The week before spring break, from March 2-5, West Chester University student Carl Frederick-Korsnes was accepted to present a paper in Ventura, California for the California Lutheran University Arts Initiative’s annual conference entitled, The Representational Art Conference 2014 (TRAC2014). This year’s event was titled, “Exploring Representational Art’s Place in the 21st Century.”
The conference explored the aesthetic principles and ideals evident within the works of contemporary artists. According to the event homepage, the initiative’s purpose is “not to establish a single monolithic aesthetic for representational art, but to identify commonalities, understand the unique possibilities of representational art, and perhaps provide some illumination about future directions.” 21st century art has an important voice that should not only be heard, but also explored; this conference provided those with interests in exploring the role of contemporary art through a series of speakers, presentations, and feature events. Each speaker and paper presenter was invited to articulate their views on contemporary art’s aesthetic values, vision, and philosophical outlook.
One of the conference’s central topics was the Novorealist Movement, which was well represented at TRAC2014. Novorealism, according to Alexey Steele, who coined the term, “addresses the capabilities of evolutionary developed human sensory systems as opposed to technologically based expressions. Novorealism has opposite priorities to those of ‘official art’. Instead of chasing novelty, it strives for authenticity, instead of glorifying ugliness it contemplates beauty, instead of prescribed irony it searches for sublime, instead of detached objectivity it engages the personal, instead of craving shock, it strives for greatness.”
The conference welcomed three well-known guest speakers, the first of which was Odd Nerdrum. Nerdrum is a Norwegian contemporary artist that revolutionized the ideals of Kitsch painting and in so doing, paved the way for future generations of artists. Kitsch is an international movement of classical painters, founded in 1998 upon a philosophy proposed by Nerdrum that incorporates the techniques of traditional master painters with narrative, romanticism, and emotionally-charged imagery. Often regarded with a negative connotation, Nerdrum embraced the label wholeheartedly, changing the outlook of many on the Kitsch titles and sparking the new innovative movement. Having transformed the ways in which Kitsch pieces are viewed in the contemporary world, Nerdrum is regarded as the movements’ father-figure and remains widely respected for his work.
Kitsch painters emphasize that Kitsch is not necessarily an art movement, but a philosophical movement. Kitsch is a construction of values and philosophy, which are distinctly separate from art. As previously mentioned, the Kitsch movement has often been viewed as negative by those associated with the art world. This negative association is due, in large part, to the fact that the Kitsch movement has been considered by many to be a criticism of other forms of contemporary art; however, that simply is not the case according to Nerdrum and many Kitsch painters. Nerdrum is quoted as saying, “Kitsch is about the eternal human questions, whatever its form.” He continues by explaining that Kitsch is “about what we call the human.” Nerdrum is widely regarded as one of the greatest representational painters of the modern world. He is famous for his allegorical images of refugees adrift in an inhospitable Icelandic landscape. He paintings depict the modern world while utilizing classical techniques. His section of the program involved his participation on a special panel on art, Kitsch, and beauty.
The second TRAC2014 Keynote speaker was artist and writer, Juliette Aristides. Aristides has authored such novels as The Classical Drawing Atelier, The Classical Painting Atelier, and Lessons in Classical Drawing with Random House, Watson-Guptill, New York. The third Keynote speaker was writer and philosopher, Roger Scruton. Scruton who is best known within the art community for the acclaimed BBC special, “Why Beauty Matters,” for which Scruton is both the writer and host.
The conference spanned the course of four days and consisted of featured presentations by each of the aforementioned Keynote speakers, the presentation of academic papers by those students and philosophers who’s papers were selected, studio demonstrations, and the gala banquet. Of those who applied, 41 papers were accepted from philosophers, scholars, and students from around the world. Each presenter was given a segment of 45 minutes to present their material to a large audience of artists, art students, and community members interested in the topic. Surrounded by students and scholars that were many years his senior, Korsnes presented his paper on Tuesday, March 4 during the afternoon session. Korsnes was easily one of the youngest presenters, and one of the very few presenters still enrolled as an undergraduate student.
His paper was entitled: “World Disclosure Through Art: Can Phenomenology Contribute to an Argument for the Importance of Representational Art in Today’s World?” The room was filled with a diverse range of individuals including academic studio artists, art historians, professional studio artists, art students, critics, gallery professionals, art collectors, and museum professionals. Korsnes is an international student as West Chester University, having studied first at the American College of Norway and then having transferred to West Chester to finish his undergraduate degrees in philosophy and political science. As a dual major, Korsnes incorporated elements of his studies, as well as his admiration and appreciation for the contemporary works of Nerdrum. His paper was an attempt at a philosophical approach to understanding 21st century art and its role within and reflection onto the modern world.
Korsnes explains, “my paper attempted to see Odd Nerdrum’s Kitsch philosophy in a phenomenological light.” He continues, “phenomenology argues for how the subject-object dichotomy is a human-made distinction that creates a false understanding. The paper points to how modern abstract art becomes an intellectual language that builds on nothing but itself; this creates a stronger subject-object dichotomy in our understanding.” Nerdrum’s Kitsch remains open for the interpretation of the audience, and allows the audience to engage in the picture through its representational qualities.
Korsnes was fortunate enough to meet with Nerdrum on several occasions throughout the duration of the conference. Although Nerdrum was understandably extremely busy, he and Korsnes were able to discuss the content of Korsnes’ paper, among other things. Being the father-figure of the Kitsch movement, Nerdrum’s offer to read Korsnes’ paper was an extreme honor.
In reflecting on his experience, Korsnes says “TRAC 2014 was definitely a life-changing experience, as I met fascinating people that I will keep in touch with.” The conference was an opportunity for like-minded people to come together and discuss topics of mutual interest. It was a learning opportunity for all, and without a doubt, a networking opportunity for Korsnes himself. “Presenting a paper at the conference gave me a feeling of being a part of the [art] movement,” reflects Korsnes. He continues, “there is a movement within the art world, the movement toward representational art, and this conference is definitely at the core of it.”
This was not Korsnes’ first opportunity to present a paper. He explains, however, the difference at this conference was the narrower approach to the topic and the vastness of the program. This conference spanned the course of four days, but according to Korsnes, time seemed to fly. On reading his paper, “it was a good feeling because this is important – the world needs representational art.” Korsnes ended our time together by quoting one of the arrangers of the conference who said: “I have arranged many conferences in my life, but I feel that TRAC 2014 is the one that will be written about in the history books.”
For more information about the conference, visit http://www.trac2014.org/.
Laura Wayne is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in international business, business and technical writing, and Spanish. She can be reached at LW738484@wcupa.edu.