As I spent a magical morning in the Ridola Archaeological Museum in Matera, South Italy, last summer, I was enthralled by the freshness and complexity of many of the images on the Greek ceramic vessels on display. Since the Greeks had been coming to Southern Italy since the 10th century BC, huge numbers of ceramics have been found, often totally intact, in different archaeological digs in the area. Some of the pieces were imported from Greece, but many were created in Italy.
As I wandered, entranced, I remembered reading that many ancient Greeks, such as art critic and writer Philostatus, thought of art as a continuation of our world, the space within which we live and breathe. There were no boundaries between art and the world; the figures existing in contemporary art or on the pottery surfaces might have been imaginary, but they were as real to the Greeks as film characters are real and believable to us today as we watch a film. In other words, art was viewed as an extension of reality. No wonder so many of the figures, fish, birds and other creatures in dynamic movement around those red-figure vessels I was seeing in Matera seemed so arresting.
That long heritage, from the Greeks and from earlier artists working on cave walls, rock faces, in Mesopotamia, China, India or Egypt, has always involved realism in some fashion. Art has blurred the boundaries between the imagined world, the depicted world and the real world; man has always expected the viewer to have "leaps of faith". Today, artists grapple with the same issues. What a visual artist sees and experiences gets distilled and translated into images that go beyond the range of verbal description.
Noted artist Michael Klein was quoted as saying, "Painting realistically is a means to an end." What he is interested in creating is the visual image that was the basis for the feelings he wants to express - the boundaries of reality and art flow through the artist's brain and hand in seamless fashion. Developing a visual language implies that an artist looks hard and learns to see things for what they really are.
In the same way, according to sculptor and artist, Lee Ufan of Korea, boundaries between art and reality can be eliminated by "allowing the relationship among the viewer, the materials and the site to stand in for the experience of art" (Alexandra Munroe, Guggenheim curator, writing in Art & Auction, May 2010). Ufan makes the art object "disappear" so that the art becomes "a fluid and dynamic event occurring in real time and space".
Ufan talks of "the art of encounter". Mankind has been blurring the lines between reality and the art encountered since time immemorial.