Spend any amount of time in the online modeling community – on forums, on Facebook, YouTube, blogs, wherever, and you’ll see it pop up.
Modeling as art.
Or modeling as an art form.
Or modelers as artists. There are actually modelers who self-describe as “art modelers”, whatever the hell that means.
And of course…”art is subjective”.
Now, my instinctive reaction when I see modeling equated with art is to roll my eyes, but I want to dig into it more deeply.
Art is a Shitty Descriptor
My fellow modeler Will Pattison is a big fan of finding precise language to describe things as a way of trying to make sure everyone is reading a conversation the same way.
Art is about as imprecise a word as you can find. It’s highly subjective, and with such a broad scope of meaning that it’s essentially meaningless.
Art can be the Mona Lisa or Swan Lake. Or it can be my kids fixing pieces of macaroni to construction paper with glitter glue.
Which is modeling? Personally I find equating modeling with what I’ll shorthand as “high art” to be utterly pretentious. We are not artists on the same continuum as Monet or Magritte, Mozart or Mendelssohn.
At the same time, equating modeling with preschool “art” devalues it.
Art is a shitty descriptor.
A Better Definition
Merriam-Webster defines art as: “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”
I would add a wrinkle to this:
Art is imagination made manifest, and able to be experienced by others. Seen as in sculpture, read as in literature, heard as in music.
At the broad, Platonic ideal level, art is subjective, sure. Because at that level it’s more concept than reality.
But what about a painter going for a realistic landscape? If they paint the sky green, or paint a cow that looks like a raccoon, it’s objectively wrong. If a director is tasked with making a Star Wars movie and it features the USS Enterprise…it’s objectively wrong.
Intent sets objective boundaries. For Michaelangelo, recreating realistic human forms in stone was the intention, and we can objectively judge his success in doing so.
Modeling, in general, is geared toward creating a miniature facsimile of a real thing (or in the case of sci-fi, real fictional things like X-Wings). There is a goal there. There is intent there.
When you’re trying to represent a specific subject, there are more-or-less objective points of comparison. Reference photos. Actual, real-life examples. Detailed blueprints and plans. Paint samples. Things everyone can see. Common points of reference.
Now, if your intention is not to represent a specific subject to the best of your ability, fine. Do whatever the fuck you want. Put monster truck tires on a biplane and call it a fire truck for all I care.
But when I see people bitching about how a kit is 1mm too short, or obsessing over just the right shade of olive drab (which is in itself laughable, but that’s another rant), I read that as intent to recreate as realistically as possible. At that point, objectivity is in play.
When that happens, and the build skews well away from realistic representation because, I don’t know, its panel lines are so overdone that it looks like a tartan blanket or it’s painted entirely the wrong shade of gray or the insignia are put on upside down, the “I’m an artiste! Art is subjective! You can’t judge me!” thing is…an excuse.
Prowess is a Different Animal
Prowess is the thing that sits between imagination and its physical manifestation. Creative ability, technical proficiency, call it what you will…if it’s lacking it creates a gap between intent – what we picture in our minds eye – and the finished product.
I will happily own up to having my own prowess gaps. I would imagine most who claim to be artists would say the same. There’s always room for improvement. For honing techniques and learning new methods.
To my mind, feedback on prowess – or I guess you might say on the technical aspects of a build – exists outside of the art question. Why does your canopy have paint overspray on it – mask it next time. I’ve had that dusting problem with that type of paint before, here’s how you can get a smoother finish next time.
I can’t for the life of me imagine why somebody wouldn’t want feedback on the technical elements of modeling. Even if someone does only want to treat it as a silly diversion, there has to be some desire to get a bit better at that silly diversion, to gain that sense of accomplishment that comes with improvement. Right?
Is Modeling Art?
Back to the question then. Is it?
Fuck if I know – or if I’m even qualified to know. I think that an argument can certainly be made. But I also think the way it’s usually trotted out, the “it’s art and you can’t judge me” thing, is more of a dodge against actually grappling with feedback and facing our own flaws as modelers.
Whatever the case, it’s still a shitty descriptor.