I came up with this distinction while thinking about how to promote my own art, which I am not very good at doing, possibly because singing your own praises isn’t a song anyone really wants to sing, or listen to. But if I don’t promote myself, I won’t be able to make art indefinitely, as funds will run out. After all, the most cherished art is not the best art, but the most promoted. So, I rather spontaneously characterized my art, in my Instagram description, as “Evolutionary Digital Fine Art”. But this is more than a play on words and makes a significant distinction between artistic approaches.

Generally, contemporary art strives to be “revolutionary”. The object is to break with the past, and spawn a new dawn. Whatever was successful in the past must be rejected in favor of a sweeping new vision.  Y’know, Duchamp, Pollock, Koons…

Jackson Pollock was primarily valued for ostensibly changing art, more than for his art.

Another popular trend is to embrace tradition as it was, and work in the way of the older masters. Think of artists like Daniel Maidman, whose illustrations of models could have been done a century or two ago.

Daniel Maidman: Preparatory Sketch “The Daydream” pencil on paper, 15″x22″

But a third broad approach is what I started to call “evolutionary art”. This is the kind of art that builds on tradition, but embraces novelty and innovation. I don’t even know if anyone else uses this term, but I assume many, many do. I decided to write my own thoughts before looking up what’s already been said and done. I like to formulate my own ideas, sometimes, before testing them against others.

A great example of “evolutionary art” is Francis Bacon. While the Americans were largely embracing abstract art, the British Bacon fiercely made figurative art. His images directly referenced great paintings by Rembrandt, Velasquez, and Van Gogh. He infused not only new pictorial understanding – such as the flattening of the picture plane, the power of large color fields, Expressionistic brush work, and elements of abstraction – but new content. Myopic critics deride his work as a painterly slaughter house, but this reflects their own lack of understanding, and not his. Some of the key elements of his new content were intimate portrayals of contemporary, indoor, urban life (with props such as sinks, ashtrays, mirrors, beds, and even toilets); the slaughter of the second world war; psychological states and introspection; and alternative lifestyles.

Francis Bacon, “Self Portrait” (1973)
A man indoors, leaning on a sink, with a wrist watch. Bacon put humanity under a microscope, as a fleshy consciousness inhabiting an artificial environment.

And here are four of his tributes to Van Gogh, which also incorporates elements of the Post Impressionist painter’s style into his own.

4 Tributes to Van Gogh by Francis Bacon

Here’s a larger version of one of them.

09_Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait of Van Gogh III, 1957
Francis Bacon: Homage to Van Gogh (1985).

Check out this portrait of Van Gogh he painted. I don’t think I ever saw this before a Google image search of about five minutes ago.

Francis Bacon: Homage to Van Gogh (1985). Detail.

You won’t be surprised when I say that two of my most favorite and influential artists are Van Gogh and Francis Bacon. And although I use new technology – I work digitally [though I have a drawing/painting background] – you can see clear elements of both of their styles in a lot of my art.

My “Infinite Objectivity” is a triptych, which is indebted to Bacon’s infamous use of triptychs, especially for his portraits.

“Infinite Objectivity” by me. [Click for larger view.]
If it wasn’t obvious – and since nobody’s ever mentioned it I guess maybe it wasn’t – you can see the homage to Bacon when you reflect for an instant on any of his triple portraits.

Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne” (1966) by Francis Bacon.

Three heads, three panels, three states. I updated it by using conscious robots, and making metallic impasto, digitally.

You can see the influence of Van Gogh in my brushstrokes.

Yeah. I was trying to paint robots similar to Van Gogh, digitally. CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE.


Detail of my digital painting, and a detail of Roses by Van Gogh. CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE.

Incidentally, I’m certain, because of continued utterances from others, that people can’t distinguish between a JPEG they see online, and a full-sized digital file. People will often say that there’s no reason to ever buy a digital artwork when they can just steal it online.  Anyone who works in digital media can instantly see the problem with this stance. We all know how important it is to work very large, so you can get a non-pixelated, crisp, detailed, printable image large enough to be shown in galleries. The JPEGs of my work you can steal from the internet are good for making a print to stick on your fridge, but NOT for a high quality large scale print. The original files are usually at least 20 times as big, which reflects my practice of working about as large as my computer can handle it. You can’t just enlarge an image after the fact, either, as this just blows something up, but can’t produce more detail – a blown up postage stamp is not the same thing as something that starts out 4 feet wide.

Here are a couple more pieces that show an obvious influence of both Van Gogh and Bacon, but in terms of media and content are contemporary.

Monster Maiden #1
Monster Maiden #1


EUOF: Color, Painted Version

So there you have it, “evolutionary art” builds on the art of the past (in my case specifically visual art), incorporates and reflects the contemporary world, and strives to innovate and search for new visions. Evolutionary art has elements of revolutionary and traditional art, but seeks to integrate and hybridize, rather than distinguish itself at the extremes. For me it’s the best of both worlds, but most of the world may beg to differ. The self-styled revolutionary artists, and their following, see any vestige of traditional art as a redundant appendage that one would be better off lopping off; and the traditionalists reject it out of hand as outside the allowed boundaries of what they believe is defacto classic art practice.

lastly, I really don’t know if anyone has made this particular distinction between artistic avenues before. I’m sure they have using other terms, but I don’t recall encountering it, even though I think it’s quite obvious and useful once you catch onto it.

~ Ends

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4 replies on “Evolutionary Vs. Revolutionary and Traditional Art

  1. Hey Eric
    I wonder which is preferable — to be known for changing art or to be known for your art?? (I’m referring to what you said about Pollock. Same can be said for Duschamps, right? You will remember that urinal of his and not remember anything else he did!)


    1. I absolutely think it’s more important to be known for your art rather than for changing art, as well as I think is better to strive to make art rather than to change art.

      One of the problems with being known for changing art, is that you may not really be changing anything, or merely adding something inane and useless. As philosophies change, and beliefs move in and out of fashion, the work that changes history can be rendered completely irrelevant by some outside standard, or from the perspective of another culture. What do non-Europeans make of the urinal, which was supposed to upset European art? Is it at all of interest within their own cultures (y’know, if they aren’t studying art in college in which case it is a mandatory interest).

      Of course, even art that has intrinsic merit can be rendered irrelevant by an extreme belief system (think ISIS destroying ancient artifacts). But we still can appreciate art from completely different cultures (I’m a big fan of Qawwali music, which is highly relifious/spiritual Sufi music coming out of Pakistan). But art that is built entirely on its assumed importance within a given narrative, uh, shared reality, belief system, or quadrant of consensual reality, loses all potency when moved into any other context. It becomes only as interesting as the ideas. But I’m much less interested in the ideas Qawwali music is founded on than I am in the beautiful music.

      I rather think that when I make pieces any mature person possibly in any country could react to them (even positively), or get them on some level.

      I’d think it would be obvious that an artist would rather make art that is great than make some (arguably, but with serious rebuttal) great leap for art.

      What would be an analogy? Would you rather be known for how wonderful your music is, or how important it is (even if it is un-listenable)?

      It’s simple. If you love art, you make art to be loved. If you love being important, you make art to be important.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, and even if it takes other ppl a long time (or never!) to get your art. Take for example, reggae, we were all listening to and loving it in Jamaica. Why? Because it was ours. But when Marley had “I Shot the Sheriff” released in England and America, ppl in those places did not appreciate it. But then Eric Clapton redid it and all of a sudden, it was, “Oh wow!this stuff is great.” So yeah, I’d rather have my art appreciated cos it is great art, but sometimes, stuff gets filtered through other/dominant cultures. And like my friends in San Fran say, “That ain’t cool, mahn.”

        Liked by 1 person

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