|One of these is a great work of art, and the other is a plastic model.|
SMS: What we do is not art.
AW: Of course it is! We use many of the same tools, media, and techniques.
SMS: Big deal. I used geometry, a saw, and sandpaper to fix the framing around a window in my house, but that doesn't make me a carpenter. Another example. I love to cook, and I'm very good at it. That does not make me a "chef." There's a big difference between my following a recipe to prepare a meal -- even when I improvise along the way -- and a trained chef who knows how to combine ingredients in new and unexpected ways. Calling myself a chef is an insult to the men and women who are.
AW: But we create things and make artistic decisions in the process.
SMS: We do create things, but we generally use parts and components that have already been created for us and follow a fairly strict process to bring them all together...using instructions, mind you! When we assemble the parts of a kit, there's only one "correct" way to do so, so there's negligible creativity in the output. If both you and I build a P-51, the results will pretty much look the same. Ask two artists to represent the feeling of love with paint and canvas and you'll likely get two very different paintings.
AW: Wait, I make artistic decisions. I decide what ordnance to use, how to paint my models, how to weather them.
SMS: Yes you do, but those decisions are constrained by norms about what is expected and even acceptable. That P-51 flown by Robin Olds can be painted only one way. Show too much creativity and scale modelers will dismiss your efforts as "fun" or "silly." Your decision to weather it -- often using off-the-shelf washes and pigments, by the way -- requires very little creativity on your part. The fact that there are so many articles and books that show us step-by-step how to achieve certain looks is evidence that many modelers are dismissing any desire to be creative in preference for proven techniques that are intended to achieve same result model after model after model.
AW: Wow, I never thought about it that way. Well what about modelers who scratchbuild models? Surely they're artists.
SMS: Nope. I'd consider them craftsmen or engineers. Like the kit builder, there's only one way to create a B-17, a Sherman, or the USS Kidd, even if you're scratchbuilding them.
AW: What about modelers who scratchbuild hypothetical vehicles or spacecraft? Are they artists?
SMS: Hmmm....maybe. Those guys are making some artistic decisions, so I'll give you that. But I'm uncomfortable saying they're artists because there's rarely any desire to convey emotion, feeling, or experience, which is often the desire in art.
AW: And the guys who sculpt figures?
SMS: I feel comfortable calling them artists. The difference between them and the majority of us is they're creating something out of nothing. That requires a great deal of creativity that we kit modelers don't use. When they bring original figures together in a vignette or diorama, there's great potential for creating something that anyone would describe as art.
AW: You make some good points, but I still like to consider what we do art.
SMS: Obviously you're free to do that, just as I'm free to call myself a chef. But do this the next time you meet a painter or sculptor; when he asks you what you do, tell him you're an artist, that you build scale models, and watch his reaction.
What say you? If you think I'm wrong, how would you argue all this plastic modeling stuff is art.