OPA Speech

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OPA Speech

From Paul Soderberg

Published before 2005


Wow! That's an awesome speech-really! I especially love speeches (and documents) that teach me things I didn't know, or show me a whole new way of looking at something I thought I knew. Your OPA speech did that FOUR TIMES!

1. My favorite part of your speech, in fact, was your concept of paintings and "storytelling," which I'd never thought of before. What a powerful statement this one is/was: "What would happen to literature if storytelling were to be banned? Well, that's what happened to fine art."

2. The second thing you made me realize was that "...modernism didn't attack academic art, It attacked art itself." Absolutely! (Wish I'd thought of that!)

3. And I'd never heard the truly excellent term, "prestige suggestion." Excellent!

4.The fourth thing you taught me is downright scary: "98+% of world knowledge was generated during the century without Traditional Realism." That's stunning.

In addition to loving the speech because of the things it taught me, or showed me in a new light, I loved it because it is a beautifully subtle but very powerful wake-up call to Realist artists, including OPA members. By subtle, I mean that you didn't whap them in the face with an accusation, but you presented facts in such a way that any OPA member with half a brain will realize himself. What I'm talking about here is that many if not most Realist painters today have come to believe that the worthiness/value of their paintings is determined by how realistically they are painted. By tying the academics (Bouguereau et al.) to positive social and political change, you wordlessly yet powerfully asked today's artists: What are YOU doing to improve society? Or are you just painting pretty pictures?

Ideally, those who heard your speech went away with the concept that they can do highly realistic works WITH social/political content and power. That's excellent! What a majestic thing it would be if more artists realized this point from your speech: Realism is realistic paintings; GREAT Realism is realistic paintings that (in your words) "value and elevate Mankind's hopes, fantasies and dreams, both the good and the bad." Like you say, "Humanity was what counted"-and THAT's what great Realism today STILL is: not just pretty pictures, but ones that tell Humanity's story (to use your wonderful "storytelling" concept!).

Okay, just making powerful points is like street-fighting-punches. But your speech was/is more like martial arts, with grace and style, as seen especially in these lines and phrases:

"Squares of color are superior to subjects about people of color. Layers of textured paper trumps showing the layered textures of life."
"banal irrelevancies boring our inner souls"
"blind alleys, nightmarish detours, and mind-numbing Artspeak"
"a conspiracy, both tacit and willful, to malign and degrade"
"espoused with a strident religious fervor"
"brainwashing authoritatively"
"where the severe and gentle dusts of history would settle"
"cultural evils and social ills and countless injustices"
"stilted ignorance and ungrateful arrogance"

and the best one (in my opinion):

"had little trouble lining up articulate masters of our language to build complex fire walls of cognoscenti jargon presented everywhere as brilliant analysis"

Like every great book or movie, your speech included a tantalizing reason for a sequel. You pointed out that writers and artists were so important to society in the 19th Century. Back then, many people couldn't read, so paintings TOLD them truths. A topic for your "sequel speech": We're there again, with public education's massive failure having resulted in many people today being unable to read!!! So realist paintings are as important today as they were in Bouguereau's day!!!

So, Fred, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being "awesome," your May-5 OPA speech gets a 15!!!

Thanks for letting me read it!

Paul