Saturday, 11 July 2009

Nothing ventured .....

There's a recurring question frequently asked, are model railways art? No consensus ever emerges, the debate circling round abstract concepts of intent and value based comparisons with other pieces of work generally held to be art. Sometimes a tick list of skills we employ is used to beef up the assertion that model railways are indeed art.

I think it might be better to step back from direct comparisons and have a look at activity in the world of painting. Amateur painters seem as a whole to want to better their skills and see this as a route to becoming a better artist. Having seen a lot of amateur and semi-professional paintings I think that I'd have to disagree and say that skills alone will only make them better illustrators. Art is about more than a pretty picture, it should stir some emotion inside. Those paintings of trains that make it onto the front of two thousand piece jigsaws are illustrations, whereas some of the David Shepherd paintings of the decay of steam are art.

Model railways could be art if they can convey something more than the three dimensional representation of a piece of railway. This may be what's held to be atmosphere, but it might be necessary to go beyond atmosphere to get to art. Accuracy and fidelity to prototype alone won't get you there; that path leads to sterile illustration.

You might have guessed from all this that I'm going to have a go at art. Well I am, though I'm quite alive to the possibility I might fail. As the saying goes nothing ventured, nothing gained.


  1. For me, art is when the thing you are looking at begins to have a life of it's own, or exist in it's own world. Craig and Mertonford... Marthwhaite, with no rail chairs...

    I was a member of the guild of railway artists for a long time until they rejected what I thought was the best thing I'd ever done...because there weren't enough bolts on some of the rail chairs and I hadn't shown the lining on the loco properly. I'd gone for atmosphere and the play of light, not rivet counting. Plus ca change.

    It's also whether the "art" reaches you- or not. I love modern art but the impressionists leave me cold...apart from Cezanne. Yer pays yer money etc....just the way I see it!