By Alex Beckinsale
Representationalism is, arguably, one of the most long standing forms of visual art. As humans we have always seemed inherently obsessed with trying to represent what we see around us. But in this age of digital and photographic imagery, what does artistic representationalism mean now?
There has been a “kick-back” against representationalism in the visual arts since the early 20th century. During this time the art society began to see more merit in abstraction and conceptual thought than in just seeing something, and then simply transcribing that particular something down in paint. This trend has continued through to contemporary art today, with sculptural installations, video art and performance pieces taking many a centre stage in art shows. Yet art festivals and shows, like our very own SALA, are still inundated with representational artworks, exhibitions and artists.
An individual with an abundance of art knowledge and education could argue that this profusion of representational artwork stems from a lack of formal training by many of the artists involved. That these pieces have been created by those with little understanding of the more conceptual and intellectual nature of art. Created by the kind of people who would walk into a contemporary art gallery and utter that odious phrase: “my 4 year old could have done that”.
On the one hand, this theory probably has merit, however, it still does not explain the resurgence of representational painters, drawers, printmakers and sculptors within art institutions today. For some reason artists and makers continue to return to representing what they see around them. No matter how many times painting is declared “dead”, or realism chastised for appearing too photographic, some artist is ready and waiting to show the art world a piece which might just prove the critics wrong. There also seems to be a growing number of contemporary representational artists who have the ability to seamlessly marry conceptual thought with representational work.
But did we actually ever move away from representationalism? What if our mode of thinking about how representation should look hasn’t changed, but our way of presenting representation has?
As convoluted as that sounds, the definition of representation is simply: ‘the depiction of someone or something in a picture or other work of art’. And what is art but a representation of a certain thing, thought, feeling or idea? A video installation can just as easily be a representation of a certain emotion as a realistic painting can, and an abstract drawing can be representational of an objects relation to space, just as a photograph can. Maybe we, as humans, can never escape our insatiable quest to represent what we see, hear and feel in regards to the world around us, even if sometimes we don't realise we’re doing it.
 The term ‘representation’ is used in this text in regards to artists attempting to represent “reality” through visual mediums.
 Oxford dictionary, 2010, Oxford University Press.
Exhibition Title: The Day After The Day
Artist: Alexandra Beckinsale
Venue: Unley Museum (80 Edmund Ave Unley , 5061)
Dates: 20th July - 7th September (Monday - Wednesday 10am-4pm, Thursday 10am - 6pm, Sunday 2-5pm)