"Awesome model mate. . ." (but is it 'art'?)
This is the first post in a mid-weekly series of mutterings, asides and broadsides from the
wings. It's largely unresolved thoughts about model making, aviation and stuff which vexes me. Don't write in as Doris has fallen arches and can't reply to your letters.
"This week I'll be mostly eating Pinterest on toast"
The internet is positively awash with some unbearably stunning models. True museum pieces, the quality of which leave me slack jawed with disbelief at the investment in time, dedication and skill needed to produce them, not to mention the artistry of the maker. Did i say artistry?
I discovered this example on Pinterest, I’ve been unable to find out more about the modeller (if you know more, please comment and enlighten this luddite so i can ask for copyright and give credit), but it rekindled a train of thought about how many models attract responses on social media and model forums as 'works of art', and how they cannot be art in a pure sense but are arguably work with artistic merit in another.
But it is art, isn't it?
As someone who is a mixed-media contemporary fine arts practitioner, and who has been involved with tertiary contemporary arts education for some years, the easy answer to the question of; “is construction kit model making art?” is “nope”.
Well because the fundamental purpose common to most art forms is the underlying intention to appeal to, and connect with human emotion. We set out to make art, not make something and then call it art afterwards. But, the term is incredibly broad and is broken up into numerous sub-categories that lead to utilitarian, decorative, therapeutic, communicative, and intellectual ends. In its broadest form, art may be considered as an exploration of the human condition, or a product of experience. From this rather dry and pseudo intellectual soap box point of view, it's difficult to suggest that tiny replicas of killing machines are any of these things. But we might argue, aren't they miniature replicas of human experiences? err, yeah-nah.
While scale model making is in the main, the skilful manipulation of a pre-planned, pre-formed commercial product that has a restricted set of parameters in that they only go together in a set way and have to look like a prototypical real object, the outcome doesn’t result from a desire to make art. To connect, from a freedom of thought, expression or originality (despite how much we might think we've just built that Spitfire that no one else on the planet has ever seen, ever).
Plus there are thousands of the dimensionally accurate miniature things in cardboard boxes all over the globe and you can bet that at least 10 modellers have produced the same kit in the same markings following the same techniques. But we argue don't painters slavishly copy or emulate techniques? Yes but at the heart of this is a desire to create uniqueness. The last thing a model kit is, is unique.
Model making would probably be fine art if we turned the products into something else in the process and subverted the original intent of the manufacturer. Jake and Dinos Chapman who explore the human condition and all its horrible violent excesses in some of their works via the world of 1/35 figures turn models into art, but generally, like hurricanes in Hertfordshire, this hardly ever ‘appens.
So that’s settled then?
But wait. . . the best (the unbearably awesome yet unattainable) examples like this reworked and exquisitely detailed Zouki-Mura 1/32 Horten here, do express some artistic intent. I mean look at the combination of texture, colour, and applied surface detail which demonstrates that the maker has looked at this and realised it as an alternative to the standard product intended by the commercial company (who were mad enough to produce a bizarre and obscure subject in the first place).
Yes, it’s not art in the conventional academic sense but it is art in another form. Arts and crafts perhaps, which is another hackneyed and overused moniker for stuff that doesn't fit in a gallery but which is still looks rather good to the untrained eye? Well not quite this either because arts and crafts is still made with the intent of creating art just at a lower less cerebrally (or art is wank) challenging level.
But where does it sit then? Maybe model making, the type most of us engage with and manfully strive yet usually fail to achieve, deserves a sub-genre of a creative arts practice of its very own.
Here's why I think this should be given some serious thought and viewed seriously by people outside of the hobby as more than just men of a certain age obsessing over the accuracy of miniature killing machines (yes I know not everyone builds Bf109s but they are aren't they):
So, a model made from a commercial mass produced product can be 'art' after all?
For most of us, model making is a part time craft based hobby activity with a rigidly defined outcome. We strive to replicate, to conform to a miniature ideal of what the original looked like, often seeking our peers approval. Inviting their comments on colour, shape, the accuracy of those refined cowlings. . . We even occasionally stretch that boundary with a “what if” approach, or when lacking full references, a presumption that our original might have looked a certain way. Sheperd Paine called it 'imagineering' back in the day. This is starting to sound suspiciously like making art.
But why worry about calling it art, should we be bothered about it? Model making is not striving for the high brow contemporary pedestal which defines art in a creative societal, cultural sense, and its maybe just a poor choice of expressive language, or the lack of understanding on the part of people who lavish praise and the moniker of 'art' on a build.
Should they stop saying "Wow that's a work of art"? Probably, because it carries the wrong meaning. But then thats also restricting their freedom of speech. Say what you like, its not art but its an awesome model, mate!
"It's make your mind up time"
So in some respects we can say yes, scale model making is a form of art but not a work of art in itself. It uses techniques that are clearly and conventionally artistic in origin. The manipulation of colour, shape and textures to name three, the use of tools such as brushes another. And it has its own culture and norms. Art is after all, generally understood as any activity or product done by people with a communicative or aesthetic purpose — something that expresses an idea, an emotion or, more generally, a world view. It is a component of culture, reflecting economic and social strata in its design. So our model making is arguably a culture or a facet of a culture - the maker, the doer, the historian, the guy in his shed making things for himself and for the appreciation of like minded individuals.
Model making (and model photography too) at least in a construction kit sense, are machine based creative activities, and I would argue, deserving of a revised sub-genre of art which combines the traditional arts and crafts approach with aspects of blended fine art techniques.
Art Modelling? Modelcraft? Perhaps. . .
Whichever way you look at it, the aesthetic appeal of the subject and its textures speaks to us on different levels and maybe that is all that matters. Beauty and beholders eyes. . . just don't call it a 'work of art'. . .