF A BUILDING THAT I’M ABOUT TO PARACHUTE OFF OF. THE NEXT EXAMPLE WOULD HAVE TO BE TOURING THE WORLD WITH A ROCK BAND AND MANY WOMEN.
I told Joey that I did not want to discourage him from trying to achieve these goals, if that is what he wanted to do, but that the scenarios seemed pretty extreme, exaggerated, and not really bearing resemblance to every day life. “The most fantastic snowboard session ever”, parachuting off of a building, touring with a rock band…
J: YOU REALLY BELIEVE I COULD TOUR WITH A ROCK BAND ONE DAY?
I switched gears back to the lesson, and explained that these far-out scenarios that Joey came up with did not really surprise me, as many of the paintings that he had seen up until this point depicted great figures from history such as the Greek philosopher Socrates, or great moments in time, such as the French Revolution of 1830. However, beginning in the middle of the 1800’s many painters and artists began to challenge the traditional emphasis on such idealized and exotic subjects, and began to focus instead on everyday scenes and the lives of ordinary people. They didn’t believe that art had to be beautiful or uplifting, but only that it had to be realistic, and this is why these painters were called Realists.
I asked Joey what his thoughts were on this so far?
J: YOU KNOW THAT THE FOCUS SHIFTED FROM FANTASY LAND TO MORE REAL LIFE SITUATIONS THATS WHY THEY CALLED THESE GUYS REALISTS.
I reminded Joey that he should be grateful, because for the majority of the time his life is really sweet. While everyone has their struggles in life, there are a lot of people out there who have more than their fair share of hardships, such as not enough food to eat, no home, etc.
J: NOW I GET IT THEY WANTED TO SHOW HOW MOST POOR PEOPLE STRUGGLE JUST TO GET THROUGH LIFE. NOW I SEE THEIR WISDOM THEIR ART TOLD THE STORY OF MAN NOT OF THE ELITE OR OF THE GODS.
Then I showed Joey the painting by the frenchman Jean Millet, The Gleaners (1857), which depicts three French peasant women stooping to collect as many pieces of stray grain that they could after the farmer had harvested his crop. Hours of work might yield these poor women enough grain to make one single loaf of bread. I asked Joey to tell me what he saw in the painting?
J: THE PEASANT WOMEN ARE PICKING UP THE LEFT OVER STUFF MOSTLY WORRIED THAT THEY WHILE GLEANING WILL STARVE. THAT SOUNDS SO HARSH THAT THEY SEARCH FOR SCRAPS FOR HOURS WITH THEMSELVES WHILE THE GREEDY FARMER LOOKS ON WITHOUT A CARE.
What can you take away from this lesson so far?
J: PLEASE LET ME SAY THIS RIGHT NOW I AM SO HAPPY TO BE BORN IN THE TIME AND PLACE THAT I WAS PIMPLES AND ALL. PIMPLES WILL LEAVE SOON ENOUGH AND LIFE WILL RULE, THEIR CONDITIONS WON’T EVER CHANGE.
Then I showed Joey the painting by Gustave Courbet, who was another French Realist painter, called The Stone Breakers (1849). Without telling Joey anything about the painting yet, I asked him what he saw?
J: THEY LOOK LIKE THEY ARE HAMMERING THE GROUND.
I explained that in this painting an old man and his younger assistant are using hammers to break up stones into gravel. Like Millet’s painting, we get the sense that the life of labor is very difficult, and not likely to ever improve for these people. So, what are your thoughts on this painting?
J: THAT THE LIFE OF A LABORING SOUL IS SO HARD AND HAS NO CHANCE OF IMPROVING.
Well, at that time, that may have been the case. However, in this day and age, there are many things a person can do and ways in which a person can improve their life, so to a higher degree a person is no longer stuck in their situation if they find it unpleasant. As it relates to Joey’s life, I brought up how much the letter board and RPM has changed his life, as have things like iPads, computers, the technology that goes into allowing people to snowboard etc.
Then, I asked Joey what this lesson had showed him? Other than the specifics of Realist paintings, what did he learn from all of this?
J: THIS LESSON SHOWED ME THAT MY LIFE HAS MANY UPS AND DOWNS TOO BUT THAT I AM SO FAIRLY PRIVILEGED AND I NEED TO BE GRATEFUL FOR THAT.
Joey got up and took a break. When he got back, I told him that we were going to switch gears now, slightly. Given what he just learned about Realism, and Realist paintings, I asked Joey to think about what he thought a Realist painting of each of our lives would look like? I also reminded Joey that Realism favored an accurate depiction of what life is like, and if anything, usually showed aspects of life that are not very pleasant. I had him start with me first.
J: WONDERFUL GAME. THE PAINTING WOULD SHOW YOU TEACHING YOUR TORN TRAVELING LITTLE BROTHER WITH YOUR TOTALLY TOLERANT PATIENCE BEING TESTED WITH BANGS ON THE TABLE AND YOUR MUTT TRYING TO STEAL THE SHOW BY BEING TOO ROWDY.
And now, what could a Realist painting of you and your life look like?
J: THIS MIGHT SOUND HARSH BUT IT WOULD SHOW A BOY WHO TRIES SO HARD TO PLEASE HIS MOTHER THAT HE SOMETIMES GROWS TOO FRUSTRATED THAT HE CAN’T TALK THAT HE HITS THOSE DEAR TO HIS HEART. WANTING TO SPITE THE WORLD WON’T HELP SO HE CONTINUES TO WORK SO HARD.